Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sealed with a kiss

In further inquiries into religions that I don't begin to understand, I'd like to relate the story of how I recently bumped up against the Mormon practice of "sealing" during some of my genealogical inquiries.

I'm somewhat obsessed with family history.  I guess you could call it "collecting dead relatives."  Those who know me well know that I rarely do things by half-measures -- my database is rapidly approaching 90,000 names of ancestors and cousins and cousins-by-marriage, collected over the past 30 years of research.

In any case, I was looking into one of my lines on my dad's side of the family last week.  My dad, despite his French surname, had a good bit of Dutch and Scotch-Irish ancestry, and I was poking about in online records of one of his Dutch lines, the Bogards.  The Bogards came from Holland in the early 1600s, settled in New Amsterdam, moved to Albany, and thence to West Virginia, and finally my dad's branch of the family tree made their way to Opelousas, Louisiana in the late 1700s.   In any case, one of the Bogard cousins, one Cornelius Bogard of Hampshire County, West Virginia, showed up in an online database I was perusing.  And there I saw something that made me frown, a bit.

On the webpage for old Cornelius, it showed him as married to Sarah Skidmore.  Further, there was a note that said, "Sealed, Salt Lake City Temple," followed by a date.

What this means is that the Mormons, following their religious practices, have held a ceremony "sealing" Cornelius and Sarah in the afterlife.  Without so much as asking the permission of the dear departed, or inquiring as to whether their marriage was a happy or an unhappy one, the Mormons have locked them together permanently.

There's only one tiny problem with this particular example of post-mortem wedded bliss; Sarah Skidmore didn't, in fact, marry Cornelius Bogard.  This bit of so-called information was the result of a piece of spectacularly bad research carried out in the early 20th century, and which contained errors that have been accepted as fact, lo unto this very day, by genealogists who don't question their sources.  After studying the primary records, however, more diligent researchers have come to the incontrovertible conclusion; the real Sarah Skidmore died as a child.  As for Cornelius, he married a Sarah Something-Else (possibly Westfall).

So the dilemma is, if you believe in all of this Traditional Family Values In The Afterlife stuff, apparently Cornelius is now sealed to some poor ghostly child who probably never even met him, leaving his actual wife standing on the sidelines, probably jealous as hell.  And I wish I could say this was the only error I've found in LDS-endorsed records, but the truth is, since these records were compiled by (fallible) researchers, largely from secondary sources written by other (fallible) researchers, there are thousands of errors in their files.   I'm now visualizing the Mormon version of heaven as being filled with millions of very happy and very wealthy ghostly divorce lawyers, making tens of millions of dollars unhitching couples who were mistakenly sealed by well-meaning, but ill-informed, LDS researchers here on earth.

And I won't even get into how the Mormon practice of baptism of the dead has pissed off the Jews and the Catholics.

Now, I hasten to add that I don't actually believe any of this.  Once I'm gone, if the Mormons want to baptize me, they can knock themselves out.  If anything remotely close to the Christian god actually exists, I doubt it'll help much in any case, given how many years I've spent disbelieving.  My actual question is, if you do believe in sealing of marriages for those already gone on to meet their maker (or not, as the case may be), how do you account for errors in research and people being sealed to the wrong person?

Now, I can imagine certain cases where such errors might be welcome.  For example, if any LDS member wants to seal me in the afterlife to Penelope Cruz, I won't object too strenuously.   However, for the record, I have never been, nor will ever be, romantically involved with Britney Spears, and if somehow I get hitched to her in the spirit world, I am going to be pissed.

Just so you know.

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