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The Origins of Mormon Polygamy—and Its Spiritual Loophole
Polygamy has been denounced by the Mormon church for more than 100 years. So why does the stereotype persist?
Sex has never been easy for humans. In practice, perhaps, but add in a layer of ethics and suddenly how, when, and with whom we share our bodies with has long been contentious. Some argue that promiscuous primates reveal our true nature, while others declare that monogamy is the godly way. In his behavioral tour-de-force, Behave, neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky says we’re actually somewhere in between: animals that spread and receive seed broadly, and animals that devote themselves to only one other.
Makes sense that religion would take up the role of how we use our bodies, even if certain mandates put more emphasis on suppression over exploration. Humans are curious animals. Tell us an act is prohibited and you ensure participation. Much confusion has resulted from this intersection between faith and desire.
The Mormon church has long dealt with this conundrum. Shortly after Joseph Smith founded the religion in 1830 he had a vision of his deceased brother, Alvin, prancing around in heaven. Due to this vision, he invented the concept of “sealings” in 1836, which states that family members reunite in heaven by undergoing certain rituals during life. It just so happened that in its early days Mormonism appealed to men more than women, so the rules favored that gender.
Enter polygamy. Smith used the Bible whenever it served his purposes, as most offshoots of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith do to this day. He turned to Abraham for guidance. Since men were the drivers of early Mormonism, Smith figured that women and children could be “sealed” through them. As Mormon scholar (and Mormon herself) Joanna Brooks writes: "Smith taught that a righteous man could help numerous women and children go to heaven by being “sealed” in plural marriage." The more women a man could seal, the better.
By 1843 Smith privately overlooked plural marriages among church leaders even as the 1844 edition of the faith’s Doctrine and Covenants explicitly supported monogamy. Smith always publicly denounced plural marriages. Yet after his death it was revealed that he had between 29-48 wives besides his public wife, Emma. Emma swore none existed. Plenty of evidence shows otherwise.
In 1844, Smith was murdered. His successor, Brigham Young, took up the cause. His stated reservations did not stop him from taking multiple wives—51 in total, having 56 children with 16 of them. Other leaders partook in what they termed “spiritual wifery.” In 1852 polygamy became an official Mormon Church practice, and the shift was announced in the group’s new home, Salt Lake City. In 1876 polygamy was included in the Doctrine and Covenants.
In the years between 1852 and 1890, somewhere between 20-30 percent of Mormons practiced polygamy. In 1890, the church’s fourth president, Wilford Woodruff, expressed concerns. Just like Joseph Smith supposedly received a divine revelation in the form of golden tablets, which led to the formation of Mormonism, Woodruff claimed he had his own discussion with God, resulting in the church’s “Manifesto.” Polygamy was out:
The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for ... any of the men in this temple ... for all (temple sacraments) would be stopped throughout the land. ... Confusion would reign ... and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice.
Mormons had always faced social and political persecution, but things really ramped up in 1856 when the Republican party platform related polygamy with slavery. Mormons were in a bind. Church leaders wanted to stay true to Smith’s teachings, but they also wanted to not be persecuted. Behavioral rules, such as a ban on smoking and drinking and a conservative view on sexuality, became required of the faithful to save face.
Then, in 1878, the Supreme Court banned polygamy across the United States. By 1887 the government was seizing Mormon church assets for their continued practice. Woodruff officially abolished the practice upon realizing his church was in danger of being shut down.
Portrait of Mormon polygamists in prison, at the Utah Penitentiary, circa 1889.
Some men were not happy. Polygamy wasn’t new to the world. Historically plural marriages were social contracts. If a man had enough resources to support multiple wives, it made sense that he would look after them. By the 20th century, views on women’s roles at home and in the workforce were rapidly changing. Many echoed the sentiment that polygamy was in fact a form of enslavement.
A rogue group of Mormons fled to Mexico to escape what they perceived as ungodly regulations. A wave of fundamentalism kicked off around the time of the Great Depression that persists today. If polygamy was good for Smith, it certainly is good for these believers. In 1904 church president Joseph F Smith disavowed polygamy in front of Congress, issuing yet another manifesto. This created an even larger schism in his church.
Today, the LDS Church continues to promote monogamy, and while polygamy is illegal in the United States, small pockets of Mormons exist in the Rocky Mountains, where they freely practice what they refer to as “the Principle.” These groups of fundamentalists believe they’re staying true to Joseph Smith’s revelation.
Earlier this year, Lyle Jeffs, at the time leading one of those 1930s era offshoots, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was arrested for a food stamp fraud and money laundering. His brother, Warren, was convicted of child sexual assault in 2011 after marrying 12- and 15-year-old girls. Warren had dozens of wives, while Lyle was tamer, marrying just nine times. In both of these cases their polygamy dominated headlines.
So while the Mormon Church publicly denounces polygamy, it lives on. Joanna Brooks says this is in part because the doctrine supporting it was never officially changed. In a kind of spiritual loophole, it is a mainstream Mormon belief that polygamy is part of the afterlife.
The LDS Church publicly renounced the practice of polygamy in 1890, but it has never renounced polygamy as doctrine, as evidenced in LDS scriptures. It has always permitted and continues to permit men to be married in Mormon temples “for the eternities” to more than one wife.
As long as this rift between public banishment and private winks and nods continues, the question of plural marriage will continue, regardless of what laws are being enforced. Old habits are hard to break.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.
- It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
- Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
- Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Our hearts beat at a resting rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Lots of other things pulse, too. The colors we see and the pitches we hear, for example, are due to the different wave frequencies ("pulses") of light and sound waves.
Now, a study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers finds that Earth itself has a pulse, with one "beat" every 27.5 million years. That's the rate at which major geological events have been occurring as far back as geologists can tell.
A planetary calendar has 10 dates in red
Credit: Jagoush / Adobe Stock
According to lead author and geologist Michael Rampino of New York University's Department of Biology, "Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But our study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random."
The new study is not the first time that there's been a suggestion of a planetary geologic cycle, but it's only with recent refinements in radioisotopic dating techniques that there's evidence supporting the theory. The authors of the study collected the latest, best dating for 89 known geologic events over the last 260 million years:
- 29 sea level fluctuations
- 12 marine extinctions
- 9 land-based extinctions
- 10 periods of low ocean oxygenation
- 13 gigantic flood basalt volcanic eruptions
- 8 changes in the rate of seafloor spread
- 8 times there were global pulsations in interplate magmatism
The dates provided the scientists a new timetable of Earth's geologic history.
Tick, tick, boom
Credit: New York University
Putting all the events together, the scientists performed a series of statistical analyses that revealed that events tend to cluster around 10 different dates, with peak activity occurring every 27.5 million years. Between the ten busy periods, the number of events dropped sharply, approaching zero.
Perhaps the most fascinating question that remains unanswered for now is exactly why this is happening. The authors of the study suggest two possibilities:
"The correlations and cyclicity seen in the geologic episodes may be entirely a function of global internal Earth dynamics affecting global tectonics and climate, but similar cycles in the Earth's orbit in the Solar System and in the Galaxy might be pacing these events. Whatever the origins of these cyclical episodes, their occurrences support the case for a largely periodic, coordinated, and intermittently catastrophic geologic record, which is quite different from the views held by most geologists."
Assuming the researchers' calculations are at least roughly correct — the authors note that different statistical formulas may result in further refinement of their conclusions — there's no need to worry that we're about to be thumped by another planetary heartbeat. The last occurred some seven million years ago, meaning the next won't happen for about another 20 million years.
Brain cells snap strands of DNA in many more places and cell types than researchers previously thought.
The urgency to remember a dangerous experience requires the brain to make a series of potentially dangerous moves: Neurons and other brain cells snap open their DNA in numerous locations — more than previously realized, according to a new study — to provide quick access to genetic instructions for the mechanisms of memory storage.
The extent of these DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in multiple key brain regions is surprising and concerning, says study senior author Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and director of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, because while the breaks are routinely repaired, that process may become more flawed and fragile with age. Tsai's lab has shown that lingering DSBs are associated with neurodegeneration and cognitive decline and that repair mechanisms can falter.
"We wanted to understand exactly how widespread and extensive this natural activity is in the brain upon memory formation because that can give us insight into how genomic instability could undermine brain health down the road," says Tsai, who is also a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a leader of MIT's Aging Brain Initiative. "Clearly, memory formation is an urgent priority for healthy brain function, but these new results showing that several types of brain cells break their DNA in so many places to quickly express genes is still striking."
In 2015, Tsai's lab provided the first demonstration that neuronal activity caused DSBs and that they induced rapid gene expression. But those findings, mostly made in lab preparations of neurons, did not capture the full extent of the activity in the context of memory formation in a behaving animal, and did not investigate what happened in cells other than neurons.
In the new study published July 1 in PLOS ONE, lead author and former graduate student Ryan Stott and co-author and former research technician Oleg Kritsky sought to investigate the full landscape of DSB activity in learning and memory. To do so, they gave mice little electrical zaps to the feet when they entered a box, to condition a fear memory of that context. They then used several methods to assess DSBs and gene expression in the brains of the mice over the next half-hour, particularly among a variety of cell types in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, two regions essential for the formation and storage of conditioned fear memories. They also made measurements in the brains of mice that did not experience the foot shock to establish a baseline of activity for comparison.
The creation of a fear memory doubled the number of DSBs among neurons in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, affecting more than 300 genes in each region. Among 206 affected genes common to both regions, the researchers then looked at what those genes do. Many were associated with the function of the connections neurons make with each other, called synapses. This makes sense because learning arises when neurons change their connections (a phenomenon called "synaptic plasticity") and memories are formed when groups of neurons connect together into ensembles called engrams.
"Many genes essential for neuronal function and memory formation, and significantly more of them than expected based on previous observations in cultured neurons … are potentially hotspots of DSB formation," the authors wrote in the study.
In another analysis, the researchers confirmed through measurements of RNA that the increase in DSBs indeed correlated closely with increased transcription and expression of affected genes, including ones affecting synapse function, as quickly as 10-30 minutes after the foot shock exposure.
"Overall, we find transcriptional changes are more strongly associated with [DSBs] in the brain than anticipated," they wrote. "Previously we observed 20 gene-associated [DSB] loci following stimulation of cultured neurons, while in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex we see more than 100-150 gene associated [DSB] loci that are transcriptionally induced."
Snapping with stress
In the analysis of gene expression, the neuroscientists looked at not only neurons but also non-neuronal brain cells, or glia, and found that they also showed changes in expression of hundreds of genes after fear conditioning. Glia called astrocytes are known to be involved in fear learning, for instance, and they showed significant DSB and gene expression changes after fear conditioning.
Among the most important functions of genes associated with fear conditioning-related DSBs in glia was the response to hormones. The researchers therefore looked to see which hormones might be particularly involved and discovered that it was glutocortocoids, which are secreted in response to stress. Sure enough, the study data showed that in glia, many of the DSBs that occurred following fear conditioning occurred at genomic sites related to glutocortocoid receptors. Further tests revealed that directly stimulating those hormone receptors could trigger the same DSBs that fear conditioning did and that blocking the receptors could prevent transcription of key genes after fear conditioning.
Tsai says the finding that glia are so deeply involved in establishing memories from fear conditioning is an important surprise of the new study.
"The ability of glia to mount a robust transcriptional response to glutocorticoids suggest that glia may have a much larger role to play in the response to stress and its impact on the brain during learning than previously appreciated," she and her co-authors wrote.
Damage and danger?
More research will have to be done to prove that the DSBs required for forming and storing fear memories are a threat to later brain health, but the new study only adds to evidence that it may be the case, the authors say.
"Overall we have identified sites of DSBs at genes important for neuronal and glial functions, suggesting that impaired DNA repair of these recurrent DNA breaks which are generated as part of brain activity could result in genomic instability that contribute to aging and disease in the brain," they wrote.
The National Institutes of Health, The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, and the JPB Foundation provided funding for the research.
Research shows that those who spend more time speaking tend to emerge as the leaders of groups, regardless of their intelligence.
- A new study proposes the "babble hypothesis" of becoming a group leader.
- Researchers show that intelligence is not the most important factor in leadership.
- Those who talk the most tend to emerge as group leaders.
If you want to become a leader, start yammering. It doesn't even necessarily matter what you say. New research shows that groups without a leader can find one if somebody starts talking a lot.
This phenomenon, described by the "babble hypothesis" of leadership, depends neither on group member intelligence nor personality. Leaders emerge based on the quantity of speaking, not quality.
Researcher Neil G. MacLaren, lead author of the study published in The Leadership Quarterly, believes his team's work may improve how groups are organized and how individuals within them are trained and evaluated.
"It turns out that early attempts to assess leadership quality were found to be highly confounded with a simple quantity: the amount of time that group members spoke during a discussion," shared MacLaren, who is a research fellow at Binghamton University.
While we tend to think of leaders as people who share important ideas, leadership may boil down to whoever "babbles" the most. Understanding the connection between how much people speak and how they become perceived as leaders is key to growing our knowledge of group dynamics.
The power of babble
The research involved 256 college students, divided into 33 groups of four to ten people each. They were asked to collaborate on either a military computer simulation game (BCT Commander) or a business-oriented game (CleanStart). The players had ten minutes to plan how they would carry out a task and 60 minutes to accomplish it as a group. One person in the group was randomly designated as the "operator," whose job was to control the user interface of the game.
To determine who became the leader of each group, the researchers asked the participants both before and after the game to nominate one to five people for this distinction. The scientists found that those who talked more were also more likely to be nominated. This remained true after controlling for a number of variables, such as previous knowledge of the game, various personality traits, or intelligence.
How leaders influence people to believe | Michael Dowling | Big Think www.youtube.com
In an interview with PsyPost, MacLaren shared that "the evidence does seem consistent that people who speak more are more likely to be viewed as leaders."
Another find was that gender bias seemed to have a strong effect on who was considered a leader. "In our data, men receive on average an extra vote just for being a man," explained MacLaren. "The effect is more extreme for the individual with the most votes."
The great theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg passed away on July 23. This is our tribute.