Discussion 3 to Ask the Patriarch 231
Opposing views on Posthumous Baptism
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In response to a comment about the LDS posthumous baptism of Daniel Pearl, Andrew Sullivan posted two opposing views on the practice on his blog "The Dish: Biased and Balanced."
Either the Mormons are right about their theology, or they’re wrong. If they’re right, then the posthumous baptism will do good. If they’re wrong (and, being not a Mormon, I by definition think they are wrong, or else I’d be a Mormon), then the baptism will have no effect whatsoever: It is just some people going through some ineffectual — by hypothesis — rituals in their own temple, and I don’t see what it should be to me that those rituals use the names of (say) my late relatives, however much I love those relatives.
My problem with posthumous baptism is that it’s disrespectful. Assuming that the dead people don’t know that they’re being disrespected, we can nonetheless assert that it’s disrespectful to the group deemed to be in need of posthumous baptism. Indeed, I’d say it is about as clear a statement as we can get of one group’s belief in the inferiority of the beliefs of another group. It amounts to an invalidation of the choices that people make in their lives and a direct paternalistic challenge to their agency: "We know better than they do and, thankfully, we’ll be able to help them out."
Both views have validity and I find myself in essential agreement with both. Yes, it is a meaningless and ineffectual ritual. And yes, it is disrespectful of the dead and of their survivors. We provide our unbaptism forms for those that wish to reverse the disrespect.