Bigamy is having one spouse too many. Monogamy is the same.
Time magazine has a section where they list ironic quotes along with the context of the quotation. The point is usually to make the person look like a fool for what they said. Typically that person is a politician, so it can be quite entertaining.
Recently, they featured a Mitt Romney quote:
"I must admit I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy."
This is the notation listed below the quote:
"Mitt Romney, the Mormon seeking the Republican presidential nomination, whose great-grandfather was a polygamist."
And yet from a theological perspective, Romney's dilemma is the Christian dilemma. Most on the Christian right are adamantly against polygamy. Many regard Mormons as a cult and use the Mormon position on polygamy as a basis for mocking their religion. Here's the big problem: The greatest heroes of the biblical faith were polygamists. This creates a moral quandary. Either our heroes were sinners and were morally wrong to practice polygamy or else it was ok back then even though it's not ok today.
But this latter suggestion smacks of relativism, doesn't it? How can a Christian in this day and age who is fighting the good fight for moral absolutes--how can such a Christian say that the morality of polygamy shifted from one age to the next? Hhhhmmm...it's a toughie, no doubt! Did God say, "Okay, polygamy was not morally wrong back then, but these days it is a monstrous atrocity"? Seems a bit odd to me.
Perhaps I might raise the question, What is wrong with polygamy? I know, I know. Your sense of decency is offended. You are morally outraged that I would even ask the question. But let's look at this rationally, shall we? (Or, of course, you are free to just leave my blog and go somewhere else!) Consider a few objections:
1) The Bible condemns polygamy. Actually it does not; nor does it establish any moral absolute in regard to monogamy. Paul recommends that an elder be the husband of one wife, but Paul also recommends that women be silent in church and that Christians should probably opt for singleness. In other words, Paul's suggestion on monogamy seems to be more in line with a recommendation rather than a moral absolute that applies to all people in all eras.
Furthermore, one must deal honestly with the lives of true saints in the Old Testament who practiced polygamy. David was a man after God's own heart, and how many women did he have coming in and out of his chambers? The Patriarchs had multiple wives. And in the midst of this there is no condemnation of the practice. Why? Could it be that there was nothing morally wrong with it? This is a question worth considering.
All things considered, I would suggest that the Bible is more in favor of polygamy than against it. Even Martin Luther, as I understand, did not consider polygamy unbiblical, although he highly discouraged the practice and did not consider it normative. (Compare the interesting case of Philip of Hesse.) Perhaps also of interest is biblicalpolygamy.com.
2) Polygamy is weird. I consider the weirdness factor to be a legitimate objection. Unlike some, I do believe that subjective feelings and intuitions are an important (and even integral) of determining how we should act and what we should believe. However, the fact that a certain practice is weird does not in and of itself disqualify the practice. We can experience a weirdness factor as a result of how we are conditioned by our society.
A few hundred years ago in this country, it would have seemed "weird" and perhaps even "unnatural" to see an intelligent black man teaching white students. This may have seemed weird and unnerving, but that does make it wrong or immoral. In a similar way, I would suggest that our society (and particularly conservative circles) is predisposed to feel very very uncomfortable with polygamy. However, it has not always been this way. Different societies have viewed this practice in different ways. For an interesting perspective on this, see the Polygamy Worldwide section of the wikipedia article on Polygamy.
3) Polygamy is oppressive to women. This is a fair objection, because polygamy has been the context for suppressing women and abusing both women and children. Polygamy has been a vehicle for male domination and female subjugation.
Still, to be fair, abuse happens within the context of a monogamous marriage. All abuses and misuses that I can think of that occur within polygamy are also true of monogamy. So, I think we must recognize that it is not the contest, per se, that is the problem. Abuse is evil, but evil deeds come from evil people, not necessarily from a particular type of relationship.
A woman might respond that it's not fair that two women would have to share one man. Fine, then don't be in a polygamous relationship. But if there are two women who desire to be in a polygamous relationship with a man, then how can I argue against that? If that is a relationship they wish to embark on, then I don't see anything that is necessarily immoral about it. It may seem weird to someone else, but that's not necessarily a question of morality. Also, what if the reverse were true? What if two men married one woman. In principle, this approach isn't necessarily immoral, it is just something that makes us uncomfortable.
Perhaps the question has to do with whether the context is a loving and caring context, rather than if the context is immoral.
If polygamy is used in a context to abuse women and children then it is wrong and evil. But the moral outrage against polygamy in our society and culture may be a bit overdone; frankly, much of the conservative indignation toward polygamy strikes me as a bit self-righteous and narrow minded.
Hhhhhmmmmm.....have I just made a strange case for polygamy??? I thought I had sworn off marriage, but perhaps I should reconsider a polygamous relationship. That might be interesting.
Of related interest:
HBO Big Love clips (This is quite the interesting show, by the way.)
Christian Polygamy Info
Yahoo Christian Polygamy Group
A LOVE SUPREME
If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Bigamy is having one spouse too many. Monogamy is the same.