Imagine if you will a new, popular cult in Brazil called “The Believers who Baptize Their Dead.” Its members seem to be pretty good people, but they have this weird cultist practice: they gather in places they call “temples” and they pretend to “baptize” relatives and occasionally even friends. They keep track of who has been baptized and who hasn’t by a computer program, and people are encouraged to spend time when they can doing “work” for the people who have already passed on.
These “Believers” think that once people die they may change their minds about the religions they practiced while alive. They believe that they may choose to accept the new religion of the “Believers.” So, by baptizing them they are doing a service, ie, they are offering them a choice of joining this new religion. They think a lot of these people will be eternally grateful they were offered the choice.
So, let’s say this weird cult gets your name and baptizes you after you die. Would you care?
It seems to me there are several relevant points here.
1)Do you believe in the cult of the “Believers?” If you do not, then who cares? It is just a weird practice done by people whose religion you don’t believe in. They aren’t physically hurting anybody — they are simply praying over your name and baptizing you by proxy. If their cult is meaningless religiously, then they are doing nothing you should care about. They should have the right through free speech to do what they want as long as they don’t harm other people — their religious practice is simply protected speech (which also exists in Brazil, btw).
2)If you DO believe in the cult of the “Believers,” then they are doing you a great service. They are offering you a choice in the afterlife that you didn’t have while alive. And they are spending their own time doing it. These people are truly selfless and should be congratulated for their actions. And you should be be grateful.
Now, let’s say these “Believers” pretend to baptize your dead grandfather, whom you know was a sworn atheist and hated all religion. Let’s think this through. Let’s say they prayed for your grandfather (“Please help his soul to be happy for all eternity”). Would you mind if they prayed for him? Well, their ritual is simply that, a prayer with a proxy baptism. Would you really mind all that much? Remember, you probably think the whole thing is meaningless religiously (you are not a “Believer” after all). So, why would you care? It seems to me if anything most people would think it is a nice gesture to care for somebody who has been dead for 40 years. The fact that they are taking their time to think nice thoughts about your dead grandfather is actually quite touching.
Now, let’s say there is a large group of people — Holocaust victims — whose relatives really, really don’t want the “Believers” to carry out baptisms. These victims are martyrs for their religion, after all. After much protest, the Believers agree not to do it. But occasionally a member will still do it, usually accidentally but perhaps even maliciously. You may not know that a name that you are given is actually a Holocaust victim, after all. How would you respond? It seems you can get all upset about it or you can realize that the Believers are human and sometimes make mistakes. There are many “Believer” temples after all, and it is tough to know exactly who is and who isn’t a Holocaust victim.
Should the “Believers” try harder not to baptize Holocaust victims after they have promised not to do it? Yes, and they say they will try harder. But in the meantime, it seems like the general public should be patient with them and realize they are not deliberately carrying out this policy. And at the end of the day, we arrive back at the points above: would we care if the “Believers” said a nice prayer for the Holocaust victim? Probably not, we would probably think it is a nice gesture. So, why do we care if they say a nice prayer and offer a proxy baptism? The Believers are not, after all, saying the person has changed his religion. They are saying he has the opportunity to do so if he wishes to when he is dead.
I am not a member of this cultist “Believer” religion, but its members sound pretty nice to me. Imagine spending all that time thinking about ancestors and praying for them and doing proxy baptisms for them. Their work sounds very selfless and kind to me. If only we could somehow explain that to the editors of the anti-Mormon New Republic.