FIRST-PERSON: 'Hey y'all. Watch this!'

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)--With the first cloned mammal, Dolly, a Finn Dorset (sheep), having been euthanized, I suppose it's a time for gravitas. But when I think of the cloners, my mind goes straight to Jeff Foxworthy's redneck jokes. Here's one: "If anyone in your family died right after saying, 'Hey, y'all watch this!' you may be a redneck." It conjures up images of a good ole boy with an umbrella in each hand, standing at roof's edge on a four-story apartment building. He's awfully proud of himself, full of vinegar and visions of glory.

What a perfect picture of cloning enthusiasts, whether Dolly's Scottish manufacturers in lab coats or those nutty (and bogus) Raelians with the bad hair and Jetson outfits. With inflamed imaginations, elusive scruples and not a little showmanship, they call out to the world to watch their genetic acrobatics. Why safely take the stairs when you can leap out into the unknown in front of a crowd?

The joke turns unfunny when we stipulate that the redneck on the edge of the roof has a terrier under each arm. In Humor Land, he can wreck himself, but we're not so keen on his taking other creatures down with him.

At Dolly's passing, the Associated Press reported, "There are now hundreds of animal clones around the world, including cows, pigs, mice and goats, many of them appearing robust and healthy. But many attempts to clone animals have ended in failure. Deformed fetuses have died in the womb with oversized organs, while others were born dead. Still others died days after being born, some twice as large as they should have been." So Bubba's not only been self-destructive; he's been cruel.

Things get even grimmer when we imagine the roof jumper with a baby under each arm. That, of course, would be the natural extension of the atrocities we've seen in the cloning of animals -- deformed human babies dying in the womb with oversized organs; others dying days after being born, some twice as large as they should have been.

As strange as it seems, some folks are cheering from the ground below. Who are these pitiable people? Well, several are infertile couples hoping to take possession of the babies if Bubba lands safely. One is a man with failing kidneys, figuring he can harvest one if the jumper or his two captives don't make it. Then there's the couple whose son was killed in a traffic accident, and they think one of the babies resembles him. They're convinced he could make a dandy replacement. So we hear, "Jump! Jump! Jump!"

How about the familial redneck jokes: "If your brother-in-law is also your uncle, if you consider a family reunion a good place to pick up girls, if you go Christmas shopping for your mom, sister and girlfriend, and you only need to buy one gift, if your gene pool doesn't have a 'deep end,' you may be a redneck." Don't strain yourself doing the genetic math; it's only a joke. Or is it?

Say old Bubba has himself cloned for fun on his 50th birthday. His 40-year-old wife carries his "delayed twin" to term. As she gets older, she falls for her cloned son, for he looks just like the boy she fell for in her youth. The donor-father gets huffy, and she proposes to clone herself, so he can have a young version of herself around the house as compensation. When the two clones fall in love with each other, the older versions at least get to see their own romance recapitulated. They decide to double-date with their cloned counterparts. Foxworthy has nothing on them.

Of course, this is serious business, but a little, well-deserved ridicule can help. Maybe we could introduce a new series of cloner jokes. We could start with, "If your hand-me-downs always fit, you may be a Raelian."


Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. For more reflections by Coppenger, logon to listten.com or evanstonbaptistchurch.org.

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