Baptisms For The Dead
I grew up immersed in two completely different religions. My dad and his side of the family were Catholic. My mom’s side of the family were Mormon.
At about the age of 12 my mom somehow convinced my dad to become a Mormon, I don’t know how. I guess the pervasive power of Mother Church cannot compete with the persuasive power of mother and wife.
We were Catholic before this point. I thought the Catholics were weird and found all the pomp and ceremony tiresome and hard on the knees. I also thought the priest should be wearing plastic gloves while he placed Jesus Pieces on our tongues. Quite unsanitary, but that's a Health Department matter.
I found the Mormon church to be far stranger. They put me in a Sunday school-like class. I was told not to ask too many questions one Sunday. I had asked a few questions, things relating to the odd beliefs about the natives of America and other things.
I then asked about Joseph Smith looking into a hat to decipher God’s word and why God would all of a sudden tell these things to some guy and why they were not in the bible already. Then I stated that God had said he wouldn’t show himself anymore and people had to have faith, so why did God prove himself to some guy in the 1800‘s? It wasn’t fair.
I was told to be quiet so God could come into my heart and mind and answer my questions. Hearts and minds.
Later I had to get prepared to do something called baptisms for the dead. I had no idea what it was but I knew I was going to get to go to Los Angeles and see some big giant temple. All the other 12 to 13 year olds who were going were so excited to see this temple.
First we had to have an interview with the Bishop. I have had some uncomfortable job interviews in my time in which I was not prepared to answer a question (once I went to an interview with a black eye and wearing a suit I had slept in), but this interview set the bar pretty high. I never again have felt like I did beneath the gaze of that man’s eyes.
The questions he asked were questions I was quite unprepared for at the age of 12. One of them was “Do you...uh...touch yourself down there,” He pointed down to his lap area. I had looked up at him not knowing what to say.
I knew what he meant, and I hadn’t started doing that yet but I was so embarrassed by the question my tongue had dried to the roof of my mouth. He had taken my hesitation as incomprehension. “Do you masturbate son? Do you think of other people sexually in your mind and then act on it? Remember, God is listening so you need to tell me the truth.” I ended up shaking my head no and managed a feeble and quiet “No sir.”
He had asked many other odd questions as well, some related to my sexual activities, and others just as completely pointless.
The trip to LA was pretty fun, taking a road trip with all these kids. When we stopped at a place to eat outside the temple, I looked up and saw the magnificence of the great Los Angeles temple.
I could see the gold statue of Moroni with the horn at the tippy top of temple, seeming to be trumpeting into the clouds. It made me feel so good inside, and I could feel God with me at that very moment. That was when I looked down from the blazing beauty of the temple at the streets around it.
There was dirty nasty looking streets with a couple of bums laying against a warehouse building half passed out. I was disgusted by these people and this city, its horrific ugliness encroaching upon the perfectness of the well kept grounds and the sky soaring temple with puffy white clouds seeming to hover only over the temple property.
Inside we walked through the giant halls filled with all manner of glory to God. It seemed like an imperial palace or a beautiful museum to me at the time. I began to wonder why they didn’t just spread this brilliance into the surrounding streets.
We waited in an antechamber for a little while before being sent through a door. The door led to a walkway which ran around the inside wall of a great chamber. It probably seemed so much bigger to me at that age than it would now. In my memory it was an immense cavernous room. In the center were oxen arranged in some sort of circle. They were gold looking and on their back was a giant golden bowl with water in it. It looked like the whole thing was just floating in darkness as I couldn’t see the bottom of the oxen’s feet.
As we walked around the walkway in a line I could see other kids in white jump-suits in a line on a walkway stretching out to the bowl. In the bowl I could see a man in a white suit dunking kids under water while looking up at a computer screen. At the time the whole scene reminded me of something out of one of the many sci-fi movies I loved.
The walkway we were on ended at a door in which there was a huge locker room on the other side. Inside we were given a net bag and a key for a locker. We had to change our clothes and put on one of the white zip up jump-suits. I felt like I was zipping up for a trip to the moon. As we stepped out onto the catwalk to the bowl, I felt a little apprehension.
I could hear a man’s voice echoing faintly from the bowl. I would hear snatches as we inched closer. “....Martinez, I baptize you....of...saints.” Then as I passed a person on a little seat off to the side of the catwalk at a console looking like an air traffic controller or something, I knew it was my turn.
I stepped down into the lukewarm water and the man grabbed me and said comfortingly, “Just let me guide you down each time, okay?” I nodded and he proceeded to baptize fifty dead people, with me as proxy vessel. I remember trying to see each of the names on the screen as I came up for air but it was all I could do to catch my breath and blink the water out of my eyes each time. Every time I came up I would see images. Kid’s faces, all staring at me with scared anticipatory looks, the air traffic controller lady with a creepy smile, the man’s face dunking me under who looked like the guy from Fantasy Island (wearing a white suit no less).
By about a dozen names I was feeling panicked, and I just couldn’t wait until it was over. My anxiety was screaming through my pores. Going backwards into the water was like that trust exercise of falling and being caught, except knowing that you would be dropped everytime. I was so glad when it was over and never wanted to do it again.
My family soon stopped going to the Mormon church. By the time I was 14 we had quit the church entirely.
They however, did not quit us. They hounded us day and night. Calls and surprise doorbell ringings, they would not leave our family alone. I would see a man standing on the corner when I was walking to the school bus and I would be scared he was a Mormon, watching and waiting for his chance to snatch me up and make me do baptisms for the dead for 5000 corpses.
I even had a nightmare once, days after the baptisms, in which Ricardo Montalban was welcoming me to Fantasy Island while riding a golden ox. I now think back and wonder why they would put children through that kind of cult-like and scary ceremony. I am sure there are people who probably had a good ol’ time performing this ceremony and I almost have to wonder about that as well.