Thinking Out Loud

December 10, 2018

Thoughts on the Popularity of DNA Testing

This weekend we were discussing the popularity of DNA testing sites like Ancestry.com (or Ancestry.ca in Canada) and 23andMe.com (the latter’s name referring to the 23 pairs of chromosomes in normal cells) which, along with a handful of other similar companies can provide a profile based on the DNA sample you send. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it involves mailing your spit — the preferred term is saliva — to a testing site where you are then supplied with fairly specific information about your ethnic roots. A broader term to describe the services of such companies would be genealogy testing.

Not all that surprising is that Ancestry website’s roots lie in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a quasi-Christian religion which has specialized in genealogical research owing to a belief in something called “baptism for the dead;” a form of proxy baptism for departed relatives carried out in the Church’s temples on behalf of people who did not have the opportunity to receive the rite (or ordinance) in life. The more detailed version of their belief is that the departed can then accept or reject the rite carried out on their behalf, as in, ‘I know you drove 300 miles to the nearest temple so I could get into the Kingdom of God, but I think I’ll continue to try my odds as an atheist.’

Without getting into details about the nature of the reports people received, I wanted to share here three reasons why I think the tests resonate with people outside of the CofJCofLDS.

Identity

I think that people today want to know who they are.

It’s interesting to consider as we approach the Christmas season that the genealogies at the beginning of The Gospels often create many yawns as the text are read, not to mention the dread of being chosen to do such a reading and having to navigate the pronunciation of all those names. But the people in Biblical times knew their family history just as sure as you know several dozen user names and passwords today. They would even recognize areas where we’re told the texts we have contain shortcuts or deviations from the standard form; as well as the scandal of inclusions like Rahab. Seriously, Rahab? Not in my family tree, please.

If you have a child who has memorized the Periodic Table of Elements; it’s the same type of crowning achievement to be able to go back generation after generation without mistakes. (‘Morris was the son of Franklin, who was the son of Percival, who was the son of Ira, who was the son of August…’)

Today, we have so many children who were adopted. Children of divorce. Children who were supplied false information. Many people aren’t entirely sure who their fathers and mothers are, let alone any history dating prior to those parents.

So DNA testing is a step down that path. Which brings us to…

Community

Ethnicity is only one component of identity. A love for a certain branch of the arts or a certain sport would be another. There are those who identify in terms of their political leanings or their faith. There are yet others whose primary identification is in terms of where they reside now.

But knowing ethnic roots gives one identification in terms of a nation or tribe. Being Navajo, or Italian, or Norse gives one a potential community with which to connect. (The websites also potentially provide means of making those connections more specific, including connecting people with lost siblings.)

Of course, knowing such things also has a certain caché, which brings us to…

Trendiness

This Christmas, many people will find a DNA testing kit gift-wrapped under the tree. At a list price of $99 (though frequently on sale) this type of gift is a luxurious, First World indulgence.

The same people who need to know their DNA are the same ones who also need to know their Myers-Briggs type (mine is ASAP) or their Enneagram number. In a previous century the Astrological Sign would suffice for some people. (I don’t believe in Astrology, but then again, we Geminis are naturally skeptical.)

DNA testing is the latest rage. Some will see it as a diversion, but others are heavily invested in the results. If those findings differ from anything you ever believed about yourself up until that point in time, I can imagine the results could go as far as to be life-altering.


Health

Update: I decided not to discuss the health factor for the reason outlined in a reply to a comment, but I do encourage you to read the response from @George whose story says it better than I would have.


Appendix 1 – Who Am I by Petula Clark.

Appendix 2 – Who Am I by Casting Crowns

Appendix 3 – The I Am Poster

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January 29, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Bible is like a software license
A lot of people are critical of short-term missions, but right now, a plane ticket to somewhere warm would look really appealing. In the meantime, here are some links to keep you warm, clicking anything that follows will take you to PARSE at Christianity Today and then you can click through from there.

We leave you today with “the thrill that’ll gitcha when ya get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.”  In this case, Pope Francis in the current issue; click the image to read the story.

Pope Francis Rolling Stone Cover

Paul Wilkinson is based in Canada — “You liked the first Polar Vortex so much we’re sending you another one” — and blogs at Thinking Out Loud and Christian Book Shop Talk

June 1, 2010

The Perfect Excuse For Sin

As an itinerant youth worker who did music and seminars on music in a variety of churches, the closest thing I had to a base was a small, conservative Evangelical church in east Toronto which also happened to have, throughout the 1980s,  a very dynamic youth outreach on Friday nights.

On the Fridays I wasn’t booked elsewhere I would spend my evenings there listening to the performers and talking to people who just wanted to talk.

I knew Mike superficially but we hadn’t really had much in the way of conversations, so I was a little surprised when he told me that he really needed to talk with me about something important.

I had arrived early that night to unload some boxes, and hadn’t moved my car, therefore, parked as it was by the front door where teens were coming and going every few seconds, it offered a place that was both public and private at the same time.   I often used it as a portable office.

Mike shut the door and began telling me how his life was plagued by lustful thoughts and how he was often swept away by uncontrollable urges; often several times in a single day, if you get my drift.

My policy had always been that I felt questions concerning sex or sexuality should be handled by the married individuals and couples who were part of that ministry’s core team, and had I known ahead of time that this was the topic of choice, I would never have suggested Mike start telling his story.

But I was also not completely unprepared.   I have two stock answers to questions of this nature:

First, I told Mike that the Bible is very clear that the mind is the battlefield.   I may have mentioned the verse in Proverbs 4 that reminds us to guard our hearts.   I may have mentioned the one in II Cor.  5 which tells us to take every stray thought that enters our mind captive. I definitely would have got into the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus equates a lustful look with adultery.

Second, I reminded Mike that one aspect of the fruit of the spirit is self-control.   That nothing, no matter what, should overtake us.

I thought those two points summarized the issue quite well.   It also avoided ridiculous advice like, “Why not just take a cold shower?”   That would not have been helpful at that point.

So, confident that I had done my job, nothing prepared me for Mike’s response:

“But you don’t understand, Paul; I’m Italian.”

Apparently, somehow, ethnicity, or culture, or citizenship rendered all my earlier points null and void.    Mike’s self identity as an Italian canceled out all requirements to adhere to the lifestyle ideals presented in the scriptures I had quoted or alluded to.

The strange thing about this is, despite the clarity with which I can retell this story two-and-a-half decades later, I have absolutely no idea what I said next to Mike.   I can guess.    I know I didn’t give him an opt-out on the basis of his parentage.   I know at the end he appreciated my willingness to share.  But I can’t remember my response exactly.

Had Mike found the perfect excuse to just ignore everything the Bible teaches? He believed his answer to me had validity.

What would you have said to Mike at that point?

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