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Grave Robbers For God

I've said recently that I generally like and respect Mormons. They tend to be honest, sober, honorable, decent, and eminently respectable people.

I also have an affinity for Jews. Their cultural strength, their humor, their perseverence, their sociability, and their rejection of evangelism all appeal to me.

As an agnostic, I happen to find both groups' spiritual beliefs odd at best and more often laughable, but I tend to keep the particulars to myself and don't make an issue of them -- unless pressed. But generally, I have an affinity for the individuals I've encountered.

A couple of years ago, I tossed out a quick article on a conflict between the two groups. It seems that a group of Mormons had come to the conclusion that it was their moral obligation to offer "baptisms" to the deceased, through family members, to spare their souls eternal damnation. Relatives of the departed would stand in proxy, and the dead would be posthumously adopted into Mormonism and added to the roles of the faithful. (Mormon genealogy records are astonishingly thorough, and have been a tremendous boon to historians and roots-seekers.)

That was largely ignored, until some Jews heard about certain particulars of the practice. It seems that a few Mormons had decided that since we all descended from Adam and Eve, we're all generally "family" -- and therefore anyone can stand in for anyone else in history. And that led to a whole bunch of Jews killed in the Holocaust being listed as Mormons.

The Jews' objection seemed rather abstract, but understandable: they said, essentially, "these are our people. They lived and died as Jews. They were killed solely because they were Jews. What you are doing is stripping them of their Jewishness -- denying what they held so dearly that it cost them their lives. Plus, historically, it's been a very bad thing when others start assembling lists of Jews. Please, stop doing that immediately."

The Mormons, officially, agreed and stopped the practice in regards to Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Unofficially, though, smaller groups of Mormons quietly ignored the request and kept it up.

As I said, I wrote a little piece at the time I first heard about it. I sided with the Jews, but I thought it was a fairly trivial and silly issue -- enough that I could whip up a quick article about it and have a little fun with it.

Hoo boy, was I wrong. That article exploded in my face. It seems EVERYONE had some serious opinions on the issue.

So I took a second stab at it, refining and clarifying my position. I hadn't the first time, because I didn't see it as that big a deal.

Ever tossed water on a grease fire? Me, neither, but I've seen videos. (Thanks, Mythbusters!) And that is a great metaphor for what I did.

Eventually, the heat got too high for even me to stand. I shut down the comments on both articles, then posted a summation where I didn't even bother to leave them open.

Well, Meryl Yourish informs us that apparently those Mormons are at it again. Or, rather, still at it -- they are STILL Mormons conducting their proxy baptisms of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

It's officially against Church rules, but the Church isn't really enforcing it. The article compares it to the 55-MPH speed limit that's on the books, but everyone ignores and is almost never enforced.

On one level, it's a supremely silly spat. Two groups are arguing about an absolutely abstract and pointless matter.

On the other hand, it's a simple matter of respect. The Jews have said precisely why they are so bothered by the practice, and those are valid reasons. The Mormon Church needs to decide whether or not it wants to demonstrate its respect for the Jews and get its members to knock it off, or if their "obligation" to the deceased takes precedence over not insulting Jews around the world.

I hope they do the former. As I said, I generally like both groups, and I don't like seeing them in conflict.


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Comments (28)

Perhaps the Jews could insi... (Below threshold)

Perhaps the Jews could insist that those wishing to stand in for the dead Holocaust victims convert to Judaism and be required to have a recent circumcision...

What the heck, they've alre... (Below threshold)
jim m:

What the heck, they've already baptized Hitler and most of his Nazi thugs so why not baptize their victims too?

What a bunch of goons. Maybe Mitt Romney can share with us his views on this issue.

That practice has been goin... (Below threshold)

That practice has been going on every since the beginning of the Mormon Church. I know this because I lived and worked in the Salt Lake City area one summer, so I had ample opportunity to study the Mormon religion.

Your statement that those w... (Below threshold)

Your statement that those who have been posthumously baptized are "added to the roles of the faithful". Is not correct. Mormons believe that every person must accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ themselves. It cannot be forced upon them in this life or after. The church does keep records of the deceased persons who have been baptized to prevent duplication. But they are not considered to be members of the church.

This being the case why would Jews object? To them this should merely be a well intentioned but ultimately meaningless act.

Next time do some research. I found this in two minutes at http://www.mormon.org/faq/baptism-for-the-dead/ .

On the other hand,... (Below threshold)
Anon Y. Mous:
On the other hand, it's a simple matter of respect. The Jews have said precisely why they are so bothered by the practice, and those are valid reasons. The Mormon Church needs to decide whether or not it wants to demonstrate its respect for the Jews and get its members to knock it off, or if their "obligation" to the deceased takes precedence over not insulting Jews around the world.

Their "obligation" flows from their religious beliefs. Asking someone to change their religious practices to avoid giving offense is an exercise in futility.

"Two groups are arguing abo... (Below threshold)

"Two groups are arguing about an absolutely abstract and pointless matter. "

So, it is your opinion that two religions engaging in a disagreement over the morality of a given practice is a pointless exercise?

Boy, you do have a knack for the inflammatory.

Do you hold the same opinion of the Protestant Reformation or the Enlightenment?

Jay Tea:I apprecia... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea:

I appreciate your perspective. However, I think that you miss some important aspects and contextual facts.

The issues are covered very well in this Jewish media blog (you should read it): http://www.jewishjournal.com/jews_and_mormons/item/proxy_baptism_controversy_the_end_39100902/

For starters, there have been relatively few (a few thousand) Holocaust Jews being given proxy baptisms since 1995.

Any that have been identified have been removed upon request.

The issue seemed to spring from the fact that Jewish Holocaust names were unknowingly being submitted to the vast LDS geneological database of 600,000,000 names. It proved very difficult to identify and remove Holocaust Jews from this list. The system had no effective way of blocking resubmissions. Names are added to the database by both Mormons and nonMormon geneologists.

The LDS Church has lived up to its agreement. The news this week is that the LDS Church has:

1. Implemented a new database that will be more effective at identifying improper submissions.

2. Now requires that if a member of the LDS Church wishes to proxy baptize a direct relative of theirs who is a Holocaust Jew, they must request permission directly from the LDS Church and have all living direct relatives give permission. This is permitted under the agreement.

3. The LDS Church has now created a special database that identifies all Holocaust Jews and now regularly scans the 600,000,000 name database and removes any new submission that have inadvertantly been added.

An interesting piece of tri... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

An interesting piece of trivia here: Most Jewish cemeteries under Orthodox law don't allow deceased to be buried there if they have tattoos present. That's why part of the Nazi tattooing presented such an important religious issue for so many Jews.

I started to write to corre... (Below threshold)
Rose Hughes:

I started to write to correct the factual errors in your post, but see that others have already weighed in.

Maybe next time you could seek the view of both sides before coming to a conclusion????

"Two groups are arguing abo... (Below threshold)

"Two groups are arguing about an absolutely abstract and pointless matter".

Gee, and with eloquent writings like this, you wonder why your post "exploded in your face" ???

It's a problem between two groups who believe. And coming at it from a "Your dearly held beliefs are and trivial pointless" disrespect- and that is exactly what it is, disrespect - is a lousy way to approach it.

For more information, here ... (Below threshold)

For more information, here is an article on that topic that was published in the Deseret News last week:


My dad was killed in Vietna... (Below threshold)

My dad was killed in Vietnam has been baptized by the Mormons, or so I have been told by a LDS friend. I find this an unusual practice...kind of like a wishful belief that no matter what, even if you lived a crapfest life someone else can "fix"" it for you.

Maybe that is a good thing for most of us...but it is not what I believe.

Just my thoughts

J. T."As an agnost... (Below threshold)

J. T.

"As an agnostic"

You sure seem proud of this, bringing it up every two or three days. It seems to make you better than those who believe in "a silly God of some kind or other."

As I look at the complexity of the human body (plus myriad other things in our world) I can´t help but wonder how anybody with eyes and ears could be so naive as to believe that it is all just an accident. That would be like winning the Powerball lottery every day for a million years straight.
You may not know Him, but He does exist. Just because there are a lot of kooky religions that twist the truth doesn´t change Him in the least.
Did you guess that I´m not an agnostic?

Myronhalo, You are braver t... (Below threshold)

Myronhalo, You are braver than I am. I was thinking the same thing. There is this self-righteous condescension among agnostics that I find curious. As I understand it the term may mean noncommital or skeptical. Yet the irony is that when you meet someone who feels it important to preface a conversation with tha fact they are agnostic it usually means you are about to get an earful of something they are very certain about.

Myyronhalo is just "not an ... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Myyronhalo is just "not an accident". It is the principle "of natural selection", that took billions of years for life to evolve into man on earth. If there is a God he certainly took his sweet time to 'create' man and then there are so many metaphysical questions as to the creation of God, how that began? Isn't a much easier premise to base our beliefs on what we can observe and test in this universe.

And with the Mormon beginnings, its genesis seems far more more sociological than theological, as there was a history "or culture of buried treasure seekers or diggers in Appalacahia in the 1820`s, when the plates were 'discovered' by Joseph Smith. And secondly the ascending of heavy gold tablets/plates into heaven is just preposterous and very convenient for the keepers of the faith. If you can believe that physical event, anything is possible.

Now I have a little more ti... (Below threshold)
Rose Hughes:

Now I have a little more time, I will explain my earlier comment. Yourish says in the original linked post:

This time, even the Utah press thinks it's not gonna happen.

You seemed to reinforce his version of the article by saying:

The article compares it to the 55-MPH speed limit that's on the books, but everyone ignores and is almost never enforced.

Yourish's problem (darn those Mormons who 'manage to read') that's not exactly what the article said:

Though both parties seem pleased by the outcome, critics remained skeptical.

Mokotoff doubts any computer system can keep Holocaust names from reappearing in the church database.

"The only way this is going to be stopped is by the church reprimanding individuals doing it -- first with a warning, then something stronger -- maybe excommunication," he said. "It's the 55-mph rule of the Mormon Church. It's on the books, but no one enforces it."

Quoting a critic of the the church's actions doesn't make mean that's what the "Utah press" believes is true. It means THEY got opinions from more than one side of the issue.

If, in fact, it is the "55 mph rule of the Mormon Church" it is also the best kept secret of the Church. I have never heard anyone even suggest that the agreement be ignored.

Yes, issues still exist, but as the article details, much is being done to solve them.

I don't know of any enforcement of any issue that is 100% successful 100% of the time - especially one involving a global organization.

I recall discussing the iss... (Below threshold)

I recall discussing the issue of postmortem baptisms with a fellow student in college who happened to be Mormon. She stated that it was really nothing more than offering the opportunity to the departed to "upgrade" to a higher heaven. (Almost everyone went to some sort of heaven, the exceptions being those who got themselves condemned to "the outer darkness". To qualify for that, one practically had to meet Jesus face to face, and turn one's back on him.) To me it seems a harmless enough practice, even if it works the way the practitioners think it does.

And while I'm thinking abou... (Below threshold)

And while I'm thinking about this, I read an article a while back stating the Chinese government had enacted a law forbidding reincarnation without official permission. It sounds silly enough -- how do you stop it? But then anyone identified as the reincarnation of any Tibetan Lama would be subject to arrest for violating this law.

Now that's a silly religious law worth worrying about.

I know a number of Mormons ... (Below threshold)

I know a number of Mormons that are converts from Judaism. They all have deceased Jewish relatives. I just thought that I'd bring up this point that even though the Mormons doing the temple work might not be the closest relatives, they are still relatives of these deceased Jews and have an interest in their ancestors salvation. I think this point gets glossed over in these stories. The people submitting their names for baptisms for the dead are quite possibly a distant relative that is now Mormon. Both parties have a vested interest.

Jay Tea, you're missing the... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea, you're missing the obvious point on this. The Mormons in question are simply applying Pascal's Wager on a superheroic scale.

If the Mormon faith adequately describes reality, then everyone who isn't converted (before OR after death) gets the bad afterlife. It would be immoral not to do so for as many people as possible, if it were true.

If, however, the Mormon faith does not describe reality as adequately as, for example, Judaism, Bhuddism, Islam, Christianity, Atheism, Unitarian Universalism, or Jehovah's Witness-ism (?), then it doesn't matter.

And now you know why religion isn't often mentioned in polite company.

For the record, most of us ... (Below threshold)

For the record, most of us find your agnostic beliefs odd and laughable as well. We also keep our feelings to ourselves, for the most part. Happy we can all get along. :)

As a genealogist, I've rese... (Below threshold)

As a genealogist, I've researched the Mormon teachings on this. They feel all need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this life or the life to come if, as Jesus says he is the same yesterday, today and forever. They believe the gospel will be preached to the dead in the next life. Peter first says that Jesus "went and preached unto the spirits in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19; italics added); then Peter returns to the subject by noting that "the gospel [was] preached also to them that are dead" (1 Pet. 4:6; italics added). Thus, the episode when the Savior preached to "the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah" (1 Pet. 3:19-20) is related to the time when "the gospel [was] preached also to them that are dead" (1 Pet. 4:6).

The validity of a vicarious baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to accept the baptism and Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world. LDS doctrine explains the ordinance known as baptism for the dead. That was the theme of the Apostle Paul's writing to the Corinthians when he asked this question: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1 Cor. 15:29.) Paul's question is about the Sadducees' non-belief in baptism for the dead. Notwithstanding that non-belief, they and other Christians were in fact, as we study ecclesiastical history, were practicing baptism for the dead and it is found among the early Christians.

A correction to my previous... (Below threshold)

A correction to my previous post. The last part should have read that "Paul's question is about the Sadducees' non-belief in the resurrection" rather than baptism for the dead. They were practicing that ordinance even though they did not believe in the resurrection, hence Paul questioned why they were doing it? My apologies, I should have reviewed the post more closely.

I too think all religions ... (Below threshold)

I too think all religions are a scam. Watch them come down on Mr. Hawking for his latest theory, that a "God" wasn't necessary for the Universe to be formed. It stretches credulity to find ten Golden, and I imagine very heavy tablets, but then to lose them! Sorry you just lost me..

I'll repeat myself: Why wou... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle Author Profile Page:

I'll repeat myself: Why would any member of one of the world's oldest religions (it's year 5771 for me!) allow anyone from a toddler religion like Mormonism (less than 200 years old) to perform a proxy Baptism and not be offended?

The funny underwear makes me laugh, the rewritten bible is a joke (the names were changed to protect the innocent?) and makes me laugh too, but Moromons piss me off when they do this.

Are they too warped to understand why?

Maybe it's the underwear...

Not yet dead,

The "scam" is representing ... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

The "scam" is representing oneself as having no religion, thus being 'above' those who openly profess one. Your worldview, whatever it is, is every bit as 'religious' as mine. The earth worshipers I see at every turn these days are about as regressive as they come.

Really, if a Mormon wants to give me or a family member a proxy baptism, what is that to me? It is a completely symbolic, meaningless act having no practical effect whatsoever. This should offend me because...? If anything, it shows the Mormon's compassion. It is an act of selflessness. Not worth fighting over.

Hi Steve,You said,... (Below threshold)

Hi Steve,

You said, "Myronhalo is just "not an accident". It is the principle "of natural selection", that took billions of years for life to evolve into man on earth."
Did you just mention the PowerBall lottery again?
Everything would have had to go right every time for those billion years to come up with what we have today. I´m not that naive. I don´t even play the lottery one day because I know the odds are against winning. The odds are a gillion times stronger against winning by evolution.
And by the way, the evidence doesn´t support billions of years. Even the means used to test the age of things are all based on assumptions that those things haven´t changed over billions of years. That´s not science, that´s voodoo. (I have a degree in science in case you thought I was a hick.)
No sir, I´m not eating anymore of the halucinagenic? stuff on the National Geographic channel. I grew up on a farm so I learned a lot about our world before I ever went to school where they tried to indoctrinate me with all kinds of theories to the contrary. I´m not falling for this fake "science" which is really another religion where man is God.

Hey Studakota,From... (Below threshold)

Hey Studakota,

From your post, "I too think all religions are a scam. Watch them come down on Mr. Hawking for his latest theory, that a "God" wasn't necessary for the Universe to be formed."
I guess it would be right to say that all religions are a scam or at least a poor effort on man´s part to get to God. Religion normally is understood to mean a set of values, principles, beliefs and practices which make us acceptable to a god of some kind or other.
God doesn´t want us to be religious because no matter how hard we try, we can´t get to Him. He had to come to us. No effort on man´s part will ever make us acceptable to Him. he is the one that had to make us acceptable. He did that by living a perfect, sinless life and then giving it up as a substitute for our rotten, perverted life. It´s called atonement and both the Jews and the Mormons celebrate it in one way or another. They just don´t understand what they are celebrating.
By the way, what makes Hawkins an expert on how the world got started? He´s a great mathematician, but also a human like ourselves. He says it´s his opinion that the world didn´t need a god to begin it. He´s entitled to his opinion. I´m still keeping mine.






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