Matthew J. Franck
Robert P. George
William J. Haun
David T. Koyzis
Robert T. Miller
James R. Rogers
Russell E. Saltzman
“Rethink Love. Rethink Marriage. Rethink Family Reality.” That’s the fitting tagline for TLC’s new reality show about a polygamous family.
Let the normalization begin.
I realize there are millions of Americans very eager to redefine what marriage is. But what I always fail to understand is how such people think a redefinition must somehow leave out polygamist relationships. How can gay marriage be normalized, yet polygamy cannot?
With anywhere from 40,000 to 70,000 practicing polygamists in America (at least those are the numbers I’ve read), how can people rationally leave them out of this redefinition?
I’d really be interested to hear the perspective of someone who is in favor of gay marriage yet still believes polygamy should be illegal.
Rationality? The left don’t need no stinking rationality …
Stephen J. Pope, a philosopher/theologian at Boston College, has written in favor of gay marriage and yet offers a (highly unconvincing) argument that polygamy should remain unlawful. (Basically, his argument is that polygamous relationships would turn out to be power struggles, and should therefore remain illegal. Yes, that’s it, or at least that’s all I got out of it.) You might check out his writings on the subject.
Slippery-slope arguments don’t look so fallacious when you see society cheerfully dropping over the cliff. I wonder if people will ever think back to these times and realize that ideas have consequences?
“Basically, his argument is that polygamous relationships would turn out to be power struggles, and should therefore remain illegal.”
Academic institutions are power struggles. Thus, universities should be illegal.
Seriously, in a polygamous marriage, there is one authority, the husband, who is married to each of his wives, though the wives are not married to each other. So, in a sense, polygamy has the right teleology for each union, though the wrong number in relation to the husband. Each wife has one husband, and that’s good. Unfortunately, the one husband has many wives, and that’s not good.
It seems that such an arrangement is constructed in such a way that a “power struggle” is as likely to occur in a polygamous marriage as it does in Hugh Hefner’s mansion within his own harem of sorts. If Professor Pope does not like such power struggles, he should be just as leery of swingers, open marriages, and serial divorces, all of which seem to be just as vulnerable to “power struggles.”
They’re taking a real chance with this show by veering from the standard script. First, you’re supposed to introduce comedies about the mores you want to subvert, so as to soften up your audience. (Laughing associates good feelings with the subversion.) Then you transition to meaningful, heartfelt, shows about the subversive ones as victims. Next, you present news features suggesting that the subversion is really quite sophisticated and ahead of its time. And then, only after you have won over the majority, do you create a reality show about the subversive behavior. By then, people have been so conditioned to think that the subversion is normal that they don’t even associate the conflict and dysfunctionality of the participants with the subversive behavior that spawned it.
Since when does “this relationship seems unhealthy from my perspective” trump “civil rights?” If the argument is correct that marriage between consenting adults is a civil right regardless of who those adults are, then side considerations about whether or not polygamy is a healthy situation are irrelevant. If something is a civil right, government is debarred from interfering, regardless of whether anyone thinks it’s a good idea or not.
The gay marriage –> polygamy connection is not a slippery slope, it is a claim that the logical structure of the argument applies in both cases. If Joe’s being a man is a trivial consideration in whether he can marry Steve because it is a civil right to marry the consenting adult of one’s choice, Joe’s having one wife should be a trivial consideration in whether he can marry Sue, if they are both consenting adults.
By the way, did anyone see in the news a couple of months ago about the fellow who “married” his cat?
[...] HT: First Things blog [...]
Craig Payne: It was a German guy, right? What I can’t figure out is why he got an actress to perform the ceremony. Unless he thought doing so might get him on TV, why not just find an Episcopal priest to help tie the knot? There must be any number out there willing to redress the anti-inter-species-marriage bigotry so prevalent nowadays.
The good news is one can think same-sex marriage and polygamy (and polyandry) should be legal options… and still make a case against marrying animals or underage children and so forth. “Consenting adults” does have consequences… but they’re not quite as broad as they’re often painted.
JB in CA:
Regarding that “standard script” that you mentioned, I wonder how much of those prerequisites have been–or are being–filled by HBO’s “Big Love.” It is, at times, comedic, thus softening up the audience. And as for the transition to a meaningful, heartfelt show turning the subversive ones into victims, it has that in spades.
Honestly, one’s personal opinions on polygamy aside, “Big Love” is actually a very interesting show. I’d suggest checking it out if you haven’t already.
You have to admit, sit-coms about the generational differences between a man and his fifteen year old girlfriend, or about a transgender trying to make it on its own in The Big City, would be rife with comic potential and dramatic pathos.
One part of the script they are following is introducing the perversion in a way that fewer people will be quite so completely turned off by it. They make a show about a man with three wives rather than a woman with three husbands because, for better or worse, many people are probably not quite so put off by the first concept; indeed, a lot of guys out there are probably a bit jealous.
It’s the same with homosexual “marriage.” Any time there’s news about it, like when Prop 8 was overturned, the front pages of many papers will show pictures of two somewhat attractive lesbians rather than a more representative photo that no one would want to look at.
I am not in favor of legalizing or normalizing polygamy, but in these matters I rarely if ever see discussions of how the polygamy (and concubinage) of the patriarchs of the Old Testament fits into the notion that God objects to polygamy. There seems to be nothing against it in the OT that I can see. Would anyone care to enlighten me on how one can make a Biblical argument against polygamy in light of the OT tolerance of it?
Yeah, you base the case on the NT insistence on monogamy as befitting the godly man. It still makes for a hard theoretical question, maybe, of why polygamy was tolerated, but it’s easy enough to establish that monogamy is now the standard.
Thanks for a very intelligent question. Here at least is the Catholic response to that question, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1610:
“Moral conscience concerning the unity and indissolubility of marriage developed under the pedagogy of the old law. In the Old Testament the polygamy of patriarchs and kings is not yet explicitly rejected. Nevertheless, the law given to Moses aims at protecting the wife from arbitrary domination by the husband, even though according to the Lord’s words it still carries traces of man’s “hardness of heart” which was the reason Moses permitted men to divorce their wives. [see Matt 19:8 and Deut 24:1]
1611 Seeing God’s covenant with Israel in the image of exclusive and faithful married love, the prophets prepared the Chosen People’s conscience for a deepened understanding of the unity and indissolubility of marriage. The books of Ruth and Tobit bear moving witness to an elevated sense of marriage…”
There were practices which we believe God directed Moses to allow for a time, but with boundaries in order to bring some semblance of order to them – and when Christ came he permamanetly raised the bar back to its original intent.
[...] Jesus Needs New PR and Evangel have both pointed to this interesting trailer for a new show on [...]
The natural constitution of humans reveals that when a man and a woman engage in intimacy, pregnancy often occurs. Though there are other purposes for sex, procreation is the biological end.
And that can only happen between one man and one woman–no other way.
So the natural constitution of human sexuality also reveals the New Testament picture of marriage. Despite what was or wasn’t permitted in the Old Testament, the natural law and the New Testament revelation contravene polygamy.
It might be said that this is not a biblical argument against polygamy. But I would argue that first of all, the biblical argument isn’t necessary because the natural argument applies to all, and secondly, the natural argument lies behind the biblical argument and is occasionally mentioned in the Bible itself.
Thanks JDD and Craig.
It occurs to me that at least in the case of Abraham and Jacob, they were not so much choosing to be polygamous as having polygamy forced upon them by circumstances. In Abraham’s case from Sarah’s desire to provide an heir even if by way of her maidservant, and in Jacob’s case by being hoodwinked by his father-in-law. They certainly were not following the model of polygamy as presented above, in which a man essentially accumulates wives as a way of aggrandizing his standing in a community (or even in his own eyes). That is one reason why I would not dismiss the argument that at least one reason to object to polygamy is that it institutionalizes the dominance of the husband as opposed to the model of mutuality described in the NT.
Plus, polygamy is a lousy way to organize a society. It puts men into competition with each other for a “resource” rendered intentionally scarce. Thus the effect in fundamentalist Mormon communities of teenage boys being exiled from the community on the slightest of pretexts so as to eliminate them from the competition, since there are not enough women to go around.
“Thus the effect in fundamentalist Mormon communities of teenage boys being exiled from the community on the slightest of pretexts so as to eliminate them from the competition, since there are not enough women to go around.”
I did not know of this. Creepy, I think.
Craig, Yes this is indeed the case. I saw an excellent documentary a couple of years ago on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and it covered this phenomenon. In the area of Utah and Arizona where the FLDS is concentrated there is a subculture of teenage boys and young men who have been exiled from the church. The tragedy is that having spent their entire lives in a community largely cut off from the outside world, these boys are totally at sea once they get kicked out and often wind up homeless, involved in drugs, and so on. It answered a question I’d always had about how the FLDS could provide multiple wives for all the adult men, when the natural breakdown of genders in a population will be roughly 50/50. The answer is they can’t, so they have to reduce the number of marriageable males.