Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul published

Bad news first: Crossing the River has been delayed slightly, because the publisher had to deal with another anthology first. We’re shooting for January now.

Good news: The anthology Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul, edited by Tara Masery Miller, has been published by Immanion Press, and it includes two of my pieces, “Speak for Yourself: The problem of victim-blaming by magical practitioners,” and “Sick or Well: False Dichotomy.”

Here’s the opening of “Speak for Yourself:”

Blaming people with disabilities for their conditions happens all too often. Some common metaphysical interpretations of disability and disease – as indicative of a person’s power, purity, or lack thereof, or as signs of past wrongdoings that are being worked out – carry tremendous potential to hurt people already facing difficult circumstances. Although some tout these understandings as empowering, even narratives intended to be helpful can easily degenerate into victim-blaming. To counteract these destructive potentials, I suggest that anyone who uses these potentially problematic approaches be very careful not to impose it on anyone else; if you are going to use these interpretations, speak for yourself.

Empathetic imagination

I have a backlog of things I want to blog about. There’s a good reason for this: I’ve moved into the active writing phase of working on my dissertation. For the next year, give or take, other writing comes second, so I may be quieter than usual hereabouts. On the other hand, today there’s a number of things that I think are loosely related that I want to write about, so here goes:

It’s moving to hear about a politician who learns first-hand what it’s like to struggle through a certain situation, and gains empathy in the process. That’s a touching story, but it shouldn’t be a necessary one. We should be doing this kind of work, of putting ourselves in the position of those we’re thinking about and dealing with, on a regular basis. Among other things, we don’t have time for everybody to learn this first-hand.

Other politicians are seriously lacking in this empathy. They can talk about their distress when their “people are literally freezing in the winter and they’re without food and they’re without shelter and they’re without clothing,” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but why haven’t they been worrying about these very same bad things happening to people every day? Those others must be, in some indefinable way, not theirs. It makes me want to ask the old Christian Sunday school question: Who is your neighbor?

This is not just the lack of something, it’s also a necessary precondition to hatred. Here are two separate examples of conservative Christians who are associated in various ways with hate groups denying not only the value of empathetic imagination, but the very possibility of it: First, homophobes are incapable of imagining that someone who is straight would want to support rights for QUILTBAG folks, and second, an argument that assumes only parents and children are capable of caring for each other across generations.

Actually, I’m not anti-social for refusing to have children because I’m capable of caring about people – both older than me and younger than me – who are not my family. That’s how Social Security, and Medicare, and Medicaid, and a whole host of other things work.

I don’t care whether you call it the Golden Rule or the Rule of Three or the Law of Return or what, but the hard work of extending that kind of empathetic imagination is at the heart of how I do ethics. It’s sad to see the hypocrisy exposed in a politician who is suddenly shocked, shocked, to discover that his party doesn’t care about people who are having a hard time. It’s more revealing to notice people denying that this empathetic imagination can exist at all.

When you hear someone say that, look out – because they most certainly will not be willing to extend it to you if you once step out of their little box of “people like me.”

Questions about love spells and ethics

Someone emailed me with questions related to my recent writing about the ethics of love spells. They indicated that they emailed me because I don’t allow anonymous comments, but when I replied by email, the reply failed. I’m posting their questions (anonymously) and my response here instead.

OK, so what about spells that make someone who’s in love with you go away?  Those also interfere with a specific someone’s free will but are considered moral by a lot of the same people who consider love spells too coercive.

For starters, this can’t be rape because there’s no sexual contact.

This is another place where I think that “no interfering with free will” is an unintelligible ethical precept. If we’re affecting others, we’re interacting with and possibly curtailing their free will. The people who actually propose this standard don’t usually adhere to it; it’s shorthand for something deeper, and in the case of love spells, I think one of the deeper reasons that certain kinds of love spells are wrong is the way they are part of rape culture, which is why I think it’s important to talk about that openly and clearly, not fall back on a shorthand that actually obfuscates.

Try applying the standard that I suggested as one evaluation tool among many: would equivalent action in the real world be legal and/or ethical? For most ways of doing this spell, the answer is a resounding yes; take the example of a restraining order. If you shape your work to carry an intent like “leave me alone” (rather than “do not contact me,” because negative phrasings are often ineffective), what you’re doing is ethical by my standards.

It can be structured as a reactive boundary; if the person doesn’t approach you (physically or with communication), nothing happens. If they do, they get rebuffed. If you believe in/abide by the Rule of Three (or Law of Return or some similar precept) be sure to fine-tune what you see getting “bounced back” at them as the least harmful way of doing things: “go away,” leaving off the “you bastard!” blast of anger.

On the other hand, if you have an intent like “so-and-so will lose hir job with our employer so that I don’t have to be in contact with hir anymore,” you get into more iffy territory. What would the mundane world equivalent be? Well, if you’re going to go to your employer with a complaint of sexual harassment, I would definitely do magic in support of that. On the other hand, if it’s a personal relationship outside the workplace that went wrong, a whisper campaign to have the person lose all respect and be hounded out is definitely not ethical. The corresponding action in the real world may or may not be legal, but I think the fact that most of us wouldn’t want it to happen to us combined with hazy legality is a good enough indicator that it’s unacceptable.

But what if what you’re saying is true, and you just want everyone to know so-and-so really is a bastard? Well, you could do a “sunlight” spell, one with the intent that the truth of their actions be revealed, but these kinds of things are tricky. What’s the mundane world equivalent: taking out ads on the sides of buses declaring so-and-so a bastard? Writing a scathing blog post? Those actions are extremely difficult to manage, often bouncing back on the writer in very ugly ways even if they’re saying nothing but the truth. Making the statement is generally legal, and I would agree that these spells are generally ethical (not always), but a spell for this is at least as tricky to handle as the mundane action, and usually much more difficult to pull off without crossing ethical boundaries – see below about intent getting mixed up.

Also, what about spells to make someone love you who already wants you sexually, but doesn’t want a relationship?  Are those considered rape by your standard?  They’re not forcing someone into sex (that’s already freely given) but into, well, love.

The last question you ask is a harder one.

No, those wouldn’t be rape, if the sexual contact is freely consented to. On the other hand, if Person A is having sex with Person B, and A wants (more of) a relationship but B doesn’t, there’s a distinct possibility that A may be consenting to the sex in hopes of building a relationship, or with an ulterior motive, or simply to satisfy the desire to interact with B even in the absence of any other kind of relationship. None of those are, in and of themselves, rape, but they are fertile ground for all kinds of terrible relationship problems, even for a “solely” sexual relationship. The idea of doing a spell to create a romantic relationship on top of that foundation fills me with dread. There are so many ways it could go wrong – especially if it succeeds.

The relationship starts, and A decides B really wasn’t ready, or the relationship is a bad idea. The relationship starts, and B is madly, soppily in love, until it drives A nuts.  The relationship starts, and A realizes the sex wasn’t all that great, it was the idea of not being able to have more that was the driving interest. And even the best case is suspect: it works, they get married, live together for 15 years and raise two kids, with A wondering all the while if B’s love is really real or just the result of the spell.

And how would you feel if you found out you had been the target of such a spell? If it were me, it would run the risk of destroying a relationship. He doesn’t feel like he can attract me on his own, so he had to compel me using magic? Not cool.

To return to my earlier rule of thumb, this is a case where it’s very hard to imagine a specific mundane world equivalent. That always makes me suspicious of such spells. It would be possible to structure it with a specific mundane equivalent in mind: a spell equivalent of your mutual best friend telling your desired partner that the two of you would be really great together, for example. But in my experience, what’s actually going to drive the spell is your desire for a relationship, not your burning desire to plant the seed of the idea and accept rejection peacefully, so it’s extremely likely that what you’ll actually do, magically, is raise and send energy for having-a-relationship purposes.

If you can’t hold the specific intent without something else springing up mentally or emotionally, then you can’t do magic for that purpose alone. Can we harness other kinds of emotions towards a specifically visualized end? Yes. Being honest, can most of us really totally repurpose the intention of something that’s as personal and deeply powerful as desire? Not very well.

Overall, this is a case where I think that while it might or might not be ethical, it’s such a bad idea even in the best scenarios that it is a very foolish thing to do.

When love spells become rape

As I mentioned in the last post, there were many things that speakers said at Between the Worlds that I was glad to hear people saying, actively, in the Pagan/magical community. There was one glaring omission:

“Love spells” as most people think of them are a magical form of rape.

The panel on operative magic did discuss love spells. Everyone shared the basic assumption that “love spells” as popularly conceived – the kind of spell that Dick does so that Jane will love him and want to have sex with him – are not okay. Different speakers mentioned different perspectives on why these are ethically and practically not acceptable. People talked about how there is a more general kind of “love spell” which is ethical and acceptable – a spell to make oneself more lovable or to draw love in general into one’s life.

Everyone agrees that trying to magically coerce a particular person is NEVER okay – because it’s coercion. I was disappointed that none of the speakers said the obvious: that this coercion is never okay because coerced sex is rape.

Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki came closest when she repeated the oft-stated concern that this is “interfering with someone else’s free will” and went on to more colorfully describe that there are other ways to try to create a relationship with someone. But no one used the “r word.”

I think it’s vitally important that people who do magic and are feminists say this loudly and clearly: magic to get sex with a person is not okay because it’s rape. This goes beyond concerns about “free will,” a rather nebulous concept. This is about consent, and consent is what separates sex from rape.

In the wake of other examples of supporting rape culture, this is especially important to me. There is a big, bright, bold, clear line here. There is no room for “I did a spell to get Jane to love me, and I said ‘for the highest good for all!’ so it’s clearly a good thing!” There is no room for “She likes me, she just won’t go all the way, so I’m just doing a spell to help us along…” There is no room for “I know better than she does what she wants.” Those are rape culture in magic, plain and simple.

I know people want these kinds of spells. One of the speakers on that panel sells candles, and she pointed out that a “Become more lovable” candle – the ethical second-cousin to the kind of “love spell” that is really magical rape – didn’t sell at all. People don’t want to be more lovable. They want the person they want, and they want her (usually her) now.

That’s why this is rape. That’s why this conversation matters even if you would never do a spell like this. When we don’t call this out, we make space for rape culture. You know what rape culture produces? Rape.

The idea that someone else can be treated as an object of your will – whether in magic or not – is at heart the idea behind rape. Sex is something that people do willingly together. Rape is not.

I’m a big fan of Isaac Bonewits’ rule-of-thumb for magical ethics, which basically asks whether it would be against the law for you to do the mundane equivalent of whatever your spell is for. If you were doing a spell to have an honest debt repaid, the equivalent would be taking your debtor to small-claims court: totally legal. If you were doing a spell to have someone die, the equivalent would be murder: definitely not legal.

So if you’re doing a spell to get someone to have sex with you – and don’t bullshit me, most “love spells” are going to be judged a success based on whether or not you’re in bed with the person, not by a passionate but celibate exchange of letters for twenty years – then the mundane equivalent is coercing her to have sex with you. Rape.

In any sense, mundane or magical, the message is the same: Don’t rape.

Edited to add: I wrote more about why this matters in a potpourri post a few days later, but that post was such a mish-mash that I want to append this here as well:

I don’t think I said this clearly enough last time, but the reason that I’m so concerned about when love spells become rape is not just the magical implications, it’s the practical actions that we take as a result of the way we think. When we in the magical community fail to call out certain kinds of manipulative magic as part of rape culture, we’re enabling not just the thinking, not just the magic, but the actions.

If we say, loudly and clearly and repeatedly – because it’ll take a lot of repetition – that thinking of someone else as an object for your manipulation into bed is rape culture, we’re working to eliminate the so-called gray area where a lot of opportunity rapists operate.

If we leave wiggle room for people to think these kinds of spells are not rape, then that same kind of thinking is going to be used to justify totally mundane actions that lead to rape. If you’ve already done the spell to get her into your bed, why not offer her one more cup of wine after Beltane? What’s to stop you from seeing her stumbling, mumbling, not-really-consent as the manifestation of your magical prowess? Or maybe offering her a ride home, and then taking her to your house, or letting yourself in her place, and, well, encouraging her a little bit….that’s just taking action in accordance with your spell, right?

No. That’s rape. The magical actions and the mundane actions are products of the same thinking, and one will encourage the other. We have to discourage both.

This is very similar to the situation I encountered when trying to explain to people why things like DC 40 and other Christian Dominionist “prayer efforts” are dangerous. Even if you don’t believe in magic, these kinds of actions that specialize in raising emotional energy and directing it towards a purpose have tangible, physical manifestations. People vote based on Christian Dominionist thinking and actions. People rape based on rape culture. The thinking and the doing are both important, and if we’re going to change things, we have to work on both.

John Michael Greer and the Raspberry Jam Principle of Magic

One of my favorite things about Between the Worlds was hearing respected teachers and practitioners saying things that I think we need to have more discussion of in the Pagan community. Some of that was on the issue of eclecticism and working with varied sources, which I wrote about from another perspective at Pagan Square recently. But probably my favorite was John Michael Greer‘s exposition of the Raspberry Jam Principle of Magic:

It is impossible to spread raspberry jam on bread without getting some on your fingers. … Similarly, you can’t raise and direct an intention at somebody else without it getting on you in the process.

-Paraphrased from John Michael Greer at the plenary panel on operative magic’s risks, rewards, and limitations

This is a wonderful way of putting things. Greer has neatly constructed a memorable, visceral metaphor for a simple fact that underlies much of magical ethics and informs any wise magical practice.

This is what makes magical ethics not just a good ethical idea but a fundamentally practical matter. You don’t need to wait for a Law of Return or some form of karma to kick in; if you are working with an intent to harm others, you’re going to get hurt in the process.

Practical applications of ethics are more complicated than this, of course, but none of them can neglect this basic fact.

A 9/11 challenge

Healing takes time. I’ve lost a member of my immediate family (although not to violence), so I understand some of that first-hand. Grieving takes time, and it’s never enough time. I’m glad that in some ways the pain of Sept 11 2001 is starting to fade, at least enough that my day today was mostly normal.

That doesn’t mean forgetting. Going on with life, even in a permanently changed world, is a sign of healing. In many ways I’m just glad that a mostly normal day today is a sign that perhaps we’re not so vehement about taking to the barricades of some of the (conflicting) superstructures we’ve built on top of September 11th.

So I think about right remembrance, and tonight that leads me to a challenge. I cannot remember the terrorist attacks without remembering the events that came from them, which led to hundreds of thousands (millions?) more deaths, to war crimes and the dismantling of some of the American values I hold most dear, and to cycles of bloodshed, blame, and vengeance that threaten to endure for the rest of my life and beyond.

I am challenged to hold all those things in my heart tonight in remembrance. I’m challenging you to widen your circle of remembrance just a little bit.

Even if some of the deaths that followed from the US response to September 11th were right or justified or necessary – and I’m willing to accept that some of them might have been at least necessary or appropriate, although those numbers have to be a tiny proportion of those who have actually died, at home and abroad – they were deaths, and I am sorry that they were necessary.

How many more, though, have died and suffered? I refuse to limit my mourning to just some. I refuse to limit my response to death and suffering to certain circles of the “good,” especially when “good” means “like me.” I refuse to limit the actions I take to try to help and heal.

What challenges do you find in remembrance?

The myth of nonsectarianism

Sometimes someone has to say that the emperor has no clothes. Here goes:

There is no such thing as nonsectarian prayer.

“Nonsectarian” is a polite euphemism for “generically Christian,” and more specifically “generically Protestant, but probably acceptable to nearly all followers of Abrahamic religions.” That’s it; that’s all it means. It’s not an acceptable alternative to “sectarian” prayer because it somehow magically includes everyone. That alternative doesn’t exist.

It’s not possible to give a prayer that doesn’t exclude someone.

The act of praying is exclusionary: most atheists don’t pray.

The mode of praying is exclusionary: some people pray by putting on specific garments; some pray by dancing; some pray by kneeling; some pray by making burnt offerings; some pray by creating artworks; and on and on. Simply standing or sitting with bowed head and folded hands while someone says words is a specific kind of prayer that is primarily practiced by a specific type of religion.

It doesn’t matter that that group is broad and varied. It doesn’t matter that that group is hegemonic in this country. It’s a specific act associated with a specific religion, and if that’s not the definition of sectarian, I don’t know what is.

As for content, most prayers begin by stating who or what they are addressing. Some don’t; they remain in a prayer equivalent of passive voice by saying “We pray that…. and for ….” Theologically, this is a cop-out. It’s the equivalent of those ads you get from the local cable company that read “To our neighbor at…” It’s like playing Pin the Prayer on the Deity: stand with your eyes closed and pray in as vague a fashion as possible, desperately hoping that your words and intent will bump into a kindly power as they wing their way blindly into the universe.

Worse yet, it’s a cop-out that doesn’t fool anybody. At most, it allows people to substitute their own mental image of whomever or whatever they want to address their prayer to. But recognizing that prayer may be directed to many different sources which can’t be condensed into a unified thing is undermining the very idea of a universal prayer. It makes the exercise at best a simulacrum of unity – at the price of already having excluded people – and at worst a farce.

When a recipient is addressed, that by definition excludes people. Not everyone prays to the same deity, and plenty of people don’t pray to someone or something that can be addressed as simply “God” or “Lord.”

The inimitable Byron Ballard wrote about her experience with this in a different setting:

When that wonderful interfaith group came together on the first anniversary of the World Trade Center/Pentagon horrors, we tried our best to come up with a prayer that everyone was comfortable hearing and saying.

And we couldn’t do it.  Well-meaning and well-mannered as we all were, there simply wasn’t a way of creating a generic prayer.

Byron is right. That group didn’t fail because they didn’t try hard enough, they failed because it’s impossible. The opposite of sectarian isn’t “nonsectarian,” it’s secular.

The only places where the myth of nonsectarianism can have credence are places where there’s enough similarity of religious belief and practice to render something like “God” meaningful. In intra-Christian work, nonsectarian prayer can exist; the Catholic priest and the Lutheran and Baptist pastors all agree not to to pray to Mary, not to say “sola scriptura,” and not to say “accept Jesus into your hearts right now.” That’s nonsectarian with respect to the subdivisions of Christianity. It’s still sectarian because it’s specific to the Christian sect.

If you’re in a group that is Christian by definition, go right ahead with nonsectarian Christian prayer. But once you start talking about – or praying in – public situations, open to all, then by definition in this country you are not talking about a wholly Christian population.

It’s true that since the Abrahamic religions are all basically monotheistic faiths that primarily address the divine in masculine terms, it is linguistically possible to write prayers that do not violate any of the fundamental tenets of these religions. I leave it to members of those religions to decide how comfortable they are with prayers like that on theological grounds.

But I guarantee you that if an Arab Christian started out a “nonsectarian” prayer addressing the divine as Allah, which Arab Christians have done for as long as there has been Christianity, the conservative echo chamber would explode with furor over how this supposedly “nonsectarian” prayer was actually evidence of a secret Muslim desire to institute shariah law. “Nonsectarian” has a lot of unmentioned implicit assumptions built in which highlight the ways that it is actually very sectarian, and very much about specific kinds of privilege and power.

When those implicit assumptions go unchallenged, it helps create a sense that the hegemonic group is more inclusive than it actually is. This backfires because it reinforces the power of the hegemons – who, as I observed above, will not relinquish power over the definition of the group that subtly privileges them above all other “nonsectarians.” Then the people who are still excluded – the atheists, the agnostics, the polytheists, the goddess-worshippers, and anyone who won’t play along with the pretend notion that everyone is talking to the same deity – are faced with an even larger, more powerful group.

The idea of “nonsectarian” prayer is nothing more nor less than an invisible set of clothes created and worn by hegemonic Protestant Christianity to excuse and defend it getting to have a privileged place in public discourse, most notably in the prayers given in the context of government business.

The threads are spun out of the artificially-created notion that there is something substantive which can be called “Judeo-Christian” religion. The cloth is woven in front of amazed onlookers by pseudo-generic Christians who have concealed their actual agendas in the frame of the loom which shapes the very warp and weft of their fantasy. It is dyed in the colors of imagined inclusiveness with the assistance of some members of minorities. And it is tailored to fit and flatter only the most privileged of the hegemons.

Others can either shape themselves to fit it – usually doing violence to the unique parts of themselves, their beliefs, and their practices – or they can explain how it doesn’t fit. But because of the wonderful consensus-inducing coating on the fibers, the fact that anybody who doesn’t fit will have parts of themselves show through the gaps in the invisible suit is always put down to their problems, rather than the nature of the suit, much less the fact that it doesn’t exist.

One of the reasons people are so reluctant to acknowledge that the nonsectarian minister emperor isn’t wearing any clothes is that we all want to think that if we work at getting along, we can make it happen. So “nonsectarian” becomes the religious and political version of “Intent is Magic!” If you say a prayer nicely enough, everybody will agree with it.

But part of having an adult, realistic conversation about religion in America today is being aware that, as Stephen Prothero put it, God is not one. He’s not even a he. I’m honest enough to acknowledge that not everyone practices religion in the same way I do. I’m asking for others to recognize the same.

I don’t care whether you have the best intentions in the world; when you are put in a position of speaking for government and you make me feel belittled, othered, and excluded, I am hurt by it. That’s wrong, and that’s one of many things the First Amendment is supposed to prevent. Especially when that exclusion conveys the stamp of governmental approval.

It’s time for the idea of “nonsectarian” prayer as an acceptable, non-exclusionary form of government-sponsored observance to be recognized for what it is: nonsense.

The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

Nonsectarian prayer doesn’t exist.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma of Pagan Standard Time

Hecate tells the truth about Pagan Standard Time and links to Kerr Cuchulain’s little video about it. Hecate talks about the experience of a circle with respect to PST. Kerr says that it’s a violation of the Rede and gives examples about attending a ritual or leading a class. They’re both right on about this problem.

The worst part is that it’s a Prisoners’ Dilemma. I attended an event earlier this year where the organizers were 45 minutes late, due to inexcusably bad planning about transportation that any reasonable person would have foreseen. This was as predictable as saying that the Metro to the Cherry Blossom Festival will be crowded.* You simply have to know this; there is no excuse.

As a result, I, my spouse, and someone else meeting us there – who realized she was going to be running a few minutes late and rushed to make up that time so as not to be rude or miss the event – ended up waiting outside in the heat for over an hour.

There were also delays because part of the plan amounted to “we’ll call you when we get there” going six different ways. News flash: that’s not a plan. That’s a lack of plan. It puts off the effort of making decisions and disseminating information to attendees at the price of creating a logistical nightmare and a game of, literally, telephone at the site. Aside from its ineptitude, it is a lousy way to prepare for a serious observance because it creates more stress and frustration that we have to ground and center to get rid of first.

The joke about “Pagan Standard Time” is supposed to be that everybody will show up late, because they know the vast majority of others will – that it’s become standardized. But it’s not funny: some people show up on time and get punished by sitting around with nothing happening because of the bad behavior of their fellows. That’s a classic prisoners’ dilemma. None of us have any incentive to fix it until everybody’s going to fix it.

Except that we can’t work that way. Maybe a small circle of close friends can run on PST, but anything larger can’t. It just can’t – festivals fall apart, rituals don’t happen, and our relationships with the earth, with deity, and with each other get damaged.

There’s no easy way out of a multi-sided prisoners’ dilemma. We can try to make agreements with each other beforehand and then stick to them. None of us are perfect; as Hecate points out, crap does happen. So we need to be understanding about that, even while recognizing that our understanding has limits. For example, even though I’m trying to use my bad experience as an example, I’m trying hard not to make an example of the people involved.

I’m not going to use Pagan Standard Time as an excuse, and I won’t accept it from others.

 

*It was not a cherry blossom event. Unrelated examples are unrelated.

Crowdsourcing: Examples of magical victim-blaming

I’m working on an article about the problem of victim blaming by magical practitioners. I have a handful of examples – including one stunning one from Buckland – but would like to collect as many as I can. So please share: where have you seen or experienced victim blaming in magical contexts?

I’m interested in either examples of written material that I can cite (print and internet both) or first-hand stories that you are willing to have me share and cite in the article. Unfortunately, second-hand stories (“This happened to a friend of mine…”) are not as useful.

If you have a story of your own that you’re willing to share, please include your reaction. Did you recognize it as victim-blaming right away? How did it make you feel? How did you respond, both at the time and after the fact?

Thanks, everyone!

Respect and Consent

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.