Getting consent for spiritual practices – even ones that I might regard as inherently “harmless,” like Reiki – is a matter of basic respect for others.

Some time ago the Slacktiverse had a post about the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead and the tension between that and respect for the beliefs of the deceased. A very active conversation ensued; after reflecting on that, I became much more convinced that consent for spiritual practices is absolutely essential.

After someone defended the Mormon practice from multiple perspectives, I finally went into great detail about exactly how and why I find it extremely offensive. I don’t care if it’s an “invitation” or something equally innocuous; it goes against everything I believe in, the way I live my life, and what I want after I die.

There are lots of people who feel the same way I do. In particular, Jews have been especially horrified at the Mormons’ blithe misappropriation of genealogical information for this purpose. The suggestion of posthumously baptizing Anne Frank is adding insult to injury.

A recent post on Religion Dispatches highlights one way that some people have chosen to protest this: All Your Dead Mormons Are Belong To Us. Playing on the LDS aversion to gays, a website allows people to “convert” deceased Mormons into gays and lesbians. Though this is obviously ineffective, it highlights the disrespect for individuals’ control over their own lives inherent in the proxy baptism process. The author explains,

Finally, though, there’s the weird fact that we Jews are offended by Baptism of the Dead even though we don’t believe in it. I assume none of my fellow Israelites really believe that because someone puts a dead person’s name in a jar, that person is really converted to another religion. In other words, we’re offended by something that we don’t think even exists.

Of course, what we’re really offended by is that some living person somewhere thinks that this is okay to do, using the names of our deceased and our historic heroes. It’s not offensive because their belief is efficacious; it’s offensive because of what it reveals about their intentions and attitudes toward people we hold dear.

Come to think of it, that’s true whether the people in question are dead Jews or living gays.

There’s the rub. That’s why I won’t do Reiki or magic for people without consent: others may find the idea of contact with Reiki or Goddess or whatever to be as distasteful as I imagine contact with the Mormon ideas of the divine to be. I don’t have to agree with that position, I don’t even have to understand it, but I do have to respect it.

Some people, especially Reiki practitioners, like to say that they send energy without consent but with the caveat that the person’s “higher self” will have to give consent for the Reiki to be effective. I have several objections to that; most important is the question of why the practitioner doesn’t have consent. Is it because you’re afraid to ask, because you think the person would say no? In that case, what makes you think the “higher self” will accept? Isn’t that implying that the “higher self” is really fundamentally different from the person herself?

TW: Rape apology

Ultimately, the explanation that “the person said no, but the higher self said yes” is identical to a certain kind of rape apology: “She said no, but I knew deep down she wanted it.”

End TW

Ultimately, doing magic or sending energy without consent shows that you think your need to do this thing is more important than my right to control my own life. It’s treating me as an object for you to act on. That is one of the worst forms of disrespect and is entirely antithetical to the principles and beliefs I hold dear.

44 thoughts on “Respect and Consent

  1. Consent is so vital that the ONLY prayer that I will make without asking is that someone will CONTINUE to be blessed by whatever Deity they pray to….. (If they pray at all).

  2. Magic isn’t real, so no magical procedure could possibly affect someone’s right to control their own life.

    Welcome to the Enlightenment.

  3. “It’s not offensive because their belief is efficacious; it’s offensive because of what it reveals about their intentions and attitudes toward people we hold dear.”

    Welcome to Reading Comprehension.

    1. I read that bit, but then you go on to say doing magic/prayers on someone “shows that you think your need to do this thing is more important than my right to control my own life”. If they do it secretly then there’s no possible consequences, so it’s fine. The creepy thing surely comes when they tell you about it.

      ETA TW: Author being creepy, verging on sexual harassment

      If I looked at your profile picture and touched myself sexually without your knowledge and with no way for you to find out, there would be no harm done. But now I’ve raised the possibility that I’m going to, it becomes creepy and harmful.

      I am happy for you to do any spells you want on me, provided you don’t tell me about it, you sexy witch.

      1. There are consequences; in your example, the action reinforces and perpetuates the idea that other people are sex objects for your enjoyment. And, as the linked article explains, those kinds of ideas lead to other actions that are directly harmful, so perpetuating the objectification of others does harm.

        But I don’t think you really care about that. I don’t think you’re arguing in good faith. I think you’re just here to yank my chain, and you need to quit it. Further comments where you are deliberately being “creepy,” as you put it, will be deleted.

      2. What Literata said: the action arises out of an attitude, and that attitude is very unlikely to give rise to just the one attitude. If you can keep your thoughts hermetically sealed and never bleed through, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t bet on it being possible. Also “you sexy witch” is pretty gross.

  4. I remember having a family member tell me she was praying I would make the right (by her standards) decision. The god I believed in then wouldn’t have answered that prayer, and I don’t believe in any god now, but it’s still a creepy thing to say. If you see prayer or magic or anything I don’t personally believe in as a way to control me against my will, that tells me something quite worrying about the relationship we have.

    1. If you see prayer or magic or anything I don’t personally believe in as a way to control me against my will, that tells me something quite worrying about the relationship we have.

      Exactly. It’s even worse if it’s a method I do believe in or am agnostic about.

  5. For those readers who know little but fear anyway, or are angered about this ordinance, it may help if they actually understood what takes place – nothing. Nothing takes place. No dead person is hijacked. No dead person’s name is placed on any church roles. No dead person’s religious affiliation is changed. Nothing happens. Only the departed can decide if it matters to them.

    One other thing not often discussed is that baptism for the dead is a family affair. Only a family member can ask that this ordinance be performed or, if they are LDS, perform it themselves. If there is a beef it rightfully ought to be taken up with Cousin Jane or Uncle Pete – rogue actors notwithstanding. Mormons and others submitting names know the rules and they say that the request must be affirmed by closer living relative of the departed if one exists.

    If this is still mysterious think of it his way: Catholics pray for the dead hoping to help them get out of purgatory. Baptism for teh dead is similar in that is an effort to fulfill an obligation as we see it but it makes no demands on anyone living or dead and does not change any earthly record of who the dead person was or what they believed.

    I am baffled at the over-reacting that takes place in some circles to something they don’t believe has merit anyway. Further confusing the bewilderment is why anyone would not want their family to show concern about their welfare in the great beyond in what ever method they believed was religiously appropriate.

    1. I understand everything you have said, and I’ve seen it said in defense of proxy baptism before. I remain unconvinced.

      Why is there discussion of proxy-baptizing Anne Frank? Who in her family asked for that? And if that’s “rogue actors,” and not affirmed by the LDS, why do stories of this happening continue to come up over and over and over again? The discussion I read that started me thinking about this was written by a family member who knew that hir LDS family wanted to proxy-baptize an ancestor, and would not be dissuaded by other family members’ objections.

      And finally, if *you* don’t believe it makes any difference, why do you do it? Except clearly you do, because you think the dead person has a choice (one that wasn’t open to them before?), and you yourself argue that it is important for its effects on living people. I don’t care if all of my theoretical descendents converted to Mormonism, I would still hope that they would have enough respect for me and my life and my choices not to do something so obviously against everything I am.

      And again, what it amounts to is the idea that your wish to show your concern is more important than respecting the person you’re “helping.”

      1. This is something you and your family ought to have a discussion about. It is none of my business. It is a personal matter.

      2. Sorry. I was not clear. I explained the process and why some people may or may not want to particpate in the ordinance. What you and your family decide, as individuals, is your biusiness.

        1. I understand that and I appreciate you saying that it’s a personal matter. One problem is that it doesn’t always seem to be being handled that way.

        2. Name one human endeaver of which we demand absolute perfection, with never a mistake being made for any reason, over an infinite period of time.

        3. Name one thing as intimate as control over one’s spiritual life for which we do not demand consent. For crying out loud, even the most basic medical procedure requires more consent than what has been used here.

      3. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the LDS to desist from baptising Anne Frank, one of the most famous Jews ever. Especially since they made the same “mistake” before and were caught out. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what checks to put in place to prevent Anne Frank being baptised again. So the LDS has fallen far short of the standard of ‘perfection’, into the realms of either culpable negligence or deliberate action.

        Again, none of this would matter if they kept the records secret. When somebody adds the name of a baptised dead person to the database, the details could be encrypted with a random key that nobody knows. God could still read the records, being all-powerful, but no human ever could. It would be “write once, read never”. Problem solved.

        1. The process of whose name is submitted is controlled by individual members not a centralized authority other than the local temple. In the past, lists were not aggregated until they were sent to HQ by the temples. That has changed. It is now a pretty much live system for the most part. Or it appears that way to me.

          The reason some names have been done multiple times is because most of the record keeping was not coordinated. It was a manual system (paper) until the advent of the PC in fact. I have been using the computerized system for about 8 years. Prior to that it was kind of catch-as-catch-can. Lists were updated every so often by CD but it was not a real time system.

          Originally the number of patrons was small. When the system went online in 1995 I think it was, the demand by the world exploded. The system was not capable of handling all the demand. (If I am correct the number of people using the system is now in the millions.)

          The database is not just for Mormons. It is accessable by anyone with a computer. I suppose that is why it has taken so long to work the kinks outs while expanding access to members and others world wide.

          As regards the recent events, it appears, from my angle anyway, that there may have been some deliberate disregard of the boundaries – a member or two may have gone rogue. Rules are posted and beyond that it is pretty much the honor system. It looks to me by what I have recently read that that may no longer be the case. It all points to the fact that controls that were intended ensure compliance with the agreements were not enough.

          This is my take on what happened.

      4. Can you just clarify something, JLFuller? You say that adding names to the database was done by an “honour system”, where it was up to people to follow the posted rules – but then you refer to “controls that were intended ensure compliance with the agreements”. If it was an honour system, then that implies there weren’t any controls added to check the agreement not to baptise Jews. Can you clarify this apparent contradiction?

        It’s hard to see how, once there is a central database, it would be hard to reject updates including Anne Frank, whether the updates are submitted in real time or on a CD. Whoever posted the CDs off could have checked them for the names of prominent Holocaust victims. It would be hard to avoid baptising every inappropriate candidate, but surely not hard to do a check for Anne Frank after the first time it happened.

        1. Even without being LDS, I can explain that it’s about more than a database. Yes, there’s concern over the massive genealogical records (databases?) that the LDS gather and maintain. But proxy baptism isn’t just about a record – it’s a ritual. There are people involved; at least the person being baptized in place of the deceased (the proxy) and somebody doing the baptizing. So even if they “kept it a secret” that they had done this for so-and-so – and how likely is it that secrets like that would be kept perfectly? – there would still be people who knew it had been done, and that would affect them, and that would be a form of harm.

          Plus, part of the point of keeping records is so they can be read so that they know who has been proxy baptized so they don’t have to go and do that again. If they “kept it secret,” the same ritual might be done multiple times – and then word will get out, and even more harm is being done.

        2. Weatherwax. You ask a cogent and important question. If a one sentence answer is not sufficeint then a one or two paragraph answer won’t be much better. I will tell you what I think but if that doesn’t work I can’t help you.

          How does an essentially volunteer organization collect enormous amounts of information, sort it out so it is usable and make it available to a world wide user group? We are talking about countless hundreds of billions of records on billions of people throughout recorded history from around the world and make it so it is understandable and useful for millions of users.

          Honestly I have no idea how they do it and make it work but I know that, a private company, has the hundreds of the most accomplished computer and systems engineeers, Phd’s and brightest minds in the world today humping on that problem everyday and they are miniscule compared to what the Mormon church is doing. That problem is so far above my pay grade I don’t even know the first thing about how it is done as well as it is.

      5. Do the people doing the baptism need to know who they’re baptising? Could they just baptise “Person 28484827”? It’s not very tasteful to reduce Anne Frank to a number, though, since she had to go through that in life.

        But yeah, I guess people would want to keep track of who they’d already baptised, so even if the official list were secret, there would be another list that could still leak and upset people.

        I’m so glad I live in reality and don’t have to worry about baptising the dead or magic underwear or the ethics of spells.

        1. Then it’s funny you spend so much time debating about things you think are unreal and ridiculous.

          One more insult like that and you’re out of here.

      6. Although I may not hold any supernatural beliefs, they can still affect me – take the Mormons’ huge financial support for the anti-gay-equality cause. If religion were purely a private matter, I wouldn’t be as interested in it. It’s just that so many religious people try to impose their beliefs on others. But I don’t need to tell that to a Wiccan!

        I don’t mean to insult anyone by saying I’m glad I don’t have to worry about the unreal. It’s just that it’s hard enough to maintain accurate beliefs even without needlessly multiplying my entities. I’d find it epistemologically exhausting to also have to deal with a lot of beliefs that I just took on faith.

  6. Makarios. Some years ago a Scottish preacher said that for such a small church we sure have a big theology. At that time, in the 1960’s, the LDS Church was a third the size it is now. Our understanding of that theology is stll not complete and it gets bigger all the time. So unless you are willing to take some considerable time to understand its breadth and depth I suggest it will be less than an a satisfactory answer But here goes. .

    The simple version: God the Father and Jesus Christ, and subnstantial numbers of heavenly beings appeared to Jospeh Smith and subsequent prophets and apostles since the Church was restored and laid out what this Church’s mission was to be. That is, none of God’s children would be denied a full and equal opportunity to hear the gospel and either accept or reject it. No one. Not even the least of those who have been born on this earth will be denied that opportunity. It is not up to us to decide who gets that chance and who does not.

    1. Aaaand right on schedule we’ve reached the terminology section of the debate.

      For most Christians, “baptism” is not just an announcement, or a piece of information, or an “opportunity.” It is a spiritually binding commitment to a specific kind of relationship with their conception of deity. So if that’s what proxy baptism is, then “we just want to tell them the good news” is an irrelevant argument. If proxy baptism is actually just some kind of “announcement” or “invitation,” then why is it called baptism?

      Quite frankly, though, I don’t really care. Regardless of what you call it or what you think it does, I don’t want it and there is no way for me to be sure that that wish will be respected, no matter how many times or in what ways I make that choice clear.

    2. “That is, none of God’s children would be denied a full and equal opportunity to hear the gospel and either accept or reject it.” Believe it or not, old boy, Gandhi had indeed had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. I’m sure that he heard it more than he liked. He wasn’t interested. He is quoted as having said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

      It occurs to me that posthumous baptism of people who showed no inclination, during their lifetime, to become LDS, is a form of retroactive Inquisition. You couldn’t force them or convince them to convert while they were alive, so you’ll jolly well convert them retroactively, regardless of what they would have wished.

      Obviously we live in a pluralistic society, and you’re free to continue doing this sort of thing; but please don’t think that it’s making any friends for your church.

  7. If LDS theology is correct then there is no difference between Godly people found anywhere in the world. All people, meaning Jew, gentile, Hindu, Muslim, Baptist, Catholic, Mormon or people of no organized religion are considered among the members of the Church of the Lamb of God if they lived their religion according to the best of their ability and knowledge and rejected the world’s ways. Perfection is not required for membership. We are judged by what is in our hearts and what our most sincere desire is. Of course there is more but that is the thumbnail version. The implicaiton is that if God is your goal the modality is not the issue.

    1. And that raises another question: If it’s all the same, then why do the good people of other religions need LDS rites? Why wouldn’t just being a good whatever be enough? (Again, this gets back to “does it do something or doesn’t it?”) I’m not expecting an explanation; I’m just trying to show you how from my point of view, this makes no sense, except in the places where it sounds entirely too much like a posthumous conversion to something I do not want.

      1. Literata, The gospel’s existence pre-dates earth. It is an eternal thing. Essentially, it is God’s story about how He governs and the universe works. From the beginning of this earth, the gospel has been here. But, as man has his agency, he can choose his own way and has. Mankind has made choices that are not in harmony with God’s way but we still have our choice. As civilizations came and went, part of the gospel remained.

        But God did not and has not abandoned His children but rather as our choices have modified or changed our perception of His ways some of the gospel remained in every part of the world. Some have more some have less. In each religious tradition, there are people who chose to live the higher law and would choose to live it in any tradition in which they were born, happenstance of birth notwithstanding. It is internal to them even if they had not been taught, something inside said there are such things as right and wrong.

        Those people, by their innate understanding that there is a higher law to live, and live their lives accordingly, are part of the Church of the Lamb of God. They respond to that still small voice that every person has a right to hear which is the voice of the Holy Ghost, part of the God head.

        Christ’s sacrifice saves everyone in that the body is resurrected and rejoined with the spirit. But there are some decisions to be made by the soul as to whether to accept additional commitments to God the Father. The method by which they are accomplished is through an ordinance or one-to-one commitment to God.

        These ordinances are highly sacred. Participation in the ordinance is the soul’s way of communicating intent and commitment to his/her literal Father. Without such a commitment and the appropriate follow through, the resurrected soul will not be able to live in God’s presence but will be assigned to another level of existence which is more conducive to providing maximum joy. The idea is that God wants His children to live with as much joy and fulfillment as they choose but he does not force anyone.

        That is where the posthumous ordinances come in. But they have to be performed on earth in this sphere of our existence. As a kind of administrative act, it allows for the soul to take advantage of them when he/she is ready if they choose.

        Now as regards Mormonism. What Christ restored to the earth through this church is the authority to conduct those ordinances and a fuller understanding of what exists eternally and once was had on this earth. To put it in pedestrian terms, it is an administrative and teaching thing. What we bring to the conversation is that God the Father lives and desires to have everyone return to live him. He sent his first-born spirit of all to live on earth in the form of a man to provide us as a living example of how to live and make it possible for us to continue a never ending progression of growth. If we do it correctly, we will become co-inheritors of all Christ is due. It is our choice. There is still a lot more to this story.

        1. Alright, I suppose I opened myself up to that by asking what I did. But quite frankly, I do not want to be preached at or proselytized to. There’s a difference between trying to explain your position and trying to convert people. One notable distinction is that you didn’t need to tell me the whole backstory of how your idea of God loves us – you could have simply said that the ordinance is “an administrative act” which allows the soul to make a commitment to God.

          Or, in other words, the other religions are all true, but Mormonism is more true. So basically saying that “they’re all the same” is irrelevant to the point that baptism by proxy is imposing Mormonism, or at least Mormon rites, on people who weren’t Mormons. What you’re telling me is that that’s the whole point, because you’re the ones you know the right rites. Which is obvious, and when it comes wrapped in the proselytizing, it really sounds presumptuous and insulting. So cut it out.

        2. Literata: It is a charachter flaw I struggle with a lot. I answer the unasked question.

  8. Literata
    I appreciate you allowing me the space to say my piece. Not everyone is as gracious and accommodating as you have been. I don’t expect that everyone will accept what we do. However you have brought up some important issues that should be addressed.

    1. You’re welcome; I appreciate you being polite.

      And I do understand that LDS theology thinks it’s all the same. But I don’t. And treating other people as if they subscribe to your theology, or they should, is wrong.

  9. When my Christian relatives tell me they are praying for me, I take that as an attack against my consent. I take it that way because I know what they are praying for – they are praying that I will spiritually be FORCED or COMPELLED to change my religion, change my sexuality, change my philosophies, and change my practices. They are calling on God to override my own expressed preferences. And they absolutely do not understand why I don’t think that’s okay.

    I think after-death baptism is disrespectful. I think it shows a blatant lack of care for what the deceased believed or wanted in life. I think it’s an attempt at spiritual hijacking. And I think the fact that it has to be requested by a family member makes absolutely no freaking difference.

  10. If I can be allowed one more post to more fully respond to Weatherwax’s question about honor system and the rules that were breached. As I understand it, the honor system means the patron submitting the name for temple work has been trained how do it properly and agrees, with each submission, that they are in compliance. That is the honor part of the controls.

    The systems approach appears to me to have been removing from the IGI all the names found on the Holocaust victims list or in some manner marking them so no further computer activities.are allowed by patrons. The IGI is the International Genealogical Index which is seperate from the LDS temple work database. The temple database has about 200 million names and the IGI has 2 billion as I understand. The IGI is the one any person with a computer can access. (Don’t quote me on the numbers.)

    As I understand, the Holocaust Victims organization was concerend that victims could inadvertantly be considered to have been Christian. Other people had additional concerns but that was the original problem that lead up to the 1995 agreement. The problem reoccured when either a deliberate violation happened or some other hole in the system allowed subsequent proxy baptisms.

  11. A couple of things. First there is no secret database. It is seperate and access is allowed only by those who use it. The information is widely available. That is how the woman who exposes the errors gets her information.

    Second the comment about magic underwear is a deliberate slight but it is based on a misunderstanding of the garment and its function. It is not secret. It is sacred. The garment is given members in good standing when they attend the temple as adults for the first time. It is intended to remind the wearer of the committments they made to God. Where the magic meme comes from is that the wearer is constantly reminded of these committments. In that sense, it acts as a guard to
    the wearer.

  12. Well, Weatherwax, then you need to be a bit more cautious about your tone. Saying that you live in reality implies that I don’t. The line between “you live in unreality” and “you’re crazy” is fine enough that you could shave with it, and entirely too many people in minority religions get cut with it.

    And who says that I take things on faith? One of the biggest problems I have communicating with people about my religion is that it doesn’t have to be about belief. The idea that religion = belief is an artifact of centuries of Christian hegemony. My religion revolves around practice, not belief.

    As for the extra entities, well, some of them are as “real” to me – to my perceptions – as the sun on my face and the wind in my hair.

    1. Unfortunately I don’t know as much about Wicca as I do about Christianity (I come from a country with an established church, so the schools I went to subjected me to hundreds of hours of Christian indoctrination).

      However, if an entity is as “real” to you as the sun, then doesn’t that mean you believe in it? Or do the quotation marks indicate that you are using real in some special sense? I think people who use magic as a tool of meditation/creativity can be admirable, I just don’t think i could handle the levels of doublethink involved to trick myself into perceiving entities that I don’t necessarily believe in.

      1. Yes, I believe in it, but I don’t perceive it because I believe in it. I believe in it because I perceive it – more like rocks than like Christian angels.

        And using magic that way doesn’t have to involve working with one’s perceptions, especially not of entities. It can be much more visceral than that. Symbolic actions (tying knots, burning paper, blowing out a candle) speak to the unconscious very deeply and don’t require either belief or perception of other entities.

      2. I guess the difference is that we could presumably both perceive the same rock and agree on its properties, or if we disagreed we could subject it to further investigation – but I can’t seem to perceive any supernatural entities.

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