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|Bring out Your Dead|
Dec. 25th, 2006 at 8:50 pm
note: this began as a lengthy, thread-jacking comment on Wayne L’s insightful post on the PR impact of proxy-baptism for famous Jews.
The topic is proxy temple ordinance work for Jews, or, as the press prefers to say (inaccurately), baptizing dead Jews into Mormonism. Many Mormons, leaders included, are inclined to accommodate outsiders with misgivings about the peculiarities of Mormonism. I urge, “Not so fast.” I see no reason to be defensive or apologetic about how we conduct the most sacred ordinances of our religion.
The real problem is that many Jews harbor a strong anti-Christianity prejudice — not an aversion to Christians, but an aversion to Christianity as a religion and to Christian practices. For example, among many Jews, syncretism with Buddhism or Hinduism would seem exotic, but syncretism with Christianity would be decidedly un-Jewish. I tend to think that this is for two reasons: First, Christianity hits closer to home than other religions (this is, for example, one reason evangelicals detest Mormons, but they approach Buddhists rather blandly). Second, Christians (and Christian nations) have been far-and-away the most brutal subjugators of Jews over the past 1,500 years.
This anti-Christianity bias also tends to make Jews anti-Baptism. I’ve heard Jews say things like, “Baptism represents centuries of anti-semetism…” But it doesn’t. Baptism has nothing to do with being Jewish. This outlook conflates a ritual created by Jews with the practices of oppressors of Jews — oppressors who are criticized sharply in Mormon scriptures. It is quite reasonable for Jews to see traditional baptism as making someone less Jewish by virtue of conversion to Christianity. Nevertheless, this needn’t be a concern with regard to Mormon rituals performed by proxy. Those rituals mean nothing of the sort.
As an American, I’m proud to belong to a culture that has been so strongly shaped by Jews. The United States has the largest Jewish community in the world, and Americans have been the primary benefactors of the rest of the world’s anti-Semitism. Thanks to the talents of Jewish Americans, America has the most sophisticated culture in the world (by far). The list of notable Jews who emigrated from Europe to the USA reads like a Who’s Who of 20th century science and culture; just off the top of my head: Arnold Schoenberg, George Gershwin, Otto Klemperer, Irving Berlin, Billy Wilder, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud — enough to write multiple books about. One could argue that there would be almost no American culture at all if it weren’t for Jewish American.
European culture might have been really great if Europe hadn’t treated its Jews so poorly.
That said, I don’t care to cater to the unfounded prejudices of any group, especially when they bear on issues that have no practical implications whatever. In the past few generations, as the number of substantive injustices in the Western World has decreased, there has arisen a notion that perceived injustices are just as bad (and this notion is not just limited to the various schools of feminism). Make no mistake: perceived injustice is pretty trivial stuff.
So we, as Mormons, might utter someone’s name at different times in a few sacred Mormon rituals. If Jews find this to be offensive, that’s their problem. Things are tough all over; it offends me when I hear people malign the sacred rituals of my religion. Besides, names aren’t property, and there’s a good reason for it.