Who’s Afraid of Posthumous Baptisms? Slate Staffers Debate.

Conversations in real time.
March 1 2012 6:30 PM

Should I Care If Mormons Baptize Me After I’m Dead?

A Slate staff debate.

(Continued from Page 1)

Torie Bosch: I'm agnostic, born to a Jewish father and Catholic mother who just gave me a vague sense of right and wrong. Mormons can go ahead and baptize me once I'm dead. I'm open to other faiths posthumously attempting to rescue my soul as well. At worst, I'm dead and will have no idea it happened; at best, perhaps my lack of faith will be proven wrong.

If you don't know your nose is being rubbed in it, does it matter? Would it help if no one ever "leaked" it when someone who shouldn't have been baptized was?

Wickman: I don’t think the practice “rubs [anyone’s] noses in it.” It’s done in private, and then someone leaks the information to the media, and then the media and our collective reaction deem the story newsworthy. If many mainstream Christian beliefs were new, and it was just coming out that, for example, all Jews who didn’t accept the Christian faith and get baptized were probably going to hell, then that belief might seem newsworthy, and we might be having a bit of an uncomfortable discussion about that. Instead, the Mormon practices are the new ones, and they’re the insensitive ones we can’t seem to avoid.

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Will Saletan: Every faith has its vanity. For Jews, it’s that we’re "the chosen people." I'm for quietly rolling your eyes at the vanities of other faiths, even the ones that feel insulting, and getting on with life, here and in the world to come.

Oremus: That’s fine when it comes to religious vanities. I draw the line at coercion, as in the Crusades or strict Islamic law. Maybe that's where the difference of opinion arises: Those who are outraged by posthumous baptism feel it amounts to coercion, albeit of immortal souls rather than living humans. For those who don't put much stock in immortal souls, it's harmless vanity.

Levy: I think the discussion has sidetracked from the main issue here: identity, rather than religious observance. Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered largely because of his identity—one, might I add, that wasn’t necessarily self-imposed. The same goes for Holocaust victims. If the reason for your death is your identity, one put on you by others, how dare someone else try, once again, to change it on you? I know this is not the Mormon Church’s intention, but this is how it can be perceived within the Jewish community.

Abby Ohlheiser: Given what Forrest said about what a Mormon posthumous baptism actually means theologically (a choice, rather than a conversion), it seems pretty similar to the goal of Christian mission work: Bring the idea of Christianity to a person so that they can choose whether to accept it or not. The only difference is that the Mormon version can happen after death, too.

How much of this controversy has to do with Mormons being viewed as a cult or cultish? I buy the Mormon Church's explanation that the baptisms in question are happening against protocol by overzealous (not their word) members of the church, yet it seems that the criticism is being laid on Mormonism as a whole. The institution isn't free of responsibility—they should at the very least monitor their records better, especially after promising the families of survivors that they would not baptize the Holocaust dead—but there's an assumed homogeneity of Mormomism here that makes me a bit wary.

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