Proxy Baptizing Holocaust Victims = Fanaticism?

That’s the implication of this angry piece by David Velleman, a philosophy professor at the University of Michigan. Reading about the activities of certain evangelical groups to proselytize in the wake of the tsunami catatrosphe (some of which, I agree, are more than a little insensitive), Velleman reflects upon his discovery, over a decade ago, that his long-dead family (Dutch Jews, all) had been subject to some proxy proselytizing themselves:

When I first became interested in genealogy, I learned, as all genealogists do, that the best source of genealogical information is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints….Visiting the Mormons’ Family History Center in Ann Arbor, I found microformed output from a database that listed many of my Dutch aunts, uncles, and cousins, along with their dates of birth and death. The database identified the source of this information, which I was able to borrow from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Entitled “List of Dutch Jews, Prisoners, and Missing Persons Who Died in Concentration Camps During the Second World War”, it collected post-War issues of a Dutch government periodical that had published lists of Dutch Jews and what was known of their fate….

The Mormons had copied names and dates from the Dutch government lists into their own database, whose output was stored on microfiche at my local Family History Center. Next to the columns listing biographical information were three additional columns, containing very recent dates, interspersed with the notations “CLEARED” and “UNCLEARED”. These columns were almost certainly records of proxy baptisms….Ten years after having learned this information, I have still not digested it. It is, I think, indigestible. Missionaries were rushing to the scene of the Holocaust, 40 years after the fact, in order to convert the dead. Mormon proxy baptisms can be performed only for identifiable individuals who are known to have died. The Holocaust, and the meticuluous records kept by its perpetrators, provided a bountiful harvest of souls ripe for saving. As a source of potential converts, the recent tsunami pales in comparison.

I don’t think that my relatives were actually converted to Mormonism. But the Mormons thought so. Of course, the Mormons also thought that they were saving my relatives from an eternity spent in purgatory, or worse. They meant well….[But with] good intentions like these, I say, hell can have superhighways. Try as I might, I have never been able to comprehend what my aunts, uncles, and cousins endured on this side of the gas chamber. Anyone who thinks that he understands what happens on the other side, and understands it well enough to meddle there, is suffering from monumental hubris, self-certainty of a kind that fuels inquisitors, crusaders, jihadists….The tsunami proselytizers and proxy baptists believe that they have divine authority to bypass discussion altogether. They aim to change minds by any means necessary–or, at least, by means that come uncomfortably close to force and extortion.

I’ve no idea how Velleman can move from private religious ceremonies provided by proxy to “force and extortion”; I can only assume that what we have on display here is that particular resistance to religious (as opposed to other forms of) ritual which many secularists suffer from. That is, as Nate observed on his other blog, for many philosophical liberals “there is something uniquely threatening about religion qua religion.” Of course, I may be doing Dr. Velleman an injustice; perhaps he would have been just as wounded to discover, for example, a political party which used the words and actions of Dutch Jews like his extended family to elicit support for some radical movement that he disagreed with to be equally distasteful. One wonders.

That’s not to deny that there is something unique about religion, which is why, all things being equal, our laws and informal habits regarding schooling, the workplace, and social interaction generally are more flustered by the presence of religious demands and perspectives than by any other sort of non-conventionality. And which is also why the church has been right, I think, to put a stop to the proxy baptism of Holocaust victims. The Shoah was an act of religious genocide, despite the fact that outward religiosity did not serve as a marker of who was to be killed and who was not. Of course, the question of Jewish identity is one of the oldest and hardest of all European history; the Final Solution, and the despair and strife which followed it, may not have uniformally revivified the religious interpretation of that identity in the minds of most living Jews, but it certainly made them far more sensitive to it than they might otherwise have been. Hence the reactions of a man like Velleman, who does not believe for a moment that Mormon rituals are effacious, and also nonethless takes deep religious offense (though he does not call it that) at their performance. What is so terrible about jihadists and crusaders of all ilk is that they inject religion into matters of life and death in the most forceful of ways. Our temple work has nothing in common with them, and no serious comparison could withstand the slightest scrutiny–yet I can sympathize with the feeling. Religion is about being bound into a place; for all our talk of “choosing God,” the fact is that the religious sensibility is the least chosen, most beholden, of all our given circumstances. It places us, and hence proselytizers need to be sensitive of how their work (both proxy and live!) can be taken to mean tearing people out of their places. We convert neither the living nor the dead through the barrell of a gun, but at the same time, there is no reason not to be cautious in how we do our work, less over-the-top accusations of duplicity and manipulation like Velleman’s be allowed to hide the least kernel of truth.

Of course, sometimes you want to tear people out of their places–to let the Spirit rip things up as it were, right? Yes, there’s that temptation. Years back, when this whole story first broke, a friend of mine expressed disappoint at the church’s caution and respectful backing off–why give an inch?!, was his thought. Baptize them all! Hitler and Stalin and Joan of Arc; as soon as Mother Teresa dies, he said, let’s nab her too. Why should we care what the world thinks? I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not, but I admit I kind of admired his attitude. But it’s not my attitude. Even when it comes to temple work, I think it’s more appropriate to tend to one’s own, than to make it seem as though all the places in the world (including, most horrifyingly, the gas chambers of the Holocaust) are equally just open gates that our proxies can help souls pass right on through.

182 comments for “Proxy Baptizing Holocaust Victims = Fanaticism?

  1. Ivan Wolfe
    February 21, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    Part of the problem, I think, is the misunderstanding of what proxy baptisms, etc. are.

    The few non-Mormons I know who have heard of it think it means we believe EVERY SINGLE ONE of them is now a Mormon. I try and try to explain to them that just ain’t so – and they don’t believe me. To them, baptism is such a symbol of joining a church, they believe we are actually forcing the departed spirits to join our church.

    Plus, I recall a particularly nasty editorial back in the 80s from the Anchorage Daily News (this was when I was a kid, so my remembrance may be off a bit) that accussed our chruch of actualy trying to rewrite history – so that basically (although they didn’t put it quite this way), 100,000 years from now, alien archeologists would think everyone who ever lived had been Mormon.

  2. February 21, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    I’ve been pondering this question for a while and posted on a related topic last night. While I can empathize with fears of historical revisionism, I don’t find that posthumous baptism culturally offensive. I would much rather someone thinking that my dead Mormon relatives where happily progressing along a disparate path than I believe than wallowing in Hell, like many believe.

  3. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 4:13 pm

    The sad thing is that Velleman completely sidesteps real information about baptism for the dead because he wants to lash out at religion, particularly in this quoted portion, the Latter-day Saints. If he were being intellectually honest, which he is not, then he would have disclosed that baptism for the dead is truly in no way coercive or forceful. The ordinances are merely done for the names and those individuals have the choice whether to accept the generosity of Latter-day Saints who are sacrificing time and energy to do this for them. They can utterly reject it if they choose. It will sadden Latter-day Saints if they do, but that is their choice.

    Similarly, Velleman ignores Latter-day Saint scripture that clearly lays out aspects of the afterlife in sufficient detail for us to perform these proxy baptisms. Just because he personally doesn’t believe in these scriptures or possibly in any scripture or possibly doesn’t even acknowledge any power outside himself to which he is responsible, doesn’t mean that we Latter-day Saints cannot know something of the afterlife based on these revelations. He is truly an egotist if he thinks that he can tell us what we can and cannot believe or know. That is, he is rather full of himself if he states that, because he personally doesn’t have a belief in these things, they are certainly wrong and that none of us can have any such knowledge either.

    Prof. Velleman: Whatever these people suffered on one side of the gas chambers has absolutely nothing to do with proxy baptisms, coercion, or what Latter-day Saints believe, based on revelations that they believe are directly from God, is happening on the other side.

  4. February 21, 2005 at 4:16 pm

    Somebody needs a copy editor:

    “Missionaries were rushing to the scene of the Holocaust, 40 years after the fact, in order to convert the dead.”

    If a 40-year lag constitutes a “rush,” I’d hate to see us dragging our feet.

  5. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 4:32 pm

    From Velleman’s article: I don’t think that my relatives were actually converted to Mormonism. But the Mormons thought so. Of course, the Mormons also thought that they were saving my relatives from an eternity spent in purgatory, or worse.

    With scholarship like this, who needs sensationalist journalism?

    Prof. Velleman, what good is your Ph.D. doing you if you cannot get some very superficial and simple information about a religious group straight. If your statement about Latter-day Saints contains such inaccurate portrayals of belief and doctrine, then how is anyone to trust your scholarship in other areas, such as, e.g. philosophy? When you write about what a certain philosopher thought or believed, what are we to think about the accuracy of that depiction if you cannot even open the Book of Mormon to the index and find out what Latter-day Saints really believe about the immediate afterlife (Spirit World vs. Spirit Prison) or the Doctrine and Covenants to find out what we believe about baptism for the dead and various aspects of the afterlife? It is quite simple and a quick perusal of the index will surely point you in the right direction.

    (1) Latter-day Saints don’t think that your ancestors converted to Mormonism either. But they hope that they might accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then accept the ordinances that have been performed for them. Yet we do not know if they accept and we are still willing to do the ordinances for them, realizing that they are, likely, as curmudgeonly as you are. If it irritates you so much, then go ahead and baptize or “dub” my deceased ancestors venemous liberals. It will be their choice whether they actually become such or not. That is not my worry.

    (2) Nowhere in Latter-day Saint belief or doctrine is there evidence of an eternity spent in purgatory. This is so inaccurate as to be laughable. Latter-day Saints are the only Christian denomination that understand that what Evangelicals refer to as Hell is only a temporary station (which is rightly called Spirit Prison) and that when Christ “empties Hell,” no spirits will be left there. They will enter one of three degrees of glory based on the law they chose to live by while on earth and based on the extent to which they allow the Atonement of Jesus Christ to cleanse them from sin. All of this is fully your ancestors’ choice, we believe, so you have no reason to think that they are Latter-day Saints right now just because the proxy work has been done for them.

  6. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 4:35 pm

    By the way, none of the activities of Latter-day Saints in their proxy work for deceased people can even remotely be compared to Evangelicals or others exploiting the misery and sadness of people suffering from the Tsunami disaster to win converts.

  7. Pris
    February 21, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    Regardless of Velleman’s questionable scholarship, I think this is the important part of his argument: “Anyone who thinks that he understands what happens on the other side, and understands it well enough to meddle there, is suffering from monumental hubris, self-certainty of a kind that fuels inquisitors, crusaders, jihadists….”

    It wouldn’t surprise me that some people–Velleman included–see proxy baptisms as the equivalent to a “I’m right and you’re wrong” taunt. What makes it worse is that the baptisms are for people who can’t defend themselves (in this world, at least).

  8. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    Pris, Velleman intentionally misrepresents LDS beliefs and practice in order to force the very conclusion that you isolate as the central aspect of his little essay. If he were to accurately portray what Latter-day Saints are doing with proxy baptisms, then he would still be able to accuse us of being off our rocker, but he wouldn’t be able to color us as exploiters as is his point in the article.

  9. Ivan Wolfe
    February 21, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    john –

    But Vellman seems to have a particular mad-on for religion in general. He seems to want to say: No one should ever make claims about the afterlife ergo religion in general needs to shut up about what we should do in this life to obtain a good afterlife.

    Plus the fact he then associates Mormons with “jihadists” the inquisition – he seems to feel all religion leads to that.

    In essence, he has an academic blind spot. When it comes to organized religion, he is unable to think critically, and he refuses to admit it.

  10. Mark B.
    February 21, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    Prof. Velleman: No Mormon who knows anything of his religion believes that your deceased ancestors converted to Mormonism. Speak to one of your Mormon colleagues there at Michigan–my brother’s visiting in the history department this year, and I’m confident that he’s not the only Mormon there–and he can give you a quick primer on what we do believe about the effect of proxy ordinances.

  11. Derek
    February 21, 2005 at 4:55 pm

    Professor Velleman, if you don’t believe in my religion, then you must not believe that our baptisms for the dead have any effect on the afterlife. So what’s the problem?

  12. Christian Cardall
    February 21, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    A Modest Proposal: Wait to do proxy baptisms until we receive clear word from the spirit world that candidates have passed their baptismal interviews.

    Any thoughts on why the Lord doesn’t take this eminently reasonable approach?

  13. Pris
    February 21, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    John, I agree with your assesment–there’s no reasonable way to equate proxy baptisms with exploitation. But the idea I get reading Velleman’s words–that some view the baptisms as an “I’m right and you’re wrong” action–is still there. Personally, I find this a much more interesting question; growing up Gentile in an LDS-dominated area and hearing “I’ll pray for you” constantly–it didn’t sit well. Even though there’s no “problem” with the baptisms (as per comment 11), the implication of it isn’t all that conciliatory. Perhaps this isn’t a problem; even if it is, I don’t know what the solution might be.

  14. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    CC: ask the Lord that!

  15. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 5:10 pm

    Pris: see Ivan’s comment # 9.

  16. February 21, 2005 at 5:11 pm

    Two general points:

    1) Just in case there’s any confusion, I’m not defending Professor Velleman’s conclusions. As the commenters here (and over at his blog as well) amply make clear, his anger isn’t the least bit grounded on any real understanding of what we are claiming to do when we baptize someone by proxy in our temples–and given the amount of time which has gone by since he originally discovered what had transpired, he obviously has little intention of gaining such an understanding either.

    2) Refusing to credit his conclusions is not the same as refusing to credit his feelings. I think he likely doesn’t understand the nature of his own feelings: namely, that when he found out about proxy baptisms, he experienced (and perhaps continues to experience) a religious affront. That is, he feels as though someone is messing with his story, his place in the world, that which he’s bound to–namely, the Jewishness which marked his family for murder, whether they themselves embraced that Jewishness or not–by affection, if not belief. That’s why I think the church was right to take the complaints of Velleman and others seriously, and why they were right to put restrictions on the practice: it’s not just good public relations, but also good religious practice, to take seriously what others take seriously–even if, in not acknowledging the source of that seriousness, one’s critics fail to show the same sympathy back. That’s the way it is; turning the other cheek and all that.

    Christian: that’s funny. On point, and also funny.

  17. February 21, 2005 at 5:25 pm

    John et al,

    your arguments against Prof. Velleman are, of course, accurate statements of Church Doctrine in that we do not believe that baptizing by proxy here in any way forces “mormonism” on the deceased. However, they entirely seem to miss the point- what we did in regard to the holocaust victims was quite tactless. I believe the Church made a tactical error by allowing those baptisms to occur, and the Church itself has acknowledged this and apologized. Professor Velleman has every right to be outraged, in my opinion. Sometimes in our zeal to convert the world (both the living and the dead) we forget about tact. It’s an honest mistake, but one that needs to be (and has been) addressed and corrected.

  18. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    Russell wrote That’s why I think the church was right to take the complaints of Velleman and others seriously, and why they were right to put restrictions on the practice: it’s not just good public relations, but also good religious practice, to take seriously what others take seriously–even if, in not acknowledging the source of that seriousness, one’s critiques fail to show the same sympathy back. That’s the way it is; turning the other cheek and all that.

    I agree with this but am not inclined to give Velleman a free pass on shoddy scholarship and, dare I say it, bigotry in dredging this up right now in the context of the tsunami and comparing us implicitly to jihadists and other radical and inconsiderate fundamentalists who view force and coercion as an appropriate means to reach a goal. Misrepresenting proxy baptism as such a means is simply inexcusable of someone who claims to be a scholar and a professor.

    More power to the Church for deferring to the feelings of someone like Velleman but it is my view that we should raise our voices against such misrepresentation and villification.

  19. Pris
    February 21, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    John: Fair enough. I was thinking more of the implications of proxy baptisms in Gentile-LDS relations and less of Velleman’s specific claims (which I don’t agree with at all). Besides, Russell (comment 16, point 2) is basically saying what I’m trying to say.

  20. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 5:33 pm

    Jordan wrote It’s an honest mistake, but one that needs to be (and has been) addressed and corrected.

    Ours might be an honest mistake, but Velleman’s is far from honest. If he could be accurately described as making an honest mistake it was ten years ago when he first became outraged that Latter-day Saints or other religious people make claims about knowledge of the afterlife sufficient to actually do something about it. But to resort to the same inaccurate and deliberate depiction of Latter-day Saints and their doctrine now, ten years later, with plenty of time to look up baptism for the dead in the index, for the purpose of lashing out at religion in general is far from honest. If he wants to sneak in inaccurate premises into his argument that he suspects the readers of the Yale online journal will believe because of their similar state of being misinformed and their willingness to rely on the three letters after his name for the purpose of forcing the conclusion he wants regardless of its validity, then that is his right. But others, like me, also have the right to call him on it.

    And it doesn’t miss the point at all. The only way Velleman arrives at this conclusion is by propounding misinformation about what baptism for the dead is.

  21. February 21, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    He may be wrong about the finer points of our doctrine, but he is hardly the libeller you portray him as being, John. The point is that what the Church did in performing those ordinances was insufferably arrogant. There ought to be ancestor approval before baptising EVERYONE. Although he misses the mark doctrinally (irresponsibly or not is not the issue) he has a very valid complaint, in my book, and reaches valid conlcusions about religious zealotry. I don’t think he lashes out at religion as such, but he lashes out at the sometimes insensitivity of religious folk in the pursuit of their religious beliefs. We can learn from this that we should be more tactful, and dismiss the rest as ignorant, whether willful ignorance or not, it makes no difference.

    Bottom line: learn from our mistakes, and try not to villify the one who points them out, even if his own method in doing so is either incorrect, or tactless, or both.

  22. A. Greenwood
    February 21, 2005 at 6:00 pm

    “The point is that what the Church did in performing those ordinances was insufferably arrogant. There ought to be ancestor [descendant?] approval before baptising EVERYONE”

    I usually find you pretty even-tempered, Jordan Fowles, but not today. Look, I know you intellectually believe that the dead are real people and they are still real people. I know you also intellectually believe that baptism is a real blessing, and I’m pretty sure you believe that in your heart also. What you need to do is start believing in your heart that the dead are real people who exist now and who may want to accept baptism. To hell (literally) with their descendants who’d want to stop them. Would you refuse to baptize the living if their children did not approve?

    “I came to bring not peace, but the sword.”

  23. February 21, 2005 at 6:09 pm

    Adam, I believe all those things. I also think we can have a bit more tact. Even if it means just holding off on baptizing the dead of particularly sensitive circumstances or when the descendants have specifically requested that we not. That said, if even one descendant gave approval, then should go ahead. And in the case of the “normal” dead, I say proceed with speed. After all I’m not talking about a cessation of our temple work for the dead. Just a bit more tact in very sensitive cases, like the holocaust victims.

    And no, of course I would still baptize the living if their children did not approve. But I think this is just a little different, because of the tragedy involved. These people were persecuted and killed BECAUSE of their JEWISH identity. I can see how going through all of the meticulous Nazi records and using them to baptize for the dead into our religion those who perished for theirs might be offensive to others, and while I generally do believe that the work of God must go forward, it can still move forward without undue offense to those whose lives have been so affected by the holocaust- those whose own grandparents perished there. The Church even recognizes this, based upon the 1995 (1994?) agreement to stop knowingly performing baptisms for holocause victims without descendant approval.

    There are many instances where offense to others in the building up of the Kingdom is going to occur, with no objection from me. But this is not one of those areas.

    Adam, I see your point and I actually agree in most cases- just not this one. It’s too sensitive a subject to just march in, raid the archives, and baptize with reckless abandon. I don’t suggest never baptizing these people, just proceeding more sensitively.

  24. Arturo Toscanini
    February 21, 2005 at 6:09 pm

    Mormon’s love to be the one telling someone what he is doing regardless of what he intends. For example, look at Steve L. calling people cowards for not affirming that they see the emperors new testimony.

    But when someone starts telling Mormon’s what they’re doing, look out! It’s all libel, slander, and intellectual dishonesty. Nice double standard.

  25. February 21, 2005 at 6:11 pm

    Now Arturo- this is a sensitive subject, and I don’t think that anyone here would call any criticism of the Church “libel, slander, and intellectual dishonesty.”

  26. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 6:12 pm

    Arturo wrote Mormon’s love to be the one telling someone what he is doing regardless of what he intends. For example, look at Steve L. calling people cowards for not affirming that they see the emperors new testimony.

    What a bizarre statement. Help me understand this, if you’re not a troll.

    Arturo wrote But when someone starts telling Mormon’s what they’re doing, look out! It’s all libel, slander, and intellectual dishonesty. Nice double standard.

    See my comment # 5 and respond in detail (if you can) to that if you think this is a case of Latter-day Saints inappropriately employing a double standard by calling Velleman on his deliberate inaccuracies crafted to force a conclusion that otherwise does not follow.

  27. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 6:15 pm

    Jordan, why not, under your logic in ## 21 and 23, (e.g. “There ought to be ancestor approval before baptising EVERYONE.”), just abolish baptisms for the dead altogether until the Millenium when people like Velleman who take offense at it will either not be around at all or will have to bend to the will of the new world government (i.e. the “dictatorship” of Jesus Christ) in allowing it to happen?

  28. A. Greenwood
    February 21, 2005 at 6:15 pm

    Originally it sounded like you said that no one should ever be baptized without the approval of at least one descendant. Now it sounds like you think that should only be the case in cases like the Holocaust where it’s going to be sensitive. If the latter position is what you’re really advocating, then I have nothing to argue with you about. That latter position sounds fine with me.

  29. A. Greenwood
    February 21, 2005 at 6:15 pm

    “Arturo Toscanini”,
    This is a site for believing Mormons and those who can respectfully and empathetically towards Mormon beliefs. No doubt you are in one of those two classes. Please do not lead us to think otherwise by suggesting that testimonies are worse than threadbare.

  30. February 21, 2005 at 6:20 pm

    Just so you all know where I am coming from-

    My brother John and I had the wonderful opportunity about 6 years ago to spend a summer in Vilnius, Lithuania learning Yiddish with Jewish people from around the world. Since Vilnius was a Jewish/Yiddish cultural center prior to WWII, and then became one of the horrible ghettos of the holocaust, we spent a lot of time on excursions related to the holocaust. Many of the people with us had ancestors separated by only one or two generations who perished there during the holocaust, either in the Ghettos in the Jewish Quarter of Vilnius, the firing ranges of Kaunas, or concentration camps throughout Eastern Europe. If nothing else, I learned respect for the sensitive feelings of these descendants- many of whom were robbed of lives getting to know their immediate ancestors. This experience allowed me to walk in their shoes and see just how offensive our practice of baptizing them all for the dead could be. There is no reason, in my opinion, why we can’t quietly step around the holocaust victims for the time being, unless we have descendant approval, when we perform these vital saving ordinances for those on the “other side of the veil.” After all, there are so many dead that we will always have enough to do for the foreseeable future without baptizing those who perished in the holocaust absent descendant approval.

    Prof. Velleman’s feelings on this matter should not be so lightly dismissed and condemned, even if he is wrong in his conclusions about the meaning of the ordinance.

  31. February 21, 2005 at 6:23 pm

    Adam- I don’t think I had thought it out very well originally, but I’m pretty sure that I am only referring to baptisms for the dead for those who died under ultra-sensitive conditions, like the holocaust, and where there are still quite immediate descendants.

    Otherwise, I think the general rule should be to baptize on. And we should not be ashamed to offend the devil. But we could be more cautious with the broken-hearted immediate descendants of something as horrific as the holocaust. And I know you probably agree.

  32. Jonathan Green
    February 21, 2005 at 6:30 pm

    Love the “jihadists” comparison.

    Imagine Osama Bin Laden, circa 1992, having a flash of inspiration:

    “We will convert the world to Islam by proxy! We will unleash archivists and paleographers upon the libraries of the decadent West! We will mercilessly extract and digitize vital records! All dead infidels will be forciblly converted!”

    I’d have to say that it would be infinitely preferable to the current situation. Heck, we’d probably have started a joint microfilming project with Al Qaeda by now.

  33. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 6:35 pm

    Jordan, I agree with everything you said in # 30 but that doesn’t change the fact that Velleman is not to be let off for his tactics.

    I have already stated that I fully agree with the Church’s choice not to baptize Holocaust victims for the dead. There is an additional dimension to the reason why the descendants and Jews generally greatly dislike this practice. Because so many were exterminated, Jews have an intense sense of preserving their identity to protect from further extermination of the Jewish people (now almost wholly a concept devoid of religious meaning; yet you cannot call it a “race” and remain politically correct; ethnicity doesn’t seem to work either, as our fellow sojouners in Vlinius let us know; a “heritage” to be maintained?). So, they see baptisms for the dead as further contributing to an erasure of Jewish identity. The Church understands this and tries to avoid baptizing Holocaust victims for the dead.

    You wrote Prof. Velleman’s feelings on this matter should not be so lightly dismissed and condemned, even if he is wrong in his conclusions about the meaning of the ordinance. Noone is dismissing Velleman’s “feelings” on this matter; but his position is derived from a misrepresented version of what was happening at the time and what the doctrine actually is.

  34. Kevin Barney
    February 21, 2005 at 6:37 pm

    These commentaries are always very frustrating, since almost invariably the finer points of the Mormon understanding of baptism for the dead are not understood, and we do not recognize the criticism as bearing any real relation to the practice as we understand it.

    But I can understand and sympathize with Jewish reaction against the practice. Seeing one’s ancestors on a baptism list is traumatic for a Jew (whose people have a very sad history with the practice of Christian baptism), no matter the finer theological niceties.

    Of course, in the article I see that the Church doesn’t get any credit for recognizing this and entering into the 1995 agreement regarding the names of Holocaust victims. The Church bent over backwards to be accomodating with representatives of the Jewish faith, and I agree with Russell that that was the right thing to do and speaks well for our leadership.

    What really sticks in my craw is when Helen Radkey, the self-appointed evangelical critic of such baptisms continues to try to fan the flames of this issue over names that inadvertently slip through the system. On the one hand, I wish individual Mormons would stick to their own lines and stop trying to baptize the founding fathers and everyone else (leave that sort of thing to the professional family history people who know what they are doing). But on the other, it strikes me as remarkably ironic that Radkey is the self-appointed defender of Judaism in this, since in her belief those dead Jews are now suffering inexpressible torment in Hell, and will continue to do so for eternity without any possible release, while in our belief even without proxy baptism those deceased individuals are in a state that non-Mormons would call “heaven.”

  35. February 21, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    but his position is derived from a misrepresented version of what was happening at the time and what the doctrine actually is.

    So what? Let’s promulgate correct doctrine without villifying him. Let’s cut him some slack. We always hope others will do the same for us.

  36. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    Or let’s call him on his cheap shots and not let him get away with it.

  37. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    KB wrote But on the other, it strikes me as remarkably ironic that Radkey is the self-appointed defender of Judaism in this, since in her belief those dead Jews are now suffering inexpressible torment in Hell, and will continue to do so for eternity without any possible release, while in our belief even without proxy baptism those deceased individuals are in a state that non-Mormons would call “heaven.”

    Beautiful. Very, very nicely put.

  38. February 21, 2005 at 6:57 pm

    KB- that was a clever comment about Helen Radkey. However, was it really necessary to get digs in on her?

  39. annegb
    February 21, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    I’m with Jordan. I think the way to take the wind out his sails is simply to apologize and as I thought the church had done, abandon the practice of baptizing without family consent. It’s common courtesy.

    We know what we’re doing, but I think God would want us to be sensitive to the feelings of others. When people are offended, they tend to overspeak and exaggerate the offense. I do. It’s human nature.

    I have often thought that why does it matter to others who do not believe as we do, since they do not believe as we do, what’s the difference? But in the death of loved ones, or in this case, a group of people who this guy feels very strongly about, feelings are more tender. We can acknowledge the gaffe and let it go. Our bad. Move on.

  40. Sheri Lynn
    February 21, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    What an impotent deity these poor people believe in, who can’t rescue a soul from something some misguided Mormon might do in his or her name.

    And how little belief in the power of individual choice.

    But hey, if we were really that powerful, there would be no need for a Savior anyway, let alone any other temporal work by any entity–just a very fast computer cranking out names and a few people dipping each other over and over and over.

  41. February 21, 2005 at 7:30 pm


    I think it’s safe to say that some of these people don’t believe in a deity at all. But they still get offended at the notion of Mormons “exploiting” records kept by the Nazis- the perpetrators of “bubbe and zayda”‘s deaths. It has nothing to do with the potency/impotency of God and everything to do with respecting the cultural wishes of Jewish families whose direct ancestors (even perhaps their bubbe (grandma) and zayde (grandpa)) perished in the most heinous ways BECAUSE of their ethnic identities as Jews. Baptizing them as Mormons is very likely to be offensive to those descendants who don’t understand the gospel. Sensitivity is in order, regardless of differing beliefs about the potency of God’s saving power or whether God even exists at all.

  42. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 7:33 pm

    John Fowles (#3, #7): Where in the passages Russell quoted does it say that Velleman “intentionally mispresents” the truth about Mormons? What is your evidence for “intellectually dishonesty”? Those are strong claims and frankly not very charitable readings. I see Arturo’s point (#24) exactly. We are hypersensitive to criticism and rush to judgement without giving people the benefit of the doubt we would want were we commenting on people outside our own tradition.

  43. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    jed wrote What is your evidence for “intellectually dishonesty”? Those are strong claims and frankly not very charitable readings.

    My evidence for these claims in my comments #s 3 and 8 is that the man has a Ph.D. and claims to be a professor; thus, he should be held to a standard of accuracy in making claims about someone else’s religion, especially when the information that inaccurately portrays is both easily refutable by a most perfunctory search of LDS doctrine and necessary for the conclusion he comes to. This is compounded by the fact that he has had more than ten years to verify if his ideas of what he has said Latter-day Saints believe about proxy baptism is correct. In assuming that he has done this much so as to inform himself of the real nature of things, being a philosophy professor, after all, I am actually giving him the benefit of the doubt based on his Ph.D. and what that implies. This also, however, leads to the unavoidable conclusion that, if he has checked his facts, which is his duty to do, then he must be intentionally misrepresenting LDS doctrine in order to force the conclusion that he wants to propound through his article. And that is intellectually dishonest.

    And Arturo is way off base in his accusations.

  44. Sheri Lynn
    February 21, 2005 at 7:47 pm

    Jordan: Well, I was thinking specifically about the people who think we’re somehow forcing the dead to be Mormons. I don’t think I could have worked myself up into a tizzy over this back when I was an atheist. But then, I never worshipped my ancestors in lieu of God…it seems to me that some people do.

    I agree about being sensitive to it, but I am not capable, apparently, of understanding why any non-Mormon would give a durn. As long as we’re not physically digging people up (as some Anti-Mormons teach we do) and dragging cadavers and ashes into the temple…we are saying some names over someone getting wet. If they don’t believe in what we do, then they should see it as us honoring their dead, and practicing our religion as we are free to do, and no skin off anyone else’s…um, nose. :-/

  45. February 21, 2005 at 7:52 pm

    Honoring their dead who died BECAUSE they were Jewish by baptizing them as Mormons? If you were Jewish and your grandma had perished in the holocaust, would you see her post-humous baptism as an honor? Well, you might, but apparently many holocaust descendants don’t. I think we should respect that.

    I do see your point about how if they don’t believe it works then why should they give a durn. But the fact is they do and we should respect that- at least with respect to holocaust victims who many descendants view as martyrs for the cause of judaism.

  46. February 21, 2005 at 7:54 pm

    ““We will convert the world to Islam by proxy! We will unleash archivists and paleographers upon the libraries of the decadent West! We will mercilessly extract and digitize vital records! All dead infidels will be forciblly converted!”

    Hilarious :) Many thanks for a needed belly-laugh today (although FYI, a paleographer is one who studies ancient writing systems, not really genealogy connected, but it sounds good.)

  47. February 21, 2005 at 7:59 pm

    “We will convert the world to Islam by proxy! We will unleash archivists and paleographers upon the libraries of the decadent West! We will mercilessly extract and digitize vital records! All dead infidels will be forciblly converted!”

    That was really funny, Jonathan. Thanks.

  48. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    John Fowles says: “This also, however, leads to the unavoidable conclusion that, if he has checked his facts, which is his duty to do, then he must be intentionally misrepresenting LDS doctrine in order to force the conclusion that he wants to propound through his article. And that is intellectually dishonest.”

    I cannot agree with this. To conclude that the absence of fact checking must lead to intentional misrepresentation is not persuasive, John. Writing about religious doctrine is not like pulling legal code off the shelves. Scholars are at the mercy of other scholars, relying on the information at hand. Errors creep in for many reasons, the least of which is intellectual dishonesty. Well-intentioned historians, journalists, and philosphers mispell the church’s name as “Latter Day Saints” all the time. Should we call them all dishonest because they haven’t checked their facts?

  49. February 21, 2005 at 8:03 pm

    Obviously, we people with fine tastes in humor think alike, Ben.

  50. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 8:04 pm

    Jed wrote To conclude that the absence of fact checking must lead to intentional misrepresentation is not persuasive, John.

    You have misunderstood my argument entirely. I was saying the opposite: my conclusion was that he must have checked his facts, otherwise he is not worthy of his Ph.D. Since I figure he must have known the real facts, the fact that he depicts this doctrine the way he does is evidence that he is misrepresenting that doctrine in order to have something to say–in order to force the conclusion that he wanted and that would cause the biggest stir.

  51. A. Greenwood
    February 21, 2005 at 8:11 pm

    John Fowles,
    You have an exalted notion of the Ph.D. I would rather be thought unworthy of a Ph.D. than a liar, so it’s fairly funny to see you make the opposite assumption in an effort to be charitable.

  52. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 8:15 pm

    Adam, you are very cynical. I would hope that a Ph.D. means something. Kaimi, at least, thinks that a J.D., a much lower degree than a Ph.D., does, since he calls me on every tiny factual inaccuracy that surfaces in any comment I make with regards to liberal topics.

  53. Sheri Lynn
    February 21, 2005 at 8:16 pm

    I don’t think the Jews who died in the Holocaust died because they were Jews. I think they died because some evil people believed that it was okay, even commendable, to kill people because they were Jews. It’s a distinction I think is important.

    And…everybody dies, except for a handful of people from the scripture, who must be VERY tired of everything, even blogging, by now.

  54. February 21, 2005 at 8:18 pm

    John- ??? I am baffled by what you just said about Kaimi. Kaimi does not have a Ph.D. either, so how does his calling you on inaccuracies reflect on his beliefs vis-vis the merit of Ph.D. versus J.D?

    (It might say something about his belief regarding the ultimate superiority of Columbia over all other schools, however… ;p)

    (Kaimi- you know I’m joking, right? I mean- nobody *could* sincerely believe that about Columbia…;) )

  55. February 21, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    oops- vis-A-vis…

  56. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 8:20 pm

    John Fowles (#50) says: “my conclusion was that he must have checked his facts, otherwise he is not worthy of his Ph.D.”

    Thanks for the correction. Let me change the wording around. To conclude that all Ph.D.s check their facts is not persuasive, John. You are giving rare ascendancy to a common credential.

  57. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 8:23 pm

    jed, see my #52. I would hope that having a Ph.D. means that you inform yourself about the facts of something that you believe is controversial, such as proxy baptism, before you lambast a religion with entirely inaccurate portrayals of its doctrine, which is easily verifiable and would be verified by someone who is interested in intellectual honesty and not simply smearing a religion.

  58. Ivan Wolfe
    February 21, 2005 at 8:32 pm

    I still wondering why people are giving him a free pass when he EXPLCITLY slandered (or is it libeled? I forget which one is written and which is spoken) the LDS faith by claiming we are morally equivalent to “jihadists” and “the inquisiton.”

    Those aren’t words that inspire me to go “oh – but his feelings should be respected.” It makes me think: “This man know very little about the LDS faith and wants to know even less. He’s more interested in attacking religion than understanding it.”

  59. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 8:34 pm

    John Fowles (#57), I suppose will we have to disgree on this one. I don’t see “lambast” and “smearing” in the Velleman. I see pain.

  60. Ivan Wolfe
    February 21, 2005 at 8:38 pm

    jed –

    no “smearing”?

    See my comments #9 and #58.

    I think that is smearing, even if it comes from pain.

  61. Arturo Toscanini
    February 21, 2005 at 9:05 pm

    This post is only a few hours old and already has 60+ comments. The Julie M. Smith “What Think Ye?” post generated the same kind of bombastic outrage. In both posts, the subject matter involved someone telling Mormons how they thought and behaved (or implying that they thought or behaved) in a way that shows little regard for the intent of the those behaving. It seems to me that these kinds assertions (or implications) really get Mormon’s riled up. I find this to be ironic, given the Mormon propensity to make such assertions about others.

    john fowles: See my comment # 5 and respond in detail (if you can) to that if you think this is a case of Latter-day Saints inappropriately employing a double standard by calling Velleman on his deliberate inaccuracies crafted to force a conclusion that otherwise does not follow.

    Let me be perfectly clear: (1) Anybody with even a cursory knowledge of Mormonism knows that proxy baptism dos not equal pasthumous conversion. This is so obviously false that I’m surprised that creates such controversy. (2) You’re wrong to say that his misrepresentation “force[s] a conclusion that otherwise does not follow.” Even if proxy baptism were equal to posthumous conversion, Velleman’s conclusion about fanatism would clearly remain a non sequitur.

    That said, it remains unclear to me that Velleman is intentionally misrepresenting anything. Although he appears to be speaking from ignorance and prejudice, I do not think that it is necessary to conclude that he is behaving in bad faith.

    A. Greenwood “Arturo Toscanini,” this is a site for believing Mormons and those who can respectfully and empathetically towards Mormon beliefs. No doubt you are in one of those two classes. Please do not lead us to think otherwise by suggesting that testimonies are worse than threadbare.

    You’ve lost me here. My comment is refering to Steve L’s string of comments in Gordon Smith’s “Simple Testimony” post. I think that it is a very typical example of Mormon’s telling other someone what he’s actually doing regardless of his intent. I stand by my characterization of Steve L. and the GA’s assertions on that thread, and this does not compromise my belief in Mormonism.

  62. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Ivan (#58) says: “He EXPLICITLY slandered… the LDS faith by claiming we are morally equivalent to “jihadists” and “the inquisiton.”

    I don’t see slander in the text, Ivan. The passage under question is the following.

    “Anyone who thinks that he understands what happens on the other side, and understands it well enough to meddle there, is suffering from monumental hubris, self-certainty of a kind that fuels inquisitors, crusaders, jihadists….

    Notice the words “of a kind.” He does not say LDS are jihadists, or say LDS are morally equivallent to jihadists. He says their certainty is of the same kind as jihadists. All that amounts to is a statement about certainty. But that is not slander. If a man sees overconfidence in Lear’s actions, he is entitled to say Lear suffers from hubris, is he not?

    I am not defending Velleman’s views. I am defending his right to give an opinion–and to be read carefully.

  63. February 21, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Dr. Velleman’s views are understandable, but he might try looking at it for the correct perspective. He must assume that Mormons believe in what they do, or they wouldn’t do it. Mormons must believe that proxy baptism is giving the dead a chance to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ (weather we are right or wrong about it is not the point, the point is we believe it)

    If we didn’t baptize Holocaust victims (or Jews in general) by proxy, yet we continued to Baptize Methodists, Catholics, Atheists, Etc…wouldn’t that be our own little anti-Semitism? If we really believe that what we do in the Temples are saving ordinances, isn’t our consistency in baptizing ALL who lived in died the very thing that vindicates us? Is backing off because it hurts someone’s feelings the right thing to do? If we really believe these proxy baptisms are what some of these people have been waiting for since they died, is it right to defer this gift in the interest of being PC? I question if we really believe what we teach. What happened to being bold?

    In fact if I was a Jew, I may have found it more offensive if we gave these proxy ordinances to everyone but Jews. I sure would feel the same if there was similar ordinances in the Catholic Church and they gave them to everyone who lived besides members of the LDS faith. I would see that as an example of anti-Mormonism. I may be way off base here.

  64. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 9:33 pm

    Arturo (#61) says: “That said, it remains unclear to me that Velleman is intentionally misrepresenting anything. Although he appears to be speaking from ignorance and prejudice, I do not think that it is necessary to conclude that he is behaving in bad faith.”

    Yes. Bad faith is a heavy charge, and it should be the court of last resort, not the first.

  65. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 9:35 pm

    Jed # 62 wrote I am not defending Velleman’s views. I am defending his right to give an opinion–and to be read carefully.

    Similarly, I am not attacking Velleman’s feelings or even his views; I am attacking his shoddy scholarship and intellectual arrogance. Why should he be given a free punch. That is the part I can’t figure out from you and Arturo.

  66. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 9:36 pm

    John: Help me see the shoddy scholarship once again.

  67. john fowles
    February 21, 2005 at 9:38 pm

    Jed, you can’t be serious.

  68. February 21, 2005 at 9:41 pm

    Jed, when you read Velleman’s work, nothing in there strikes you as off base?

  69. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 9:49 pm

    We don’t know where he got his information–this is the point, and to insist that every person with a Ph.D. should “check his facts,” whatever that might mean, is unrealistic. Even if he should check his facts and does not, we might just as well call that irresponsible. One need not make the leap to dishonesty. There is a difference. By your standard, John, all books on the shelf written by PhD are either error free or dishonest.

  70. February 21, 2005 at 9:53 pm

    I think making a mistake is one thing, not having the facts before leveling an attack on several million well meaning people is a bit of another.

  71. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 9:57 pm

    John Kane: Of course elements of the prose sound off base, the kind of treatment we have come to expect of outsiders writing about Mormons over the years. To say Mormons believe they are in fact saving people through proxy baptism is an oversimplication to Mormon ears. But oversimplication is what we see all the time from writers on the outsider looking in, and we do not have to leap to dishonesty to account for distortion. Mormons are distorted constantly in the public press, as well all know, but distortion does not mean dishonesty. There are many reasons for distortion. I could very well say Velleman’s atheism distorts his views of religion generally, but that does not mean he has it out for Mormons specifically.

  72. February 21, 2005 at 10:06 pm

    Jed, I agree. I don’t believe I charged him with dishonesty. I certainly don’t have enough information to make that claim. I do believe that certain facts are misplaced and can seem small, but they end up changing the whole playing field. In the end, I don’t believe he is malicious, but his oversimplification does leave a lot to be desired.

  73. Kaimi
    February 21, 2005 at 10:12 pm

    Wow, lots of comments.

    1. As a Mormon of Jewish heritage myself, I try to see both sides of the controversy. I understand why it’s touchy for Jews. I also understand why Mormons think that no one should be offended. To the extent that we can engage in a dialogue and let Jewish groups know that we mean no harm, it may help lessen the rift.

    2. Lots of people get facts wrong. I’m sure that I get facts wrong more than I would like. Formal education is not innoculation — I’ve seen people with every conceivable degree make statements that are clearly wrong.

    My impression is that the less formal the statement, or the less related to the area of formal expertise, the more likely it is that factual errors will be present. That is, a Ph.D. in botany will be expected to know her facts and have them right in a peer-reviewed, botanical paper, but if she’s writing an op-ed about religion, she may be less careful. A J.D. will get the facts right in a court filing or legal memorandum, but may get them entirely wrong in an editorial about politics. And so forth.

    3. John, I’m mystified by your apparent heirarchical valorization of different levels of formal education as they relate to one’s willingness to point out error. I can attest that I’ve been calling people on mistakes since long before I had a J.D., and I’m likely to continue far into the future. That’s just me. I’ve also been called on my own mistakes (sometimes rightly) by people with all varieties (or lack thereof) of formal degree.

    4. Jordan, I think you hit the nail on the head. Since I went to Columbia, I know that I’m much smarter than all of the Harvard and Michigan schmucks around here, and I’m never hesitant to let you all know that. :P

  74. Arturo Toscanini
    February 21, 2005 at 10:12 pm

    john fowles Why should he be given a free punch. That is the part I can’t figure out from you and Arturo.

    How am I giving him a free punch just because I don’t flip out and start assuming that he’s wicked? Frankly, your shrill harangue against this poor ignorant bigot seems to indicate that you’ve got as many hang-ups as he does.

    And why shouldn’t I enjoy the delicious irony that Velleman is irritating Mormons by doing the same thing to them that they do so well to others? (And you have to admit, Mormons generally have a rather well developed “Rush to Judgment” reflex.)

    At any rate, if Velleman wants to fight me, he knows where to find me. I’ll give him as many free punches as he wants, and I’ll still kick his scrawny little butt.

  75. February 21, 2005 at 10:21 pm

    Kaimi: “As a Mormon of Jewish heritage myself”

    Kaimipono, you’re taking that islands of the sea stuff pretty seriously, aren’t you?

  76. jed
    February 21, 2005 at 10:23 pm

    Arturo (#74) says: “At any rate, if Velleman wants to fight me, he knows where to find me. I’ll give him as many free punches as he wants, and I’ll still kick his scrawny little butt.”

    Now I think it’s appropriate to return to Adam Greenwood’s earlier comment about civility at T&S. I think I am safe in saying that no one on this thread wants to hear language like this, even if in jest.

  77. Jonathan Green
    February 21, 2005 at 10:56 pm

    Ben S.: Are you doubting my mad paleography skillz?

  78. Arturo Toscanini
    February 21, 2005 at 11:14 pm

    Don’t worry jed, I’m not really making a threat, since I’ll only fight him if he wants to fight me. But even so, sorry if my hyper-testosterone jest was just a bit too far over the top, and you’re not rushing to judgment by saying that it was.

  79. Sheri Lynn
    February 22, 2005 at 12:27 am

    John Kane, #63, I’m with you.

  80. Adam Greenwood
    February 22, 2005 at 12:28 am

    I don’t really think John Fowles is being very charitable to the good professor, but neither are those who are arguing with him. Lay off, all. And lets not give the professor more than his due in the heat of argument. I understand very well that he’s speaking outside of his area of expertise, that he is speaking as a layman, in fact. All the more reason to think that when he compares us to jihadis he meant the comparison. I do not believe that he was calmly searching for a word to describe our degree of certainty and, hey, jihadis sprang to mind, coincidentally.

  81. Justin
    February 22, 2005 at 12:45 am

    John Kane (re: 63)–Although the interpretation you hypothesize is possible, it doesn’t seem terribly plausible.

    I think that in this case (ie, Holocaust victims) it is very unlikely that someone who didn’t believe in the efficacy of LDS ordinances would construe their being withheld or postponed as a sign of anti-Semitism. Even if they did and cried foul, their argument in that case would seem to be much more easily defused than what’s happening here.

    That is, we could have answered such charges with a statement to the effect of “Given the issues involved, the Church didn’t feel it appropriate without direct-descendant approval to perform baptisms for these individuals. Please contact your nearest FH center with your permission, and we’ll be overjoyed to perform the ordinances in question right away. And hey, would you like to talk to the missionaries?”

    While baptizing the dead (even though we don’t know them or their descendants) is an act of love, it’s clearly not always perceived that way. There’s no reason to create stumbling blocks for the living if we can take a different tack that’s more respectful.

  82. A Edwards
    February 22, 2005 at 2:01 am

    What seems to be getting lost in this discussion is the profound level of anxiety that the community-at-large feels toward LDS missionary efforts, either in this life or the next. While we within the Church view baptism (live or for the dead) as nothing but an unmitigated good, people outside of our faith really do view us as some sort of monolithic entity that, Borg-like, seeks to assimilate everyone.

    As Adam points out, this is a site primarily for the Mormon faithful. We are a group more or less dedicated to the pursuit of truth and righteousness. As such, we often overlook the fact that VERY many people want nothing to do with either. When confronted with “Mormonism” extending its reach, either physically in this life or (at least) symbolically in the next, the amoral feel justifyably insecure by our efforts to cull their herds. The BOM speaks to this somewhat (1 Ne. 16):

    1 AND now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.

    2 And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.

    To certain segements of the community, our rites for the dead and our missionary efforts are grevious to bear. Among the living, our efforts deprive the world of drinking buddies, people to bum cigarettes from, willing friends “with benefits” and all sorts of other “fun” personalities. More to the point, if an amoral person personally knows someone who has joined the Church, that amoral person becomes much more likely to get a knock on the door from the guys in the white shirts and name tags or, at the very least, a stern talking-to about all the ways in which said amoral (but heretofore happy — yes, for some wickedness actually IS happiness) person is going down the wrong path. Who needs that kind of headache?

    Among the dead, offense might come in the form of Jordan’s loftier course borne of the unique Jewish experience, or simply the gutteral snub “Uncle Hef would never stoop so high as to join up with the Mormons!” Either way, the implication that our beliefs will make the dead relative somehow “better” than what he or she was during his/her lifetime rather diminishes the memory of the dead relative.

    In both cases — proclaiming the Gospel to the living and redeeming the dead — some non-members may get the feeling that our programs seek to upset the applecart of their very comfortable and pleasant lifestyles. And that is because, as two elements of the trifold mission of the Church, our programs are DESIGNED to upset the applecarts of persons leading very comfortable and pleasant lifestyles that are not in harmony with the Gospel.

    With some, the Church’s programs and ordinances that convey the Gospel message will resonate. With others, they will not — and might, as in the case of Dr. Velleman, be met with some degree of hostility. While we ought to approach all of the Church’s missionary and temple efforts with the joy and celebration befitting the building up of the Kingdom of God, we ought not be surprised by the negative reactions of many who see our success as their loss.

  83. cjr
    February 22, 2005 at 2:36 am

    In reading over these comments, I have a difficult time understanding how so many people can be missing the simple idea that many Jewish people find the practice of proxy baptism to be disrespectful of the deceased. Speaking for myself, it has nothing to do with whether or not I feel that these ordinances are effective; it has to with the process of invoking the deceased’s name. I understand that you see it as an act of love, yet it still feels disrespectful to me.

    Please see for further information on how Jews think of death. I’ve included two excerpts that, I hope, can help people to understand why some of us feel that proxy baptism is disrespectful:

    “Respect for the dead body is a matter of paramount importance. For example, the shomerim may not eat, drink, or perform a commandment in the presence of the dead. To do so would be considered mocking the dead, because the dead can no longer do these things.”

    “The body is never displayed at funerals; open casket ceremonies are forbidden by Jewish law. According to Jewish law, exposing a body is considered disrespectful, because it allows not only friends, but also enemies to view the dead, mocking their helpless state.”

  84. marta
    February 22, 2005 at 2:46 am

    Steve (#75) – Pretty sure he was refering to the Wenger side of his heritage rather than the Kaimipono side. Or maybe just the I’m-smarter-than-all-of-you-because-I-attended-Columbia side.

  85. Marc D.
    February 22, 2005 at 4:04 am

    I must have missed something somewhere. Maybe it’s because I live in Belgium. One of the first things I learned about genealogy (and that was about 23 years ago) is that you can only ask for proxybaptisms for your own ancestors and if you want to perform temple ordinances for non-relatives you need to ask permission of the family of those people.
    I suppose that has been changed?
    Anyway, I understand the feelings of the Jewish people.
    Besides I have a question about that. Is it not so that we we were asked by the first Presidency to not try to convert Jews. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the Jerusalem Center or with ‘the first shall be last, the last shall be first scripture.

  86. A. Greenwood
    February 22, 2005 at 4:31 am

    I do not believe that request has been made, Marc D., though I think we have agreed not to proselyte in Israel. I’m open to correction.

  87. February 22, 2005 at 7:00 am

    “In both cases – proclaiming the Gospel to the living and redeeming the dead – some non-members may get the feeling that our programs seek to upset the applecart of their very comfortable and pleasant lifestyles.”

    Excellent point, Aldo. I happen to think, in the case of Holocaust victims and the feelings of their relatives and descendents, that we’re probably looking at more than just the “upsetting of an applecart”–we’re looking at, as I put it in my original post, a religious affront, one which unintentionally but just as surely puts the conflicted sense of identity felt by many Jews, especially survivors and descendants of survivors, in the cross-hairs. One of the few strong moral affirmations to emerge among Jews following the catastrophe of the Final Solution was the commandment: “Do not provide Hitler with a posthumous victory.” That is, don’t let Judaism go extinct, since that’s what Hitler wanted. For many Jews in (what I assume to be on the basis of the post) Professor Velleman’s shoes, that commandment rests uneasily; it doesn’t fit alongside the general suspicion of religion very well, and makes the actions of proselytizers that much more apparent. Hence, the extreme reactions of many, and the appropriateness of the church’s retreat on this matter.

  88. Ivan Wolfe
    February 22, 2005 at 8:01 am

    jed –

    Notice the words “of a kind.” He does not say LDS are jihadists, or say LDS are morally equivallent to jihadists. He says their certainty is of the same kind as jihadists. All that amounts to is a statement about certainty. But that is not slander. If a man sees overconfidence in Lear’s actions, he is entitled to say Lear suffers from hubris, is he not?

    I’m sorry – but claiming “of a kind” does not equal moral equivalence is splitting hairs. It’s slander. He is, in essence, claiming we are “the same kind” as jihadists, etc. That’s claiming LDS=iquistion, etc. You might equivocate over his meaning, but regardless, the smear is still there.

    Let me turn it around: I say that all “liberal Democrats” are of “of a kind” with commies, terrorists and home grown traitors who would betray the USA. By your logic, I would not be slandering them.

  89. Ivan Wolfe
    February 22, 2005 at 8:02 am

    (not that I believe that about liberal democrats – it was just an example!)

  90. February 22, 2005 at 9:03 am

    Jonathan Green: “…Whoa.” [/kowtowing]

    I guess this is a good example of knowledge from open field not carrying over to another. My narrow definition was drawn directly form my field, in which a paleographer studies the various (Hebrew) scripts in order to be able to date mss. Typically, the good ones can nail down the age within 50 years or so. But it wouldn’t be helpful for geneaology, until we get back that far:)

  91. annegb
    February 22, 2005 at 9:49 am

    #82, I don’t know that we have the monopoly on seeking truth and righteousness. Are you referring to this blog or the LDS church? Because I think there are a lot of Mormons out there who don’t know the meaning of the words “truth and righteousness.” Some are merely conforming to their community, and others are using the church as a rabbit’s foot. There are a lot of reasons for activity that do not include those two words. Another subject, I suppose.

    However, just because a person rejects Mormonism as the truth does not mean that they are not seeking the truth. I know a lot of people of other faiths who feel they have found their truth. I don’t agree, but I respect their right to make that choice and still be good people and children of God.

  92. Jed
    February 22, 2005 at 9:49 am

    Ivan says: “Let me turn it around: I say that all “liberal Democrats” are of “of a kind” with commies, terrorists and home grown traitors who would betray the USA. By your logic, I would not be slandering them.”

    Velleman doesn’t say Mormons are “of a kind” with jihadists. He says their certainty is of a kind. He is speaking about belief systems. That is a little different from talking about people. It may be splitting hairs, but I think he would want to be read carefully, and we would want to be read carefully, were we in his shoes.

  93. February 22, 2005 at 10:24 am

    As others have pointed out, LDS proxy ordinances are predicated on the approval of a descendant. The Church has been doing its best to make sure this longstanding rule is followed in all cases, including Holocaust victims.

    That said, I’ve never understood the idea of an ordinance performed by a faith you youself don’t profess being offensive to you. If the Church of Satan comes by and proxy baptizes me, my family, and all my ancestors and descendants into its fold, why should I care? No skin off my nose.

    Yeechang “Unless they send their Demon Deacons to demand tithing at my doorstep” Lee

  94. Jed
    February 22, 2005 at 10:39 am

    Yeechange Lee: As #83 above points out, different traditions approach death and the dead in different ways. The “no skin off my nose” attitude works better for some traditions than for others.

  95. Ivan Wolfe
    February 22, 2005 at 10:41 am

    Jed –

    your reading isn’t careful, since you claim that saying one aspect about our beleifs is of a kind with terrorists,e tc. is different than saying Mormons are of a kind. That’s not splitting hairs or being careful – it seems to me to be a misreading designed to make the argument more charitable than it is.

    Again, let me turn it around again. I will (hypothetically) claim that the “liberal Democratic opposition” to George W. Bush’s war on terror is “of a kind” with terrorists, jihadists and traitors to the USA.

    Does that seem fair?

  96. Jed
    February 22, 2005 at 10:42 am

    Yeechang: Sorry for misspelling your name.

  97. Christian Cardall
    February 22, 2005 at 10:51 am

    In quoting the Savior’s `bring not peace, but the sword’ statement in #22, Adam has raised the issue of how militaristic scripture (and even hymns) might be related—or at least perceived by outsiders to be related—to a jihadist outlook. If my recollection is correct, the context of the Savior’s statement allows it to be easily interpreted in metaphorical terms. Still, someone with Velleman’s predilections could find in Christianity generally and Mormonism specifically historical examples of military expeditions and activity connected with ambitions of both territorial and ideological dominance, and draw parallels with the yearnings for the Caliphate of present-day jihadists. Nevertheless anyone the least bit acquainted with us today knows that at present we are far, far away (in both temperament and practical preparation) from anything like jihadist war.

    More interesting to me than the past or present, however, is what our scriptures say might be in store in the future that has a bit of a jihadist ring to it. I’m thinking in particular of a couple of passages in 3 Nephi where the Savior talks (and also quotes Isaiah) about the last days, when his people will go through the Gentiles like a lion among sheep, treading down, tearing in pieces, etc. (3 Ne. 20:14-23 is a notable example, but I think there are one or two more passages with similar language in nearby chapters.) It sounds pretty literal, and pretty jihadist. What should we think of such language, and how should we respond if people like Velleman sieze upon it and popularize it? Some possibilities:

    1. Ignore it. Assume that it is the Lord himself who will be destroying the wicked, not us at his command. This seems to be our current approach, and it is effective on many levels. But it is vulnerable to the charge of contradicting the Savior’s words; it’s harder to deny him in the Book of Mormon than weird 19th century statements by Brigham Young we wish to distance ourselves from.

    2. Embrace it, but put it off. Acknowledge that there is true jihad and false jihad, and that we will be involved in it eventually at the Lord’s command. Label Osama and company as the devil’s counterfeit jihad, and therefore all the more reprehensible. Downside: extremely difficult to sell to outsiders.

    3. Embrace it but try to soften it by interpreting it as something other than literal war; for example, that not by aggression, but as a natural consequence of the gospel’s wholesomeness, the Saints will come to dominate in the professions, academia, politics, etc. Still arrogant—if not threatening—to outsiders.

    4. Repudiate it. Declare that Joseph was a prophet, but not inerrant, and that in this case he got carried away with the idea of the American Indians as resurgent Israel, led by the sprinkling of Ephraim taken out from among the Gentiles, overturning the wicked dominance of those of European ancestry.

    Thoughts? My guess is that most will continue with option #1, in particular by ignoring this comment! ;)

  98. Jed
    February 22, 2005 at 10:51 am

    Ivan says: “That’s not splitting hairs or being careful – it seems to me to be a misreading designed to make the argument more charitable than it is.”

    I appreciate your point, Ivan. Perhaps I am being too charitable to Velleman. Now that would be a sin, wouldn’t it.

  99. Ivan Wolfe
    February 22, 2005 at 10:55 am

    Jed –

    ah, yes – claim I’m not Christian enough?

    I didn’t mean charity in the sense of “the pure love of Christ” – although Christ drove people out of the temple, called Herod a “fox” and routinely attacked the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites. In those instances, I would say Christ did not make the Pharisees arguments more charitable than they really were. He identified thme for what they were. Vellman is a modern day Pharisee, of the secular variety. It is no sin to not be more charitable to his argument than it deserves.

  100. Jack
    February 22, 2005 at 11:07 am


    I think another interpretation might suggest that the fullfillment of such a prophecy may have nothing to do with the church per se. It may have only to do with the movement of peoples and the over-through of one culture to make room for another.

  101. Ivan Wolfe
    February 22, 2005 at 11:09 am

    Maybe i should clarify my double negative in that last sentence.

    I believe we have a duty to be charitable towards other people’s arguments and gripes towards the church. But I think we should only be “read” the arguments with as much charity as the arguments deserce.

    For example, the Tanners of Lighthouse ministires deserve little charity, as far as their anti-mormon arguments go (as people, they deserve as much charity as any other child of God – that’s not in dispute. I’m discussing arguments). Velleman’s argument is a piece of secular anti-mormon trash, no more deserving of a charitable reading than the stuff the Tanner’s produce.

    Christ gave the arguments of the scribes and Pharisees as charitable as reading as their arguments deserved (which was to say, not much). To read Velleman’s argument in a too charitable light would be akin to saying the Pharisees had some good complaints about how Christ was going about his ministry and he should have listened.

  102. Christian Cardall
    February 22, 2005 at 11:11 am

    Interesting possibility, Jack. Could you make it a little more concrete?

  103. danithew
    February 22, 2005 at 11:30 am

    Wow. Long impassioned interesting thread and I’m late to the game. I’ll need to come back to this one and read through the comments carefully.

    Just a few thoughts.

    I think that we have to tread as carefully in the area of baptising those who are dead (who are not our ancestors) as we do with missionary work in the real world. Try to imagine pushing legal proselytization of Jews in Israel today or proselytization of Muslims in Arab countries today — and how well that would go over. We should realize that our genuine interests in performing ordinances for people who have passed away might negatively influence our ability to reach out to their living descendants. At the same time, there are some Jews and Muslims in the world who do convert to Mormonism and there is little reason they should not be doing genealogy work for their own ancestors. My feeling is that somehow those who are dead have avenues to encourage missionary work among the living — that this isn’t a one-way street.

    On a more personal note, my wife is a Chinese-American convert. Her parents are not LDS. We are currently seeking in a sensitive and loving way to obtain copies of my wife’s genealogical records from her parents so that they can be entered into a Chinese-language genealogy database that is being put together by the Church. Her parents are fully aware of the Church’s interests in doing proxy ordinances and may have mixed feelings about this. At the same time her parents are very interested in making sure the records are preserved and see the Church’s efforts to create this database as a very positive means to achieve this. We are prayerfully approaching this project and are doing what we can to be sensitive about their feelings and at the same time keep the interests of real ancestors in minds as well. There is also the chance that they themselves could be converted someday. One can only imagine how hurt they might feel if they wanted to perform work for more-recently departed family members (such as parents) and the work had already been done without permission?!

    Sometimes we are so eager and in such a rush to progress that we create obstacles that actually slow everything down. We should not be overly zealous to create facts-in-the-ground so to speak, but should work sensitively towards the general good and happiness of everyone (living and dead) who is involved.

    NOTE: one thing I recently learned about Chinese records and ordinances. Apparently it is very important that the ordinances be performed with the Chinese characters being used — because the English transliterations of two different Chinese names might look exactly the same. That is, “Zhou Chen” (I’m making that one up) might have two Chinese language spellings but only one apparent English spelling. I only heard this recently. Is this the same in any other Asian (or even non-Asian) languages? Just curious.

  104. Jack
    February 22, 2005 at 11:39 am


    I thinks it’s possible that, while the remnant which shall go forth as a Lion among sheep will be a branch of Israel, they will not necessarily be members of the church. They may only be descendants of those to whom the Lord was speaking when He gave the prophecy.

    Today, we are seeing a huge increase in the Hispanic population in the U.S.. The current trends suggest that within a few generations theirs will be the dominant race–ergo the change in culture language etc. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but it might prove to be a painful “check” to the pride of the “gentiles” if they [we] don’t do all they can to embrace them in a gospel manner.

    At any rate, this kind of “over-throw” will most likely be viewed by the world as natural social change–having nothing to do with JS’s prophecies and therefore completely unrelated to the goals of the church.

  105. Ivan Wolfe
    February 22, 2005 at 11:42 am

    danithew –

    It would have to be done that way in almost any tonal language that doesn’t use romanized letters for its alaphabet. The three I’mmost familiar with – Lao, Thai and Hmong each have different capabilities in this regard. Hmong has a romanized script, and the script indicates the tone (high, low, falling, etc) so having it spelled in “english” wouldn’t make any different (except that some native speaker who knows nothing about Hmong might try to pronounce the last letter of the name – which is used to inidcate the tone and is otherwise silent). Thai and Lao have an alphabetic script (rather than a character based langauge), but is is based on Bali and so doesn’t easily transiliterate (for example, the capital of Laos is traditionally transliterated as “Vientiane”, when a better, more accurate – but “odder” looking – transliteration would be “Vwieng chjung” and even that wouldn’t indicate the tones involved). Tones are signaled by certain consonants being mixed with certain vowels – there are two letter “f”s and two “p”s and two soft “d”s and two hard “d”s as well as two ways to write many vowels. There are also four “tone markers” that indicate the tone should be changed from what it originally might be.

    But in english we just have vowels and consonants. We don’t really consider tones as part of the original pronunciation. So, it would be best to have the names in the original Lao/Thai since some names could be “spelled” the same when transliterated.

    There ends my digression.

  106. Jack
    February 22, 2005 at 11:43 am


    I think you’re right on the money.

  107. Jim F.
    February 22, 2005 at 11:47 am

    Danithew, Korean has its own alphabet, but names all have Chinese character equivalent, so you can get the same phenomenon, two names that sound alike and are written in Korean, but have different Chinese character equivalents. I wonder whether the Korean temple uses the Chinese characters or the Korean alphabet to record the names? Using the Chinese characters helps locate one within an extended family since, for families who continue the tradition (which many do), there is a system by which one names children, a system that denotes which clan they are in and which generation of that clan they are in. Using either the Korean alphabet to record the names or using a Romanized version of the name would obscure that information. (Sorry to continue the thread jacking, but I suspect this is a topif of sufficiently esoteric interest that it is unlikely to receive many follow-up responses.)

  108. danithew
    February 22, 2005 at 11:48 am

    Some more thoughts:

    I notice some people who are engaged in genealogy or temple work have odd preoccupations. For example, some want to discover a certain ethnicity (Jewish, black, American Indian, etc.) in their ancestral lines (“Look at the facial features of this ancestor of mine in this picture!” I have no proof but what does that nose say to you?”). Some are proud to say they are related to European royalty. I had a roommate at BYU who started wearing a yamulke because he was descended from English royalty who in turn (he said) are descended from the house of Israel.

    Some people just have a favorite celebrity they’d love to do the work for. I had at least one English professor at BYU who let us know she had a temple recommend and had done the work for a feminist author (can’t remember which one now) she was fascinated with. In all of these efforts it seems the quest is to identify a famous person or a group of interest and get the work done first before someone else. Being a legitimate descendant of said persons has nothing to do with it.

    A big part of genealogy work (and perhaps, by extension, temple work) is to be able to tell an interesting story. How many times have we heard someone come back from the temple and say something like — “wow I sure had some interesting names to work with today!” or “I was baptized for people who lived in the 1600s today!”, etc. and etc.

    I think that LDS people wanting to do the genealogy work for Holocaust victims might be another sort of story-seeking. The Holocaust is a very significant and terrible event in history. It shouldn’t merely be an opportunity for Joe Schmoe to come home and tell a cool story about how he/she did the work for someone who died in Auschwitz.

  109. Jack
    February 22, 2005 at 12:05 pm

    I got an ear–full from a guy who was doing work for all of the great composers. Wacko stories about their music being heard while their ordinances were being done…

  110. Christian Cardall
    February 22, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    Jack, it is interesting to consider the possibility that when the scriptures refer to `my people’ it might mean more than those who are in the Church, following the prophets. The idea of prophecy being fulfilled sub-rosa through means that can be given purely naturalistic attribution is also interesting.

    The possible downsides I see are (1) that even though you made clear that you don’t feel this way personally, the idea that the scriptures would characterize the growing proportion of Hispanics as ‘treading down’ and `tearing in pieces’ makes our scripture sound xenophobic; and (2) that to the extent prophecy and divine action is watered down so as become indiscernable from natural happenings, its value in showing that there really is a God at work is neutered.

  111. Jack
    February 22, 2005 at 12:44 pm


    I think the “treading down and tearing in pieces” may only be indicative of the utter inability on the part of the gentiles to stop such a thing from happening–i.e., the changing of the world as they know it. Also, though this kind of trend may not be discernable by the world as the fullfillment of prophecy, it may be understood by the saints as such. (I’m not saying that the prophecy will be fullfilled in this way–just making an example). The world doesn’t perceive the workings of the kingdom (nor do many of the saints for that matter), but that doesn’t mean that it is “watered down so as to become indiscernable from natural happenings”.

    That said, I agree with your concern that we don’t go so far in trying to explain all prophecy in a naturalistic sense that we forget “that there really is a God at work”.

  112. john fowles
    February 22, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    I stand by my strictness with Velleman yesterday and point out that people arguing against me seem to have missed my point, at least partially. Regardless of how much it hurt his feelings to find out that some of his ancestors who perished in the gas chambers had been baptized by proxy, was he justified to misrepresent LDS doctrine and beliefs as a premise in an argument equating Latter-day Saints with jihadists and other fanatics? If he had not misrepresented what baptism for the dead is, but rather had accurately portrayed it, then his conclusion could not have followed. He could still have called us stupid, or insane to have such conviction of what happens in the afterlife, but he could not have accused us of coercion or forced conversion of his dead ancestors, or, for that matter, of erasing or even trying to erase, his ancestors’ Jewishness.

    Anyway, I would just like to point out that baptism for the dead is actually a very powerful and attractive doctrine. Not everyone is throwing a hissy-fit about it. To the contrary, some people accept the Gospel precisely because of it. It very much proves the justness of God.

  113. David Salmanson
    February 22, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    Hi folks, Gentile lurker here. Russell asked me to come over and drop a comment knowing that I a) know something about the LDS church and study church members as a historian from a largely sympathetic viewpoint and b) am Jewish.

    The common thread that immediately resonated in “the list” for me was forced conversions. This is something that Jews are especially sensitive to for reasons that ought to be clear (and I can build on them later if need be). Velleman sees baptism of the dead as a forced conversion. He’s wrong, but it is really hard for non-Mormons to get beyond his superficial understanding. For most of us gentiles (hee, hee, this is the only place I get to be a gentile), Velleman’s understanding is pretty common, and even those who have read a standard text like Shipps’ are not necessarily going to have the idea corrected. If I remember correctly, Shipps talks about Temple Work but in a sociological not doctrinal context. It has taken me years of building relationships with LDS members (and sometimes ex-members, who may or may not be creditable) to find out what I know about church doctrine. It is not easy unless you put yourself in position to be proselytized. Gotta teach a class.

  114. john fowles
    February 22, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    DS, thank you for that perspective. I agree that Shipps might not be the best source for a teaching on the doctrine. The Doctrine and Covenants is probably better for that (see the index) or a book put out by the Church regarding basic principles.

  115. danithew
    February 22, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    Jim F. and Ivan W.,

    Thanks for your responses on the language question I had. Both your responses made for very interesting reading.

    I’ve had some thoughts about what I wrote previously. I don’t mean to oppose those who take great joy in doing temple work and who take particular joy in doing ordinance work for those of other peoples. That can be a great thing. I’m certainly not going to turn down a proxy work card at the temple because I’m not directly related to the person named. Having served a mission in Guatemala, I certainly have felt happy when I worked with Spanish-language names.

    I just feel that sometimes we refuse to understand why our enthusiasm for temple work isn’t shared by those who are not of our faith. From my experiences with Israelis and people of other faiths in my own family, I think we need to make more of an effort to understand what others are feeling — without expressing contempt or anger or automatically dismissing what is being said.

  116. ed
    February 22, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    I have a hard time understanding how anyone could even superficially confuse “forced conversions” with baptism for the dead. Most obviously, forced conversions include an *actual living person* who is being *forced* against his will to do something.

  117. David Velleman
    February 22, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    I am unable to take in all of the material on this very long thread, but I want to say a few things to clarify and, I hope, assuage some of the hurt I may have done. I have already posted on my blog an apology for the factual inaccuracies about Mormon doctrine: I understand that these inaccuracies are offensive, and I am truly sorry for them.

    It is misleading to say, however, that proxy baptism was “compared to” crusades or jihad in my post. I am well aware of the vast difference between these cases, and I took care in my post to note the difference. My point in bringing these cases together was simply to note a single common element — namely, “missionary zeal,” which is the title and topic of my post. My understanding is that missionary work is an important activity of the LDS church, that describing Mormons as “zealous” in that work would not be offensive to Mormon sensibilities, and that proxy baptisms are, though not literally “missionary” work, continuous with it in spirit.

    My post was meant to raise ethical questions about missionary work and about proxy baptisms: these ethical questions are serious, and my apology for mischaracterizing Mormon doctrine should not be mistaken for a retraction of those questions. Here I am puzzled by the comment that, in contrast to proxy baptisms, “forced conversions include an *actual living person*”. My understanding is that proxy baptism includes an actual dead person — at least, in the eyes of the agents performing the rite. Whether *I* believe in the continued existence of that person is not relevant to the intentions of those agents, and their intentions are what I wanted to question. I understand that temple work is meant to do good, but that intention rests on assumptions that I find problematic.

  118. February 22, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    Baptism for the dead involves an actual person (but not a body, lest I be misunderstood), but is certainly nowhere on the same order as physically coercing a living person to act in a certain way, as in “forced conversions.”

    Thanks for the comment David.

  119. David Salmanson
    February 22, 2005 at 3:06 pm

    You have to understand that for Jews, baptism pretty much means baptism. Jewish history is filled with forced conversions that culminate in baptisms. Just as you all my have a hard time understanding the intricacies of Orthodox vs. Reform (or Sephardic vs. Ashkenazi even regional, not religious deifferences) opinions on what constitutes kosher or proper rest on the Sabbath (to drive or not to drive?) so too, most Jews are going to be lost when you describe the difference between baptism of the living and baptism of the dead. The whole baptism meme (if I am using that word correctly) is so pain-inducing in our collective memories that it really is not going to register, even on an intellectual level, without a big, big, visceral emotional reaction.

  120. A. Greenwood
    February 22, 2005 at 3:23 pm

    Kudos to Mr. Velleman for participating. If I may:

    The difference between forced conversion and baptism for the dead is that baptism for the dead, in our view, does not actually convert them. It just gives them a chance to convert if they wish.

    The difference between forcible baptism of a living person, in which historically people were dragged to the baptismal altar, and baptism for the dead, is two-fold: first, with baptism for the dead no force is involved. Nothing actually happens to the spirits when a living person is baptized on their behalf. It is, in our view, as if they were in a building and someone came and unlocked a door previously barred to them. Whether they go through the door or not is up to them. In other words, baptism for the dead merely gives the dead the same opportunity that you have right now–to be baptized in the Mormon faith. There is nothing coercive or offensive about us making that opportunity available to you.

    I take that back. There is something somewhat offensive and that is simply that our baptisms for the dead show that we believe baptism is necessary. It’s the inherent offense of disagreement. We think Mormonism is true and correct. You, if I understand correctly, believe that even our belief in God is folly, let alone the belief in angels and visions and holy books and all the rest. In a pluralistic society, I don’t see that anything should be done about it either way.

  121. A. Greenwood
    February 22, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    I understand however, that the unfortunate history of forced conversions and forced baptisms and the destruction of Jews for their Jewishness, above all in the Holocaust, makes Jews especially sensitive on these points. I hope that the Church’s decision to forbid proxy baptism of Holocaust victims shows a proper responsiveness to these natural sensitivities.

  122. David Salmanson
    February 22, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    Did you mean to imply that Jews don’t believe in God? Of course you didn’t. It’s that kind of mistake that makes for bad feelings. As someone who regularly traverses both communities (not as much as I used to, though) it’s that kind of simple error that can set a guy back a year’s worth of work. Like the time I blew getting a conference paper accepted when I left out the hyphen in Latter-day Saints. It just kills your credibility with the people you are trying to talk to.

  123. JCP
    February 22, 2005 at 3:45 pm

    David Salmanson:

    How, exactly, did you get the impression that A. Greenwood implied that Jews don’t believe in God? What, specifically, in his post suggests that?

    I know you’re just making a point about cultural misunderstandings. I would be more persuaded if I could believe that a real cultural misunderstanding were at issue here.

  124. john fowles
    February 22, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    Prof. Velleman: thank you for responding here and addressing what has been getting some of us riled up. See my comments #s 5, 6, 33, 57, and 112 for a quick view of my position.

    Basically, a proper understanding of what Latter-day Saints believe they are doing with proxy baptisms gets in the way of concluding that the practice leads to ethical conundrums. I argue in these comments that misrepresenting the doctrine of proxy baptism is a necessary step in your argument to come to the “ethical” questions that you pose.

    Most importantly, there is no element of coercion or forced conversion involved in the LDS doctrine of proxy baptisms. Ideally, all names, regardless of background in life, are done. Just because this has been done doesn’t imply conversion in any way. Just because Latter-day Saints might have a hope that these people will accept the ordinances in the afterlife doesn’t mean that they actually will, even in the minds of Latter-day Saints. In the mind of someone who thinks we’re crazy or fanatical to have conviction of what occurs in the afterlife, it should be of no consequence whatsoever.

  125. JWL
    February 22, 2005 at 3:57 pm

    I don’t know if David Velleman is still following this thread, but I am surprised that no one has pointed out sooner that the LDS Church agreed in 1995 to discontinue proxy baptisms for victims of the Holocaust. Although generally known among Mormons, Mr. Velleman may not be aware of this.

    As to the larger issue of religious proselyting, we all can agree that use of coercion to baptize is wrong. However, I wonder if a broader hostility toward religious proselyting is at play here. I suspect that Mr. Velleman would agree that within the bounds of civil behavior I have every right to try to persuade someone to support the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, to drive a fuel-efficient automobile to help the environment, to stop smoking, or even to do something as personal as seeking marital counseling before divorcing. Why then is persuasive discussion on religious topics less socially privileged than other forms of persuasion?.

    If anyone doubts that religious advocacy is less privileged than other forms of advocacy, I refer you to that the fact that Harvard and other forward-looking universities promote codes of conduct that discourage religious proselyting while vigorously protecting almost every other form of speech.

  126. john fowles
    February 22, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    JWL, because religion is the opiate of the masses (or was that communism?)

  127. ed
    February 22, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    David Velleman is correct that the difference between forced conversion and proxy baptism is not, as I stated, that it involves an “actual living person.” The difference is that no force is involved. In my view, if we were to do proxy baptisms for people still living the situation would be much the same. Your rights only violated if I force you to do something or deprive you of something, but not by some (to the unbeliever) farcical aquatic ceremony in which you play no physical part. You may find such a thing silly or even offensive, but I would think that Jews (of all people) should be tolerant of a religious minority that engages in odd legalistic rituals.

    I think that Prof. Velleman understands this, though, and it seems his objection is to the arrogance involved in any missionary endeavor, or perhaps even claims to exclusive religious truth. I just find that comparing proxy baptisms to real historical atrocities involving real coercion isn’t helpful.

  128. David Salmanson
    February 22, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    Re: Greenwood’s statement
    “Even our belief in God is folly.” I may be misreading Velleman but I believe he is Jewish not an atheist.

    If baptism of the dead were called something else, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. It is really tough to underestimate how the word itself sends chills up the spine for Jews, brings back memories of conversos, stake burnings, crusaders sacking communities etc..

    I’m going to have to check out of this discussion and go do some work now. Thanks for listening!

  129. JCP
    February 22, 2005 at 4:45 pm

    Taking Greenwood’s statement as a claim that Jews don’t believe in God is quite a stretch (at least by my lights).

    If a word or a concept sends chills up the spines of any group then two things seem true to me.

    1. The group that is offended had better be sure that there is actual room for offense here. Emotional reactions to provocative statements may be a reason to get angry or offended, but only once investigation and reason have demonstrated sufficient cause beyond a superficial association association with other symbols.

    2. The group advocating the concept had better be very sure that they have made clear what they actually believe. Mormons sometimes do not do a good enough job at this (hinted at in several posts above).

    But if Mormons have clarified their beliefs (and at least in this forum the topic seems beaten to death), and someone is still offended on an emotional, visceral level but not yet on a reasoned, logical level, I fail to see how that is the fault of Latter-day Saints.

    Mormons ought not be held responsible for every interpretation of their doctrines abroad in the land.

  130. David Velleman
    February 22, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks to email from several participants in this discussion, I now have a clearer understanding of the respects in which my description of proxy baptism was incorrect. I have posted an “update” at the top of my Left2Right post, alerting readers to the problem. (As I understand the conventions of blogging, I am not supposed to change the post itself.)

    The recent comment of David Salmanson is correct. I believe that my misunderstanding of the practice was due to a literal interpretation of the phrase “proxy baptism” . As the practice has now been explained to me, it does not sound like “proxy baptism” is an accurate description. So, yes, a different phrase might have prevented the misunderstanding.

    In saying this, I am not trying to disclaim responsibility for the misunderstanding, which was clearly mine.

  131. A. Greenwood
    February 22, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    Mr. Velleman has done the square thing by us and we should admit it. Thank you, sir. Though the church has already done it, I would like to personally apologize for those of my compatriots who in a lubberly and thoughtless fashion used Holocaust records to find names for baptism.

    I wish there were a better term than proxy baptism, but I’m afraid it’s pretty much set, especially since the ordinance is a ‘proxy baptism’, in our belief, if the dead individual accepts it. I can only hope that future victims of confusion are as patiently willing to listen to explanation as Mr. Velleman was.

    Finally, I had understood Mr. Velleman to be a Jew by inheritance but an atheist by conviction. Perhaps I was wrong.

  132. cjr
    February 22, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    Re: #129:

    3. The group advocating the concept should go to great lengths to try to understand why the practice might be offensive to others. As I’ve previously said, I understand that proxy baptism is not a form of forced conversion and I understand that Mormons believe that the person’s spirit has a choice about whether or not to accept the baptism. And, because I understand that, I understand why Mormons feel that proxy baptism should fell harmless to others. But why can’t you understand that I still feel like the practice disprespects the memory of my ancestors?

    And, frankly, you further the harm by blaming the victim and repeatedly insisiting that if I understood what proxy baptism was (i.e., if another name was used) that I wouldn’t be offened. I do understand. But I still find it disrespectful. Please understand that. And, if you choose to perform an action that disrespects my feelings–which is your right–at least have the integrity to admit it and stand up for what you’re doing rather than blaming me as being either ignorant or irrational.

  133. Arturo Toscanini
    February 22, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Velleman, for clarifying that. I am also very happy to see that your accusation was due to a simple misunderstanding and not due to bad faith. Even so, it must have stricken you as quite odd that so many Mormons would flip out over it. Perhaps this will be a lesson for all of us.

  134. Ivan Wolfe
    February 22, 2005 at 5:37 pm

    I think Mr. Vellman has done the right thing, and I will attempt to read his arguments with more charity in the future,

    but even with this damage control on his part, I think there are plenty of lessons to go around, and not just for us Mormons.

  135. Nate Oman
    February 22, 2005 at 5:51 pm

    CJR: I think that you bring up a good point. In the happiest of all possible worlds, any feelings of offense or discomfort engendered by our religious beliefs would be the result of misunderstanding, ignorance, or bigotry. Hence, one could resolve all conflicts by either explaining things properly or dismissing the other side as stupid, bigoted, or both. This, alas, is not the world that we live in. I think it is entirely possible for someone to understand Mormon teachings correctly and still be offended by them. In this case, all that I can really say is that I regret your offense, but I hold to my beliefs, unless your offense somehow provides me with reasons for changing my beliefs. To the extent that offense is conceptualized pyschologically as a particular kind of reaction, then I don’t see that it is much of a reason for belief one way or another. I’m sorry you feel the way that you feel; I believe the way that I believe. On the other hand, to the extent that offense is some kind of justified personal affront to a belief, I might try to continue the discussion by coming up with some explanation of why your offense is not justified, but there are two problems with this. First, I find it doubtful that being offended is suspectible to reason, hence I am not sure that being convinced that one’s offense is not justified will necessarily lessen the pyschological condition of being offended. Second, I am not really sure how I would figure out if some level of offended feelings are justified or not.

    That said, I think that it is improper for Church members to perform proxy baptisms for Holocaust survivors after being counseled by the Church not to do so. I am extremely skeptical of the claim that this short coming tells us anything about the nature of Mormon belief in particular or religious belief in general.

  136. February 22, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    Professor Velleman, thanks for coming by to comment. I hope that my original characterization of your views, and the questions they prompted for me regarding the uniqueness of the religious sensibility, didn’t falsely describe your own beliefs or lack thereof. It seemed to me, and still seems to me (to draw upon an excellent comment made by Jacob Levy in the thread over at Left2Right, that the hostility you originally expressed to certain expressions of “religious zeal” is bound up in a confusion about religious beliefs. If someone believes their religious heritage to be meaningful, even to the point of believing the religious identity of murdered family members to be meaningful in their present situation and in one’s memory, then that must mean that one has positive beliefs about that situation and its relation to one’s memory. One cannot coherently want to defend the “situation” of those who have passed on from proxy proselytizers without simultaneously having to come to some determination as the effaciousness of such proselytism in that situation. In short: taking offense at the “baptism” of dead relatives demands an account of how that baptism affects them; to lack such an account makes it hard to account for the offense.

    Jacob concludes by writing “This is why, as I said yesterday, I find this an interestingly hard case to think about. It offends my worldly sensibilities; but I have no reason for thinking that my sensibilities track the shape of God’s order.” My reading of that: I do not believe that our “sensibilities”–rooted in an affective relation to the world–can be wholly separable from an engagement with that order. (Or the “slant” of the world, as Charles Taylor once put it.) Hence my description of your affront as a religious one. For what it’s worth, I think we’re all occasionally caught up in just such confusions (I know I am), and when the matter which gives rise to such confusions is one as soul-wrenching, evil, and weighty as the Holocaust, harsh reactions in the midst of confusion are probably to be expected. Which is why I thought, and still think, our church did right to put an end to the practice, and not just for prudential reasons; there needs to be a reciprocity in how we respect the religious feelings of others, even if a philosophical account of why that reciprocity is warranted is hard to come by.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to read, and for thinking through much of what has been said. (And by the way, you all have a fine blog over there at Left2Right; I’d comment more if the comment function wasn’t so often on the blink.)

  137. February 22, 2005 at 5:56 pm

    David, thanks for stopping by; great to hear from you, as always. Next time, share some of your endless supply of jokes with us; we need more Gentile humor around here!

  138. JCP
    February 22, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    Regarding cjr’s post in #122.

    I think your point 3 is a good one. I would add it to my list above.

    I understand that you feel that the practice disrespects the memory of your ancestors. Having said that, I am honestly unsure exactly why you feel that way.

    Looking back through the thread to see what you said on the subject, I noticed

    “it has to do with the process of invoking the deceased’s name”

    I am not really sure in what sense this is true. Since the ordinance is only offered, not coerced, then there is no sense in which a deceased person has endorsed or justified the ordinance. If a deceased person’s name is merely used to offer someone a possibility, I am not sure what is offensive. Are you offended when someone–in good faith–offers you something you do not want?

    Suppose that Mormons had a doctrine that went something like the following: We will perform proxy baptisms for all people because everyone needs it. Of course we will make an exception for Jews. Would that really be a respectful position for a believing Mormon to take? By my lights: no. In fact, in a recent conversation of Jews and Mormons where this very issue came up, several Jewish friends expressed the view that if this was the policy they actually would be offended (which I find very ironic given that the church has sort of adopted this policy for victims of the holocaust, a policy which I did not raise in the conversation but probably should have). Perhaps this does not change your mind, but I hope it clarifies some of the issues.

    Now as to your final point about integrity I could not agree more. People should be as clear and honest about what is going on as possible. I have not intended to offend you with any of this, but I recognize the possibility that offense will regrettably occur anyway. The fact that this does cause you pain suggests to me that Mormons need to do both a better job of listening and a better job of explaining.

    Nate Oman suggests in post 135 that because offense is not susceptible to reason, this kind of discussion is not likely to go anywhere productive. Perhaps he is right. But I hope not. When I am persuaded that my reasons for a position (such as being offended) are inadequate, I change my mind. I hope others do so as well (David Velleman’s partial reconsideration seems a good example to insert here). But regardless of people’s feelings about the matter, a bit more clarity (on all sides) could only help matters, if for no other reason than people will know exactly which issues are leading to the division.

  139. February 22, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    How ironic! Telling a jewish professor that we need some “Gentile” insights around here. Goes to show how words get changed around! I know that this is often how we refer to people not of our faith- “Gentile”- but we must also remember that Jewish culture has long referred to us as Gentiles. It’s almost like calling a Jew a Goy! In fact- it’s EXACTLY like that. We ought to be careful about how we throw around the term “gentile”. And I don’t mean it in a preachy, lecture-like way. I just found it very interesting and highly ironic that a Jew has been referred to as a “Gentile”! :-)

  140. danithew
    February 22, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    Jordan, see comment #113 where David Salmanson jokingly refers to himself as a Gentile. Here’s the quote:

    Hi folks, Gentile lurker here. Russell asked me to come over and drop a comment knowing that I a) know something about the LDS church and study church members as a historian from a largely sympathetic viewpoint and b) am Jewish.

    I think RAF and David are friends, that RAF originally pointed David to this site and that RAF is just joking around.

  141. February 22, 2005 at 7:11 pm

    I was mostly talking tongue-in-cheek. But, had I bothered to read comment 113, I wouldn’t have bothered to jab at calling jews gentiles. I know they’re just joking- it’s still ironic but not as ironic as it was before I read 113. We need to delete comment 113 so that the irony hits full force again.

  142. February 22, 2005 at 7:37 pm

    Just my 2 cents, and probably has been expressed already, but complaints of this nature tend to stem from the following:

    1) ignorance of mormon belief. As has been stated, mormons don’t think that a proxy baptism automatically makes you a mormon.

    2) caring too much about what mormons think of you. in spite of what other denominations have done in the past, mormons are not going to initiate pogroms. religious freedom is hard-wired into our theology (see articles of faith). given that we have theological differences, of course we think you are wrong, and you think we are wrong. i will not interfere with you being wrong, even if you do interfere with my ability to be wrong.

    Now, if I could throw in a legitimate concern here. I wife’s sister is married to a man whose parents converted from judaism to mormonism. I don’t know if they have any relationship to holocuast victims, but if they did, would it still be illegitimate for them to submit their names for proxy ordinances?

  143. February 22, 2005 at 7:38 pm

    Enjoyed Post 130.

    Peace, all.

  144. February 22, 2005 at 7:53 pm

    No- because they are (or would be) actual descendants.

  145. john fowles
    February 22, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    Just in case anyone is wondering, I did not post my comment # 5 on this Times and Seasons thread over at Prof. Velleman’s blog under the pseudonym “Hubner.” Whoever did was free to do so, but if I had written on Velleman’s blog, I would not have written the same thing. I was writing here, on Times and Seasons, to a relatively static group of readers and participants. My comment # 5, however, both here and there, invoked some very strong rebukes.

    I truly think that these rebukes miss the point and brush aside my arguments too easily. The substance of what I was doing in # 5, and which I explained in other comments, I have reiterated in #112 on this Times and Seasons thread:

    “If [Velleman] had not misrepresented what baptism for the dead is, but rather had accurately portrayed it, then his conclusion could not have followed. He could still have called us stupid, or insane to have such conviction of what happens in the afterlife, but he could not have accused us of coercion or forced conversion of his dead ancestors, or, for that matter, of erasing or even trying to erase, his ancestors’ Jewishness.”

    in my view, Velleman’s misportrayal of Latter-day Saint beliefs on this doctrine is central to the essay he was writing. Absent this misconstruction, Velleman’s conclusion doesn’t follow and there is no comparison; he has to stick with Evangelicals exploiting tsunami victims or real jihadists and Taliban-types.

    Velleman comes close to conceded this in a comment on his own blog Left2Right:

    “Several Mormon correspondents (including participants on the blog Times and Seasons have informed me that proxy baptism is regarded as an “offer” that may be accepted or rejected by the deceased recipient. As one correspondent put it “We call it baptism because a baptism [of the proxy] is involved, but we don’t see it as involving the dead until they ratify us as their agents in this respect.”

    Obviously, this point of doctrine makes some of my characterizations clearly inappropriate, and I repeat my apology for the misinterpretation.”

    My criticism, I believe, was therefore actually correct; even by Velleman admits the inappropriateness of some of his characterizations after learning what the doctrines really are. The doctrines are, I would add, inappropriate for the comparison he was trying to make–for the ethical dilemma he was trying to examine.

    Did people really not see that this is what I was saying? Could they really have been distracted by my reference to Velleman’s Ph.D. and my assertion that hopefully someone with a Ph.D. will check such basic facts as what those doctrines really are before making them the centerpiece of a comparison of that kind and of an examination of their potential lack of ethics? I took it a step further and took for granted that someone with a Ph.D. would certainly check out the facts of such a foundational premise in such an inquiry (otherwise the inquiry would be useless), and thus, Velleman must have needed to misrepresent the doctrine in order for his comparison to work. I was wrong about that. Velleman did not check his facts and he proceded with his comparison and inquiry based on a misunderstanding of the doctrine. I am sorry to have assumed that Velleman would have checked the facts first and for concluding, based on this assumption, that he must have intentionally distorted the doctrine in order to come to the conclusion he needed. I obviously didn’t check my own facts (with regards to whether Velleman checked his facts or not)!

    In truth, Velleman was very conciliatory both here and on his own blog and admitted to a misunderstanding both of proxy baptism and of what Latter-day Saints believe about the afterlife. His tact, both here and there, of course, put me to shame for my approach and strong words. I was disappointed in myself for being “uncharitable” to him (as some put it both at Times and Seasons and on Velleman’s blog) and for being so direct. But I was also disheartened that people took my position to indicate a lack of understanding of what Jewish people feel about proxy baptism. My position focused entirely on Velleman’s argument and use of this mistaken doctrinal premise to force his inquiry, not on whether Jews legitimately feel intruded upon by proxy baptism. I made clear my understanding of their feelings in my comment # 33 on this Times and Seasons thread. In some ways, having studied Yiddish at the University of Vilnius with many descendants of Holocaust victims, I am in a unique position to understand their feelings. I fully support the Church’s decision not to proceed with the proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims.

    This is offered by way of explanation and an appeal for understanding. I cannot have been too far off, since Velleman conceded on his blog that some of his characterizations were clearly inappropriate. My argument goes further: his conclusion also doesn’t follow when proxy baptism is rightly understood. Nevertheless, I admit that he acted in good faith with his mischaracterization and I apologize for accusing him of bad faith in that regard.

  146. A. Greenwood
    February 22, 2005 at 8:16 pm

    A useful apologia, John Fowles. I’m sorry someone decided to transfer one of your comments here to the Left2Right blog without your permission (if I understand correctly).

  147. john fowles
    February 22, 2005 at 8:16 pm

    I have cross-posted my comment # 145 over at Prof. Velleman’s blog.

  148. john fowles
    February 22, 2005 at 8:18 pm

    Adam # 145: I have no problem with someone transferring my comment to the discussion on Velleman’s own blog. I believe my arguments were sound. I just didn’t want anyone to think I was so shy as to post my own comment over there under the pseudonym “Hubner.”

  149. February 22, 2005 at 8:20 pm

    Boy- whoever copied and pasted John’s comments over there on left2right did a real disservice, in my opinion. I thought those comments were a bit overboard myself, but they were in the context of a conversation that was happening here at T&S. Taken out of context, as they were when they were copied and pasted into left2right by some “Hubner” character, they seem especially reactionary. That is unfortunate. Especially since many people over there know me and our family name. Heck- one of my favorite professors is a main contributor on that site. What was the point of cross-posting like that, I wonder?

    If you were going to cross-post, why didn’t you bother to include some of the tempering arguments? Were you trying to stir up flames or something, “Hubner”?

  150. john fowles
    February 22, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    Jordan, MBE behind you, I see?

  151. February 22, 2005 at 8:29 pm

    Nope- the Texas Procedure and Evidence exam, as well as the MPT. MBE tomorrow. But we digress.

  152. February 22, 2005 at 9:16 pm

    Nope- the Texas Procedure and Evidence exam, as well as the MPT. MBE tomorrow. But we digress.

    Well, best luck.

  153. Arturo Toscanini
    February 22, 2005 at 9:39 pm

    john fowles, my point from the beginning was that Velleman was clearly mistaken, but that an assumption of bad faith was unwarranted. In fact, nobody here felt that Velleman was correct in his characterization of proxy baptism. But you were nearly alone in insisting that Velleman was acting in bad faith.

    Now you claim that you are somehow vindicated because Velleman has admitted his mistake and appears not to have been acting in bad faith. This makes no sense at all. If anyone is vindicated, it is jed and me. For my part, I said that Velleman was clearly mistaken, that he was not acting in bad faith, and that you were flipping out in that Mormonesque “Rush to Judgment” way. I think that all of these have been demonstrated beyond a doubt. I hereby demand recognition from you that I am the vindicated party (just kidding).

    Moreover, I repeat my point about the flaw in the emphasis of your logical argument. You stress that Velleman’s point is a non sequitur without his flawed assumption. In fact, his point is a non sequitur even if we grant his flawed assumption for the sake of argument.

  154. cjr
    February 22, 2005 at 9:56 pm

    Re: 135 & 138.

    As Nate observes, in the absence of misunderstanding or ignorance, there may not be a solution that satisfies everyone. But let me take a shot at one: implement a system that enforces the rule that posthumous baptism only takes place with the consent of a relative (preferably, in my opinion, nearest living relative). For example, the LDS Church could require that people who submit names for proxy baptism notarize the submission affirming that they are related to submitted names.

    My opposition to proxy baptism stems from a feeling that the deceased’s memory is sacred. To my mind, one of the greatest tragedies of death is that the deceased can no longer speak for himself. All that we–as family and friends–can do is honor that memory. And if someone wants to know what the deceased would have wanted, it’s our responsibility to speak for him. To baptize someone without making such an inquiry is to my mind an act of disrespect.

    And so, what bothers me about much of this discussion is not the act of proxy baptism itself. Rather, it’s the repeated statements that “if you don’t believe, why should you care?” and “it’s an act of love, why can’t you see that?” The reason I care is that my deceased relatives can no longer speak for themselves; that’s now my responsibility. And for whatever charity you feel, they’re still just names and numbers to you. But they’re my family. And I speak for them.

  155. Arturo Toscanini
    February 22, 2005 at 10:06 pm

    cjr: And for whatever charity you feel, they’re still just names and numbers to you. But they’re my family. And I speak for them.

    No. You don’t. You don’t speak for them or any other dead person. Nobody can speak for dead people.

    And it’s entirely within our rights (as Mormons and as Americans) to utter their name 5 or 6 times (total) during the performance of a few rituals. Moreover, such an uttering of their name doesn’t impact you or your cherished memory of them in the least. You might as well take exception to Catholic rosary prayers for all the impact it has on you and your relatives.

  156. Jim F.
    February 22, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    CJR: The LDS Church doesn’t require anything so formal as a notary, but it does require that each person who submits names affirm that these are, indeed, their ancestors. Those who submit the names of persons who are not their ancestors must lie in order to do so. Or perhaps they are just blind and can’t see that part of the program through which they must submit the names. There are people who submit names of those to whom they are unrelated and, thus, we have had some of the embarrassing incidents of the past. But by and large people submit names only of those they are related to. Doing so is, for them, one way of honoring the memory of those ancestors.

  157. annegb
    February 22, 2005 at 10:24 pm

    John, what do you want from Mr. Velleman, a pint of blood? Give it a rest already. He admitted he was wrong in his assumptions.

  158. February 22, 2005 at 10:26 pm

    “but [the church] does require that each person who submits names affirm that these are, indeed, their ancestors”

    Jim (or anyone), do you have any idea whole long this requirement has been in place? Obviously it wasn’t in the late 19th century, from whence come all the stories about proxy work being done for America’s founding fathers and the like. My sense of things, based on what I’ve read and heard over the years, is that such a requirement, if it existed, wasn’t enforced well into the mid or even late 20th century; many of the news stories which emerged during the original dust-up regarding Holocaust baptisms over a decade ago carried tales of temple work being done for favorite authors, Catholic saints, and famous and/or notorious people of all stripes (Hitler, Stalin, Joan of Arc, etc.). Some of this may have been just Mormon folklore, but I suspect a lot of it was true. (My mom and dad, doing some sealings one day years ago, found themselves kneeling at the altar on behalf of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.) Of course, for all I know this work really was being done by literal descendents…but I doubt it. So again, I wonder when exactly this requirement was put in place, and when (if it wasn’t at the same time) it began to be taken seriously.

  159. February 22, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    Daniel (#140)–you’re correct; David and I are online acquaintences, you might say, and he’s had enough contact with Mormons over the years to develop a liking for tweaking our use the term “Gentiles.” He comes by T&S occasionally; maybe I can lure him into blogging sometime.

  160. john fowles
    February 23, 2005 at 12:02 am

    annegb # 157–what are you talking about? Reread # 145.

  161. Jed
    February 23, 2005 at 12:33 am

    This thread has much in common with a Shakespeare play: misplaced motive, misrepresentation, accusation, hightened tension, revelation, denouement, confession, frolic. And, to quote the Bard, all’s well that ends well.

    As I learned from looking at Vellemen’s blog right2left, Vellemen learned about proxy baptisms from an article in the New Yorker. He got the information there and ran with it. The New Yorker is a free swinging magazine, but it is just as urbane as it is untame. Many esteemed scholars write for the New Yorker, and many esteemed scholars quote from the magazine, too. I can think of many magazines I would trust less. The problem is that even trustworthy and urbane publications, at this late date in the game, haven’t quite mastered the Mormon story. The issue is not so much one of willful distortion as it is ignorance. All T&S readers know that most stories about Mormons written in national news magazines have factual errors in them. Just last year U.S. News and World Report got angry emails when a collector’s edition on American religion had an article on Mormons entitled “In John Smith’s Steps.” That is the state of affairs at the moment: lamentable ignorance. Knowing this state should make us more cautious about rushing to judgment.

    There will always be the inveterate anti-Mormons, the Tanners of the world, people who know our doctrine and still willfully misrepresent us. But I would like to think there are many more people who stand firmly in the middle willing to be persuaded. These are the people who are, like Velleman, neither candidates for conversion nor prospects for a shootout. These people just want the truth about us from a trustworthy source. I would like to think there are more Vellemans in the world than there are Tanners. Imagine the good done by flooding the media outlets with articles written with our own pens.

    I think, in the end, though, we have to be prepared to accept that many will reject our doctrine despite our best efforts, just as Nate suggests. Velleman’s characterization of Mormons as zealous and fanatical has very little to do with the finer points of proxy baptism. It is our attempt to convert the world, not our eventual success in doing so, that sounds the alarm bells for him. The image of a zealous band of fanatics following an armed prophet wherever he wills is one of the oldest tropes in anti-Mormon literature. Our doctrine will always frighten at least a few. In these cases, what we take to be misrepresentation is, in the largest sense, disagreement. Do we rail and moan then?

  162. Jed
    February 23, 2005 at 12:47 am

    Russell: I hope you don’t mind if I ask a few questions, hopefully in the spirit of your original post.

    Should we care about being called “fanatical”? Is it important for us to undo this perception? It would be next to impossible for us to moderate our ordinance and missionary program. Is the perception of Mormons as fanatics, then, inevitable? Do we attempt to moderate that perception by becoming peace-lovers?

    Velleman’s posts leaves me asking these very strange questions.

  163. Sheri Lynn
    February 23, 2005 at 12:49 am

    It’s hard to stomach being called a Nazi or jihadist for wanting to make the celestial kingdom available for all those who want to be there. That’s all. I’m not saying Mr. Velleman says that. But the kneejerk response to baptism by proxy needs to mellow a bit. Or a lot.

  164. Jim F.
    February 23, 2005 at 12:50 am

    Russel (#158): I asked my wife, the director of a tri-stake genealogy center and someone who has been doing genealogy since well before I met her. She says that the rule has been in place at least as long as she’s been doing genealogy–at least 35-40 years, but she doesn’t know when the rule came into being. Obviously it wasn’t the case in the early Church since people were sealed and baptized willy-nilly. But it has been a rule for at least a little while. Certainly it came before a lot of the baptisms of favorite Hollywood stars and, without a doubt, before people started baptizing Holocaust victims en masse. (Oddly, one wit submitted the names of those on Schindler’s list, not knowing that they were survivors. He/she should have watched the movie.)

  165. February 23, 2005 at 1:19 am

    For what it’s worth, my father’s side of the family (Jewish on his father’s side, Catholic on his mother’s) has some profound problems with baptism by proxy. I wrestled with the issue for a long time before giving permission, myself, to have my grandparents baptized. It’s not something they have appreciated — they see it as an affront to my grandparents’ own choices in life, their heritage, etc. If we could get accurate records of the family members we left behind in Lithuania — who almost certainly died in the holocaust, seeing as how that’s where what trail we DO have ends — they’d undoubtedly be even more upset.

    Their Jewishness was a part of their identity. It’s like adoptions, or name changes: a proxy baptism means more, on an emotional level, than logic suggests it ought to. If we were changing the names of the deceased in our own records, or assigning them a living Latter-day Saint family to be a part of in the eternities, their descendants and (though I agree it’s the wrong term) co-religionists might have a few concerns, and I think we’d all understand why.

    When you add onto that the fact that we were getting the records of those names and birthdates and so forth from the bureaucratic efforts of their murderers…

    I know as well as anyone else here that this professor hasn’t represented our practices and beliefs accurately. It would be appropriate to encourage him to correct himself — and to speak out, tactfully, in correction of his errors. But I don’t think there’s any point to telling people not to feel hurt or threatened by this practice. Particularly since the Church already agreed to end the practice (not long, ironically, before I gave permission for my grandparents’ baptisms.)

    In any case, we of all people should understand that symbols and ceremonies mean things, and have a lasting impact on reality as well as on people’s feelings.

  166. February 23, 2005 at 1:22 am

    I wish I had time to read all 160+ comments so far, but only got through about half. But as a ward family history consultant, I have heard this story again and again. And Jordan Fowles is right. Do your own family history work. Do your own family’s ordinance work, or that which people have submitted who cannot get to the Temple. Don’t think you have to do Karen Carpenter’s work, just because you love her. (Take a look sometime at all the erroneous data in the IGI of her LDS fans who couldn’t stand to think of her not being able to progress.) The Church’s official stand is that we do not do ordinance work for people who are not related to us, just because they are famous, or whatever (which smacks of pride really…does Elvis deserve to have his work done before others?). The lone exception that I am aware of was when God allowed the founding fathers of this country to appear to Wilford Woodruff, to ask that their work be done. And if such a divine manifestation comes to one of us, we can always ask permission for an exception.

    But Jordan is right. The Church must be sensitive to the feelings of people of other religions.
    And I heard somewhere that to Jews, “baptism” is the second most vile word in the English language.

    I know that it makes sense to say, if you don’t believe my religion is true, then how could our rituals cause any harm (I’ve said it and thought it myself many times), yet even truer is that we must respect the doctrine of the Church, as the Prophet is the one who speaks for the Lord.

    The people who did that work, no doubt had the purest of motives. But we have no excuse. We can only do the work of those to whom we are directly related. But believe me, that’s enough!! And we don’t want the world to make our task here more difficult by putting up roadblocks. The Prophet sees further than we do, and the Lord the whole picture. We gotta trust them.

  167. Jed
    February 23, 2005 at 1:44 am

    Russell and Jim F. (#158 and 164): The rule requiring an affirmation of blood relation before performing proxy temple ordinances sounds a lot like city laws against throwing snowballs: on the books but never enforced. I have a friend who says he did Tolkein’s work. Another friend did Kierkegaard’s work, and his friend, he says, did Heidegger’s (probably your friend, too, Jim F.). None were direct relations. Tolkein was done in the early 1970s, the other two much later. Before the advent of PAF, I can imagine famous people having had their work done multiple times.

  168. Rosalynde Welch
    February 23, 2005 at 9:23 am

    Jed: “This thread has much in common with a Shakespeare play: misplaced motive, misrepresentation, accusation, hightened tension, revelation, denouement, confession, frolic. And, to quote the Bard, all’s well that ends well.”

    Hmm, under this theory we’ll need a death or a marriage before we can wrap things up. Proxy sealings, anyone?

  169. Ivan Wolfe
    February 23, 2005 at 9:35 am

    Jed –

    yeah, I knew a guy who was convinced he was gonna do Kurt Cobain’s temple work. I have never felt the urge to do a celebrities temple work, but I do know lots of people who feel the urge to do so.

    Having worked as a family history librarian in my ward for a bit, and with two parents who are very active in doing their own geneology (whenever I go to the temple, I have plenty of my own family names to do, as my parents supply me with a ton of names – and I come up with a few on my own, but my parents have done sooooooooo much work, we’ve hit the spot where records start not existing) –

    anyway, my point (which got lost in there somewhere) was that most people I have known who want to do a celbrities work – well, they tend not to do their own families work. They seem to unconciously believe doing Shakespeare’s work or James Dean’s work will make up for the thousands of their own ancestors they haven’t done work for.

    Or maybe not. I can’t read minds, but it is interesting.

  170. annegb
    February 23, 2005 at 10:12 am

    I’m sorry, John, I read the first few paragraphs and got exasperated. I’m as knee-jerk as the best knee-jerk there is.

    I always promise to read more carefully, but I forget. So I will just say, “I will do my best to do better.”

    I’m curious why this thread provoked such a strong discussion. Is it the Holocaust issue, the unfair criticism of the church, or the issue of baptisms for the dead?

  171. Steve L
    February 23, 2005 at 10:41 am

    I don’t know if this will help, but I think Velleman’s outrage stems largely from a long Christian history of seeing Jewishness as unacceptable. It seems that he sees baptism for the dead as just the latest trend in this ugly side of Christianity. I don’t know what you guys think, but I think a greater awareness of the Church’s history in relation to Jews (and Muslims even, although admittedly the Jews may not be as interested in that) is one that shows a totally different approach to Judaism. I think the standard Mormon view has been to see the Jews as equals, and truly as God’s chosen people to whom He has yet to fulfill many promises rather than as an anachronism in need of everything we have. Maybe I’m wrong, but I honestly think our history (unlike that of any other major Christian sect I can think of) includes a unique approach to Jews (and Lamanites too, in the same vein).

  172. February 23, 2005 at 11:45 am

    Steve: Very good point.

  173. Kevin Barney
    February 23, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    Mormons are easily the most phil-Semitic group of Christians out there (with the possible exception of Messianic Jews, but hey, at least we freely admit that we really are Christians, even if other Christians don’t accept us as such). So as Steve points out, that colors this conversation and provides important context for understanding the various dynamics involved.

  174. February 23, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Russel #158

    According to, Lauren Bacall is still alive and working in film.

  175. February 23, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    You’re right, Geoff; it must not have been Bogie and Bacall. I’ll have to check with my parents about the story. Maybe it was Clark Gable and Carole Lombard; that’s sounds right.

  176. A. Greenwood
    February 23, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    “you were flipping out in that Mormonesque “Rush to Judgment” way”

    Doesn’t the fact that John Fowles is the only one here who accused Velleman of bad faith kinda undermine your creed that Mormons have some sort of preternatural tendency to rush to judgment? Yes, it does.

  177. Dan Richards
    February 23, 2005 at 10:39 pm

    Let’s face it–it’s a lot easier to find the relevant data for one’s favorite celebrities. No need to involve any microfilm! Just check IMDB for birth and death dates.

    John Fowles, I felt certain that you weren’t Hubner, as you would have had the accuracy to post as Hübener, or perhaps Huebener.

  178. Arturo Toscanini
    February 23, 2005 at 11:16 pm

    A. Greenwood: Doesn’t the fact that John Fowles is the only one here who accused Velleman of bad faith kinda undermine your creed that Mormons have some sort of preternatural tendency to rush to judgment? Yes, it does.

    Wow, A. Greenwood. You’re not just rushing to judgment. You’re rushing to be judge, jury, and executioner.

  179. Annonymous
    February 26, 2005 at 1:03 am


    If you can’t understand why proxy ordinances and aggressive missionary work are perceived as arrogant, you need to work on your empathy.

    As proudly humble as many LDS are, I do still think that this is a major area that the church as a whole must work on. The Pharisees have nothing on some Mormons…

  180. Sheri Lynn
    February 26, 2005 at 4:46 am

    Why must we be compared to Nazis? The Jews have been inconvenienced, insulted, slighted, and robbed as well as murdered throughout their recorded history. I admit the Nazis earned themselves the top spot, but I don’t see how baptism by proxy even makes the top hundred on the chart. “Never again” is supposed to apply to the horrors of the concentration camps and genocide. Isn’t it ridiculous for anyone to get upset over some names being said in a font of water, when you think of what the Jewish people have truly and genuinely suffered? The baptism by proxy isn’t an insult or the prolog to any further torture. We hope to open the door to the salvation we believe they need. Okay, so a Jewish person might not be too thrilled to get a Christmas card, but that card is not Reichskristallnacht. Does the thought NEVER count?

  181. annegb
    February 26, 2005 at 10:51 am

    Very well said, Sheri Lynn.

  182. John Kane
    April 15, 2005 at 12:48 am

    Well, Mike Malloy just laid out an infinitely more ignorant (and rude) viewpoint of the issue on Air America radio tonight. People really should do some research, although Milloy is the type of guy that wouldn’t want the truth to get in the way of a good rant about religion (among other things)

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