Wait, the Mormons Posthumously Baptize People?

Typical Mormon Baptism

Ann Romney’s father was an adamant atheist—a reality that apparently did not sit well with her predominantly Mormon family. So 14 months after he died, she took care of that by having him baptized posthumously.

I was unaware of this, but it seems this is not an uncommon practice in Mormonism.  They have gone so far as to baptize tens of thousands of Jewish holocaust victims.  You know… just in case.

Let me be clear, I don’t think this is a political issue or liability for Romney.  Nor am I trying to make the point that Mormons are strange.  Every group has its rituals, customs, and practices that will seem strange to outsiders.  I have no doubt the church and the Romneys had nothing but good intentions here.

Still, my initial reaction was sympathy for the father who’s life had somehow been betrayed in death.  Once he was no longer in a position to choose, his “faith” was chosen for him by those who felt they knew what was best for him.  I would be more than a little pissed-off if this were to happen to me, but then I’d be rather dead at that point, so I guess I wouldn’t really know.

But in thinking further, it occurs to me that we do this sort of thing all the time.  Religious funeral ceremonies for irreligious people because it’s important to the family aren’t all that uncommon.  What’s more, there are lots of babies baptized in this culture, and they aren’t in any more of a position to choose than the dead.  Although I can’t help but feel that choosing a starting point for someone (a baby) that has never made a choice, and has a lifetime to re-choose, is a much more innocent gesture than reversing the choice of someone who has made a pretty clear choice and has no opportunity to re-choose.  Which is maybe why I can’t shake the feeling of revulsion here.

Cranston West: The school where Christianity went to die

Jessica Ahlquist
16-year old Cranston West student Jessica Ahlquist

To quote a favorite young lady of mine, “People suck.”

At Rhode Island’s Cranston High School West, student Jessica Ahlquist took issue with the banner hanging in the school labeled “School Prayer.”  She successfully sued her state-funded public school to have a it removed.  This was a classic textbook case of separation of church and state, and U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux even praised her for her courage in his written decision.

This was hardly judicial activism. Any high school civics student should have recognized that this was the inescapable outcome were this issue heard in any court in the land.  Some might argue the law is wrong, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being surprised that it’s the law.

Cranston BannerIt might even be argued that had the school had the good sense to label the banner “School Pledge” and drop the Heavenly Father reference and the Amen that it would have been a completely legal banner.  But they didn’t, and so it isn’t.

Yet it isn’t the loss of this banner that diminishes Christianity. It is the violent threats of retaliation against Ahlquist from other students. In what appears to be a woefully misguided sense of defending their religion, classmates are not only verbally insulting the young activist, but physically threatening her with assault and rape, both in this life and the next. Just a few of the things posted to Facebook and Twitter are listed below.

“May that little, evil athiest teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!”

“I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus”

“If this banner comes down, hell i hope the school burns down with it!”

“U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”

“Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”

“definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”

“Nothing bad better happen tomorrow #justsaying #fridaythe13th”

“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho”

“”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”

“Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her”

“hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”

“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”

“gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”

“if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”

“nail her to a cross”

“We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”

I know kids can be stupid and cruel, but I can’t fathom that somehow this level of malevolence is being wielded in the defense of Christianity.  Even assuming that somehow this was well intentioned, in so trying to save their religion they have made it considerably less.  Ironically, atheists are often accused of unfairly conflating religion and violence.  Yet these allegedly Christian students make a compelling case all on their own.

Young Jessica Ahlquist returns to school today for the first time since the ruling on the banner.  Her morning Tweet suggests a high degree of optimism, or maybe hope. “time for school. Woot. #bestdayever,”  I hope she’s right.

WWJD, indeed.

Cee Lo’s version of Imagine angers fans and atheists, but not the Evangelicals

Cee Lo - NYE
Cee Lo Green in Times Square

On New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Cee Lo Green re-imagined John Lennon’s atheist anthem to the horror of many.  Green performed a soulful version of the Beatles’ “Imagine” with the lyrics changed from “nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too” to “nothing to kill or die for / and all religion’s true.”

Twitter was immediately alight with outrage from Lennon fans as well as from the atheist community.  Fair enough.  Beatles fans are notoriously loyal and changing up lyrics is simply treasonous.  And despite Steve Martin’s musical assertion that Atheists Don’t Have No Songs, they do have a precious few… and Imagine was among them, at least pre-Cee Lo.

But the confounding thing would seem to be the deafening silence from the evangelical community.  Yes, at least a celebrity took a glancing blow at the godless.  But the claim that all religion is true should be as disconcerting to Christian fundamentalists  as claims of no god at all.

Activist Christians are pretty adamant there is but one true religion and everyone else is hell-bound.  Further, they complain loudly of being victimized, marginalized, and discriminated against at everything from not being wished “Merry Christmas” by Wal-Mart greeters to not being able to teach mythology as science in the classroom.  So, why doesn’t Cee Lo’s lyrical twist have their collective white cotton panties all in a bunch?

I guess maybe Evangelicals don’t feel threatened by pantheists?  Yet?

One nation, easily divided

Kids Saying PledgeMashable reports, “Soon after NBC aired a pre-taped segment for a golf tournament that twice omitted the words “under God” from the United States Pledge of Allegiance, the Twittersphere erupted into a fury of controversy.” (See the video here.)

Meanwhile, my better half wondered aloud on her blog today why we consistently manufacture mountains out of mole hills.  There’s little to suggest this was an overt message as much as a poor editing choice.  As she notes, “one nation” and “indivisible” also get left out at points.  And no one is screaming that NBC is advocating a new civil war.

Yet I’d approach the question somewhat differently.  What if NBC did do this on purpose?  I doubt that’s the case, but so what if it is?  The majority of the outrage seems to be coming from Christian groups who are apparently maligned, abused, and oppressed because the phrase “under God” was left out.  Really?  Just because you can’t force everyone to be like you doesn’t mean you’re being discriminated against.  Despite Michele Bachmann’s efforts, this is (not yet) a theocracy.  The very fact the words “under God” are in the Pledge are a nod to the reality that some 90% of Americans worship God in one form or another.  But it’s not a requirement to be an American.

Even as an atheist, I don’t and won’t advocate for the return of the Pledge to its pre-1954 godless state.  This is primarily because “under God” is a harmless and somewhat meaningless phrase when spoken the the context of a mass pledge.  It has personal meaning to many people when they say it because they know what they mean by it.  Fine. No harm done.  But hearing the person next to you say “under God” doesn’t remotely mean they share your meaning.  By “God” they could be referring to Shiva, Odin, or the rabbit’s foot in their pocket they happen to worship.  Or they might just be reciting it they way they learned in school and the words have no meaning whatsoever.  It might be just a rote saying.  And if hearing someone say something is meaningless, can it really be meaningful when they don’t?