Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Again With the Mormons

I thought I was done blogging about Mormons for a while and that I'd get back to telling you our family secrets and sharing the hilarious hijinks of the assisted living set. But NPR goaded me this morning. Blame them.

Apparently Mormons are again being baptized by proxy for dead Holocaust survivors and other dead Jews. Believe it or not, living relatives of these new converts are upset! Ungrateful! Their dead relatives are being given the sacred opportunity to become Mormons and enjoy all the benefits of Mormon heaven and they are not one bit happy! Tsk.

Ten years ago the LDS church agreed to stop this practice when Jews found out their dead relations were being baptized by proxy and having other sacred (and secret) church rituals performed. It's an odd practice, this proxy thing -- I'm pretty sure no other Christian religion does anything remotely like it. Any non-Mormon is vulnerable -- even Hitler and Eva Braun have been baptized by proxy, more than once I'm told.

Baptisms and other rituals for the dead form the basis for all the great geneological research done by Mormons -- they're basically harvesting names from public records to add to the list of future Mormons (by proxy). It's said that dead souls can accept or reject the ordinances performed for them but honestly, Mormons don't think that's likely. Heaven! Eternal happiness with your family! Or, well, we don't really know what the alternative is. Whatever heathens get when they're dead. Not eternal joy, that's for sure. At best, eternal mediocrity. Eternal humdrum. Eternal envy of the lucky lucky Mormons (who might have been Jews or Muslims or Pagans or Buddhists here on Earth), now at the great big banquet table that is the Celestial Kingdom. Oh, and the possibility of becoming gods and goddesses of their own worlds. But that's something the Mormons don't talk about so much these days because it freaked out the other Christians a little too much.

When I finally get around to putting my will together, one key provision will be that no one performs proxy baptism for me after I'm dead. It would be just like my family to try to "save" me once I'm no longer around to stop them. If I die before I get that will written, let this be a record of my wishes: If any Mormon dares to perform baptism or other rituals in my name after I am dead so help me God I will come back and verily my wrath will be great and its days long. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I promise. Not only that, but my heirs are fully empowered to sue the living crap out of anyone daring to be dunked in my name. Sue the church, too. They have some deep, deep pockets.

KSL in Salt Lake City, of course, has a much happier spin. Notice the photos of warm hugs and handshakes between the Mormons and Jews. In Mormonspeak, Jews (and all other non-Mormons) are referred to as "gentiles." So Mormons would refer to that picture as "a Saint and a gentile" shaking hands. Crazy, huh?

Monday, April 11, 2005


My mother told me yesterday that my niece is pregnant. Again. She might be having twins. Again. In addition to her other four children. When she gives birth to this second set of twins, she and her husband will have six children under the age of six.

I said, "Oh, dear. Hasn't she figured out what causes that?"

Mom laughed. "Well you'd think so by now!"

Mom says my niece had some spotting recently and there's some chance she's now only carrying one baby.

I saw my niece last July. I think she's about 24 or 25. She had just given birth to their youngest a month or two earlier. She looked exhausted. Her kids are all healthy, active boys. She is a stay-at-home mom. She's active in the Mormon church, as is her husband and all of her (five) brothers and sisters. Her doctor put her on anti-depressants following the birth of her first set of twins, about four years ago.

I asked Mom what the church's stance is these days on birth control. She said she didn't know, because she doesn't "follow that stuff too closely." I asked if that's because it doesn't apply to her any more. She chuckled and said, "Probably."

When I was growing up Mormon, here's the basic message I heard:

The church...is opposed to birth control. However, we advise mothers, and fathers, to be wise in their intimate relations and, if the health of the mother is involved and the welfare of the rest of the family is at stake, parents are justified in following the advice of good physicians, preferably members of the Church, who have high moral standards and will advise such measures only for the protection of the health and life of the mother and other children. (Hugh B. Brown, 1961)


It is the policy of the Church to discourage the prevention of conception by any means unless the health of the mother demands it. It is also the policy of the church to regard marital relations of husband and wife as their personal problem and responsibility to be solved and to be established between themselves as a sacred relationship. (David O. McKay, 1963)

When I attended a church meeting in around 1971 or 1972, a visiting church authority told us, "If you are using any form of contraception, you are jeopardizing your eternal salvation. Period."

I guess the church is less strict now. I've heard (from my Mormon sisters) that in fact contraception is viewed as a strictly private matter and couples are no longer officially encouraged to have more children than is practical. The LDS church's own website says only:

We declare that God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.

The tradition and theology of the church are strong in their support of big families. It's the belief of Mormons that "spirit children" are waiting in heaven to receive human bodies on earth and it's the responsibility of every person to do what she or he can to help those children come to earth to fulfill their purpose and eventually return to heaven. It's all part of God's Divine Plan. Great blessings are promised to those who follow the plan.

So my dear young, tired niece is going to give birth to her fifth child and sixth child on the same day in a few months. I'm having trouble seeing it as a "blessing." I think she might be having the same trouble. Maybe not.


During our phone conversation yesterday, I told Mom about my trip to Lake Tahoe over the weekend. I told her my husband and I had both won a little money gambling there.

"OH! You're so lucky! And you don't even pay tithing!"

It's her belief (and probably the belief of most Mormons) that paying tithing of 10% of one's gross earnings leads to financial success. When I was young and still attending church I often heard stories that went like this: "We were struggling. Then we began paying our full 10% tithing. My husband got a new job! We bought a new house! A new car! We're sending our kids to college! All because we pay our tithing. We are so grateful to God for blessing us in this way."

To my mother, it's inconceivable that tithing and income are not connected in that magical way -- the more you pay, the more you earn! She is getting close to death (she thinks) so she is definitely not willing to risk pissing God off this close to her judgement. She paid 10% of the proceeds from the sale of her house. That was a big check. In addition to tithing, she pays "building fund" and "missionary fund" and any other fund her bishop suggests she should pay. The Mormon church (unlike most other Protestant churches) does not report its income or expenditures to its members. No one knows their annual income; no one knows where all that money goes, exactly. They're not required to disclose and I've never known a member to ask.

Here's the story they tell believers: To gain entrance into the Celestial Kingdom of heaven, you have to be Mormon and follow all the rules, including abstaining from alcohol and caffeine, refraining from sexual misconduct (adultery, defined as all sex outside Mormon marriage and including all sex between two people of the same sex), attending church services and tithing a full 10%. There are other essential rules, of course. Like not killing, stealing -- all the more popular sins. Without full compliance, you do not get into heaven, period. Here's the real heft of that deal: Mormons believe heaven is a place where families are reunited after death. Mormons participate in special "sealing" rituals (available only to Mormons in good standing) that guarantee eternal togetherness with one's family. Eternity. With your family. And not just your immediate family -- your whole gigantic extended Mormon family! Can you see where this is going? This great extortion scheme is perfect, isn't it? If you do not give the church a full 10% of your gross earnings, you cannot be with your dead loved ones after you die.

Was there ever a better mechanism of control? Seriously. Can you think of anything else that would get you to pay that much money over your lifetime? Let's do some math:

Average annual income of American workers, 2002: $38,428 (source)
x 10%
= $3,842.80
x 45 (assuming one makes the same wage for 45 years -- just play along here)
= $172,926.00
x 11,000,000 (estimated number of Mormons worldwide; source)
= $1,902,186,000,000 or one enormous pile of money, even assuming a percentage of Mormons don't love their dead relatives enough to pay tithing. To offset those deadbeats, corporate CEOs like J. Willard Marriott, Jr. are presumably paying their own 10%.

Yesterday I told Mom, "You should just take your 10% and play the slots instead. Maybe craps. The odds are better." She laughed.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Inevitable Exile

[I received this message this morning via an e-mail list I belong to, that generally has nothing to do with aging. I found it especially helpful. I hope you do, too. Many thanks to "Martha" for her insight and generosity.]

I once read an article by a physician who used an interesting metaphor: Having a chronic illness (or being old) is like being exiled to a foreign country that everyone dreads going to. I have found this metaphor very useful.

In this place, the customs are strange. The people are mysterious and sometimes frightening. Everyone speaks a different language. It's physically challenging or even downright uncomfortable. You have to learn a new lifestyle. You start to think about yourself differently. You realize, with dread, that you'll never be the same.

People in your native country have tried to pretend that the Republic of Other doesn't exist, or that they'll never have to go there, so they reinforce the invisible border whenever possible. If you try to visit your old country, you get treated differently. People suddenly don't know how to talk to you. They try to shut you up: They change the subject with their own horror stories.

Or they offer advice, advice, advice all the time. They're scared shitless because you prove that exile could happen to them. They're comforting themselves that they know how to stay out of the Republic. They'll never get sick or old because they live/eat/exercise correctly. They are avoiding having to take in your experience and really feel what it's like.

Even some of the country's administrators are embarrassed about being in the Republic of Other. They want to let you know that while they commute to and work there, they aren't really citizens because THEY are not sick or old. They show off their proficiency in Medicalese by forgetting to speak English. They know all the secrets and they have a lot of experience, but they're bureaucrats who've forgotten what it's like to be new there and fill out the forms. They're self-important pains in the ass and not much help.

I don't know what else to say, except if you walk around in this metaphor for a while, it is sad and softening.