For some time now a controversy has been brewing over Mormons engaging in proxy baptisms of Jews who died in the holocaust. (The theological belief behind the practice is that when Mormons are baptized in the temple in the name of deceased non-Mormons they make it possible for those people to find salvation in the next life.) If you’re not a Mormon you will probably not consider this a worthwhile practice. But why would anybody care if Mormons in a temple somewhere were performing their baptisms in the name of deceased people?
The charge, as you might have guessed, is that the when the practice is carried out in the name of deceased Jews it is anti-Semitic. Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is the latest to launch this incendiary charge against the Mormons with a cease and desist order in this Huffington Post article. But why is that anti-Semitic? Can’t Elie Wiesel tell the difference between Charlemagne forcing the baptisms of his defeated Germanic foes (a most regrettable practice indeed) and Mormons in their temple engaging in non-coercive private proxy baptisms for the dead?
Even if the Mormon practice is hokum, it could have positive psychological benefits. Perhaps engaging in proxy baptisms ends up inculcating in participants a greater concern for the well-being of others and a sense of common humanity. Thus even if we think the practice appears wacky, we should not be too dismissive of its potential positive effects.
Moreover, what about that one in a million chance (or whatever the odds may be) that the Mormons are right after all? If it turns out contrary to our expectations that Mormons do have things right (at least on this point), wouldn’t you be glad that they’d thought to baptize in your name posthumously so that you could enter paradise? But if this is the case then why would we exempt one specific ethnic or religious group? Indeed, from that perspective it is not baptizing in the name of Jewish peole that would appear anti-Semitic but rather baptizing in the name of everybody but Jewish people.
So here’s the lesson of the day: apparently the term “anti-Semitism” is so powerful that it can lead the most rational people to melt into a morass of fearful irrationality. But then many of us already knew that. Anyway, the bottom line is that there is simply nothing wrong with this practice. So I say let the Mormons perform their proxy baptisms of deceased persons if they wish. They’re not hurting anybody and the practice is nothing if not well-intentioned.