I'm back again with a new Hitchens question.

First of all, I couldn't decide whether I should post the question here or to the Christianity site. But it seemed like a grammatical question to me. So here it is.

Every week, at special ceremonies in Mormon temples, the congregations meet and are given a certain quota of names of the departed to “pray in” to their church. This retrospective baptism of the dead seems harmless enough to me, but the American Jewish Committee became incensed when it was discovered that the Mormons had acquired the records of the Nazi “final solution,” and were industriously baptizing what for once could truly be called a “lost tribe”: the murdered Jews of Europe.

Hitchens talks about what Mormons do for the ones who lived before them to help them find salvation. They basically baptize them retrospectively.

First of all, I'm confused by the preposition to in this part of speech. If it wasn't there, it would make perfect sense to me (Mormons are given a list of name to pray for in their churches.) Moreover, pray in is given in quotation marks which suggests to me that there is something special about it.

I've looked up "to pray in" and found to pray in aid which means (according to Wiktionary),

  1. (intransitive, now rare) To resort to the help (of); to call on the support (of), especially to help prove an argument.
  2. (transitive, chiefly law) To ask for the help of (someone or something) in pleading a case; to make use of, adduce (something) in defence of a case, argument etc.

I'm not sure if this phrase has anything to do with my question but it's the closest thing I could find. Now I'm more confused.

  • 6
    Pray in is being used as a transitive verb meaning to 'get someone into heaven by praying (for them)'. Analogous to "They were ushered in by the attendant".
    – TimR
    Jul 22, 2015 at 11:16
  • 1
    The expression may have been a little clearer had Hitchens arranged the quotes as ....names of the departed to “pray into" their church This would be analogous with the common construction "buy into," meaning "make a financial contribution in order to gain membership/ownership." (buy into a franchise, buy into medicare, buy into a beach timeshare, etc.)
    – Adam
    Jul 22, 2015 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


As a Mormon and a native US English speaker, let me take a stab at this...

The temple ceremony being discussed is baptism by immersion, which is the means by which a person becomes a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hitchens mischaracterizes this by saying that the deceased are "prayed in" to the church, by which he means a prayer is said that makes them a member of the Church.

A similar use of the term would be to say that Catholics are "praying people in to Heaven" from purgatory.

But in this case it would be more accurate to say that a person is "baptized in to the Church," meaning that through the act of baptism they become a member of the Church. Yes, the ordinance of baptism includes a prayer, but it's the baptism, not just the prayer, that makes them a member. (And when it is being performed by proxy for the deceased, it is the Mormon belief that in addition the deceased must accept the ordinance in order for it to be valid.)

  • Thank you for your answer from the source. I probably couldn't find anyone who is more eligible than you to answer this question. And as far as I understand from all the comments and answers, Hitchens intends to be sarcastic about the religious concepts, as he always does.
    – A.K.
    Jul 23, 2015 at 11:45

I think that what Hitchens could be saying is that the dead are "prayed in" to the church in the same manner in which a living person would be let in to a church. That is to say, the phrase implies admission through the prayers of others. I doubt that it is related to the concept of praying in aid. I believe this is the right site for questions about learning English. Now, if you want to talk about the ethics of that practice, Christianity might be the place.

  • Thank you very much. I think you're right. It sounds like admission to the church.
    – A.K.
    Jul 22, 2015 at 9:16

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