On Facebook, I posted the Bill Maher video at the center of my “Why Is There Bill Maher?” article I put up a few weeks back. I made it clear that I found Maher’s video, wherein he “unbaptizes” Ann Romney’s father, to be sneering, contemptuous, and tremendously offensive. The ensuing FB discussion generated well over 50 comments and focused on the propriety/impropriety of the LDS practice of proxy baptism for the dead.
So it’s no surprise that an atheist friend of mind today told me of his discovery of what he called “possibly the most offensive … anti Mormon website that I’ve seen yet. Will post link if you want to see, but I am afraid your head will explode into 3500 fragments.”
I had a pretty good idea of what he was talking about, as another friend of mine – a Mormon – had shown me the site in question the day before.
The site is a single, nondescript page which primarily consists of less than a hundred white text on a black background. It summarizes its own purpose more succinctly than I could in a paraphrase, so I’ll reproduce the text here for your perusal:
Sadly, many Mormons throughout history have died without having known the joys of homosexuality. With your help, these poor souls can be saved.
Simply enter the name of your favorite dead Mormon* in the form below and click Convert! Presto, they’re gay for eternity. There is no undo.
Don’t know any dead Mormons? Click the “Choose-a-Mormon” button and we’ll find one for you. You’re welcome!
*Holocaust victims are not eligible for conversion.
The site also has a colorful rainbow banner at the top, the aforementioned dead Mormon entry form, and a “Choose-a-Mormon” button, all of which float above a button that allows you to “convert” said Mormon. Voila! Make your afterlife fabulous! (Unless, of course, you’re a Holocaust victim.)
The thing that fascinates me is that not only did I not take offense at this, but it didn’t even occur to me to take offense. I literally laughed out loud when I saw it. Yet this seems inconsistent with my viscerally negative reaction to Maher’s similarly-themed attack piece, and it got me to thinking what it was that made the difference. I think the answers are interesting, so I thought I’d share them with you.
Here, then, are my conclusions.
1) Ad Hominem Attacks Aren’t Funny
The primary problem with the Maher piece is that it focuses solely on the stupidity of people dumb enough to believe in religion. He calls them “idiots” and claims they read from the “Encyclopedia Moronica” and then proceeds to repeatedly insult and humiliate them, often doing so by addressing them directly. It’s no accident that Bill Maher’s new book is titled The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody but Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass. Funny how, exactly? Ha-ha funny or strange-that-an-elitist-could-actually-believe-he’s-smarter-than-everyone-who-ever-lived funny?
That’s a fatuous and lazy way to address an argument, and, too often, it’s pretty much all that elitists like Maher have got in their intellectual arsenal. (“You vote Republican/Democrat? You’re stupid.”) Maher wasn’t willing to take the time or the energy to actually understand or discuss baptism for the dead; he just used it as a prop to illustrate that people who could possibly believe in such a thing are dolts. And why are we dolts? Well, because Maher doesn’t believe in it, and if Maher doesn’t believe in it, then, by definition, it’s doltish.
That’s contemptuous. That’s insulting. And, perhaps the greatest crime of all, it’s not the least bit funny.
2) Truth in Parody Is Funny
Contrast Maher’s “you’re stupid” approach with the website that transforms dead Mormons into gay dead Mormons. The site wastes no time attacking my intelligence. Instead, it focuses like a laser on an idea, not a person – the concept that Mormons believe they have the right and the power to perform posthumous baptisms that can actually convert people after death. By illustrating the supposed absurdity of that idea, it respects its audience enough to reach its own conclusions about the people who might believe it. And it does so by basing the parody on a real thing rather than a lazy, ad hominem attack.
Good parody always works this way, regardless of what’s being parodied. Which is funnier – someone telling you William Shatner is a pompous, hammy windbag, or Kevin Pollack demonstrating these specific attributes of Mr. Shatner and letting you make up your own mind?
William Shatner himself has repeatedly said how much he enjoys Mr. Pollack’s parody, but I doubt he’d have the same reaction if all Pollack did was call him names.
So, too, as a Mormon, I can enjoy a parody rooted in the truth even if I don’t fully agree with the premise.
3) The Website Parody Raises a Legitimate Issue
I have repeatedly stated, on this blog and elsewhere, that those who are offended by the practice of proxy baptism should simply dismiss it as ridiculous and move on. The website parody simply asks that I put that to the test. If what I say is true, then I ought to be able to readily dismiss their website as ridiculous, too.
They’re right. And I do.
There is one point, however, where the website, and most of the world, gets it completely wrong.
4) We don’t believe we have the power to forcibly change people after death.
Proxy baptism is offered as a gift to the intended recipient, one that anyone is free to either accept or reject. Unlike the gay Mormon button, we think there are “take-backs” and “undos,” and we don’t believe that people who are baptized by proxy are therefore “converted.” Instead, we believe that they have the opportunity to be converted if they want it.
It’s a very important distinction, one that both Maher and this website seem to miss.
It means that those who are aghast that Mormons “convert” the dead are ironically giving the Mormons far more power than the Mormons themselves claim to have. If you truly believe that a Mormon ritual can posthumously force a Holocaust survivor to abandon their Jewish faith, then why aren’t you a Mormon? You have more faith in our rituals than we do ourselves!
The other irony here is that the website is, consciously or not, subtly reinforcing the mistaken notion that people can be “converted” into homosexuals. Is that really a good idea? Hasn’t the gay rights movement provided adamant opposition to such a thing? Still, I doubt anyone would take offense, as it requires you to take the analogy far beyond its intended purpose.
That didn’t stop me from pre-posthumously converting myself to an eternity of afterlife homosexuality. Sure, there may be some drawbacks, but I’m betting I’ll have a better wardrobe that way.