Eli Wiesel, Nobel Peace Price Laureate, famed writer and passionate spokesperson about the Holocaust, being himself a survivor, has reached out just this week to Mitt Romney about what he and many others see as the reprehensible policy of Mormons baptizing Jews -- after their death no less. Specifically it came to light that Wiesel's parents had been "granted" part of this post mortem "choice" so they might shift to a Mormon future in a Mormon heaven.
I was also creeped out when I read of this process some years ago and frankly thought it had stopped. I do, however, want to take issue with what constitutes cause for moral indignation on this matter. Firstly, it seems important to remember that Jews in World War II weren't brought to the gas chambers because of their faith, but because of their blood line, their name, their look. One can be offended now as one could have then as someone who was an atheist but still Jewish in all the other ways.
And although I am appalled by the invasion of privacy of digging up old records and reversing history, my reaction extends to the encroachment on freedom and dignity to any of us by religious tryanny in general. As such I would want to say about and to my people, all the people of this nation: What gives, that we are so "tolerant" of religions determining our worth and our future, now and for eternity?
What is it about our time, about the proximity of so much information, and so much need to collaborate on the basis of fact and equality of dignity, that we see religions rising to their peak, certainly beyond anywhere in my own memory. That John Kennedy was a Catholic to many was enough reason for him not to be President, while now being an agnostic with no claim to hearing voices or believing or even knowing who rules to live or anything about heaven and hell, would be unimaginable.
While our blood pressure is rising about the Mormons, might we think about the other Christian sects planning our placement in a hell of their religions' doctrine. If you talk to some evangelicals (Rick Santorum anyone?) about whether people who haven't accepted Jesus Christ as their one and only personal Savior, are going anywhere near heaven, the answer may be couched in wondering about the mercy of Jesus but generally comes down to a "No." The Mormons may feel they are performing an act of generosity by offering Jews a chance to change their minds. Albeit this is also a little creepy for those of us who don't "think" in these terms, for me it's too weird to imagine making choises about this at all, but after death in particular. "Wake up, it's time for the Mormon changing minds square dance." Silly, but it's so not Jewish in style.
Meanwhile, we can listen to the texts of evangelicals who have shown us and themesleves the biblical connections between Israel reigning in the Middle East being a prerequisite for Jesus returning for a Second Coming. Which means that a bunch of the mega funding and support for the military positioning of Israel is part of the set up. This, by the way, involves a reaching out to Jews by Jesus and company (how long this coaching, exhortation, etc., will last I did not know) to give them a chance to change our minds. The Chosen People (lest ye forget Jesus was a Jew too) get a special chance, but aren't admitted without conversion -- the entire scenario abominable as an idea to observant Jews and bizarre to others.
Take a look at the website of Pat Robertson, the famous evangelical Christian leader, where he goes on about this subject and includes an anti-Muslim (a small, but still a clear and present) vendetta of sorts. Troubling also is the lately nonchalant attitude of many Jews, about whatever terms are underling the burst of moneys and votes from evangelical Christians. I have already heard from a number of Orthodox Jews that the evangelical expectation/belief that Jesus will come again, give the Jews (you know, the "chosen people") a special chance before sending them forever into the fires of Hell, is not worth worrying over. Some observant Jews will say the means are important and not the ends because the same Jews don't believe in the Christian hell.
I say, as a secular Jew of heart and mind and ambivalence too, that we should beware the hypocrisy of disgust about the Mormon baptizing unless we reckon with those who are killing us off in the afterlife -- the other Christians who burn us in their hell and call it pious. Genocide in the future is still genocide, it would seem, albeit uncomfortably so. And indirect genocide, as in watching parts of the population languish, despair and know only trouble hints to the many ways we can kill off possibilities of real life, growing and inspiration.
Aside from genocide for the afterlife, we are seeing the rise of the Christian rule over what are described as family values and they are equally dangerous for our current and future life on earth, and often for the earth itself. No contraception, please, but take the sacred forms of human life that babies are and allow them to stay in homes filled with poverty, abuse and more. Don't raise the bar on "entitlement" services because that would be aiding and abetting a life of social sinning. No taking seriously of climate change if it conflicts with religious belief, and no study of cause and effect when believing has become a scary subtitute for the seeing of information.
Just perhaps, the "good news" may not be about a god or God, but about the human capacity to create other rituals and imagery suited to the complexity of what we are in the midst of. In other words, the theocracy of America could do with a big fall on its face.