Here is a rather unique, impassioned response to the LA Times article
on DNA and the Book of Mormon
The Indians Are Lamanites but the Los Angeles Times Is Not
Clifton H. Jolley, Ph.D.
When I was 13, I got my Patriarchal Blessing; and because Patriarch
Edling told my parents I needed to know my "bloodline," my mother
tearfully confessed the truth she had been keeping from me for 13
terrible years: that my grandfather was not the grandfather of my
blood, but that my mother's blood father had divorced my grandmother
shortly after my mother had been born, and that my mother had been
adopted by my Grandpa Holt years after he had married my Grandmother
and they had together had my Uncle Ralph who as it turns out is only
my half-uncle =85 Ralph. Which is not the most dangerous part of the
More than a decade ago my mother, father, and Grandmother Holt=97on the
way to the blessing of their 50th grandchild=97were murdered only a few
miles from here when they ran head on into a drug dealer who, high on
his own stash=97had entered the Orange Freeway by way of an offramp. On
the day of their funeral, going through documents that one must manage
for the deceased, my sister Valerie said she had found a discrepancy:
according to court records, my mother had been born somewhat after my
Grandmother Holt had been first married. As we were attempting to
understand this paradox, this conundrum, my half-uncle Ralph
charmingly chirped: "Oh, you didn't know that your mother was a love
child?" My sister Valerie was unable to breathe, and I had finally
learned the ultimate lesson of lineage: it cannot tell you who you
are. Or if it can, there are better ways to learn.
So it is that when you are reaching up to paint a widow's barn or down
at the welfare farm to scoop up sugar beets with a short-handled hoe =85
so it is that when doing good one does not much wonder about how good
one is, or where one comes from. Mother, God bless her, was shamed
into believing the false doctrine of lineage, that birthright is more
important than the right one does. Shame on the people who frightened
her life. And shame on the Los Angeles Times.
I know that the one does not follow from the other, but what I have to
say is long and someone is bound to stop me, and I wanted to make sure
I got that part in: shame on the Los Angeles Times for frightening us.
Shame on the Los Angeles Times for pretending it has discovered
something that matters. The power of right living has nothing to do
with who is more wooly, anymore than revelation is so certain a trick
as science, anymore than our religious books prove sufficient when
subjected to scientific proofs. Not the Bible. Not the Book of Mormon.
That's why I begin at the conclusion, because nothing I have to say
will make any sense to anyone who trusts in science. Our scholarship
and our worrying about the trivial is the best evidence I can cite
that we simply have too much time on our hands. We should be involved
in worthier causes. Because neither widow nor orphan really cares that
much about the DNA of the guy painting their barn.
So, why am I here? Because my daughter Rachel called to worry me about
this story in the Los Angeles Times.
Have I bothered yet to say: "SHAME on the Los Angeles Times?"
Did I mention I have three daughters and as many sons? No, because I'm
here with you thinking about stuff that compared to children is no
more important than a cake of soap.
So, although the question is not very important, the person who asked
it is; so, I paid attention when Rachel called and asked: "Daddy, have
you read what the Los Angeles Times is saying."
Each of my children knows: we can find as much fault among us about
the Mormon Church=97we may speak evil of the of the Lord's anointed (and
some of us feel compelled to), we may break the word of wisdom and do
all that other fun, wicked stuff we want=97but when someone from the Los
Angeles Times calls, we close ranks with the faithful. Rachel's
husband, whose roots go as deep into the red rock of Bryce Canyon as
ours and whose education and disposition has ruined his religion, too,
had been taunting her with the Los Angeles Times article, the headline
of which trumpets:
Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted
DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture. The church says the studies
are being twisted to attack its beliefs.
My brothers and sisters, for the "bedrock" of our faith to be
"jolted," more of us would have to take up reading. We are the most
literate, least-read people on the planet. Even Baptists read more.
Were it not for the need of occasional gifts, and not counting Books
of Mormon and anything written by an Apostle, Deseret Book would sell
half a dozen books a month.
Regardless the ambitious over-shot of the headline, Rachel wanted an
answer =85 and because, as she reminds me whenever the opportunity
avails, I had not done that good a job with her religious education
when she was young, I was obliged.
So, here I am. And there are my children, with their husbands and
wives and several of my grandchildren. That's my brother, that's my
sister. Come here with me to taunt the Los Angeles Times.
And there is no place better to begin than in Judaism. Jews know
better than Mormons how to respond to headlines, because science has
been proving false the sacred texts of the Jews for centuries. There
is a wonderful passage in the Passover Haggadah in which the
congregants are taught how to teach Pesach to children. And to the
rebellious child=97to the Los Angeles Times=97one is to say: "This is what
the Lord said to me=97not to you, but to me."
In other words: "This isn't your story, it's our story =85 and we'll
tell it any damn way we please. And if you think the story I have to
tell isn't a good story =85 screw you, Los Angeles Times."
But I don't accuse just the media =85 I'm not a Republican. I accuse us
for being so na=EFve, so trusting of our myths and the magic, so simple
in our faith, so unwilling to question, so accepting in our natures.
After so many of us have got educated; after all our years trying to
fit in, to be good doctors and attorneys and scientists; with such a
strong emphasis in the Mormon Church on learning: how could any of us
still trust in the historicity of the =85 Los Angeles Times?
As an almost-journalist myself for nearly a decade, I can assure you:
if you believe what you read in the newspaper =85 you're gonna be
unhappy your whole life.
Nevertheless, the author of the article, William Lobdell, pleads to be
taken seriously: first with his preposterous headline, then with the
pathos of a disappointed member of the Church. Jose A. Loayza says:
"We were taught all the blessings of Hebrew lineage belonged to us and
that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City
attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of
transcendental identity, an identity with God." A few years ago,
Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by
DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from
Asia, not the Middle East. "I've gone through stages," he said.
"Absolutely denial. Utter amazement and surprise. Anger and
Not so fast, Brother Jose A. Loayza: being Chinese ain't half bad. As
a matter of fact, a recent study showed that contrary to popular
belief that Jews are the smartest people in the world, it's actually
the Chinese. And now the Los Angeles Times tells us they're not only
smarter, they're also Lamanites. As a matter of fact, if Mormon had
been aware of recent findings, he probably would have made you Chinese
in the first place.
Well the article goes on, pretty much as you would expect, trumpeting
the damage done a book the journalist otherwise would find of no
importance at all.
This is not merely anti-Mormonism, it's anti-religion =85 and I
guarandamnty you if we were talking about the Talmud instead of the
Book of Mormon, the Times would not be talking about "Jews" being
"Jolted," although it's more alliterative That's because the Jewish
peoples know there is a war going on; it's us against them. And they
have taken the call to battle more seriously than we have. Which is
why instead of the Church screaming: "This is our story!" Church
spokesman Brother Otterson is saying:
Whether Book of Mormon geography is extensive or limited or how much
today's Native Americans reflect the genetic makeup of the Book of
Mormon peoples has absolutely no bearing on its central message as a
testament of Jesus Christ.
Baloney! And my bright, beautiful daughter Rachel knows it's baloney,
as do her brothers and sisters and my brother and sister and my
wife=97and may I point out to the Los Angeles Times that in this company
you are seriously out-numbered!
So, instead of responding to The Times with a raspberry, the Church is
buying into the opposition argument=97once again buying the Salamander
letter not because the Church believed it to be a forgery, but because
we feared it to be true=97once again the Church takes it to be its job
to conceal rather than answer the more difficult truths.
And once again, we need a non-Mormon to protect us from ourselves. Jan
Shipps, professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana
University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and our defender for more
than 40 years, says:
=85 religion ultimately does not rest on scientific evidence, but on
mystical experiences. There are different ways of looking at truth.
Our fundamental trouble is that we still buy into the ridiculous
notion that "There is no argument between true science and true
religion." What a crock. There is nothing but argument. Even to call
it "argument" is mistaken. If you are a good scientist, a world-class
physicist, you are out to murder God, to define "the infinite" as
nothing more than the expanding aftermath of a marble exploding.
And what is the result of our arguments failing? We argue the science; we s=
=85 the events described in the Book of Mormon were confined to a small
section of Central America, and the Hebrew tribe was small enough that
its DNA was swallowed up by the existing Native Americans.
"It would be a virtual certainly that their DNA would be swamped,"
said Daniel Peterson, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Brigham
Young University in Provo, Utah, part of the worldwide Mormon
educational system, and editor of a magazine devoted to Mormon
apologetics. "And if that is the case, you couldn't tell who was a
Bush league. Adolescent explanation. With apologists such as this, who
needs the Los Angeles Times.
Before he died on the Orange Freeway, my Mormon Bishop father taught
me that the surest signs of intellectual maturity is the ability to
suffer paradox =85 a skill lacking in Mormons and our church and
actively argued against by our seminaries and institutes and BYU. And
the brethren don't even know how to spell the word. ("How many docs,
did you say?")
We should be happy for the evidence of the genome. It explains why the
Indian Placement Program failed: When we attempted to carry the
Lamanites in our arms and upon our shoulders, it would have helped us
to know that the Chinese are too smart to cave to our culture.
When Emannuel Kant was asked to come up with an argument to defeat the
Deists, he declined, arguing that God does not surrender to proofs.
But when he was accused of agnosticism, Kant recanted: he came up with
a dialectic as close to proof as he could get.
That's what Mormonism needs today: better articles of faith. Something
in there about the genome. But until the Prophet gets around to it=97he
may not be so impressed by the Los Angeles Times as the rest of
us=97here's a few we can use in the meantime.
1. The geneticists got it wrong. Simple. How many times has a doctor
told you that you have a cold, then presto change-o, you've got the
flu. My wife still is trying to discover her true blood type: Red
Cross says one thing, her childhood physician another. How many times
have the lab results come back positive, then negative, and,
therefore, inconclusive. It's so likely that when my biopsy came back
positive for prostate cancer, and I suggested we get another biopsy
just to be sure, my doctor persuaded me not to go to the trouble,
explaining that the second sampling could as easily be mistaken as the
first. It happens so often they even have a name for it: false
positive. That's what was reported by the Times: a false positive. You
may be inclined to wonder, was the geneticist's conclusion the false
positive, or is the Book of Mormon? And that's all that's needed for a
scientific thesis =85 or a whole religion.
2. Mormon got it wrong. Think about it: he's got all these records,
and he's on the run, dodging Lamanites everywhere. And he comes to the
part where the story gets told about where the boats came from and who
he was, so he asks God, who says: "China. You're Chinese." And because
revelation most often comes as a still small voice, easily
misunderstood, and because the war was really loud=97swords slamming
into shields, those little Siberian horses whinnying as they stumbled
over the dead Nephites=97Mormon thought: "That can't be right." So, he
looks it up to find out which of the 12 tribes the Chinese come from.
Let's see, take away Joseph, add Ephraim and Manasseh, half the tribe
of Benjamin =85 Nope, not a Chinese among them. He must have said
Manasseh.=85 Who among us has not longed for a better truth, to be
descended from something better than an unwed Alpine, Utah, farm girl
who lived her life in fear and loathing of the truth. And who among us
is not cleaning up the story of our life each time we tell it to our
wives and children?
3. The Book of Mormon archaeologists got it wrong. No baptismal fonts.
No eerily significant Hebrew-like carvings, except in the ambitious
imaginations of our Mormon scholars. And we should not feel betrayed
if it proves true that they proved false. The thought our stories
could be proven true or false by using the false tools of the apostate
priesthood. Of course there wasn't any baptism or Hebrew or horses =85
except for those little fuzzy ones from the Steppes.
4. Mistranslation. We believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of
God, and we believe Genetics to be the Word of God =85 so far as it is
translated correctly. And no, I do not have any idea what that means.
But science doesn't have to mean anything.
5. They used to be Hebrews. Think about it: God is omniscient, knowing
everything from the beginning to the end, including the Genome
Project. So, what's he gonna do: let science prove the Book of Mormon
to be true? No way. So, a few years ago, just before everyone started
saying "double Helix," God made them Asian.
6. That's what we meant all along. Which is the position of BYU
apologists, who in effect are saying: "That's right, those crummy Hopi
and Apache are not the chosen people. We just said that to cheer them
up. The DNA of the real Lamanites go "swamped." So, all the promises
of all the prophets since Joseph Smith to all the tribes of the
surviving American Indian Peoples =85 we don't have to worry about that,
because the Chinese are smart enough to do for themselves. In 1963
when I was serving in the Northern Indian Mission, I heard Spencer W.
Kimball promise them once again. And my Zuni Lamanite companion Sidney
Flame turned to me and whispered: "You may be of Ephraim, but probably
by adoption. I'm the pure blood of Israel, direct descendant of
Manasseh, my lineage unpolluted by the intermarriage that turns
mongrels like you into fellow travelers, but by name only." And he
smiled, and I smiled. It was the only thing about his youth that made
him smile: that the missionaries taught him he had a royal birthright,
that he was better than the unwanted child of alcoholic parents who,
when he would cry for food, would tell him to go outside and fill his
stomach with grass. If we are now to retreat from the promises to the
modern Lamanites, what disappointment and betrayal will be felt by
whole peoples who have been encouraged by our missionarying to regard
themselves as chosen. And what of my Lamanite Placement Sister Rose:
is she no longer my sister now that she is no longer chosen?
The people who write and publish these stories think to take away our
blessings. They do not have our hearts. They think our hearts are a
bundle of muscle, a tangle of arteries, a swamp of blood. Whatever
genetics proves or disproves, you can be certain of this much: the Los
Angeles Times comes from a separate gene pool from ourselves. We don't
even have a common language. And when they speak, the noise they make
is of sounding brass and a tinkling symbol.
When they die, they rot. Their bodies fail into the ground, their
blood drains into the earth. In their airtight caskets, anaerobic
bacteria turn them into a gray sludge like the primordial, festering
ponds in which their lives were begun. They were born out of nothing.
They return into nothing. Sometimes they speak of the Universe and the
Oversoul or the Providential, as though symantics equate to faith. But
nothing in what they say and write and publish gives any shape to the
randomness of things.
And if they are true to their system and honest about it, they will
tell you: they are at war with us. Between us and them there never can
be peace (much less understanding), anymore than there can be
understanding between the Jews and Muslims, the Mormons and Baptists.
Our very definitions of one another set us at odds. We are the Infidel
or the Barbarian or the Cult. We are the body of Christ or the men of
science. We condescend to one another as rationalists or believers,
and we turn the very words into a kind of accusation: "rationalizing"
and "blind believing." We are what Buber defined as "The Other" to one
another. We always have been. We always will be. And between us there
never, never, never can be peace.
But that's not what I worry about. I worry that my grandchildren will
not hear the stories I heard, will not be taught to love the Lamanites
as I was taught. I worry that when I and my generation die, our
stories, the stories of the Book of Mormon and of believing in them,
will die with us. I fear they will be made to be ashamed by the Los
So, shame on the Los Angeles Times =85 and us all.
The one-time Catholic priest James Carroll said:
The very act of storytelling, of arranging memory and invention =85 is
by definition holy. We tell stories because we love to entertain and
hope to edify. We tell stories because they fill the silence of death.
We tell stories because they save us.
We believe in a world of spirit, in a world of body, of flesh and
cause and purpose. We believe in a world of souls, of Adam and Eve and
the genealogy of humankind, of plants and animals and stones, all made
as spirit before God made us flesh =85 and soon: eternal with God. Flesh
and bone and blood and spirit, destined from before the world was, to
be in heaven with the God who did not make us Lamanites or Nephites or
Chinese, but what Joseph said: a sea of glass, the transparency of
stone in which we shall no longer see through this dark glass of
science, but in that day we shall know as now we are known: not by our
science and our reporters and our papers, but by our prophets and our
poems. And by our holy books. By our books made less holy by our
Brothers. Sisters. We are the people of the book =85 that other slightly
less holy book: that second witness. The book of Nephi and Lehi. Laman
and Lemuel. Of Ghosts. Of Stories. Good stories and not impossibly
true. We are the people of the Book of Mormon. And after we have been
defeated and all our stories proven untrue, we will come to know: the
more important reason and only question ever is: not whether the
stories are true, but have we been true to our stories.
Every scientist will be dead when we return with our dead and from the
dark threshold of their proofs, which sweep away the long night of
their reasons and their arguments without rhyme.
And DNA? The double helix is the invention of the scientific mind, and
all its chromosomes like notes written on a blind man's page.
After I first read this paper, a bright boy asked me last: "But what
do you really believe?" So many stories. So many possibilities. So
many books abridging us, to which we must be true. Easier to tell a
boy what is not so, what we should not see: that the earth is round or
has ever been. The earth is a dish of glass, and in that bowl swim all
the chance for which we and Lamanites and Mulekites and Jaredites came
to be and crossed the flood in a boat upon the water, beneath the
seas, to be no more Hebrews, but Chinese.
Lamanites and DNA
Mormon, Moroni, Abinadi, Alma, Noah, Gideon,
Nephi, Lemuel, Laman, Laban, Father Lehi:
Geneticists have murdered you and worse:
Unborn each your birth, turned every death
and all your tragedy of not living into myth.
You people of the book are only of the book
and we abruptly as our disbelieving science
have ceased believing, and with the slightest
discipline will cease remembering we believed.
The soft white minds and mathematics of our
necromancers cause us to know your genes,
to recognize: you lied. Not a Hebrew but Chinese.
You caused us to hope in a God who is not Asian
and whom genetics have proved descended
out of nothing, into nothing: the merest vacuum.
Kings and peoples and prophets who survived
millennia and each other to go down with Moses
and all else we cannot prove. The record survives,
but we do not believe in golden books or fool's rules
we cannot digitally prove. We know the genome. We believe
strands of chromosome attached to a double helix not so
difficult as embarrassments of faith, of confidence
in things not seen, the evidence of anything not known.
We will not tell those stories to our children. We will not cause
in them our disappointed hope. White men in white robes
calibrate everything we know, and we will cause your names
to be forgot, the tragedy and sacrifice of your living: not be known.
We are ashamed of you for not becoming what we thought you should.
We are ashamed of boats not submerging, blind orbs not a compass.
We are ashamed for being blinded by stories we now know not to know.
We are ashamed of you for not being everything we read in books,
that other witness for the fool's faith: hope and hapless hoping good.
Mia culpa. Mia culpa, Mia maxima culpa. Forgive me now thou God
of smart people, God of science for whom I do not need to be a fool,
God whose fables account for genetics, before even genes are understood.
New God: I walk through the valley of death, and I know there is only deat=
and I practice believing death is good. I know you are God of the living
and the well informed. I will seek your education. I will be even smarter
than I should. I will go down to the grave and be dead, be nothing at all
like all those people of the book. I will be forgotten by my children
who will be dead and be forgotten. And I will believe that to be nothing
in eternity, in death, is good. I will love you and pray to you for
to what I thought I knew. And I will worship you for taking away
the last of dreams. And in the science of genetics I will hope
to know the genealogy of everything that can no longer be,
nor be remembered, nor be believed. And I will pretend to know: Indians
of the Americas are not Lamanites, but more recently become: Chinese.
Baruch Ada Adonai =85 our God is one.
Where have you been Mormons and Jews, chosen?
Where is your voice to shout?
Clifton H. Jolley, formerly a BYU English professor, is president of
Advent Communications in Lewisville, Texas.