Beyond the Grave

The Mormons’ Unrequited (But
Contested) Post-Death Conversions

Among the many questions not being asked the Republican Party’s presidential candidates, those concerning religion shouldn’t occupy the front burner and, in fact, so far they haven’t.
But, it’d be fair to expect the same scrutiny about personal beliefs that Senator Barack Obama faced in 2008, on frontrunner Mitt Romney. Will he ever be asked about the Mormon Church’s conversion of dead people?
First, some housekeeping. It’s a established fact that the Founding Fathers of this nation went through great lengths to separate religion from matters of state.
All strident spinning by extremists of all faiths not withstanding, the very First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
In fact, religious pluralism and freedom is a basic tenet this country was founded upon and one of the reasons it’s became a beacon to the world. Period.
In practice though, the actual realization of such principles is not as simple. Time and again, attempts have been made to establish a U.S. theocracy based on the preposterous assumption that this or that denomination has the hegemony over faith.
Despite a vibrant non-believer and science-based debate over personal choice and the nature of spirituality, an equivalent to a backwater alley of the thought, the obscurantist, tolerance-averted concept of ‘my god is better than yours,’ still pervades this country.
The GOP field aiming at the White House has been highly vocal when it comes to address the needs of such a religious fringe, going to extremes to reaffirm their supposed bone-fide religiosity.
Seeking the lowest denominator to cater to a wide variety of cults and beliefs, often at bitterly odds within themselves, Republicans have been trampling over each other to be the champion of devotion, as long as it doesn’t include anything to do with Islam, of course.
But in a virtually undistinguished group of individuals, all wealthy, affluent and dissociated from the big social issues affecting the U.S., such as war, unemployment, housing and education, two candidates are indeed unusual: Romney and Jon Hunstsman, both Mormons.
Even that Huntsman may not survive next week’s primaries, it’s curious that their religion hasn’t been as divisive and, ultimately, as distracting an issue, as the false arguments made by the media, about Obama being a Muslim, threatened to become four years ago.
But if personal matters such as spirituality should remain just that, personal, even for presidential candidates, the Church of the Latter Day Saints’ unauthorized conversions of people long dead goes beyond the electoral debate and it should, most definitely, be discussed.
If it’s true that neither Romney nor Huntsman are in charge of Mormonism or have anything to do with the church’s policies, they are, at the moment, its more visible members and, indeed, can be quizzed about such sensitive matters.
When the GOP candidates appeared at the Jewish Coalition conference last month, however, the media failed us yet again by not doing its job. That is because for years now, Jewish groups have been trying to engage the LDS to stop ‘converting’ Holocaust victims.
This absurd and unauthorized practice has been enforced mainly through loopholes found in death and burial laws, to affect pretty much anyone, including powerful dead celebrities, historical figures and, grasp, even Adolf Hitler.

It all may have started by one of the LDS’s greatest initiatives, the compiling and storing of a genealogy database, considered the world’s largest, and open for consultation to anyone.
There may be always questions whether a private institution should have such control over a crucial archive on mankind, but at this day and age, it takes considerable material power to maintain and properly store such a treasury.
For as long as access is unrestricted to scientific research and the general public, and no government or public institution is willing or able to afford taking charge of it, it remains one of those things: better to have it as is, than not to have it at all.
The Mormons have been collecting data from all over the world for more than a century, and storing it in a giant climate-controlled bunker under the granite cliffs of Little Cottonwood Canyon, outside Salt Lake City. UT.
The massive files cover immigration, for example, within Europe and Asia, and from there to this country from as far back as rudimentary medieval registries. Naturally, the methodic extermination of Jews orchestrated by the Nazis figures prominently within such archives.
Perhaps based on such extensive database, but obviously under morally questionable assumptions, the Mormoms decided that it’d be up to them to baptize and ‘convert’ everyone. with disregard to the rights of people’s kin and estate.
Just imagine it, reader. If they were able to do that with Frank Zappa and George Carlin, from crying out loud, think what may happen to you or someone you know? Then again, you may actually be looking forward to it. In that case, excuse us.
Even more startling than the fact that the practice is still going on, as far as anyone can tell, is how there’s so little know about it, and even less dedicated to it on the media.
Whether the sold-out-till-eternity Broadway musical The Book of Mormon has any mention about it, is beside the point. No sweat if it doesn’t, of course. We’re sure South Park creators Trey Park and Matt Stone have plenty to (respectfully) spoof about the church as it is.
Word has it, the musical’s success has actually boost interest on the religion. Apparently, there are plenty of people desperate to believe in something, anything. Incidentally, we can think of a dozen spiritual things one could pursue instead, but that’s just us.
The lack of more explicit indignation about such er latter day conversions may be also a consequence of celebrity estates being so notoriously protective of their principals, as not to publicize what’s possibly being done about it.
As for common people like us, well, we’re simply too small to even be able to register our outrage. Or aren’t we? That is, unless we’re Republican voters who think that exactly how you’ve made your fortune, or why precisely you believe in god are important issues.
The time for jokes will soon be up, though, and hard driving questions about the candidates’ hairstyle and favorite pop artists may be asked. Trivialities such as the economy, defense spending and campaign finance shouldn’t ever get in the way.
Time has showed once and again that the religious affiliation of our presidents has had little if any impact on their decisions. Golf club and fraternity affiliations instead have often played a bigger role.
Whether someone belongs to any of the ‘mainstream’ faiths in the U.S. has absolutely no bearing in the current political process. Perhaps only if someone would declare allegiance to Islam, or Buddhism, or even, grasp, Atheism, for example, it’d be a different story.
We’d put that down as a priority only after a long list of possible alternatives, such as the candidacy of an unapologetic dwarf, for example, or of Siamese twins, or any number of far out futility guesses.
It’s baffling that, after 14 or 16 debates, months of campaign, and hundreds of million dollars in spending, Republicans still don’t know who they want to be the next president, or rather, that instead so many absolutely irrelevant details are known about the candidates’ personal habits.
Almost nothing, however, is known about how wealthy they really are, how come no one of their relations ever served in the military, and as politicians, what kind of laws they supported or disavowed.
As for religion, once candidates turned it into an asset of their campaigns, by advocating praying in public schools, using state funds for faith-based initiatives, and vowing to reversed women’s reproductive rights, they should be questioned about it.
Chances are, though, they won’t. The most that relatives of post-death converted people may expect to happen is, perhaps, the creation of support groups or the sympathetic ear of talk show hosts.
A quick consultation on available records of people posthumously baptized by the LDS has enough controversial power to ignite a few small towns. Jewish groups, for example, have objected the inclusion of Holocaust icon Anne Frank, Sigmund Freud and Israeli first PM David Ben-Gurion.
Karl Marx, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi-Minh are there. And so is Buddha and ‘Ms. Buddha.’ Next to Eva Braun and her adorable Fuehrer, in what could be called the mass murderers row, there’s also Ivan the Terrible, Vlad, The Impaler, (yes, that Dracula) and Rasputin.
Since not even such distinguished group of fine human beings was able to dissociated themselves from the religion they never knew they’d one day belong to, it’s hard to imagine relatives of Carlin, Zappa, Nancy Spungen, Richard Burton, George Orwell or Truman Capote doing it.
And it’d be useless to ask President Obama to intervene. In 2008, after he secured his own party’s nomination, his mother Stanley Ann Dunham was also baptized as a Mormon, 13 years after her death.

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