Mormon Baptism, Belief in Satan, and Culture’s Demand for Tolerance

The Wall Street Journal featured a story Friday on “Mormons and Baptism by Proxy.” Mormons believe in performing a temple rite that gives members an opportunity to obtain salvation for their ancestors. The practice has been in the news this week because Holocaust survivors and their descendants are outraged that Mormons have been baptizing those who died at the hands of Nazis – accusing Mormons of “rebranding” Jewish souls.  The Mormon Church has responded by apologizing for these baptisms, which were not of members’ ancestors.
I am amazed that people are so offended by this religious activity that does not impact a non-Mormon believer. If you believe that the Mormons have done something through baptism to actually impact your ancestor’s soul, then perhaps you should become a Mormon – that implies you believe what they believe. If you don’t believe that the Mormons have done something through baptism that would actually make any difference, why do you care what they are doing? More specifically, why are you offended and calling for response from the Mormon Church? I don’t care if a Satanist comes along and baptizes my ancestors for the devil. I don’t believe that can impact me or my ancestors so I’m not offended by the belief.
In the meantime, Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, has also been making headlines this week. The big news? He believes in Satan. Quotes from a 2008 speech “proving” Santorum’s belief in the devil have been featured by several major news outlets.
When was the last time you saw a headline proclaiming that someone believes in God? Unless that is completely unexpected (such as the conversion of a well-known Atheist to Christianity), it isn’t a headline-maker. It’s generally accepted that many people believe in God. But somehow the corresponding Christian belief in the devil has become unacceptable. We are now going to implicitly label someone as a buffoon for their belief by making that belief a news-worthy headline.
I don’t know if anything gets as much air time in the context of faith matters as the concept of “tolerance”.  “Tolerance” parades around under a façade of everyone accepting each other regardless of belief,  but in application, what people who talk about tolerance really mean is that we shouldn’t have any belief that offends someone else, and if we dare do, we need to keep it quiet. Where is the tolerance in demanding an apology for a Mormon belief and practice? Where is the tolerance in proclaiming an aspect of Santorum’s faith as a news-making headline, as if it is absurd?
With society’s working definition of tolerance, the best belief is to have no belief at all. That way you have no belief with which to offend someone and no belief to spend time expressing.
My kids are young, but there is no doubt that as they grow they will hear the word “tolerance” thrown at them from all sides. At the same time, I already know how intolerant people will be of their Christian beliefs. Here is what I want them to understand.
Tolerance does NOT mean we need to approve of or even be open to anyone else’s belief. (I don’t agree with the beliefs of other faiths; if you are forcing me to, then you are not being tolerant of my belief.)
Tolerance also does NOT mean that we need to keep quiet about our belief, at the risk of “offending” others.
Tolerance DOES mean this: “To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with without interference.”
Demanding apology for belief is interference. Insulting belief with news-making headlines is interference. That said, we can’t stop others from talking about a hypocritical notion of tolerance. We can only choose to be appropriately tolerant ourselves. We need to make sure as parents that our kids have a clear understanding of the difference between what is expected of them by the world (a silent, uncommitted faith) and what is expected of them as Christians. In the meantime, we will have to get used to being tolerant of intolerance.
This topic is a great conversation starter for teenage kids: How do they define tolerance? And what are the implications of that definition for Christians and non-Christians?


What would you add to this definition of tolerance? Do you agree or disagree that there is a hypocrisy in society’s typical use of the word?

10 thoughts on “Mormon Baptism, Belief in Satan, and Culture’s Demand for Tolerance”

  1. I think you have hit it right on the head with your analysis, Natasha. Having grown up in a Nazarene household and converting to the Mormon (LDS) faith at 18, I see the world much as you do. The issues that make the headlines are those that tout our differences rather than our similarities and our belief in God. I think that so many do not understand the LDS practices of baptism by proxy and are fearful because it is so foreign to them. I think that more discussion of these “foreign” concepts as well as the shared belief in Christ need to be had by all.

    Do I think that the action taken by the LDS Church concerning the “errant” baptisms is enough? Yes, I do. I think that any system can be broken or hijacked for someone’s personal crusade or vendetta. My thoughts are that someone outside of the LDS church has convinced a church member that this was something noble to do, deliberately inciting a firestorm of controversy in the press and among the religious community. It’s sad to see happen, but they have now been banned from any kind of submission at all. I believe as you do, that it should not matter to someone out side the religion, but we all have our hotspots and they are the ones that usually rise to public prominence.

    Thank you for taking the time to say this and for saying it so well!

    1. Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts

      Hi Luana,

      Thanks for your comment! I think you’re right, that most ‘intolerance’ is born from a lack of understanding the belief. That said, it really shouldn’t matter if the concept is foreign or not to people – they should just accept its “existence without interference”. Interference just gets exacerbated by fear. While I don’t agree theologically with Mormon beliefs, I really did find this story surprising.

  2. I absolutely believe that baptism by proxy isn’t biblical. Psalm 49:7 “No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him.” To baptize by substitution denies and eliminates the free moral agency and individual responsibility God has assigned to each of us. Otherwise, Jesus would have told the wealthy man in Mark 10 that one option for getting into Heaven was to be posthumously baptized.

    At the same time, I really do believe that people should be free to believe what they will. It doesn’t affect me, unless you want to get into an argument with me about it, then I will tell you I absolutely refuse to accept any religious rite that isn’t described in detail in the Bible, except once in passing and as part of a different argument. (I’ve been reading Numbers, with all the many instructions about how God wanted religious ceremonies to go. Jesus set us the example of how we should live, and He never mentioned it.)

    I don’t care if a Mormon wants to get baptized for my grandmother. That’s between them and God. My Nanny has nothing to do with it, nor do I. I’m firm enough in my beliefs to know what I believe and why. I won’t force my beliefs on anyone, and I’d like to have the same respect of others. That is tolerance, IMO. I don’t feel that the Mormons were respecting the beliefs of the Jews killed in the Holocaust, but I don’t think they hurt anyone but themselves by doing it.

    I agree with the point of this article. If you don’t go along with the PC norm, don’t expect any respect of your beliefs from anyone else in today’s society. People who know what tolerance truly is are few and far between.

    1. Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts

      Hi Bev, Thanks for the comment! I agree that the belief is not supported by the Bible. I just don’t think they should have to apologize for their belief anymore than we should have to apologize for the belief that Jesus is the Savior of the world. I love your point about being firm in your beliefs. It seems to be that those many who are concerned about tolerance do not have have a firm belief themselves. Because they are still “open” they want everyone else to be.

  3. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an atheist. I was born a Catholic and went to Catholic school until college. I have read the Bible many times over, in different languages, and despite my current lack of faith, I consider myself well-versed in many areas of Christianity.

    My best friend is an amazing Christian woman, which is how I discovered your blog. I have found virtually all your previous posts refreshing, insightful, and thought-provoking. This is the first one that has given me real pause.

    Because when I think of Christians, “tolerance” isn’t exactly the first (or even 50th) thing that comes to mind.

    Let’s take the definition you supplied: “Tolerance DOES mean this: ‘To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with without interference.'”

    So, then, why are Christians so seemingly INTOLERANT of things like homosexuals, gay marriage, birth control, and abortion? I understand that the bible tells you they are wrong and you are morally opposed to them. And you’re entitled to those beliefs. But why should it affect what I do as a nonbeliever?

    We live in a country that believes in the separation of church and state. So as a secular member of society, it is frustrating when Christians attempt to push their faith-based beliefs into laws and the lives of non-believers. How is that tolerant? Shouldn’t Christians “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of [gay marriage, birth control, and abortion], things that they do not necessarily like or agree with, without interference?”

    1. Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts

      Hi Lisa – First, thank so much for visiting the blog and for your kind words. I’m happy to hear that there are visitors here other than Christians!

      Second, I agree with you 100%, for the reasons you stated. I absolutely believe in the separation of church and state, and do not believe it is the government’s duty or even right to tell people that they can or cannot get married, use birth control and the like. I do believe that is interference. If I read between the lines correctly, you agree that having moral issues with certain behaviors should not be considered intolerant (i.e., simply having those beliefs); however, you are saying that when it crosses over into political legislation, that is interference and, therefore, intolerance by this definition. Although I know I differ with many Christians on this, I agree with your assessment. Also, it is refreshing to see an atheist acknowledge that for consistency, the beliefs themselves should not be considered intolerant.

      I will say that the one area for me that does become politically appropriately is abortion. We have laws against murder, and I believe abortion is akin to that. This is based on the premise that an unborn life is still a life, and of course that is where pro-choice people differ. That actually has little to do with religion for me; I just believe that taking a life is against the law, and there is no question that the fetus is alive.

      Thanks again for commenting!

      1. Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts

        After typing that last line, I feel like I have to clarify (“I just believe that taking a life is against the law, and there is no question that the fetus is alive.”)…I meant that we as a society already agree that we are going to legislate the moral of not taking another person’s life. If that is a value our society has agreed on, then I feel abortion fits within the definition of that (already existing) law and is therefore not a religious issue but a legal one. (I do understand the gray area there, I’m just explaining my view of it.)

      2. Nice, Natasha. Lisa was reasonable, you were reasonable, with such hot-button issues. I NEVER see that online, especially when one person says “I am an atheist,” and the other says “I am a Christian.” Go, America!

  4. Thank you for your reply, Natasha! I completely agree with your assessment. And, yes, out of all the things I mentioned, abortion is the one I could see having an argument in the political arena. Because, you are right, there is a disagreement and an unknown concerning when life actually begins, and I completely respect those who believe it begins at fertilization.

    You spoke in a previous post about your experience with IVF and how the embryos that did’t implant were not destroyed. I admit, I am completely ignorant when it comes to IVF. I always assumed it involved the fertilizing of multiple eggs outside the body and then implanting the best one(s) while discarding the rest. I am sure that you are probably extremely educated on the subject of IVF, and my overly-simplified assessment is laughable at best. But is what you experienced (not destroying embryos) atypical of the IVF process? Was that something you specifically had to request because of your faith?

    1. Hi Lisa – I’m behind on replying to comments; I apologize for my delayed response!

      IVF is a very complicated process with a lot of different ethical considerations. I’m actually planning to write about this in an upcoming post. So I’ll save the longer-winded explanation for then (stay tuned!), but briefly for now, there are two major phases to consider. What I was referring to was what to do with the embryos that you don’t transfer to your uterus (e.g., if you have more than enough good ones). Most doctors automatically freeze the ones that are good enough quality to survive. You can use those later, you can donate them to science, you can discard them, or donate them for others to use. I see them as being the smallest living human form, so I don’t believe in donating them to science (in effect, killing them) or just discarding them. If people “donate them for others to use,” that’s basically like adoption. Actually, many adoption agencies now conduct embryo adoption! There are a lot of questions along the way in here (like, how can a doctor determine that an embryo is good enough to freeze and discard the rest). I’ll expand on those in a “full” post.

      BTW – There is another phase to all this, where you decide how many eggs to fertilize in the first place. If you want to minimize the number of embryos to deal with later, you can be selective in this. But there are all kinds of challenges with that (it’s impossible to know in advance how the embryos will develop, so you can spend 20k on a cycle, only fertilize 2 eggs, and then have both embryos die; cycle over). Very, very complicated.

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