March 25, 2009


A question has arisen twice in the past two days that I believe is a fair and legitimate one. I feel it deserves addressing. Most of you have probably noticed that at the very core of my disagreements with Church doctrine is that of plural marriage. The question has been asked, "What's so wrong with polygamy?" Here is my response.

I believe that the family is the most important institution we human beings have. In no other setting can a person be more intimate with another in so many ways, on so many levels. Monogamous marriage is a dedication to another individual, free of reservation, accepting of his or her weaknesses, willing to support and love unwaveringly. It is only in monogamous marriage that a person can feel the deepest unconditional regard for his or her own thoughts and feelings, hopes and desires, etc. from his or her spouse. A therapist can express this regard, but receives payment for services and the relationship is not intended to last. Friends can do these same things, but at the end of the day do not have to deal with each other, and do not have to consult each other on any decision to see how the other feels about it. A romantic interest has little firm commitment, with no promise of the future. A parent typically does not choose which child to raise and which not to raise. When two people choose each other, promise to love one another and no other in these ways, true unity can exist. To know that even when I am at my worst and feel that I have nothing to give, that my wife chose me over every other man in the world gives meaning to my existence, and tells me that I am worthwhile; I am not perfect, but this person accepts my efforts to fulfill my potential.

Of course, in real life it doesn't always work out that way, but that is (or probably should be) the mindset with which two people enter marriage. Marriages aren't perfect, but the formula has the potential for heaven on Earth.

Polygamy works directly against this purpose of marriage and lowers it to function as little more than a baby manufacturing union. I do not suggest that there have never been successful polygamous marriages, just as there have been several monogamous failures. I do firmly believe that monogamy is the prime environment for the best type of happiness, and that polygamy is a prime environment for jealousy, resentment, and low self-worth. When a husband takes a second wife, the first can only naturally feel that she is not fulfilling her husband's needs - that she is not good enough. One wife may be a better cook, a better mother, a better lover. The husband may pick and choose parts of wives to love, and must never accept one for all that she is anymore. Even if he did, the husband cannot divide his attention and affection equally between the two (or 3 or 4 dozen in the cases of Joseph Smith and Heber C. Kimball), and thus hurt feelings thrive. While the wives sometimes became very close friends, rivalries were rampant, and the friendships were often to replace what their relationships with the husband lacked. Polygamy is less than monogamy, and I do not believe that God Himself would command a practice that worked directly against companionate love.

While plural wives may have been more for the men, the system was clearly less for the women and the marital relationship.

Consider a brief example; Emmeline B. Wells was the editor of a pro-polygamist paper. She openly advocated polygamy, and she was a seventh wife of Daniel H. Wells, with whom she had 3 daughters. However, she wrote in her journal in 1874,

Oh, if my husband could love me even a little and not seem so perfectly indifferent to any sensation of that kind. He cannot know the craving of my nature, he is surrounded with love on every side, and I am cast out. Oh my poor aching heart. Where shall it rest its burden, only on the Lord, only to Him can I look. Every other avenue seems closed against me... I have no one to go to for comfort or shelter, no strong arm to lean upon, no bosom bared for me, no protection or comfort in my husband. (quoted in Embry, 2007, pp. 95-96)

Of course, this case is not descriptive of every single case of polygamy, but her feelings were shared among plural wives.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that you are not acting with any faith. Stop searching for flaws. Hasn't God said He is wiser? His ways are not our ways? I read section 132 and came across this: 36 Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness. We do not know God's reasons but we don't have to. All we have to do is obey.

Eli said...

Response to Anonymous: As I have already stated on this blog, I do not believe faith should function to overcome fact and conscience. I don't believe the Old Testament is inspired writing, so that story really doesn't help me. There is a difference between searching for flaws and finding flaws. You need to do a little reading on an LDS general authority named B. H. Roberts.
"We do not know God's reasons but we don't have to. All we have to do is obey." That sounds very similar to something a member of a cult, or the Nazi party would say. You need to be very careful not to confuse Joseph Smith or Thomas Monson with God. Just because a man says something does not mean it came direct from God's lips.