Thursday, July 07, 2005

On Ethics and Vicarious Baptism

I have always had an interest in genealogy. For many years I've enjoyed the thrill of looking up the lives that my ancestors led; hunting down the clues that give me hints as to what they did, where they lived and the choices they made.

As most people who are involved with geneaology know, one of the largest collections of geneaological material that is available in the world is in the hands of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, colloquially known as the Mormons.

The reason for this is the fact that they have a belief known as vicarious baptism, where one can be "baptised" even after one's death. In order to facilitate more vicarious baptisms, the Latter-Day Saints have gathered extensive geneaological material from all over the world.

Of course, as an amateur geneaologist, I found the chance to use this collection to be irresistable. So, about fifteen years ago, I found a center in Manhattan where they kept some of their records. When I got there, I was asked to sign in to use the facilities. Aware of the concept of vicarious baptism, I was hesitant to give my name, and, in the end, made up a name and wrote it down.

I made some queries, didn't find any immediate information that would interest me, and left.

However, since then, there have been two issues that have bothered me about that episode.

The first is the fact that I gave them a false name. I suppose one could view the requested information as the "price" to use the facility. By giving them a false name, it seems to me, that I "stole" the use of the facility.

The second issue relates to the notion of vicarious baptism. It's not so much the concept itself that bothered me; it's the fact that I was bothered by the fact that I might be unknowingly "baptised." After all, I don't hold of the concept of vicarious baptism, so why should it bother me if they "baptise" me after I'm gone? It doesn't harm or benefit me at all. God's not going to punish me because the Latter-Day Saints have performed their rituals over my name. And yet, on the other hand, there is this... visceral feeling of revulsion that I get when I think that someone else may do this thing to me, even though it will not affect me at all.

I'm not sure which issue bothers me more; the fact that I "stole" from the LDS or the fact that if I had given them my name, they might baptize me (and may yet do so under a false name anyway).

The Wolf

17 comments:

Ben Avuyah said...

I had a similar feeling when I checked off the organ donation box on my license. I knew I wouldn't be around to mind giving up my spleen but somehow It still disturbed me, that it would be done to my body.

I know it's not a very good analogy but as soon as I read the sentiment of your post I was reminded of the DMV.

Perhaps it is the dread of loosing our identity and being, after death, that cause us to want all of our organs in one place and the memory of our ideology un-besmirched.

Enigma4U said...

HELP! The Wolf has fallen into the twilight zone of rationality and can't get up!

Have you lost your mind, man?

You're talking about a bunch of loonies from a nutty religion who "baptize" your "name" without your consent!!! All you have to do to reverse this horrendous act is close your eyes, clap your hands twice, place your hands on your head, and say in a loud voice three times: Mahasamadhi, Mahasamadhi, Mahasamadhi, and poof, the baptism is gone. It also helps if you drop Chai pennies into Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness' pushka.

What's next on your list of fears? Aliens performing scarless exploratory surgery on your body while you're under deep hypnosis? Uri Geller willing your spoons into weird positions without your consent? A Dybbuk taking over your spirit and channeling through you in Aramaic?

Get a good night's sleep, Wolf, and wake up with your faculties back in working order.

Orthoprax said...

Enigma,

It's the aspect of having your identity affiliated with an organization for which you want no relationship which is bothersome. Mormons are just a funky but mostly harmless group. But suppose the KKK took up the practice of making dead people honorary klan members. That would bother plenty of people.

BrooklynWolf said...

Enigma,

I'm not *afraid* of vicarious baptism, it's just a feeling of uneasiness. I suppose Orthoprax but it best... I just don't want my name associated with the LDS church in that fashion.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that the feeling is not entirely rational. But, then again, not all of our feelings are.

The Wolf

daat y said...

I enjoy these posts.You are talking about your feelings.Feelings are not right or wrong.These especially are completely understandable.ICH!Who wants vicarious baptism.You acted smartly.

Enigma4U said...

Wolf,

Next time you have occasion to visit the Mormon library, by all means, feel free to sign in using my name. I have no problem with baptism, vicarious or otherwise. I'm surprised when seemingly rational people (that includes Orthoprax and daat y) embrace their irrational fears and superstitions, instead of conquering them.

BrooklynWolf said...

Thanks for the permission, Enigma, but I haven't been back since, nor do I plan to go.

I'm still troubled by the other aspect of this, that I lied to gain admission, which is clearly wrong. I don't plan to duplicate that anytime soon, regardless of my stance on vicarious baptism.

The Wolf

Ben Avuyah said...

Want to read something interesting about Mormon laws and culture ? There is a great book by John Krakour (sp?), same guy who wrote, "into thin air" about the everest ascent. This one is called "under the banner of heaven".

A rabbi of mine once said that if the beis hamikdash were ever re-established our religion would be alot like the mormon religion is now.

read the book with that in mind...it will give you the chills.

daat y said...

enigma4u,
Talking about your feelings doesn't mean 'embracing' them.The only way of dealing with them is being honest with yourself.We are human with thoughts and feelings.

Orthoprax said...

Enigma,

If there's one thing that a person can leave forever, it's a reputation. I wouldn't want that sullied by a zealous organization.

It won't matter to you if after you're dead someone digs up your body, sets it on strings and plays it like a puppet - but that doesn't mean you'd like that to happen either.

Just because something won't affect you after your dead doesn't mean it's not a concern for when you are alive. I don't fear any harm to myself by the prospect of vicarious baptism, but I have a measure of self-respect that I'd like to have continued even after my eventual demise.

Enigma4U said...

Orthoprax,

I don't see how one's reputation is sullied by a vicarious baptism. Nothing physical goes on in this silly ceremony - it's all in the realm of makebelieve, and imaginary ceremonies do not frighten me. In any case, you'd be in good company. Albert Einstein was vicariously baptised, at least once, but knowing how zealous the Mormons are about this, probably many, many times. Do you perceive his reputation as being sullied by this?

Orthoprax said...

Enigma,

I don't think Einsetin would have appreciated others using his name in a manner so disrespectful of his wishes. Perhaps reputation was the wrong word, but I think respect for a person's name should be continued even after death and not be belittled by being used as bragging rights for some unauthorized organization.

I think this ultimately goes down to the debate of whether the dead have rights. I say they do because when I'm dead, I'd want my remains (and that includes my name) to be treated with a certain amount of respect as well. And one cannot wish differently for others than they'd wish for themselves and not be contradictory.

Larry Lennhoff said...

According to my understanding of Mormon theology, vicarious baptism does not make the deceased a Mormon, but merely offers them the chance to be so. Since they think everyone not a Mormon is damned, it naturally follows that they think everyone they baptize accepts the offer.

I have a different picture:
It's Friday evening in Gan Eden, and the Cohens are sitting around the table, singing zemirot. There is a knock at the door. When it is opened, an embarrased looking angel comes in. "Uh, pardon me Mrs. Cohen - would you like to become a Mormon?" The Cohens all laugh, and invite the angel to sit down and have some kugel. He explains he has a few more visits to make, leaves, and the singing resumes.

Kol Tuv

Larry

invey hagefen said...

What about the singles waiting to be married. Peple collect $$$$$$ for hachnasa kala but do nothing for singles

BrooklynWolf said...

invey,

Thanks for the comments, although I'm not sure how they apply to the issue at hand...

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

True enough, Larry.

From the Wikipedia article I linked to in the post:

Vicarious baptism does not mean that the decedent actually accepts the ordinance performed for him or her; it merely means that the decedent may accept the ordinance and the benefits which the Latter-day Saints claim it provides. However, Church leaders have stated that the people in the afterlife for whom these ordinances have been performed will rarely reject it.


The Wolf

GoldaLeah said...

A personal anecdote that may or may not be directly related. Why me aunt was born, my grandmother had a very quick labor and was rushed to the nearest hospital, a Catholic hospital. (This was 1967.) The labor was difficult. She was pregnant with twins and one did not survive. Afterward, the nun/nurse came in to tell my Nana that her brand new baby girl had been baptized when they thought her little life was also in jeopardy? My granmother's response? "A blessing is a blessing." As long as there is no malicious intent, I agree with Nana.