Sunday, March 16, 2008

baptisms for the dead, part 1

Another story from Growing up Mormon:

I was twelve years old, finally in young women’s and finally old enough to go to the Provo temple to do baptisms for the dead. I was almost giddy about the prospect of actually going inside the temple. I’d been looking forward to this for years. That primary song told me to look forward to it, after all.

I love to see the temple
I’m going there someday
To cov’nant with my father
To listen and to pray

For the temple is the house of God
A place of love and beauty.
I’ll prepare myself while I am young
It is my sacred duty.

I had no idea what it was like inside. I’d only seen the outside, the off white, roundish building with the orange-gold spire. Frankly, I thought this temple was a bit funny looking. Ugly, even, if I could call a temple ugly. I suspected I shouldn’t. My parents had been married in this temple, and I always wondered why they chose that one. It was the closest, I guess. But still, this was the temple I grew up seeing on the hill, lit up at night. And really, it didn’t matter what was on the outside. I was curious about the inside.

My parents kept mum about the whole thing. I saw them go off early in the morning, and come back before my school day began, with their little tote bags. I knew there were “temple clothes” inside those bags, but I never, ever saw them. They were sacred, my mom told me once when I asked. I wasn’t to see them.

Despite their secrecy, I knew a little about what went on inside the temples. There were baptisms for the dead, of course, in the basement, and something called endowments, and marriage sealings. Mom had said something about a cafeteria once, and a chapel. It seemed incongruent to have something so worldly as a cafeteria in a house of God, but then, I guess people gotta eat.

Now I was old enough to be let into the basement to do baptisms for the dead, and that felt special. It wasn’t the whole shebang, but it was something.

When my dad told me I’d have to get a special temple recommend, a “one time use” one, my excitement was dampened by nervousness about the interview. What kind of questions would the bishop’s councilor ask? Was I worthy? What would Heavenly Father see in my heart? I started feeling guilty.

For what? What should I be feeling guilty for? I searched my conscious, my memory. I lied that time when I was three, but that was erased when I was baptized anyway. Right, so I only have to think about what happened since I turned eight. Third grade. Okay, think. A couple lies. Never stole anything from the grocery store. Wasn’t always perfect to my siblings. Never cheated on a test at school. Um...Okay, I think I’m okay. But I still felt mildly guilty, and scared.


rolypoly said...

I was just describing this to a friend over black and tans at a St. Paddy's party. We were talking about genealogy (in a fun way, not the mind-numbing mormon microfiche/senior citzen way) and I just couldn't resist.

I'll never tire of the total WTF?! reaction from nevermos when I utter the four words: baptisms for the dead. It creeps them out. The LDS church really should think about calling it something else.

Looking forward to part II . . .

Nayana Anthony said...

I am utterly fascinated by this "Growing Up Mormon" series. As a nevermo, of course my childhood experiences were different, but I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church, so there are surprising similarities.

I cannot wait for the next installment! Keep it up, FTA.

from the ashes said...

rolypoly- Mmm, black and tan...

Sometimes I can't resist either, and I've told people about handshakes, death oaths, etc. But baptisms or the dead--that's just creepy. So many rumors out about that one.

nayana- Welcome! I'm sure there are a lot of differences in details, but some of the themes and manipulations are the same.

Now I have to _write_ the next installment...

Mai said...

Yeah, creepy...

Sikhi is the most tolerant of religions and we are most strictly forbidden from playing, 'my religion's better than your religion, nyah, nyah, nyah.'

Unless the the religion practices something really outrageous, like human sacrifice or forced conversion.

And always keep in mind how absurd, even silly our aversion to haircuts - yes, even legs and armpits - seems to others. And our religious underwear is extremely comfy. And can be made at home. And aren't at all secret.

I hear Sandeep behind me: 'Mama, you're going too far.' 'OK,son.'

Still...baptism of the dead?

Just a thought? What if the baptised dead prefer to remain heathen? If there is no provision for that, it would be a forced conversion and I'm allowed to be critical, eh?

Awaiting Part Two. (Should I read Secret Ceremonies? Someone told me to read that if I want to know this stuff.)

Becca said...

fascinating, keep it coming!

f said...

mai- Baptisms certainly look like forced conversion. But most Mormons have adopted an "out" on that--they'll tell you that the (dead) person being baptized has the chance to accept or reject the ordinances. Mormons just see the ordinances (baptism, endowment, marriage sealing) as absolutely required for salvation. So since all those people who died without the Gospel (TM) didn't have the chance, the Mormons will do it for them. Personally, I think that's nicer than condemning them to eternal damnation because they weren't born Catholic, you know?

Still, I agree that it is very weird, and very offensive.

becca- Thanks for the encouragement! Part 2 might have to wait a couple more days, I'm pretty busy with work right now.


Rebecca said...

I was freaked out the first time I went to do baptisms - I held off for as long as possible, but was finally pressured into it at 14 or 15. I remember one girl in our group was on her period so she could only do confirmations (or whatever it was - the blessings) and not he actual baptisms. I was jealous. I was already really shy and self-conscious, and getting dunked in white clothes in front of a bunch of people, then coming out with that dress completely transparent and sticking to me...eesh. It was an awful feeling. I never went again.

I LOVE telling the girl I nanny for about Mormonism - she thinks it's totally weird and hilarious. She told her mom about the underwear and her mom didn't believe it.

Devin Johnson said...

I agree with rolypoly about calling it something else but the rest of you should do research. You dont get condemed for not being in the church. Thing of the people in other countries who cant get to a church or dont know if one even exists. Also, getting baptised is not necessary for getting to heaven, or even getting to the celestial kingdom (look it up). It just helps.

from the ashes said...

devin- I understand perfectly well the argument about people in other countries and others who never have a chance to hear the Gospel. See my above comment to Mai. I just don't agree with the idea that there is One True Church and One True Way. From the Mormon perspective though, I can see how baptisms for the dead are compassionate, in the way you expressed. From an outside perspective, though, it's weird and even offensive.

Mai said...

Yeah, the RC view of God really isn't very nice. You know my mother insisted that I be raised RC as a condition of not aborting me, so for the first few years, I was indoctrinated, but it just didn't take.If you haven't already ready that post, it's one of my favourites.

I hate to think what would happen to anybody who tried to do a baptism - before or after death - to Dad. A Grand Old Khalsa like him, hahahahaha. I think he would prefer to have his Jot of God remerge with Vaheguru rather than to be a god, anyway And I just can't see him with a harem of goddesses! (Although it is an intruiging picture.)

bws said...

Hi FTA - I'm one of those 'active mormons' out there who stumble on to your blog and probably leave little messages every once in a while. I actually came accross your blog while preparing my primary lesson. Pretty funny eh?

I read all of your pre-exit and exit posts. I haven't taken the time to read much more. (lots of posts.) I was very interested in the process and evolution of your change in views and beliefs.

I do think that many who leave the LDS church do so under similar circumstances to you. They begin to explore rather than ignore their nagging questions and doubts. This type of exploration is not well accomodated in the church. It seems the only people talking seriously about these questions are non-mormons so those are the sources that get read. So few if any mormon scholars even try to answer some of the questions you have been exploring.

One of the reasons for this I believe is that the answers are not scholarly or academic. I don't think the answers are completely reachable by historical research or sometimes even by logic. Such a vew is anathema to the modern scientific mind - but does that make it wrong?

Though I have drawn different conclusions as I've explored some of the same questions you have, I want you to know that I feel like I understand where you are coming from. I'm interested in reading and understanding your perspective and choices more. I think LDS leaders would do well to at least understand and try to address the areas of discomfort that prompt members to start looking around for better answers and a more fulfilling spiritual life.

Also, for what it is worth, I don't see you or your site as evil or 'in league with the devil' as you've described some of your family's response to you. You seem like an intelligent, thoughtful person trying to do what you feel is right for you and your family. I don't know how you could be faulted for that.

Take care


Devin Johnson said...

I agree with you. There cant possibly be one true church. We cant all be true to the gospel because we learn from other people and some, like me, have different views that they try to make (not me) you believe like them, and not follow the true gospel. And who's to say that the gospel once restored can't be lost again. Also nice to see another mormon with less, as FTA would say, "Moly Mormon" veiws bws. Ill keep watching. Also, sorry for my comments the other day, I was a little stressed.

from the ashes said...

mai- I have read that story. It is such a great story. I'm glad you found your path. Imagining such a young girl speaking so boldly and with such resolve is heartwarming.

bws- Wow, welcome, and thanks for your comments. It is comforting to hear the voices of Mormons like you, when I know so many who are unwilling to discuss or approach the issues. I agree with you that "the church leaders would do well" to more frankly discuss things (and I think that has started somewhat, with "sanctioning" of things like Bushman's book).

I understand your approach, too, that faith is in a different realm than science/logic. Many people (and many very smart people, at that) approach things this way. I say if it works for you, go for it.

I can see people saying, "Okay, you can't prove or disprove the existence of God. And by faith, I will believe." Fine by me, I just happened to have taken the other route.

The trouble for me in making that leap of faith for Mormonism specifically is that it requires a leap of faith, not in the absence of evidence, but _against_ evidence (as I see it). When I let myself take as honest and open approach to Mormonism as I could, it did not withstand scrutiny, and no amount of faith can make me ignore that. Know what I mean?

Nevertheless, I can appreciate people with different POVs on that, and welcome open, honest, and kind discussion. (That goes for you, too, devin--I'll be honest and say that your comments this weekend riled me up a bit, but if you for some reason find my blog a place you want to "hang out," you are welcome. As long as you are nice.)

bws said...

FTA - I'm glad my comments seem to have been received the way I felt when I wrote them. Though we are on different sides of the fence (so to speak) on some issues concerning Mormonism, I don't feel like we are very different people. Had I experienced all that you have experienced I may feel the same way you do. Had you experienced my life instead of yours you might be where I'm at now.

I think there is great value in exploring differences without making value judgments. In fact I love talking with intelligent, sincere, thoughtful people who's views differ from my own. As long as the discussion is open and enjoyable - the bigger the difference in our views the better.

I thought it was interesting when you referred to me as Mormon I sort of winced, since I think I know what that word means to you. I wanted to say "I'm not MORMON." I'm not that stereotyped close-minded insensitive sot that contributed to the demise of your faith. Admittedly there are MORMONS out there - too many maybe - but I hope I'm not one. (Just talking out loud. I certainly didn't feel attacked or anything.)

When you said "I understand your approach, too, that faith is in a different realm than science/logic." I thought "I may have said it, but that does not quite describe my feelings." I actually feel like I am very scientific about my faith - meaning my confidence in my beliefs about spiritual matters is based on repeated experimentation and reproducible results. Every time I run the experiment, I get the same results. Every time so far. So I wouldn't say that I feel spirituality and science are in different realms. I do feel the data is gathered in different ways.

I have some other thoughts on faith versus empericism and knowability - but I'm going to let them percolate. I'm interested in knowing your thoughts on how one gains knowledge or if it is even possible to know anything. A true skeptic says we can't know anything... except that we can't know anything I guess =) Seriously though, how do you decide what is right or wrong, true or false from your new perspective - or do you even engage in such questions?

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Great post, FTA, and interesting discussion happening here in your comments. I look forward to reading the discussion between you and bws (I like how the W was included if these are initials...I'd not wanna be known as "bs" either! hehe. kidding! I'm kidding!). I think you both sound thoughtful and intelligent and I could use some thoughtful reading.

from the ashes said...

bws- Sorry I haven't gotten back to you sooner! I think you are wise to say that had we experienced each others' lives, we might have turned out to be in different places. I accept that. Had I been in Utah nearer my family, had I been dealing with the death of a close friend, had my husband not also been leaving, etc, etc, I can see how things could have been different for me, or slower, or more painful, etc.

As far as calling you a Mormon...sorry to make you wince. But "Mormon" doesn't hold such negative connotations for me as you imagine. The Mormon you described I would call "Molly Mormon," probably. From what I understand of you from your comments here (and I know that's a very small part of you), I would probably refer to you as a "liberal Mormon." Willing to talk to "apostates" such as myself, willing to be open-minded, don't take every little thing seriously, not waiting to hike to Missouri, etc.

Oh, and I don't think those "Molly Mormons" contributed to the "demise of my faith," either. I do not attribute my (lack of) faith on Mormonism to any people (except perhaps JS himself); for me, it was all about the history and what I see as the impossibility of JS having the true church. It was, as I see it, reason and critical thinking that led me to not believe. Beyond that, it was the culture of the church, the theology, the policies and practices, and, yes, some people (but no one specifically), that led me to not want to be a part of the church, even as a non-believer. And of course, my conscience and integrity--I couldn't bring myself to pretend to be a good, faithful Mormon when I was not, and when I disagreed with so much.

Anyway, that was a long-winded way of saying "No person offended me," since it seemed like that's what you were implying. Though I may have read you wrong.

I agree that a skeptic doesn't claim to _know_, nor do I claim to know their is no god, or to know that JS's claims don't hold up. But based on the evidence we have, I am quite comfortable saying nope, nope, nope.

How we know things...I believe (did you see that? believe? lol) science is a great tool to understanding the natural world. It tests things, and the results are falsifiable. I think that is a key. No matter how confident in your scientific results you (the general you) are, you must present the test to others to repeat the test. Now you have tested your faith repeatedly, and always come up with the same results. But what about others? Others have prayed and come up with nothing; others have prayed about their own churches and come up with similar feelings to yours as to the truth of _their_ churches. How do you account for that?

I personally prayed about the BoM, and felt I received a witness of its truth. But now I don't think a feeling can verify anything, except how I feel. (See my posts
as well as the two that are linked from there for more on my thoughts about the spirit.)

bws said...

Hi FTA – Thanks for your response. I enjoy hearing your views a lot. I especially like comparing our similarities and differences and thinking about why those similarities and differences exist. I enjoy respectful, cordial debate with people who have intelligent views that differ from my own. My intent with this dialogue is understanding each other (and ourselves), not changing your mind at all. If I point out inconsistencies in your arguments it is only as a “public service.” I welcome the same. I’m sure I’m full of them but I’d like to find them and understand them myself and hopefully get rid of them.

(sorry this is so long. Every time I try to shorten it, I make it longer.)

I read your posts on the spirit. I think that you are absolutely right that Mormons place a huge emphasis on what they believe to be personal communication with God. I actually think this is one of the most impressive aspects of the Mormon faith. Most other systems of thought I know of rely on some type of internal verification. “It’s true because we say it is and here is why. Here is our evidence.” Mormon’s tell people “don’t take my word for it, ask God yourself.” Pretty bold really. In the end it is up to the individual to confirm the reality of pretty much every aspect of our religion through what we believe is the most reliable source of information available – divine communication. It is not about logic and proof. It is not about evidence. It is about a spiritual conviction. How else can these types of life changing issues be ascertained? Everything else seems too unreliable and susceptible to influence or error to me.

Of course I realize that you are using the very same argument AGAINST the idea of personal communication with God. I understand why to some this idea is koo koo. The idea of discerning some spiritual message is too vague and too prone to error to trust. I can appreciate their point of view. But, for me any ways – answers have been just as clear as they need to be every time.

I think it comes down to a difference of opinion then on what is a reliable source of information about what is and isn’t real. Tell me if I understand your position: You admit that you don’t _know_ there is no God and you don’t _know_ JS’s claims don’t hold up. But you feel confident believing what you believe and making significant life choices based on that belief because you trust your interpretation of the information you have to be accurate. Is this how you feel? If so, this to me is faith. To me this is the same as saying you admit what you believe may not be true and what you believe in may not be reliable. If you don’t _know_ but you believe – then you have faith. Do you agree?

So here is my main point and the one that I’d like your opinion on – It seems to me both of our beliefs are based on faith – faith in our interpretation of the information we have and the reliability of its source. You happen to have faith in something different than I do. Our objects of faith have their flaws and are both vulnerable to misinterpretation or error. It is then a matter of where we choose to place our faith. What do you think?

I’m assuming you agree that evidence, science, logic, history etc are also fallible and subjective - but you may not feel that way. My opinion of what I guess you’d call secular knowledge is based on my experiences. I spent 8 years studying the hard sciences in college and grad school. I’ve been taught by world renowned molecular biologists and geneticists, some who openly scorn religion. I found these priests of science to have just as much blind faith in their unseeable world as any other who attempts to guide and instruct the masses in the ‘truth.’ I work in a field where almost every day ‘science’ changes its mind on what is good and bad, healthy or not, right and wrong. I’ve learned to be very skeptical of studies and evidence. I have to be. It is just a practical reality of my daily life.

I have also found accurate history to be an oxymoron. By definition I feel history to be inaccurate and unreliable and a matter of opinion. When two eyewitnesses to an event can’t even agree seconds afterwards, I do not have faith in knowing and understanding the past based on the traces it has left behind. Mine are opinions that you may not accept as being supportable. We all have different experiences.

You ask how I explain contrary and competing spiritual claims. I don’t try to. I don’t know what other people experience. I can only explain myself and my experiences – and even that not very well. In the same vein – how does one explain that when I read the same things you do, I come to different conclusions? We are both intelligent people open to new ideas. Neither of us feel we have it all figured out. Where you see proof, why do I see something less? Whatever explanation we may propose can be reversed and applied in the opposite direction and thus cancels itself out. So I don’t try.

I hope my wordiness hasn’t put you off. I’m interested in your thoughts.