What rights do we have to our soul?

Last week, while checking in on the latest articles on the Religion page of the Huffington Post, the following headline caught my eye: 
Proxy Baptism Seekers Eyed Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel For Posthumous Mormon Rite.

For those who might have missed it the details, in summary are as follows: There is apparently a long-standing tradition of Mormons submitting the names of deceased people for a post-humous proxy baptism into the Mormon church.  A researcher found among names submitted via an online site that is accessible to Mormons only the name of Elie Wiesel – still very much alive.  Among the names submitted for this Mormon ritual has often been those who died in the Holocaust.

In fact, Mormon church rules mean that one is only meant to submit the names of your own direct descendants.  After previous examples of famous Jews being included in these proxy baptisms, negotiations between Mormon and Jewish leaders led to an agreement in 1995 for the church to stop the posthumous baptism of all Jews, except in the case of direct ancestors of Mormons.  But researchers have demonstrated that the practice did not stop.  The church did apologize for these latest events this past Monday, calling them a serious breach of their protocol.

I was going to dismiss the story as just one of those things that often irk us but are so fringe as to be unworthy of great debate, but I was prompted to pause and think about some of the broader questions that arise from this.  Before thinking about matters of the soul, I want to first turn to questions of ownership regarding other aspects of our ‘person’, namely our personal data.

In recent weeks there has been a lot of press coverage about the rights we have to our own personal data and information in the era of facebook, twitter, etc.  You might have been aware of some black-out days on some services, like Wikipedia, protesting against new proposed legislation that would make it illegal to post any information online without verification that it is yours to post.  It would make the sharing that many of us do on facebook of videos that ‘go viral’ or cute cartoons etc. potentially illegal and would hold the services that facilitated this sharing accountable.  This, most agree, is taking ownership of data a step too far, bringing the whole online crowd-sourcing, sharing world of cyberspace to a grinding halt.

Posted on February 22, 2012

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