Things To Act
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Baptisms for the Dead
A Hatrack thread is at 15 pages after three days and still going [to 16 in the time in took me to write this post]. AP article that explains the how the latest kerfuffle got underway. I thought about doing a meta-analysis essay, but am settling for a few ruminations, plus some mandatory DU bashing.

A Public Relations Black Eye--for the Activists. Are these the same people who thought that accusing The Passion of antiSemitism was smart? The AP article leaves them looking pretty bad:

"If not, Michel said, his group will consider other options, "possibly legal steps."" Can we say "First Amendment?" All together now, "Congress shall make no law respecting the free exercise of religion." That wasn't so hard, was it? Any law attempting to stop baptisms for the dead would be so clearly unconstitutional that anyone even hinting at such a step (or some 'legal steps' under existing law) is mind-bogglingly dumb. [And think of the fun 'excessive entanglement' we'd get from trying to enforce it. Monetary fines for proxy baptisms? What standards of proof? Federal marshals raiding temples? What about proxy baptisms performed in utter secrecy with no record kept? Let's think about how well the (unconstitutional) efforts to stamp out polygamy (a much more far-reaching practice in daily life) went...]

""It's ridiculous for people to pretend they have the key to heaven," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. "And even if they say they want to do somebody a favor ... it's not a symbol of love. It's a symbol of arrogance."" Arrogance... as in the first part of that statement? I could point out the arrogance of pretending one has the key to arrogance, but it's too obvious.

""The Jews have to either accept what the Mormons are doing or take legal action," Radkey said." Well, if one has totally bought into the hyper-litigious mentality that we budding lawyers find profitable. Or if, under some strange twisted new definition, accept now means "not like, but realize that freedom requires living with the choices of others."

Confusion of Harms and Offenses. I can't quite wrap my mind around the mentality that because someone finds something offensive, there must be some way to ban it. [We'll put aside for now general LDS inability to wrap the mind around the concept of BFTD being offensive, as that doesn't have bearing on the present issue]. All sorts of things offend me, not least the outrageous and false beliefs of others. Of course, I only have the right to seek legal recourse when others' offenses actually do me some sort of quantifiable harm. The law can punish theft, assault, libel [though not easily in the US], etc, but won't punish in the absence of harm [we'll also put aside the libertarian 'victimless crime' debate, as that doesn't have bearing on the point at hand either]. The First Amendment protects not only religious practice, but also freedom of conscience. Part of the costs I get for living in a society in which I'm free to believe and worship as I please are that I must put up with others' exercising of that same freedom in ways I find distasteful. But it takes courage to live in a free society, and, on the whole, I prefer freedom to its absence. It's also worth noting that once we start criminalizing actions that cause offense, almost all actions may become criminalized. Volokh did a good job illustrating the absurdity a few months ago.

Overlooked Scriptural Implications. Much bandwidth has been spent on the question of the alleged arrogance of the alleged refusing to accept nonmembers' choices. Putting aside the absurdities of the careless form of this argument (which often assumes that every individual had a complete chance to hear and accept the gospel on earth), some propose (on Hatrack, and doubtless elsewhere) a forum by which individuals could state their express desires to not have BFTD performed for them after their decease. While this idea is a bit silly, it does touch at a sensitive issue, and I've been bothered in the past by some members' apparent casual disregard for the desires of (and their promises to) the deceased. However, it recently occurred to me to apply D&C 132:7 to this concept:

"...All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed...are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead."

This suggests several things: In our theology, an individual's contracts (and by extension, even stated intentions) do not have force after death absent a sealing ordinance. Thus, an individual's statement "Don't perform proxy baptism for me," cannot be seen as having force in the world to come (which makes sense, given the rather dramatic revelatory nature of death (though it is by no means certain how much knowledge will be revealed while crossing the veil, it seems logical to assume that continued existence in whatever form will give some answers and raise new questions)). This, of course, does not excuse the living from honoring their contracts, as they are not yet dead (which solves the problem of what to do with inheritance laws and the like, as they are as much contracts among the living as with the dead). Theologically, any 'contract' or legal request can't have force after death. Practically, since we believe that individuals who refuse the gospel are by and large doing so on the basis of incomplete information, assuming they have full capacity to contract with respect to this issue can be problematic as well.

Privacy & Counterfactuals. Just for fun, how should we analyze the following scenario: I found a new religion, calling it The Church of the Holy Proletariat. A foundational belief is that all forms of property ownership are immoral. A key ritual of this religion is to ensure the damnation of property-owning blasphemers, unless they repent and renounce their ways. Since a depressingly small number of individuals convert in life, we also help those on the other side by scouring public records for copies of legal transactions involving property ownership. In a sacred ritual, we carefully copy every such legal deed we can find that names an individual, and then burn the deed in an ordinance designed to allow the person to spiritually renounce his crass materialism.

Now some people may object to this on various grounds. Some may believe that the ritual has actual power, and thus object to its supposed harms of the deceased. They would have as much difficulty proving their case as those who feel threatened by voodoo practitioners, soul-stealing video cameras, or whatever. Others may feel the ritual is disrespectful to the deceased, though perhaps their offense is based in a misunderstanding of what the ritual actually entails (after all, minority religions often are misrepresented in the public mind). Still others might, I suppose, work to limit the uses of information in the public domain, though their efforts would face serious First Amendment concerns, not only due to freedom of the press but due to the fact that their efforts would be clearly aimed at suppressing religious practice they find distasteful, constitutionally forbidden and enforced as recently as the Florida animal sacrifice case. In any event, it looks to me that those who object to the practice have no legal means to go about stopping it, other than attempting, through their own protected expression, to convince those doing it that they are wrong or misguided. I suspect, however, that a significant number of pragmatists would merely ignore the whole thing as harmless.

Perhaps this isn't helping. But I still can't really wrap my mind around the notion that others think they have a right to stop these sorts of religious practices. As far as I can tell, the only shadow of any legal reason to care is the fact that the ritual uses the name of an actual person--but since said name is a matter of public record, it's hard to see how that's relevant (and laws forbidding the usage of others' names in religious ritual would be laughably unenforceable (given how many people pray for others, whether by name or not) and unconstitutional (see Amendment 1)).

Speaking of Privacy. I'm suddenly confused as to why this is even much of an issue. As I recall, the Church puts ordinance information behind a firewall, which is why you need your membership record # and confirmation date to check the status of ordinance work in the IGI. Thus, I can't even think how a nonmember would legitimately get his hands on the information of who has been BFTD and who hasn't. It's not like we're shouting it from the housetops (there went the last faint flickering hope for some grounds for some sort of libel case...). As far as I can tell, the church is taking information (including names) from the public domain and performing private rituals. The rituals are constitutionally protected; publicizing them is as well, barring certain narrow exceptions (such as obscenity, libel, etc) but we don't even publicize them, except in the general sense that we do BFTD, and we make specific information available to members who accept the practice anyway.

Mandatory DU Bashing. Rushing to the rescue with its particular brand of moral clarity, the DU saw fit to address the issue yesterday, in an editorial entitled "Lobbying for the church?" Since they don't seem to believe in publishing dumb editorials online, I'll have to excerpt:

"[on the Clinton/Hatch meeting] But the actions that follow are where the situation gets shady. Society has always begged for the separation of church and state, so why would Clinton join efforts with the Jewish community to end the practice of baptizing Holocaust victims? Clinton's expectations of Hatch seem skewed. It is wrong for her to expect him to lobby for the church. Even Hatch--one of the most prominent and powerful LDS members in Utah--should separate his religion from his job. His job as a senator is to legislate for his state, not his church."

Where to begin? Well, first with the AP article the DU ran (a longer version of the one linked above). Said article said the following about C&H: outraged NY organization 'asked C to intervene.' C met with H in early March. Neither commented on the meeting, except C's comment that "it was a private meeting between two senators." Activist claims C is 'involved in planning our next step." C found out her father had been BFTD after meeting with H. No comment about whether future meetings planned.

Based on this scanty information, the DU leaps to all sorts of conclusions, which are not supported by the data (unless the DU has other data, but one would think that a responsible 'news' organization would be interested in oh, say, printing such data...). Whether or not C has 'joined efforts' with anyone is far from clear--Senators spend lots of time meeting with interest groups, and not as much time actually doing anything about what the groups want as said groups would like (one reason so many bills get introduced only to die in committee, unmourned by even the sponsor). It's not as if C is even introducing a bill, she's just meeting with constituents and meeting with another senator on the issue. The fact that she's not meeting with church leaders is also indicative--it looks to me much more like a situation where's she's gathering information (from a conveniently placed fellow senator, who can give insight into the LDS perspective), rather than actually doing anything substantive. But of course I don't know her motives for sure, not having access to the Ouiji board by which the DU learned of her 'expectations.' That they then jump on H (mixing up 'lobbying on behalf of' with 'lobbying a person/institution') for doing NOTHING WHATSOEVER except meeting with a fellow Senator (the sort of courtesy extended by normal people) is absurd.

And, while I agree with the sentiment that H and his fellow Utah delegates represent the state and not the church, I find it amusing that the DU seems to be calling for the separation of religion from work. We'll see if they hold to that stance the next time some high-profile LDS businessman gets indicted for fraud or something.

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