On Not Getting It
(Originally written for the Slactiverse in 2011. Lightly edited to conceal identities.)
I was seven when my family moved to Arizona. I'd had a First Communion in the Catholic Church and was one of those happy mutant children who loved school and Catechism class.
My smother says I’m the child of the person who adopted me, but I’m the only kid who got Catholic school/catechism and Quaker theology, and I look a hell of a lot like the younger siblings of the person I’ve pegged as my biological father. (Who died before I was born.) Also I have a blood type that’s 5% extraordinary mitosis or 95% Don’t Get on 23&Me without lots of thought and a good pseudonym. The parents married when I was an infant and the XY adopted me. (Thus, I don't use the term half-siblings, though biologically, that's what M and L are; my two half-sibs are from my father's most recent marriage, and are 17 and 20 years my junior.)
My first few years were split between the rural Midwest, where Smother's family has lived since that state was a territory, and exotic locations courtesy of the Department of Defense. Smother — who was sick of winter, moving, Naval bases and the Midwest's dying economy — accompanied my father on a TDY (temporary duty) to Arizona. Smother decided she liked the desert, checked out the schools, picked out a house, interviewed for a job and that was that.
Smother says my memory is correct — she made the decision and most of the arrangements in about ten days. (And this before cell phones and the Internet.) I was starting third grade. My sibs, L and M, were just starting kindergarten (five) and nursery school (two) respectively. Smother worked full-time and XY was frequently TDA (temporary duty assignments) all over the world. (Seabee. Civil engineer. Concrete. Runways, roadways, bridges. The big ones.)
It's sometimes hard to recall what the 1980s were like, but one of the biggest differences between then and now was that it was fine for me to be a latch-key kid at eight. Two days a week, I walked home from school and hung out until someone got home. The other three days, I walked to my Catholic church for either Catechism class, youth group or Girl Scouts. Saturday afternoon, I went to Mass and on Sundays, Mom took M, L and me to First Day Meeting.
When we moved to Arizona, I'm pretty sure neither of my parents had any conception of Mormons beyond “The Osmond Family”. They certainly did not realize that Mesa was then (and is now) as much a Mormon stronghold as Provo or Salt Lake City (at the time). In the 1980s, about 60% of Mesa's year-round residents were strongly Mormon — including everyone on our cul-de-sac except us.
L and our neighbors' daughters became very close, so L tagged along to Honeybees (Mormon very young girls' youth group) and the Mormon church with her friends. L was never going to be introduced to Catholicism but L never could handle Quaker meeting, either. Meditation and sitting quietly still drives L around the bend, at 30-plus. Before we moved to Arizona, our Society of Friends congregations had children's groups, but the AZ congregation was small and mostly elderly. That wasn't a good fit for L.
My parents really didn't have a problem with L going to church with her friends; they assumed Mormons were some sort of Christian (mostly true), L would get Christianity 101 in an environment that did not drive her to tantrums, and eventually, would make up her own mind. Smother refused to let L be baptized, but Quakers don't believe in baptism by water. That I was baptized in infancy, like most Catholic babies, is part of what clued me in to the unreliable narration that is Smother’s version of events. (M, the baby of the family, handled First Day Meeting beautifully; at six accompanied me to Mass; at thirteen M picked up my Comparative Religion's Drawing Down the Moon when I was home over a winter break and has been pagan ever since.)
That first year set the pattern. I'd already had my First Communion and being Catho-Quaker worked for me. From then on, I made friends at school, churches and Girl Scouts; L’s came from whatever ward (equivalent to a parish) she was attending. In high school, I gravitated towards the Geek-Goth-Rebel set; L was an athlete and Prep Squad type. My friends reveled in the thrill of coffee, D&D and teenage Marxism; L and her giggle of friends wore CTR (Choose The Right) rings and went to LDS dances. So... when Lou finally converted and was baptized into the LDS church about 17 years ago, I was only surprised because it took her so long. It's where she feels comfortable and welcome. So far, it mostly works for my nephews, especially because my brother-in-law has been in South Korea, Iraq or Afghanistan for the majority of their marriage.
The Mormon Corridor (Arizona, Utah, Idaho and southern Alberta — AKA Morridor** or “The Jell-o Belt” because Mormons really like Jell-o) culture is remarkably homogenous — more than half of all active Mormons live in Morridor, and that group sends out runners like a strawberry plant, which tend to flourish with little regional or international variation. The homogeneity derives from a few sources — standardized religious and community material, decades of isolation, a suburban-to-rural population, oral tradition and folklore, and numerical domination in their regions — but the individual factors work synergistically.
When I talk about Mormons as a group, I have to be very careful to note this homogeneity is not my perceptual prejudice. Not all Mormons are alike, but Mormon culture is propagated in such a way that conformity to group expectations is strongly rewarded, and non-conformity is strongly punished.
There is an organization within the LDS church called the Priesthood Correlation Program (or more commonly, the Correlation) that consolidates and organizes the Church to codify the dominant culture. When people say that Mormon culture reminds them of the 1950s, that's an intentional product of the Correlation's current incarnation (dating from the early 1960s). The Correlation has effectively created an echo-chamber.
For fifty years, Mormons have been told what to read, what to wear, what to watch, what music they can hear, when to pray, when to work, when to serve the church, and their salvation depends on living up to these behavioral conditions. Local communities (called wards) are regularly (every 1-2 years) reorganized within the stake (equivalent to a diocese) boundaries. This serves two purposes — first, it disrupts any move towards independence by one ward, and second, it ensures that all doctrine comes from the centralized Church rather than the local communities.
Let me be perfectly clear — I have no direct animosity for the institution of the LDS church. I do not consider it a cult or a hoax. I am not Mormon, but I lived inside the culture from age 7 to 22. Even my rebel friends were Mormon. A step-mother, a sibling, two half siblings and all of my step-siblings are all Mormon. I believe the faith offers value to its members commensurate with what they put into it. Some of the people I love and many of those I like are Mormon and I do not want their solace taken from them.
However, I am a sharp critic of some of the theology, of many practices, and of Morridor culture. I am also critical of LDS, Inc, the not-for-profit corporate structure of the Church, specifically for ethical and legal concerns. But I'm critical of Catholicism in exactly the same ways, and of Christianity in general.
For most non-Mormons who don't live in Morridor, Mormonism is pretty much limited to Big Love (semi-accurate) and somewhat distorted rumors — they wear funny underwear (true), have lots of kids (often true but not strictly necessary) and sometimes practice polygyny (rarely true in the physical world). They send out missionaries (young men generally between the ages of 19 and 21, young women between 21 and 23, and retired couples) for primarily evangelical work.
Mormons do not have dedicated humanitarian missions. This causes some friction between Mormon missionaries and other, generally Christian, humanitarian missions in developing nations. Please see the historical sections of Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer for an accurate, although critical, history.
Mormons believe that, after death, the soul goes to one of three heavens, and within the lower two of those heavens, souls have the opportunity to learn the truth and accept the teachings that will promote them up the ladder. However, these promotions are dependent upon physical acts performed in life. Obviously, a soul, which is non-corporeal, cannot be physically dunked in water and baptised, but Mormons believe in baptism by proxy for the dead. Thus, L can be baptised in the name of our Great-Aunt Sally, and Aunt Sally's soul can then choose to accept the truth for herself in the afterlife. Mormons don't believe the soul is under any compulsion to accept the baptism, but they want every soul that ever lived to have the option to do so. The public rules on this are that one may only proxy-baptise for one's own ancestors, and only men can baptise for men, only women can baptise for women, but the former rule is observed more in the breech. The latter is absolute.
I'm somewhere between a Radical Pantheist and a Nontheist Quaker — I'm not entirely sure I have a soul, and even if I do, I'm far from convinced there is an afterlife, and even if there is, I pretty sure that the state change from bound to a body to not bound is going to be so completely outside of the person I am now that whatever happens after my body dies, my consciousness is not going to care. (And that’s my best case. I hope to all the nice gods there ever were that continuity of consciousness is not tied to the body. Think of what we do with dead bodies.)
I often have to give a quick primer in Mormon Theology 101, because it's Christian, and it's not. Mormons are non-trinitarians (They don’t believe in God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as three aspects of one deity) and they believe in the divinity, virgin birth, resurrection and assumption of Jesus. They believe in a literal End Times/Apocalypse, and in a Second Coming of Christ that has not happened, but is expected Any Time Now. Their standard Bible is the Authorized King James; they also have three other sacred texts: The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Mormons consider the BoM a mythic history of events in North America; the D&C is exactly what it says on the box, and PoGP is a collection of short works and commentary. They believe the KJV translation of the Bible was divinely inspired and guided, but that humans, being fallible, made errors in translation. In their theology, they're a Protestant sect of the low church variety. No statuary, no icons, no real body of liturgy. Most of their churches double as basketball courts — intentionally.
Half of the LDS' Church membership is in the US and Canada, and strongly concentrated in the Mormon Corridor of Arizona, Utah, Idaho and Alberta, one-third is in South and Central America, and the rest is scattered world wide, mostly in Europe and Asia-Pacific. Their missionary force is almost entirely evangelical, no matter where it is located. They don't have a lot of humanitarian missions. Mormons currently claim about 14 million members, but polling shows that only about 4 million, mostly in Morridor, are active at any given time.
They do not have a trained clerical class — all of their clergy are drawn from the laity. Only those above Stake President are paid, even part-time, although clerical duties can be as time consuming as a full-time job. Their priesthood is entirely male and overwhelmingly married with children. Unmarried men are rarely called to significant responsibilities, but frequently are called to time and money consuming ones. (This is also true of unmarried women.) Unmarried Bishops are vanishingly rare. The Church hierarchy looks like this:
President, Prophet, Seer and Relevator First Counselor and Second Counselor (selected from the Quorum of the Twelve) Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (selected by surviving membership of Apostles on death of Apostle) First Quorum of Seventy & Second Quorum of Seventy & Presiding Bishopric Quorums of Seventy (several, large regional) Stake President (regional level, always previously a Bishop) Stake officials (regional level) Bishop (head of local ward) Ward officials (Local level, men in good standing) Melchizedek Priesthood (all baptised men in good standing above age 18) Aaronic Priesthood (all baptised boys in good standing above the age of 12)
Their faith is strongly gendered and binary — they have no position on intersexuality, but do believe that males and females are different, with highly differentiated roles and responsibilities. Women's roles in the Church are entirely supportive — they have no access to the priesthood, and thus no official roles within the leadership.
Mormons believe in Hell, but they don't believe many people get sent there after death. Mostly, they believe exactly what the Swedenborgians believe (it's pretty obvious that Joseph Smith cribbed...): There are three Kingdoms within Heaven. Most people end up in the Telestial Kingdom, which is far better than Earth, but in comparison to the two higher levels, not great. It's Heaven's slum. Non-believers who didn't entirely screw up all of their second chances will go to the Telestial Kingdom after they've served a thousand years in a spirit prison. They'll be reincarnated into genderless bodies, will be the servants of the higher levels and will be regularly educated in correct Mormon theology so they can get the promotion. They are denied the presence of Jesus and God.
The second level, the Terrestrial Kingdom, is where back-sliding Mormons, virtuous gentiles [to a Mormon, all non-Mormons are gentiles, even Jews] who were either never exposed to the Book of Mormon or were honestly deceived or mistaken about it and other pretty good but not perfect souls go. There's no servitude here, but it's a lot like one of those time-share sales getaway weekends — one may have a few hours on the beach, but most of the time is sucked up by high pressure sales pitches. Jesus drops by occasionally (perhaps he has a time-share) but God never shows. Bodies are still genderless.
In the Telestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms, a soul has the opportunity to learn the truth, and can advance up the ladder to the better heavens, given that someone alive on earth is willing to perform the necessary rites by proxy. (Thus, having lots of descendents is an excellent strategy for maximizing one's chances of the Celestial Kingdom — even if one screws up in life, there's bound to be somebody willing to go through the rites on one's behalf. Yes, this does sound like multi-level marketing, or possibly spam. MLM and scams are strongly correlated with Morridor culture.)
Then there's the Celestial Kingdom, and that's the bestest best Heaven EVAR. This is where the doctrine of Exaltation comes in — a Mormon who complied cheerfully, faithfully and humbly with all of the doctrines and practices and who has kept his or her faith without doubt, shall, upon death, become a joint-heir to God alongside Jesus, and become a god/goddess. The Celestial Kingdom is where men will become saviors for their own planet. People are bound for eternity — husbands to wives (yep, plural is possible), wives to one husband (but at least, since the late 1990s, she has a choice if she had more than one!), children to their parents. Women create the spirits of those who will populate this new world.
What happens if a father, son and grandson are all sealed to each other, and their various wives and progeny, and all make it to the Celestial Kingdom? I don't know, and never got a firm answer when I asked. Do they have to share a world? Are they neighbors? Can son borrow Dad's fjord making machine to get the crinkly bits right?
And yes, women are essentially eternally pregnant and giving birth at the same time. Forever. L swears it is much better than it sounds.
Access to the Celestial Kingdom is based on six practiced sacraments (called ordinances) with behavioral control at the ward and stake level: Baptism and Confirmation, Ordination (for males in both priesthoods), Endowment (which acts as a second Confirmation, at about 18-19 — this is when sacred garments are introduced), Marriage and Sealing to the Spouse and Sealing to parents. Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination are local ordinances; Endowment, Marriage and Sealings are Temple Ordinances and must be performed in one of the 113 world-wide Mormon Temples. Access to the temple is controlled through the local Bishop and the Stake President, and is renewed annually by personal interview with those individuals. To be Temple Recommended, an individual must have attended weekly services, tithed at least ten percent of the household gross income to the church, avoided caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, professed faith in public testimony, remained appropriately chaste, and generally not be in conflict with God, the Church or others.
Access to the Celestial Kingdom is the big reason Mormons are genealogists — they believe that all people, even those long dead before Joseph Smith walked up Cumorah Hill to fetch down the disappearing gold tablets, must be baptised by proxy so they can reach the Celestial Kingdom. This is called Baptism for the Dead, and is a serious sacrament.
My partner, however, is a Militant Apathetic Agnostic — does not know, does not care, and will defend that position on the barricades if necessary. Spouse absolutely does not want to be baptized by proxy, no how, no way, and does not care if their ashes are three hundred years cold when it happens. Spouse believes that such a rite denies individual agency, and I don't disagree.
And thus, the long argument L and I have. If the Mormons don't have my partner's date and place of birth, they cannot add him to their future records [until after he's dead and in the Social Security Death Index...]. I respect my partner's wishes, told Smother and other sib [M, who is pagan] that my partner's date of birth is classified information to prevent L doing back-channel recon, and informed L that my partner and I are not to be included in Mormon family records.
L and I have this conversation about four times a year, so I suspect L gets regular pressure from her Bishop.
L: But what if you're wrong? You guys are virtuous gentiles so God will let you into the Terrestrial realm, but don't you want to come to the really great party? Me: Not especially. Already been to enough Mormon parties. Neither of us are fond of Funeral Potatoes, and heaven won't be heaven without coffee. [Funeral Potatoes are a Mormon culture food, made of shredded potatoes, canned cream soup, sour cream and cheese, topped with crushed corn flakes or potato chips. They get exported as part of the culture and are commonly served at funeral potlucks. I recommend the Oxacan — with chiles, tomatillos, cilantro and no cream soup — and Filipino — with adobo instead of soup, sour cream and cheese — versions. The regular ones are gluey and awful.] L: But you won't want it — Me: Also, not Heaven if everyone there looks like my high school reunion. Spouse and I happen to like diversity in our world, and ya'll don't let in many brown people, or probably Antarans or Vulcans. L: We do so. We're not racist — Me: Actually, yes. Men of color still can't get much past Bishop level. Thirty three years, and how many are in the upper quorums? You complained just last week that ElderNeph's Primary (Sunday School) teacher was talking about the Curse of Cain. They're still teaching Social Darwinism, just not when anyone with a deep natural tan can hear. And ya'll still import white men to other countries to serve as the upper leadership. L (hedging, because she knows this is true because I know it thanks to her): Well... the Priesthood does better when they have fathers to teach sons, and that wasn't possible until just this generation. And the international missions are because converts need continuity of tradition. Me: Yeah, to perpetuate Manifest Destiny, according to you. Per your own master’s thesis. Also, because the church ends up making some really interesting financial deals out of having retired execs on the ground, working for free. Besides, I don't want to be pregnant once, much less for all of time and eternity, and Spouse doesn't want any children, most especially not a whole planet full. L: But it will be different — Me: No. Please stop. Don't. Can we please just talk about your thesis? (which always distracts her. She is my little sib; I do know how to handle her.)
This has been going on for years now, but recently, it's taken a turn. L, in doing her duty, got hold of the genealogist in the Quaker branch of the family, and now has those records. Genealogy is not my thing — I love dusty archives as much as the next semi-trained historian, but I'm looking for something more than census records — but I understand how some people find it fascinating, as apparently does our third cousin twice removed. I find it somewhat interesting that we have records going back almost to George Fox and the foundation of the Society of Friends. But here's where it goes sideways: L never clicked with the Society. She likes and needs a level of ritual and activity mixed with her theology. Mom stopped taking L to Firstday services when L was small because Lou just couldn't cope with either the silence of the adult meeting or the separation from Mom for the Children's Meeting. By the time L had handled her separation anxiety (in about kindergarten) and her ability to sit still (still working on that), we no longer lived near a Meeting with a youth group. L never absorbed any Quaker theology.
Me: Lou, you cannot submit the QuakerFamilyName records to your church. Have you done it? L: No, I'm working on my thesis so I haven't had time to do the data entry. Why not? Me: Because all those people were Quakers. They didn't believe in baptism. If they end up baptized for the dead after they're dead, you're screwing with their theology. L (slowly): Well, then, they have to be baptized. I better get on that — Me: Hey! No. They don't believe. Or didn't. You'd be pissed if somebody performed a Namakarana (Hindu naming ceremony, not a perfect analogy) on you after you were dead. L: Yes, but that's because Hinduism isn't — Me: You don't know that. You believe it, but you won't know until you're dead. [Know and believe are used interchangeably in American Mormon culture. This has been an issue for Lou in her grad work because she absorbed that equivalency, but poli-sci cannot make that equivalency, so at her request, I jump on her when she does it.] Fifteen generations of Quakers believed so strongly that baptism was wrong that they literally moved to the other side of the planet so they wouldn't be forcibly baptized. Some of those people were tortured and murdered rather than submit. Who are you to mess with their beliefs? L: But they were wrong! Shouldn't they have the option — Me: They picked their option in life, just like you. Really, if your god is so merciful and loving and generous, is he really going to quibble over somebody else's soul based on your actions? L: But they couldn't have known — Me: And you think God is going to blame them for that? Sorry, you had bad timing. Sucks to be you. This is your idea of a loving god? L: They don't have to accept. Us baptizing them just gives them the option. They're still free to reject God's love and acceptance. Me: Well, that's just lovely. Here they were, content in their own heaven, well satisfied with their life well lived according to Quaker Principles, when you come along and mess it all up for them. Two hundred years they've been existing within their ideal, and suddenly, their souls get dunked by your proxy and some celestial bureaucrat walks up and says, “Excuse me, a different heaven says you belong there. Will you do God's will and obey or [in scary monster voice] Reject God's Love?” Nice, L. Awful presumptuous, don't you think? L: [sigh] You just don't get it. Me: [sigh] And neither do you.
And so this goes on, and on, and on. The nice thing about this is that L and I can talk about it without getting angry with each other, and because we have the shared culture, but I'm outside of it, we can make snarky jokes about Utah-Arizona Mormon culture. We have whole riffs about green jello+Cool-whip+pineapple salad, garmie-wedgie and Bad Bra Boob Sag [Mormons who are Temple Recommended are required to wear sacred garments next to their skin. Mormon women are not supposed to wear anything, including bras, beneath these garments (there is an exception for while nursing). Put on a thin tee-shirt. Put a bra over it. Really, nothing stays where it's supposed to stay.]. I'm the one she can complain to when it's 95 F and 95% humidity in Kansas City and she's wearing two layers and hating it. I'm the one who commiserates when she's had two 20 year old missionaries at her house three times in a week to feed them because their food budget has been cut to a point where the boys are getting malnourished and nobody else is inviting them over, and I'm the one who says yes, it is right to protest when you see injustice. These are things she feels she can't talk about in her faith community because most of her community aren't converts so they don't have her outsider perspective.
I get L's reasoning for wanting proxy baptisms — it's the Extra-strength version of Pascal's Wager, except she makes it on behalf of others. I understand how earnest she is, and how much social pressure she is under as a convert. We grew up knowing that Mormons have a caste system, with non-Mormons at the bottom, apostates next, converts in the low middle, and members with polygynous ancestors who walked to Utah at the top. Being a convert, married to another convert, with two and only two kids means L has to work harder for acceptance. Sixth generation Mormons don't have the responsibility to ensure their ancestors are proxy-baptized — someone has probably already done so, and their great-great-great-grandparents are already safe. Converts, on the other hand, have oodles of generations twiddling their thumbs in some Heavenly waiting room. All of these (female, anyway) souls are depending on L.
Aside from the fact that this argument gives me another opportunity to thwart my bratty kid sister, I find the theological implications of L's beliefs disquieting. Her god is so powerless that he must depend on wimpy humans to control the gates to his paradises. He relies on our ability to preserve records — which, from my historian side, is pretty miserable. Mormons are supposed to only baptize for their ancestors (since they've managed to annoy Catholics and Jews on this matter, though this is oops-ed quite often), but for the majority of LDS history, they've been unapologetically racist. The majority of active Mormons, even after decades of international missions, are still the descendants of white Anglo-Saxons. Genealogy takes time and money and leisure — resources commonly lacking in places without running water and handy supermarkets.
Baptism for the dead also requires access to a temple. Utah has thirteen temples, Arizona has four, three in the Phoenix Metro area alone... but the entire continent of Africa has three. India has none, though Indian conversion efforts have been on the uptick. Assuming there is some sort of waiting room, mostly white American souls are getting the ticket out. Does this mean heaven will be like Provo (98% white)? [I have to make the distinction between active and inactive Mormons — something like a quarter of all converts remain active for less than five years, (this is estimated to be above 50% in South America and Asia) and somewhere between a tenth and a third of all born Mormons spend a significant fraction of their adult lives inactive. Yet Mormons do not remove inactive members from their rolls without a fight. How many active members do they have at any given time? Nobody knows, but independent polling says about 3 million in the US.]
Of course, now African-Americans are admitted to the priesthood, but genealogy records from before 1865 are notoriously bad for the African-American community. (Being denied literacy tends to do that.) And going back further, most of sub-Saharan Africa was pre-literate during the height of the slave trade. What happens to all of the souls who cannot be named? Do they just hang out in the waiting room for all of eternity? L and I are WASPy — we've got William Penn-Pennsylvania, Mayflower, and Massachusetts Bay Colony ancestry — but that's only on one side of the family. On the other, our genealogy ends two generations back because our father's paternal grandparents were both New York City foundlings who were placed on an orphan train. They weren't so much adopted as indentured. They didn't claim their families of record; should L? If those ancestors are waiting on L (and my nephews' potential daughters) to find their records, it's not going to happen without a time machine.
Is her god so powerless and so vindictive that he will curse the generations because we failed to be better bookkeepers? What about the millions of records destroyed in the London Blitz? Do those souls get a pass because the Nazis did it? And even given our really well documented ancestry, we peter out in the 15th century. What about the generations that came before? Written human history ends, or begins, only about 5,000 years ago, but in the 100,000 years before, probably a billion people lived and died. Do all of those souls just wait, forever?
I realize that the Christian sense of both Heaven and Eternity are beyond my comprehension. That's the nature of the numinous and of mystery, and is the major reason that I have taken my hands off Christianity. My faith, such as it is, is in and of this world. The numinous is beyond me, and I'm a better steward of the world I've inherited when my focus is here. I do much better with the works side of the equation than the faith side. I cannot seem to stop mentally tinkering with faith's variables, but I always seem to be solving for the square root of negative one.
My foundation faiths taught me that I should question, that it's not a sign of pernicious doubt, but that's not true for L. I understand that my questions cannot be answered, but for my sister, merely asking these questions is considered a sign of weak faith. If I ask L these questions, I am putting her in a spiritual bind. She's required to discuss these questions with her Bishop or lie and say she has no questions about her faith. L is not intellectually dishonest; she both thinks and feels about her faith. I know that if I prod her too much, she will feel compelled to confess her questions, and the likely result will be that she's forbidden to talk to me because I am a threat to her peace of mind.
When it was just my partner and I objecting to our inclusion in her family records, it was more a game. L and I are three years apart — we've had major sibling rivalry all of her life. When my parents brought her home from the hospital, I asked them to take her back. From the time she toddled, she would not leave me alone. Now that we're adults, we're on more equal footing, but we have thirty-plus years of habit, and our relationship works. Unfortunately, with the addition of the Quaker family records, this matter is no longer entirely personal. Quakers have a history of persecution for our faith and proxy baptism denies us our agency. I know L is motivated by her best intentions, and part of me wants to believe that, if something does endure after death, then the people for whom she stands proxy will forgive her. I hope that I would.
Then again, there's the long history, and the reality of this world. Human records are friable. It's entirely possible that in two hundred years, the only remaining record of Zenobia Faraday Williams (b. 1749 in Offton, Suffolk) will be in the LDS archives. Right now, we have one paragraph about her, in an unpublished family diary. Zenobia immigrated to the rebelling colonies in 1777 because she was Quaker. If she's entered into the LDS archives, she will be rebaptised and enrolled in a church that did not even exist when she died. History has already silenced Zenobia. To have her faith stripped from her would be to lose her altogether.
The archivist in me considers the vast disaster of the LDS archives — they're enormous, and a volunteer effort with minimal standardization and oversight. They're not terribly reliable: there's a lot of duplication and record mismatch because of spelling or date variations. They contain misinformation because families can and do distort narratives in contradiction to the official records. Many records come from old cemeteries and scans of deteriorating records. In two hundred years, some historian may only have those archives, or in a thousand years, the origins of the Latter Day Saints may be lost. History now is liable to transcription errors and references to copies of now-lost manuscripts. No historian says information will endure.
Quakers are not the only ones affected by proxy baptism. Judaism, the Russian Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church have all had polite, terse words with the Mormons that translate to “Stop it. Stop it NOW.” The families of atheists — prominent and obscure — have campaigned and occasionally sued to get their late loved ones' names removed from the post-mortem baptism rolls. Jewish Holocaust victims have been misclassified as Mormon victims thanks to this practice. It is intolerant, but it's a hard practice to stop. World-wide, they perform around a million proxy baptisms a year. Yes, it'll take them a million years at that rate to baptize the entire 10 billion people who have probably lived on earth in the last 100,000 years, but those distant, unknown ancestors are not who they're targeting. They focus on those who have lived in the widely-literate centuries, and these people have living descendants for whom the practice is hurtful.
I don’t want Zenobia erased. And so I protect those Quaker records from L.
**Morridor = Mormon Corridor. It's a term L and I use to denote the area, and yes, it's an intentional pun on LotR's Mordor. Not because we think the region is evil, but because the physical region is dry, sparsely populated, generally hot, has mountain ranges on three sides, and has a hierarchical dominant culture.