Joseph and the Mormons
by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2003-12-26
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
This is the time of year when Christianity is subliminally insinuated into our lives via the full panoply of the tools of commercialism. And at the same time we read about Joseph having to make his way in an alien Egyptian world. I often wonder to what extent he would have been influenced by their attitudes. But did you now he has been baptized?
Did you know that your grandparents were probably baptized too? Yes the same thing applies to me!
You may have heard of the Mormons. They are a Christian sect founded in the Nineteenth Century by a fourteen year old American called Joseph Smith who was visited by the prophet Mormon who revealed gold tablets to him on which were written the Book of Mormon. Spurred on by the last prophet Moroni, Smith established his new church. As always happens, new sects run into opposition. I guess being allowed have several wives can't have helped. In true American style, Smith and his brother were shot in a gun battle and it was left to Brigham Young to take his followers away from those nasty old fashioned Christians who didn't approve. They headed west into Utah where they established themselves into one of the most powerful,
successful and evangelical sects of Christianity.
Now whereas most Christian missionaries concentrate only on converting the living, the Mormons developed another way of bumping up their numbers, converting the dead. Amongst their more brilliant ideas was that of buying up as many records of Jews, from archives and interestingly enough from Holocaust records. Armed with these names they decided that it was a legitimate theological article of faith to retroactively turn them into good Mormons!
It was only when someone on a visit to Salt Lake City, noticed that according to their records, Theodore Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Anne Frank, to mention only some of the better known names on their lists of genuinely baptized Mormons, had all been retroactively converted and welcomed into the church, that the whole matter of Mormon retroactive
baptism became public.
Supposedly in 1995 an agreement was reached with the Mormons to stop doing this. But it now appears that they have ignored this deal, pleading technical difficulties. So that everyone they could get their hands on is still safely in their records as a bona fide convert. So this is why I say your grandparents and mine are probably on their lists as good Christians too!
Now crazy as this idea may sound to you and me, there actually is a Talmudic basis for this way of thinking! 'Zachin leAdam SheLo Befanav.' 'You may benefit a person without his knowing it although you cannot commit or oblige a person without his or her knowledge.' So if you can
benefit someone without their knowing, then go ahead and do it. Now Mormons, like all Christians, believe that there is only one way to God and any one who misses out on that one way is doomed and damned and his or her soul is in for a very hot ride in the World to Come.
That one way involves someone called Jesus. And for us Jews this is simply meaningless. But for them it is crucial and if you can help a poor deluded human avoid such an eternally agonizing fate, then why not do him or her a favour? After all, this was the thinking of all those twisted monks who created Jewish martyrs by burning them at the stake. Since they rejected the fanciful idea that Jesus was the son of God and the only way of getting through to God Himself, then they would burn forever in Hell! So what could be wrong with a few moments agony in this world at the stake if it would prevent burning for ever? Now, which reasonable human being could possibly object to that? After all you are benefiting a person so you don't need his assent.
Now I find such reasoning amusing. It confuses material and scientifically definable benefits with abstract and totally indefinable theological rewards which are entirely matters of religious belief. I can say with absolute certainty that if I give you a healthy meal it will benefit you.
But I have only my own faith to rely on if I say that going into Shul to daven Maariv will benefit you. I am not rubbishing the benefits of a religious way of life. On the contrary, I advocate it. But I know full well that religion doesn't work for everyone in exactly the same way. So I am rather reluctant to declare with certainty that religious beliefs are all obviously beneficial even though I certainly hope they are. We have all had experience of how religious faith can be delusional, particularly on matters to do with when Messiahs are supposed to arrive and which is
the only one true path to God.
But having said all this, why should I care if some nutter thinks he knows the mind of God better than millions of great Jews and that we are all wrong and misguided and we can only get it right if we accept a mythical Jewish teacher called Jesus was really God in disguise? After all millions
more believe this of John Lennon and he certainly thought so. So if a Mormon wants to engrave my grandpa's name on a tablet of stone or keep it on a computer file, why should I care so long as it doesn't harm my credit report? I actually find it rather funny that the Mormons actually think that simply by putting someone's name on a register, this turns him or her into a Christian. But then when it comes to religion nothing should be surprising! But hold on, what am I hitting on religion for? The whole of our materialist society is based on artificially massaging numbers, on balance sheets, investment records, sales, subscribers and profits. So why not do the same with numbers of believers?
It reminds me of the joke of the elderly Jew who was on his death bed and asked to be converted to Christianity. His sons desperately argued and remonstrated with him to no avail. In the end they call in his rabbi who leans towards the dying man and asks him why? 'Because when I die there'll be one less Christian in this world.'
Now I actually used to find this joke highly offensive. But if Mormons are doing something like this to us, then what the heck!