Chapter Three: Mormon Polygamy is Gene-Meme Driven


          It is my contention that the plural marriage revelation Joseph Smith claimed came from Jesus Christ actually originated in his Y-chromosome, and as a belief system, has metamorphosed into a pernicious virus of the mind taking on a life of its own.          

          In a nut shell, I propose that Mormon plural marriage is the result of a “genetically” induced evolutionary phenomenon. As we shall soon see, the mission of the Y-chromosome is to replicate itself as many times as it can via sex with as many women as possible. However, as the brain developed and civilization fermented and evolved, the brain invented rules, mores, laws and traditions to temper the anarchic tendencies of the Y-chromosome.  But where the brain has the ability to inhibit, it also has the ability to incite or circumvent a prohibition – which I submit is the function of Section 132. 

          As a result of Joseph Smith introducing plural marriage as a religious commandment, thousands of men and women have “faithfully” practiced plural marriage without any empirical or religious corroboration. They have simply taken the word of Joseph. Hundreds of thousands more, if not millions more [church members], although they do not practice plural marriage, we must assume they accept it as a correct principle that came from Jesus Christ. For it stands to reason that if one believes Joseph is a genuine prophet, then one must believe in Section 132 – which is the argument put to prospective plural wives. 

          The acceptance of plural marriage by faithful Mormons is based solely on faith.  My theory is based on facts, a sociobiological explanation that is much more plausible than Joseph’s supernatural account?  It is a secular explanation founded on the science of genetics and the newly developed study of memetics.         

          This brings us to the gene half of my sociobiological explanation for Mormon plural marriage – the male Y-chromosome. 

          A meme is analogous to a gene as a set of instructions with one goal in mind, replication.  It is my contention that there is a symbiotic relationship between the Y-chromosome and the Mormon plural marriage meme in that one complements the other without each being dependent upon the other.  What I am trying to say is that the influence of the Y-chromosome, the mission of which is to replicate itself, inspired the Mormon plural marriage meme – which is a far more plausible explanation than supernatural intervention. 

          My theory that Mormon plural marriage is a gene-meme, sociobiological phenomenon did not come out of the blue.  It was influenced by three special books: Adam’s Curse, by Bryan Sykes – The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, and – The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore.  None of these authors ever mentioned Mormon polygamy, nevertheless, the implication hit me [excuse the cliché] like a “ton of bricks.”  From that momentous moment, I knew why there was no historical or archeological evidence that polygamy was ever a religious tenet during Christ’s alleged, earthly sojourn. The research by Sykes, Dawkins and Blackmore fit like a puzzle.  It opened up a whole new spectrum of thought. Human behavior, especially Mormon fundamentalist behavior is driven by genes and memes.  We are literally products of our genes and memes.

          I consider myself fortunate to be living during an era of enlightenment that surpasses all other recorded periods of enlightenment.  Thanks to science, I need not rely upon superstition, myth and religious fables for an explanation of my existence.  Science has not solved all of life’s most pressing questions like what is consciousness, but what it has learned can and has made life more meaningful for me.

          Since 1933 when my father’s sperm cell merged with my mother’s ova and I came into being, science has made giant strides.  Consider how memes not only invented the automobile, but look how automobiles have evolved since the Model T Ford.  And how about the airplane, computers and what we have learned about genetics?

          As a toddler I learned to find my way around a garden.  That bent has not changed.  The garden is a miraculous place that we take for granted.  Before farmers had any idea of the genetic workings of a seed they knew that when they planted a kernel of corn they could expect a corn stock to grow.

          I set my grandchildren down and showed them a tomato seed the size of a freckle.  I placed it on a sheet of paper alongside a pumpkin seed and a carrot seed the size of a grain of sand.  And then I added a seed from a Chinese Elm tree, a flat disk a little smaller than a dime.  I explained that inside each seed was a set of instructions that insure, for example, that the tomato seed would grow tomatoes and produce hundreds more seeds just like the one planted.  It was the mission of the tomato seed to replicate itself and the way it did it was to produce a healthy green stock loaded with tomato fruits filled with seeds. 

          The Chinese Elm seed is about 1/5 the size of a pumpkin seed, yet it contains the instructions to propagate a tree that can reach 50 feet into the sky.  Like the tomato its mission is to replicate itself and it does by producing hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of seeds each spring.  If the seed lands where there is moisture and soil, it doesn’t even have to be fertile soil, it will send a tap root “a mile deep” and nothing will stop it from becoming a tree except a foraging cow, ax or a sharp hoe.

          The Chinese Elm seed doesn’t care what the tomato thinks, what the pumpkin seed thinks or the farmer thinks. All it wants to do is replicate itself, and it does by forming a tree.  From the human perspective the only value to the tree is shade and firewood, and not really good firewood at that.  The tomato on the other hand has a symbiotic relationship with the farmer. A tomato seed left on its own doesn’t have much of a chance competing with weeds.  The farmer makes sure it has that chance and is rewarded with fruit to eat. Susan Blackmore calls this “reciprocal altruism.” But how does all this reflect upon the Mormon practice of plural marriage?         

          This is not a thesis about genes or memes per se but about human behavior and how genes and memes influence that behavior.  Therefore my description of genes and memes will be less than comprehensive, just enough so the reader can get the gist of my contentions.  In that regard let’s turn to Richard Dawkins and his book, The Selfish Gene. 

          Dawkins’ definition of a gene is more tailored to the novice than Merriam-Webster’s definition which goes into the chemical content of a gene.  According to Dawkins a gene is bit of chromosomal material that serves as a unit of natural selection and is replicated time and time again lasting many generations.  A gene is simply a genetic unit that makes copies of itself.

          Dawkins goes on to say that the gene does not grow old, why, because it is passed on from generation to generation.  The Y-chromosome that I carry came from Wales, it crossed the Atlantic in 1856 and then helped develop the muscle that twenty-three-year old Rees Rees Llewellyn used to push and pull a handcart from Iowa to what is now Salt Lake City. He passed it on to my great grandpa and after two more stops it was passed on to me.  As a teenager I carried that same Y-chromosome around the Pacific for over three years.  It has now been passed on to my sons and is as lively and healthy as when it crossed the Atlantic. 

          Adam’s Curse by Bryan Sykes is without a doubt a fascinating book.  It was Adam’s Curse that was the impetus that launched me on my present course.  To begin with I will paraphrase what I have learned from Sykes:

          The central focus of Adam’s Curse is the Y-chromosome.  The Y-chromosome consists of bands of genes that cooperate in a mutual objective and that is to replicate itself.  The Y-chromosome is “that piece of DNA which every father gives to his son.” It is what makes us male.  It is the source of the male sex drive.  To use Dawkins’ analogy, it is “selfish” in that it has only one objective and that is to replicate itself by passing on copies from father to son, to son, to son.  It does not care how the copies are passed as long as they are passed.  There is only one way that the Y-chromosome can be passed on and that is by penetrating the egg of the woman.  Once again, the Y-chromosome doesn’t care how that happens – rape, seduction, trickery – it doesn’t care.  The only moral code the Y-chromosome has is replication and passing it on.

          When the sperm cell enters the egg there is a contest between the Y-chromosome and the female mitochondria DNA to see what sex the embryo will be – male or female.  If the genes of the Y-chromosome are dominate, or win out, the offspring will be a male; if not, the fetus will be a female.

          It is my theory that the competition between the female mitochondria and the male Y-chromosome continues and manifests itself in the adult offspring which helps explain the male propensity to dominate and subject women.

          In his prologue, Sykes tells us that “men are basically genetically modified women.”  That little tidbit of information is not going to sit well with the Mormon fundamentalist priesthood.  The statement implies that the woman came about first which contradicts the Garden of Eden story that places the man as the head, and as being formed first.   Sykes also said that men and women have “conflicting sets of genetic interest.”  No surprise there.  I have always thought, half jokingly, that the universal struggle was not between good and evil, but between men and women, but the more I think about it, the more it sounds like truth.

          If you look at the four belief systems that evolved from the Bible, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Mormonism, all four have a history of subordinating women.  With some sects, because of Eve’s transgression, she is blamed for bringing sin into the world.  But that’s another story, a meme that has brought untold misery to millions of women. Fortunately discrimination against women is not as noticeable now among Jews, Christians and Mormons as it is in Islam.  Nevertheless, the men have not given up control of religion and at the Western Wall in Jerusalem the men and women are separated. 

          The Y-chromosome is “synonymous with male aggression.”  We can therefore see that if the Y-chromosome is given full reign we would have sexual anarchy and society as we know it would not exist.  That is where the brain comes into play, modifying, rerouting and suppressing the aggressive propensities of the Y-chromosome.  Will Durant made the point poignantly clear:

A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not consumed in chaos by both the individual and the group.

          When the Russians invaded Berlin at the close of World War II the German women were raped with impunity.  Social restraints were lifted and hardly a German woman survived without being raped, some over and over again.  The Russian soldiers behaved like Barbarians.  Not even their superior officers intervened in behalf of the exploited women.  Did the soldiers rape out of sexual gratification?  Yes and no.  In the case of conventional rape sadism is the primary motive.  In this case humiliation was the motive.  For example, what is the most exquisite, ultimate form of humiliation?  It is to take the enemy’s women and use them for sex. Not only is the enemy humiliated, but the Y-chromosome is passed on without any responsibility for caring for the fetus.

          War, plunder and rape are nothing new.  Take the exploits of the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan (1162-1227).  His empire stretched from “the Pacific in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west.”  According to Sykes, the Great Khan’s military campaigns were a way of propagating his Y-chromosome.  With each defeat the land was plundered and “all the beautiful women had to be handed over to Genghis Khan himself.”

          Sykes tells how two researchers, Tatiana Zerjal and Chris Tyler-Smith from Oxford set out to study the Khan Y-chromosome.  Genghis passed on his Y-chromosome to his sons Kublai and Ogadei who like their father was just as ruthless and just as prolific.  In just thirty generations the “Khan chromosome multiplied with amazing speed – one to sixteen million.”  Think about it.  16 million men now carry the Khan chromosome.

          Sykes says men compete for women like peacocks and in a free society like ours it is she who makes the final choice.  But in the Khan’s case the women had no choice.  Sykes said he’d “wager that no gene in human history has done as well as the Khan chromosome.”  He proposed that the Khan chromosome did so well that it was hard to tell who was in charge and suggested that Khan may have been driven to war by the ambition of his Y-chromosome.

          Was Genghis Khan a polygamist?  Sure.  He became powerful and rich and could afford his huge harem.  The many wives not only were there to satisfy his unquenchable sexual appetite but many wives and concubines became symbols of power.  And if Sykes is right, and I am convinced he is, it has a direct connection to the Y-chromosome.

          Power, money and sex all go together and is clearly evident in the contemporary polygamist cults which I will have more to say about later.  But for now let’s concentrate on power, wealth and polygamy.  Genghis Khan was not histories only powerful polygamist.         

          Sykes informs us that each piece of mitochondrial DNA, each Y-chromosome has survived a “heroic journey” and has “its own story to tell.”

          Wherever the Vikings went they left their Y-chromosome.  Sykes suggests that it was the Y-chromosome that initiated their wondering.  In that sense, the “ruthless ambition” of the Y-chromosome has helped shape the world.   The question that interests me most is, who is in charge, the brain or the Y-chromosome? 

          Sykes wondered if some Y-chromosomes were better at multiplying than others.  In Chapter 16, Sykes traced the Y-chromosome of Somhairle Mor, better known as Somerled of Argyll, or Somerled mac Gillebride, a Scottish hero and conqueror who replicated a half million Y-chromosomes among his descendants.  Both Somerled and Khan had prolific Y-chromosomes.  What else did they have in common?  They had power, wealth and sons who carried on with power and wealth.  So once again the question is begged, was the power and wealth a direct result of a superselfish Y-chromosome, or did power and wealth make the Y-chromosome prolific?  As we shall soon see, one thing is for sure, power, wealth and polygamy go hand in hand.

          Sykes explored how either the female mitochondria or male Y-chromosome became dominant.  If the Y-chromosome has its way the offspring will be a boy, but the Y-chromosome obviously doesn’t always get its way.  There are large families where most of the children are girls, or boys. Sykes wondered why in some families one sex was more common than the other.

          Sykes promotes the theory that a testosterone level might give the Y-chromosome the edge and that occupation may influence the testosterone level. Men who work in manly occupations may have more boys than girls.  He also suggests that power and wealth influenced the Y-chromosome.  Sykes is quoted as follows:

 Men have always used wealth and power to attract and collect women – and of course they still do.  This is no coincidence, no icing on the cake of success; it is the real purpose behind the accumulation of wealth and power in the first place.  Throughout recorded history and throughout the world rich and powerful men have amassed vast harems.

          Sykes suggests that men who have lots of sex have a higher testosterone level and more sons.  He uses as an example, Moulay the Bloodthirsty, Sultan of Morocco who lived from 1672 to1727.  From Moulay’s hundreds of concubines he fathered 888 children, 548 were boys and only 340 girls.

          Sykes did some impressive historical research and came up with many of the world’s more famous polygamists.  Hammurabi, the first Babylonian king and the author of the Code of Hammurabi, had thousands of “slave-wives.”

          Montezuma, the Aztec king had “four thousand concubines.”  The Indian emperor Udayama, “sixteen thousand.  Akhenaten, a pharaoh of ancient Egypt only had “three hundred and fifty.”  But the Chinese emperor Fei-Ti had ten thousand wives or concubines.  Sykes suggests these were “vast breeding herds” of women inseminated by just one man.  The harems were guarded by eunuchs and if any man was caught messing with one of the wives he was put to death.

           I decided to test the testosterone theory with a few of Utah’s polygamists.  The theory being that because polygamists have more wives they have more sex which raises the testosterone level, resulting in more sons.

          I have a good friend with three wives.  Of thirteen children, seven are boys.  One of his wives is the daughter of an apostle in Apostolic United Brethren.  Her father had six wives and fifty-six children – twenty-five boys and twenty-one girls.  This lady’s grandfather had three wives – seventeen girls and sixteen boys.

          In the Kingston Group researchers believe they have uncovered over 600 children belonging to seven fathers.  One is believed to have fourteen wives and 112 children – 48 boys, 64 girls.  Another man has fourteen wives, 3 childless – 61 children, 33 boys and 28 girls.  Another with 16 wives, 6 childless, 49 children – 28 boys and 21 girls.  Another brother is believed to have twenty-four wives, 158 children – 84 boys and 74 girls. At least three of these wives are believed to be half sisters and the rest cousins.  This statistic was taken in 2004.  Who knows how many more wives these men have inseminated and how many more children were incestuously conceived.

          Here we have four polygamist men with 68 wives, 380 children, 193 boys and 187 girls – many of them believed to be incestuous.  There is only 6 more boys than girls.  If this ratio holds true with all the men in the group, then only a few men are going to have plural wives, another few with only one wife, and a lot of poor guys are going without wives unless they search outside the group – which is exactly what happens.

          Following is a little trivia from the Nineteenth Century.  Brigham had a total of fifty-six children, thirty-one daughters and twenty-five sons, not including those who were adopted by childless wives or brought into the family from former marriages.  

          During the Smoot hearings Joseph F. Smith revealed that he had 42 children, 21 boys and 21 girls.

          Heber C. Kimball had forty-five wives and at the time of his death, June 22, 1868, he had sixty-five children.  By 1882 his decedents numbered 172.

          These statistics may not be 100% accurate but I think they are close enough to give doubt to the testosterone theory at least among Utah polygamists, but it has no effect on the contention that a struggle exists between the Y-chromosome and mitochondria in determining the sex of the fetus.

          But this statistic, if it runs true among all Mormon polygamists,  is important.  It indicates that within the polygamist groups there is a close balance between boys and girls, meaning that there should only be one woman for one man.  Even among Mormon polygamists Mother Nature is balancing out the sexes.  So it stands to reason that if the rich and powerful in the groups take two or more plural wives, which is exactly what happens, there is not enough women to go around.

          There is no question that this is the case in the Kingston Group where the Kingston sons, the power behind the group, are believed to have first choice of the young girls coming of age.

          Mormon apologists claim that in Nineteenth Century Utah there was a surplus of women suggesting that polygamy resulted in a service to those unwed women.  But according to Fanny Stenhouse, author of Tell It All, and Mrs. C.V. Waite, author of The Mormon Prophet and His Harem, a census was held in the1860s and there were actually more men in Utah than women.  I will quote from these two ladies in Chapter 5.

          The male and female genes don’t talk it over, nor do they flip a coin.  If the Y-chromosome has its way the fetus will be a boy.  But the Y-chromosome doesn’t always get its way so when a baby girl appears it means the Y-chromosome lost the initial, fertilization struggle.  But that isn’t the end of the conflict. It is my contention that this rivalry between the mitochondria and the Y-chromosome continues on into adulthood and is manifest in the religion, mores, laws and traditions of human culture.

          Sykes is so convinced of the influence of the Y-chromosome that he states “it has utterly shaped our modern world.”  In that shaping he emphasizes the impact of “property, wealth and power.”  It all boils down to “sexual selection” but we must bear in mind that the Y-chromosome is not only competing against the mitochondria (women) but other Y-chromosomes (other men). 

          Section 132 is a meme.  It functions like a gene in that it contains instructions that are to be copied and passed on.  Section 132 and the male Y-chromosome are completely in harmony with each other – there is no competition.  If the meme has its way the Y-chromosome is copied and passed on.  The behavior induced by the Y-chromosome – aggression, copulation, domination, replication – all benefit Section 132.

          But is it going too far to say Section 132, as a meme,  is a virus of the mind?  I don’t think so.  In fact, I think it is right on target.

          Richard Brodie, author of Virus of the Mind, postulates that viruses use we humans as laboratories for making copies of itself and often leaves a mess behind.  Allow me to make the same statement as it pertains to Mormon polygamy.  When men follow the instructions in Section 132 they often leave a mess behind – the mess being broken lives and broken hearts.

          Brodie says “our minds excel both at copying information and at following instructions.”  He reminds us of the four characteristics of a virus and that is “penetration, copying, possibly issuing instructions, and spreading.”  And then on page 63 of Virus of the Mind, what he says about viruses is absolutely true about Section 132, “it goes on its own and spreads throughout the world without any further effort on the part of its creator.”

          In 1852 Brigham Young released Section 132 to the world.  In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff intended to put an end to the practice of polygamy by issuing an Official Declaration [The Manifesto].  However, Section 132 was not removed from the Doctrine & Covenants, probably because of Verse 7 which places power and authority in one man, the recognized prophet.

          In essence, The Manifesto placed plural marriage in a state of limbo – waiting to infiltrate the mind of a vehicle that would copy it and pass it along.  The instructions were clear – men must take plural wives, women must become plural wives – failure would result in damnation or destruction.  The Y-chromosome was jumping with joy. 

          In the 1940s Section 132 found fertile brains in a small group of men studying the discourses of Brigham Young and Brigham’s most loyal priesthood acolytes, men like Heber C Kimball.  Brigham’s message was that plural marriage was indispensable and would never be removed from the earth.  Then a man named Lorin Woolley came up with a new supporting meme.  He claimed that in 1886, President John Taylor, Brigham’s successor, secretly set him [Woolley] and others apart to keep the practice of plural marriage alive until Christ’s Second Coming.  The other so-called witnesses who had allegedly been set apart were conveniently dead, which meant there was just Lorin’s word, which the small group of men were more than happy to accept.  From that insignificant group Section 132 has spread from mind to mind to mind – until now it has spread all over the western coast of the United States, as far east as Pennsylvania, and into Canada and Mexico, literally infecting thousands and thousands of minds.

          For years Meme 132 struggled against the monogamous meme.  On three occasions polygamist men in Utah and Arizona were arrested, twice in the forties and the last time in 1953.  In 1953 public sentiment backfired against law enforcement when newspapers showed pictures of babies being torn from the arms of frightened, panicky mothers.

          The publicity against government was so severe that for fifty years the polygamists were left alone, during which, Meme 132 didn’t waste time.  A valid subculture evolved with one purpose in mind, the replication of Section 132.  Incorporated communities like Colorado City, Arizona – Hidale and Rocky Ridge, Utah and Pinesdale, Montana sprouted like mushrooms.  Non profit and profit corporations were formed, all with one purpose, the fidelity, fecundity and longevity of Mormon plural marriage.

          Section 132 has taken on a life of its own in complete conformity with a virus.  Its noncompromising tenacity is paying off.  Prosecutors and politicians are ignoring the Utah Constitution and criminal statutes prohibiting the practice of polygamy.  These same public officials are attempting to “break down barriers” and “build bridges” between the “docile” polygamists and society.  Government and court officials are not challenging the religious claims of Mormon polygamy. A pro polygamy movement composed of bold women are publically touting the virtues and free will of polygamy – with the blessings of the Utah Attorney General.  The national media, especially television, have capitalized on the irony of women advocating for a lifestyle that Abraham Lincoln once characterized as one of the “twin relics of Barbarism.”  A television series about Mormon polygamists called Big Love was so popular that it is going for a second season. The series was so successful that another Mormon polygamist reality show, Sister Wives, has aired and it too is going for a second season. 

          Of course there is a contradiction.  If government is so soft on polygamy then why was Warren Jeffs arrested, and why is the power base of Warren, the FLDS and United Effort Plan – being systematically dismantled by the courts? 

          It is a question of power.  The Utah Attorney General, metaphorically, offered an “olive branch” to Warren which was rejected.  It was necessary for government to take some kind of stand against polygamy.  The line was drawn at the point of “consenting adults.”  The tacit message was, “don’t pick on girls under age eighteen and we will leave you alone.”

          Warren’s calling as a prophet would not allow him to submit to Mormonism’s arch enemy – government.  Warren’s power is centered in his authority to merchandise pubescent girls among his loyal followers who patiently wait to replicate their Y-chromosomes.  In a sense, this scenario was orchestrated by the Y-chromosome.

          Mormons teach that spirit children are waiting in heaven to come down to earth and take bodies. In other words, the sex of the fetus has already been ordained in heaven.  Accordingly, we were unembodied spirits that took part in a war in heaven between Jesus, our elder brother, and Satan.  Mortality is a testing ground to determine what heaven we will deserve in the life after death.  It is only through the power of the Mormon priesthood, and obedience to priesthood edicts, that we can expect an exalted place in the celestial kingdom – the highest kingdom with many mansions.

          This religious explanation for man’s existence on earth conflicts with what geneticists have discovered in the last two decades.  Microscopic evidence reveals that the sex of a fetus is not determined until six weeks after conception.  And then a real miracle happens.  The fetus, which is well on its way to be a human, develops either ovaries or testicles. Biologists know that a Sry gene on the Y-chromosome is what makes the fetus grow male sex organs.  But fetuses are not always male.  Somehow Mother Nature or God balances out the sexes.   So what exactly triggers the final decision?  If the Sry gene which is only found on the Y-chromosome has its way, the fetus will be a boy.  So is it chance, God, a weak Y-chromosome, opposition from an XX cell?  Scientists are still studying but they do know that genes, proteins and hormones are all involved.  But if God is involved and we want to see how God works, then inside the human cell is where to look.  I can guarantee you’ll find miracle after miracle that is not discussed in church.

          A normal female cell contains a pair of X chromosomes, the male chromosomes are XY.  Sometimes things go wrong and a child is born with XXXY chromosomes or some other combination, and then genes sometimes get mixed up and deformities result.  The Mormon God, who is perpetually in control, has an explanation for deformities.  In heaven, some spirits volunteer to occupy deformed bodies because there are humanitarian and spiritual  lessons to be learned from deformed beings.

          Science has indirectly debunked  many religious beliefs.  In that regard I read where someone of prominence a generation ago predicted that because science was making such momentous strides it would not be long before there would be no need for religion.  The prediction was about as accurate as the guy who fifty years ago suggested the United States Patent Office should be shut down because everything that could be invented, had been invented.

          Its rather obvious that science has soured me on Mormonism, but overall religion is alive and well and shows no sign of giving sway to science.  I suspect that as long as there are at least three people on Earth and inequality there will be religion.  But that’s another story.

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