Friday, February 17, 2012

Is One Religion Superior?

Who knew that the parents of the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal were Mormons?  They certainly didn’t.  Asher Wiesenthal and Rosa Rapp were raised, lived and died Jewish. So did their late son, a Holocaust survivor who spent his life searching out former Nazis trying to hide from their pasts.  Wiesenthal's father died in combat in World War I. His mother was among the victims at the Belzec concentration camp in 1942.  

However, researchers have found that the Mormons recently baptized Wiesenthal and Rapp in separate ceremonies, deliberately violating a 1995 agreement to stop turning Jewish holocaust victims into Mormons.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) leaders have apologized. “We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the church led to the inappropriate submission of these names," said church spokesman Michael Purdy.  "These submissions were clearly against the policy of the church. We consider this a serious breach of our protocol…”

Presumably, that means three relatives of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who were also entered into the genealogy database will be removed, too.

Their inclusion was not an accident.  Mormons believe that they can baptize deceased ancestors who never had that opportunity to join the fold.  That’s why Mormons keep a massive genealogical record in Salt Lake City.  It’s a boon to anyone trying to trace family history, but it was deliberately created for religious purposes.

Because Mormons count everyone living or dead – presumably including the Wiesenthals – the number of people who actually belong to the faith is also suspect.

I have a friend whose aunt converted to LDS.  My friend was not interested and found herself subjected to a frightening, midnight ritual to expel her from a religion that she never joined.  She had no idea what was going on.

Jewish leaders understand fully well what's happening in the Wiesenthal situation.  "We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon temples," wrote Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who participated in early meetings between Jews and Mormon officials.  "Such actions make a mockery of the many meetings with the top leadership of the Mormon Church dating back to 1995 that focused on the unwanted and unwarranted posthumous baptisms of Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust," he wrote in a prepared statement.

Even worse, such action imply superiority of one belief over another.  The Mormons involved are sure they are rescuing another poor, misguided Jewish soul.  "There are way too many entries slipping through the cracks, including Jewish Holocaust victims," said Helen Radkey, the researcher who has been monitoring the entries and discovered the Wiesenthals. "It's (the Mormons') belief to save the dead that is causing the problem."

That’s the point: the Mormons who added the Wiesenthals to their list – and President Obama’s mother as well – thought they were doing the right thing.  So did Roman Catholics who for centuries seized and then baptized Jewish children. Every Christian still believes his or her religion is correct and that everyone else is doomed.

Muslims feel the same way.  They accept Jesus as a prophet, but are convinced Christians are misguided.  In their belief, Jesus will convert to Islam when the world ends to demonstrate to Christians the errors of the way and the superiority of the Islamic faith.

This kind of hubris merely increases tensions between religions.

No one knows if any religion is correct.  How could we?  How could anyone? Virtually every religion claims sainted leaders whose wisdom was sent by a deity.  In fact, there’s little to choose between any of them.

After all, no one can even prove a God exists, much less the multiple gods of the Hindu faith, the tri-parte Christian pastiche and the solitary Allah and Yahweh.  Or any of a myriad other choices.  Zeus, anyone?

How does anyone know that Mormon founder Joseph Smith didn’t stub his foot on the truth when he uncovered golden tablets?  Or Mary Baker Eddy didn’t distill the wealth of knowledge she plagiarized and used some special alchemy to find the true gold of philosophy?  

Maybe everyone’s right?  Maybe there are multiple ways to find God.  Maybe there’s no God to find.

Regardless, each of us has to find our own way.  Deliberately making someone a member of a different faith laughs at the reality of faith.  At least the Mormons have corrected this “mistake.”

It’s a start.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the other of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. 

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