Getting consent for spiritual practices – even ones that I might regard as inherently “harmless,” like Reiki – is a matter of basic respect for others.
Some time ago the Slacktiverse had a post about the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead and the tension between that and respect for the beliefs of the deceased. A very active conversation ensued; after reflecting on that, I became much more convinced that consent for spiritual practices is absolutely essential.
After someone defended the Mormon practice from multiple perspectives, I finally went into great detail about exactly how and why I find it extremely offensive. I don’t care if it’s an “invitation” or something equally innocuous; it goes against everything I believe in, the way I live my life, and what I want after I die.
There are lots of people who feel the same way I do. In particular, Jews have been especially horrified at the Mormons’ blithe misappropriation of genealogical information for this purpose. The suggestion of posthumously baptizing Anne Frank is adding insult to injury.
A recent post on Religion Dispatches highlights one way that some people have chosen to protest this: All Your Dead Mormons Are Belong To Us. Playing on the LDS aversion to gays, a website allows people to “convert” deceased Mormons into gays and lesbians. Though this is obviously ineffective, it highlights the disrespect for individuals’ control over their own lives inherent in the proxy baptism process. The author explains,
Finally, though, there’s the weird fact that we Jews are offended by Baptism of the Dead even though we don’t believe in it. I assume none of my fellow Israelites really believe that because someone puts a dead person’s name in a jar, that person is really converted to another religion. In other words, we’re offended by something that we don’t think even exists.
Of course, what we’re really offended by is that some living person somewhere thinks that this is okay to do, using the names of our deceased and our historic heroes. It’s not offensive because their belief is efficacious; it’s offensive because of what it reveals about their intentions and attitudes toward people we hold dear.
Come to think of it, that’s true whether the people in question are dead Jews or living gays.
There’s the rub. That’s why I won’t do Reiki or magic for people without consent: others may find the idea of contact with Reiki or Goddess or whatever to be as distasteful as I imagine contact with the Mormon ideas of the divine to be. I don’t have to agree with that position, I don’t even have to understand it, but I do have to respect it.
Some people, especially Reiki practitioners, like to say that they send energy without consent but with the caveat that the person’s “higher self” will have to give consent for the Reiki to be effective. I have several objections to that; most important is the question of why the practitioner doesn’t have consent. Is it because you’re afraid to ask, because you think the person would say no? In that case, what makes you think the “higher self” will accept? Isn’t that implying that the “higher self” is really fundamentally different from the person herself?
TW: Rape apology
Ultimately, the explanation that “the person said no, but the higher self said yes” is identical to a certain kind of rape apology: “She said no, but I knew deep down she wanted it.”
Ultimately, doing magic or sending energy without consent shows that you think your need to do this thing is more important than my right to control my own life. It’s treating me as an object for you to act on. That is one of the worst forms of disrespect and is entirely antithetical to the principles and beliefs I hold dear.