Mourn·ing [mawr-ning, mohr-]
- the act of a person who mourns; sorrowing or lamentation.
- the conventional manifestation of sorrow for a person’s death, especially by the wearing of black clothes or a black armband, the hanging of flags at half-mast, etc.
- the outward symbols of such sorrow, as black garments.
- the period or interval during which a person grieves or formally expresses grief, as by wearing black garments.
People mourn in a lot of ways. When they lose a loved one, people need both to express their sorrow and and to receive comfort for their loss. This is a universal experience and has over the millennia been ritualized in some fashion by virtually every culture/religion/people group you can name. The Jews “sit shiva” and receive comfort from the living:
Shiva (Hebrew: שבעה) (literally “seven”) is the week-long mourning period in Judaism for first-degree relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, and spouse. The ritual is referred to as “sitting shiva.” Immediately after burial, first-degree relatives assume the halakhic status of “avel” (Hebrew: אבל ; “mourner”). This state lasts for seven days, during which family members traditionally gather in one home (preferably the home of the deceased) and receive visitors. At the funeral, mourners traditionally rend an outer garment, a ritual known as keriah. This garment is worn throughout shiva.
The Roman Catholics have a highly ritualized tradition that culminates in a Mass which always includes the Eucharist which is a ritual in which all share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. I could go on like this all day. My point is that the variances are huge and the meanings in the rituals are nuanced, often understood only by committed individuals to the community from which the ritual comes.
As a Christian if I celebrate the Eucharist as a part of my mourning ritual for a Jewish friend am I insulting that friends faith, or am I finding comfort from the sources and rituals most meaningful to me? Am I telling my dead friend how “wrong” his faith was, or am I hoping for a blessed eternity for him? I am sure there are a few nasty people out there for whom the motivations in the first clause of that last sentence apply, but for most people it is the latter. Most people mourn in the fashion to which they are most accustomed not out of disrespect for the deceased, but in a mark of ultimate respect. These are acts of love, pure and simple.
And so it is with the LDS ritual of posthumous baptism. It is an expression of a Mormon’s love and concern for a deceased individual. It is not some sort of unilateral religious conversion ritual:
Some people have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed, deceased persons are baptized into the Church against their will. This is not the case. Each individual has agency, or the right to choose. The validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to accept and follow the Savior while residing in the spirit world. The names of deceased persons are not added to the membership records of the Church.
It is simply an expression of a Mormon’s love for the deceased and their hope that the deceased can have what they consider to be the best.
And so when we mock these rituals — Shiva – the Eucharist – Baptism for the dead — we mock the love that the living had for the deceased. In my book that is about as inhumane as it gets.
And so, when Stephen Colbert circumcises a hot dog to convert dead Mormons into Jews or a website offers to turn dead Mormons gay – I get angry, really angry. Not because I believe in the Mormon practice – I most assuredly do not. But I do have many Mormon friends. People for whom I have enough affection that I do not wish to see them mocked in their deeply felt pain.
Is all this mockery bigotry like Charles Blow? Probably not – but it is as, or even more, despicable. It is certainly not a mark of a civil society – it is certainly indecent.