Religion & Beliefs

Mormons, Jews Uninterested In Not Wasting Time

Organized religion may have hit an all-time low this week, as two of the world’s most hated faiths, Judaism and Mormonism, squared off in a metaphysical shakedown for the ages. From CNN.com: Holocaust survivors said Monday they are through trying … Read More

By / November 12, 2008

Organized religion may have hit an all-time low this week, as two of the world’s most hated faiths, Judaism and Mormonism, squared off in a metaphysical shakedown for the ages. From CNN.com: Holocaust survivors said Monday they are through trying to negotiate with the Mormon church over posthumous baptisms of Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps, saying the church has repeatedly violated a 13-year-old agreement barring the practice.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the religious group that believes that Jesus visited America sometime after his resurrection, has a long-standing practice of baptizing the deceased ancestors of current church members in ceremonies in which living Mormons are placed in the baptismal ponds and take the blessings by proxy. What we’re talking about here is living people standing in a pool of water while some other person (a priest) pours water on their head and says a bunch of words (prayers). That is all that happens. The Mormons can go on and on all day if they want to about salvation in the eyes of God and honoring ancestors with posthumous ceremonies, but all that is really happening is a bunch of people are hanging around a pond, splashing each other and attempting to avoid having a good time. The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors (AGHS!), has long been upset about the Mormon practice of baptizing the dead, when those being baptized by proxy are Jewish Holocaust victims. So a group of Jews are unhappy that a group of people who believe in a different God (actually the same God, but with different peripherals) are standing in a pool of water and splashing each other, while saying the names of the Jews’ relatives who died more than 60 years ago. What is the concern here? Are the Mormons using up all of the memories of the deceased? Despite the ridiculousness of the AGHS’s concerns, the Church of Latter Day Saints appears to be the party at fault here. According to the CNN.com article, the LDS and the AGHS made an agreement in 1995 that set the terms for Mormon baptisms of Holocaust victims. However, the Mormons now appear to be reneging on the agreed upon terms. "We don’t think any faith group has the right to ask another to change its doctrines," LDS church Elder Lance B. Wickman said. "If our work for the dead is properly understood … it should not be a source of friction to anyone. It’s merely a freewill offering."

Technically, this is true; as discussed, the Mormons aren’t actually doing anything. However, neither Wickman nor any of the AGHS leaders believe that. The Mormon leaders believe that they are posthumously co-opting the Holocaust victims into their religion, and the Jews believe that the Mormons are converting them. More important, if the two groups made a deal to settle this matter, both sides should stick to the agreement. There is no room for theological negotiations at this point, such as posed by Wickman. If he or anyone else objected to the deal, the time to contest it was in 1995. What is really highlighted in this whole episode is the sheer ridiculousness of religious dogma. People love organized religion because they like belonging to something. The conflict over the baptismal of Holocaust victims isn’t between Mormons and Jews, it’s between the governing body of the Mormon church and some special interest group that represents a dying segment of the Jewish population. I’m sure that plenty of Jews and Mormons are upset over the matter, but they really shouldn’t be.

The Mormon leaders who insist on "baptizing" dead Jews are being presumptuous and arrogant, but responding to their actions as if they are significant makes the AGHS look overly concerned with non-issues.