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Baptizing the Dead
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The Mormon cult has a lots of strange beliefs - aliens, sexism, black people are the devils children, Jesus visited North America, appearing and disappearing golden tablets, tithing, polygamy and of course the Magic Underwear. But one of the strangest beliefs is probably the concept of posthumous baptisms.
It be fair all religions have a lot of weird customs - drinking blood, eating bodies, glorifying execution device, reciting mantras, celibacy, no birth control etc. But posthumous baptisms is probably one of the strangest concepts.
What is a posthumous baptism? Posthumous means "occurring or appearing after the death of the originator" so what we are talking about is baptizing dead people. In many religions the living can become baptized under their own will in ceremonies in which they accept the teaching of the church. But the Mormon's have come up with a totally new way to boost their numbers by baptizing the dead.
A few year's back when the Mormon Temple in Belmont Massachusetts was built they had a big open house. The public was invited to see the splendor of the temple and find out more about the church. I boarded a bus from Cambridge, along with other curious tourist as well as Mormons from all over the region. You see a Mormon Temple is not open to the public or even to regular church members like a regular church or cathedral. Normally a Mormon Temple is only open to church members of a certain standing (i.e. have given enough money to the Mother Church) and men. Women are only allowed during certain ceremonies such as weddings.
The temple has a changing area where one can change from street clothes into the white temple robes and a cafeteria for hungry pilgrims who may have traveled far to get to their regional temple. There is a two story hot tub sitting on the back of giant white ox statues for the living. For the dead there is a room with a cushioned circular couch in the center (all white of course) with floor to ceiling mirrors on two walls. The tour guide explained that you could see your reflection in the mirrors forever, which symbolizes your past and future generations.
This is the room that the posthumous baptisms are preformed for a fee of course. Since Mormonism is a relatively new religion and your deceased relatives might never have had the chance to embrace Mormonism, the idea is that in this ceremony you can ask long dead relatives if they want to accept Mormonism and I suppose then move on to heaven. Your relatives might not even have been born when Joseph Smith put down his seer stones and made up the Mormon religion, but in this ceremony they can have to opportunity to enjoy all of the benefits of being a Mormon post humorously.
But don't think that the dead don't have a choice. Our guide pointed out that the dead have the chance to accept or decline your gift of Mormonism. You will never know what their choice was but at least you gave them the chance to be a Mormon.
Weird right? Well it gets even weirder when you consider some uber Mormon fanatics have taken this concept even further by registering all sorts of people up for this post humorous baptism. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in LA , which has expressed outrage over the revelation that a Mormon decided to baptise the parents of Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. This happened despite an agreement reached in 1995 which was designed to ban the practice of baptising Holocaust victims by proxy after it was discovered the names of hundreds of thousands of those who died had been entered into Mormon records.
This is like signing up dead people to your political party, doing anything to boost your numbers. The Catholic Church has also come out against this practice of baptizing its dead members. Of course any outrage by one church against the Mormon practice just legitimizes the concept. I mean, its a creepy, weird practice but it's really in the realm of identity theft and should be taken up in the courts rather than in religious wars. Basically if the Mormon church lists your dead relative as one of their members and they never were a member, its rewriting history, fraud or character defamation.
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