Everyone is aware of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints AKA the Mormons or the LDS with their crisply ironed white shirts and their magical underwear door knocking in pairs. Most people know the story of Joseph Smith visited by the archangel Moroni presenting the golden plates to be read with sear stones and transcribed before the golden plates disappeared. They are a Christian sect with some beliefs beyond what is normally expected from Christians including a multi-worlds multi gods cosmos, a Semitic origin for native Americans, polygamy (in the early days) and the baptism of the dead. I am thankful for the last one because I have found their giant family research database useful for my family research. These are the run of the mill Mormons we all know and love and probably like to laugh at occasionally. Not quite mainstream or really out of it either. Some other Christians may not consider Mormons to be “true” Christians but even so they do not register too high on the cultometre. The Mormons are just a bit amusing.
Fewer people are aware that beyond the run of the mill Mormons there exists a group of Mormons dialed up to 11 known as the Fundamentalist Later Day Saints or the FLDS. This group is way out there. Waaaaaaay way out there maxing out the cultometre.
One defining feature of Mormons in the 19th century was plural marriage. This issue of polygamy seems to have been the point of contention causing the FLDS to split off from mainstream Mormons. In the late 19th century the Mormons reversed the church’s position on polygamy and endorsed monogamy.
It seems to me that the behaviour of the FLDS mirrors exactly that of some animals. That is it is not the religious doctrine which causes the behaviour and beliefs of the FLDS such as polygamy. Rather it is deep brain behaviour borne of evolutionary psychology and rooted in pre-human ancestry which gives rise to the to the religious beliefs and practices.
The present leader is Warren Jeffs. He is like a dominant male of a lion pride. All the females are his and young males are chased away. This is exactly the behaviour of a lion pride. How does this relate to human society? Homo sapiens are imperfectly monogamous . The monogamy/polygamy tendency is related to the dimorphism of the species. For example in elephant seals the dimorphism is extreme and so is the polygamy. Most male elephant seals will never reproduce. However the “sneaky male” strategy as an alternative to the “alpha male” strategy can sometimes result in lower caste males reproducing. Waiting in the shallows off the beach for their chance. How successful either strategy is depends on the environmental context which will favour one or the other and keep a mix of both at an equilibrium. Lower caste males can have some reproductive advantages considering they do not get into fights as often and their numbers can overwhelm the dominance of the alphas. Baboon society is an interplay of competing factors in which different mating strategies can have an advantages at one time and can have a disadvantage at other times. Evolutionary fitness is often a game of “paper, rock scissors”. The possible complexities are nowhere better seen than in human society.
It is east to see where polygamous species become dimorphic. With males competing with each other size is an advantage. More muscle to shove aside other males. Additionally females will prefer larger males because they can protect both them and their offspring.
Lion society has a lower level of dimorphism than elephant seals but it is still present. Humans have a lower level of dimorphism again. Humans have a number of mating strategies but in general can be described as “imperfectly monogamous”. With humans we can certainly see the “sneaky male” strategy. In fact much of the “crime and punishment” hysteria may stem from an ancient pre-human deep brain repertoire being a “dominant male” “protecting” his females being directly his wife, daughters and by sympathetic extension all women in the “in” tribe from marauding males outside. Activating this ancient repertoire is always a sure vote winner for political candidates. Male voters naturally want to protect their “harem” being their wives and daughters and this instinct can encompass a degree of racism, conscious or unconscious. Female voters want a “strong leader” who will “protect” them and their offspring. Ultimately this instinct can scale all the way up to war, genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Most people may be alarmed at the excesses of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS may be to the point of invoking the same protective instinct in them as Warren Jeffs and the FLDS community as a whole feel. They see religious fundamentalism, pederasty and cult like control of the members and understandably so. What most people fail to realize is the extant of biology at play. Yes there is a power crazed leader and the pederasty and the cultish control but this is playing out not because of a crazed religious environment. Rather the environment emerges because deeper and darker biological repertoires are at work and the FDLS is a result of the madness and not the cause.