Credit: J. Stephen Conn

The Mormons: Our Secret Weapon in the War on Terror

Is war the only option? Surely, there’s something else we can do? Something, perhaps, involving ghosts and baptism? A proposition you might not slam your door on.

Maybe it’s because I’m having trouble cutting these plastic sheets with dull scissors, worrying whether I have enough damn duct tape, batteries, and a decent can opener—maybe I’m tired of worrying how the colorblind manage whenever the terror-alert level changes—or maybe the prospect of a week of cold pork ‘n’ beans in case of a terrorist attack has finally pushed me to my limit, but I’m finally ready to throw away my life-long respect for the separation of church and state. I propose that it’s time to ask the Mormons to save us all.

Forget missile defense, search and destroy in the mountains of Afghanistan, border patrols, unmanned drones, civil-defense preparedness, and electronic surveillance: the Mormons could be our best weapon in the war on terror.

Wait, hear me out. And then be sure to contact the Office of Homeland Security. Many years ago, while working through a residency at the MacDowell artists’ colony in New Hampshire, I met a poet who was an ex-Mormon. She was something of an exotic creature to all of us, this apostate (I’ll call her Jane) who’d happily chat away about the ins and outs of a religion none of us knew much about. I’ll never forget that morning over breakfast when she regaled us with the story of her baptism. As I remember, the Mormons wait until the teen years before they’re baptized, but what’s most unusual is this: they’re baptized twice.

The first is the personal baptism, the I-accept-the-teachings-of-the-Book-of-Moroni moment, but the second is by far the most interesting. She called it a ‘Ghost Baptism.’

This name alone was enough to perk up even the sleepiest writer or composer sitting at the breakfast table. ‘A ghost what? What in the world is that?’ we begged Jane to tell us. A Ghost Baptism, it turns out, is when a Mormon lets him or herself be baptized a second time, in the name of a ghost, some non-Mormon who has passed away. In other words, posthumous conversion. That’s why Mormons are so crazy about collecting genealogies: slowly but surely they’re going to find and convert us all, dead or alive. And that’s why those well-dressed young men and women who occasionally knock on our doors and start up about the Church of Latter Day Saints are so eerily polite when we slam the doors in their faces: they know that sooner or later, whether we like it or not, we’re going to help fill up the Mormon afterlife.

‘Outrageous!’ we’d gasped out at this news. Are we accorded no privacy from humorless missionaries, not even in the afterlife? The whole idea pissed me off, and for years afterward, the mere mention of Utah, Salt Lake City, or Brigham Young University would get my teeth grinding.

But as we have all rightly observed, September 11th has changed everything. So here’s what I propose: the Elders of the Church of Latter Day Saints should issue a warning, a sort of Mormon fatwa. Any terrorist who dies while blowing up an oil tanker, an embassy, a skyscraper, whatever; any suicide bomber, any sacrificial chemical or biological weapon concoctor will be identified immediately by the Mormon church’s genealogy central hub and then converted via a Ghost Baptism.

Just think. The various reconstituted pieces of some jihadi have recently arrived in Islamic paradise. He’s feeling pretty good, considering—and of course there are those seventy virgins slinking toward him from all sides, but then—POOF!—he finds himself in a cavernous, dimly-lit room, surrounded by people dressed in black suits, crisp white shirts and thin black ties, and some old guy in the corner is droning out the lesson of the day from the Book of Moroni.

It’s enough to make a holy warrior renounce Osama bin Laden.

In the past, jihadis haven’t been afraid to die, but now we could have in our defensive arsenal a truly effective weapon, something that will make a disaffected young Saudi or Pakistani think twice, thrice, or more before toting a radiological backpack.

And while the Mormon Elders are at it, they should do some back-up work, starting with the ghost conversions of Mohamed Atta and the rest of his rotten September 11th gang. Before long, Al Qaeda will sue for peace. As for Iraq, once word gets out about our new secret weapon, the Republican Guard should begin deserting in droves and Saddam will gladly cough up any goods—maybe even have to start manufacturing weapons just to have something to hand over—to the U.N. Inspectors. There’s no need for smart bombs, military tribunals, and bazillions of aircraft carriers parked in the Persian Gulf when we can get the job done with a wading pool’s worth of Mormon holy water and a phalanx of zealous genealogists.

So call Tom Ridge today, call the Bush White House. Because isn’t this the kind of faith-based initiative you could get behind?

Philip Graham is the author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, his latest being The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches From Lisbon. He is a co-founder of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter and currently serves as the nonfiction editor. He teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois and the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and he can also play every musical instrument in the world extremely well in his mind. His seres of short essays on the craft of writing can be read at philipgraham.net. More by Philip Graham