Monday, November 18, 2013

Something I Learned in Jerusalem

Since this story touches upon a religious matter about which feelings can run very high, I want to make a couple of points very clear.  As far as the Church of Latter Day Saints goes, it’s a good news/bad new situation.  When I was on the isle of Yap in 1999, I read the book of Mormon cover to cover and for me, it fails the giggle test.  According to it, around 700 BC a group of Israelites got onto a ship and sailed through the Mediterranean and, passing up the chance to stop in Greece, Cicely, Tunisia, Spain or Morocco, continued on to the new world where they founded civilization which lasted for about 1000 years; a civilization which Jesus of Nazareth visited in a second ministry.  Folks, if the book of Mormon floats your boat.  I have no problem with that, I’m just not buying any of it. That is exactly what I told the very polite young Mormon missionaries I met while I was on Yap and they very politely honored my request.  

The good news is that I have met Mormons when I was in the Navy, when I was on Yap and when I was a public defender in Bethel, Alaska.  Somewhere in this world I imagine there are Mormons that are not good people, but at the age of 58 I have not met one yet. (A bit of Utah trivia: that state has the lowest per capita rate of alcohol consumption in the country, which tends to indicate to me that they practice what they preach).

I’d also like to say that, while I am not Jewish, I have quite a few Jewish friends and I have the utmost admiration for the contribution that Jews have made to America and to civilization as a whole.  In recent years, there’s been considerable controversy about the Mormon Church performing “posthumous baptisms.”  And I can completely understand that some Jewish folks have gotten quite upset about this.  Jewish communities have a long history of withstanding attempts to convert them and some of those attempts have gotten extremely unpleasant.  With the utmost respect to my Jewish friends, you might want to take a look at the fine print of the Mormon program.  It states that anyone who is posthumously baptized will have the OPTION of becoming a member of the Latter Day Saints and the great beyond.  For the Mormons, free will is everything.  My personal reaction is far more bemusement than hostility.  I read recently that Mahatma Gandhi’s Grandson’s reaction was that it was a well-intentioned act that did not bother him one way or the other.

When I read about this whole controversy, I remembered something I saw when I took a tour of Jerusalem almost 20 years ago when the U.S.S. Inchon made a port of call in Haifa.  I took a number of bus tours and one of them was to the tomb of King David in Jerusalem.  Our tour guide was a retired Israeli army officer named David Jacob, who was an extraordinarily knowledgeable fellow.  As we watched an orthodox gentlemen praying over a stone tomb covered with a cloth baring the Star of David, Mr. Jacob commented to me, “They call this the tomb of King David, but on the stone underneath that cloth, there is a cross that is a crusader King’s grave.”  Even 20 years later, I greatly appreciate the irony.

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