Here’s a take I think readers of MSP will appreciate on the latest round of controversy over the church’s practice of proxy baptism of holocaust victims with no LDS progeny. (That supposedly is one of the criteria that makes a proxy baptism OK: someone has Mormon descendents who want to offer their ancestor is ordinance.) This writer, Stephen Frug, doesn’t think that baptism for the dead matters–and he doesn’t “understand why anyone else does think it matters.”
The point is, a non-Mormon should no more believe that the Mormon baptism of the dead does anything (save please those among the living involved in it) than I believe that my son’s frequent announcement that he and I are both Buzz Lightyear does anything. Personally I think that they’re pretty equivalent — save that my son, of course, is three years old, and therefore the fact that he speaks like a child, thinks like a child and understands like a child is perfectly appropriate….
To object to the Mormon baptism of the dead is ultimately to subscribe to a small slice of Mormon doctrine, namely, that part that says the baptism of the dead actually has some effect (if only to offer souls in the afterlife an option). Those of us who are not Mormons should be able to recognize that this Mormon belief like all the others is simply false: that the baptism of the dead does nothing. Who cares what games others play?
Stephen characterizes the nature of the insult done to the “recipients” of proxy baptism, as one of disrespect. And certainly I think it is disrespectful. But I think it’s more than that. It’s also profound condescension and religious chauvinism.
Don’t know about anyone else, but I got in a conversation about this on Facebook, with a friend who is also an atheist Jew. She was outraged, and I pretty much understood her outrage. I explained as well as I could the doctrine behind proxy baptism, adding,
I can’t defend this. I can only explain how Mormons see it.
I just wish Mormons were more willing to see how it appears to others.
This to me is a perfect example of religion making real empathy and kindness all but impossible. Mormons are so caught up in their doctrinal imperatives that in some ways they simply *CANNOT CARE* as they should about what this means to the people they honestly believe they are helping.
To reconcile somewhat what Stephen writes and what I myself feel, I think he’s right that
To the extent that anything’s disrespectful, it’s not the posthumous baptism, which is a mere instantiation of a larger phenomenon, it’s that Mormon doctrine is disrespectful. And not just Mormon doctrine: any non-universalist religious belief that requires adherence for salvation is basically disrespectful of the entire rest of humanity.
The Mormon doctrine IS disrespectful. The Mormon doctrine is what makes Mormons fundamentally incapable of realizing their stated goal of showing genuine respect for other faiths, because the doctrine ultimately wins out in any contest Mormons envision: “OK,” they think, “we won’t perform proxy baptisms for these people now; we’ll wait and do it after the second coming. Because we know it has to be done someday, because we know that EVERYONE must be baptized into God’s one and only true church.”
So yeah, ultimately, proxy baptism does nothing for the one baptized by proxy because it’s clear enough that the whole “you can’t get into heaven unless you have this and that preparatory ordinance and learn the secret handshakes and passwords” business is nonsense. But it does something to the minds and spirits of those who advocate and practice it: it makes them less empathetic, compassionate, and kind, which are supposed to the be the highest ideals of christianity, and what we’re really here to learn.