Wow, I know. I bet you weren't expecting a serious discussion from me today. But I've got a few things that I have been thinking about a lot and I want to put them down so that I can move on.
Recently a friend and I were discussing polygamy, specifically with interest to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormons, of which we are both members. Historically, members of the church practiced polygamy from the 1840's to the turn of the century when the church decided to discontinue plural marriages (resisted by a few members and even some groups which splintered off).
But, it's there, in our history. And a few echoes of that past are still present with us today. It's mentioned in our scripture (Doctrine and Covenants, 131, 132, I'm looking at you). Also, if a man and woman are married in the temple, and his wife dies, that man can marry another woman in the temple later on. But if a man and woman are married in the temple and her husband dies, that woman cannot remarry in the temple unless she secures a "temple divorce" from her first husband.
These things, and the church's history of polygamy which was heartily supported by original church founders who we hold in very high esteem, lead many members today to try to understand divine purpose in polygamy. Many times I have heard the explanation that in the early days of the church, many men were either being killed or dying (especially on the pioneer trek west), and in order to protect and provide for their widows, men needed to take on these extra wives and children. That is the most rational explanation I have heard. I'm sure there are others and please put them in the comments.
Anyway, in my conversation with my good friend, she was wondering if maybe polygamy takes a bad rap. She frankly admitted that she wouldn't mind having help from additional women in the home in tasks such as child-rearing and cleaning. She mentioned tribes in Africa where polygamy is openly practiced and how there isn't any psychological damage to those women because it is a culturally accepted normality that you share your husband with other women. Also there are plenty examples from the bible of advantageous marriages between one husband and several wives, where the "work of the Lord" and "multiplying and replenishing the earth" was being accomplished by such a situation. Please note, my good friend wasn't telling me she wanted to practice polygamy, but rather just exploring what the positives of it could be.
So at one point she asked me, "What do you think about polygamy?"
My answer to her is what I wanted to put here, to share with you. It's something that I had already been thinking about, and it takes the form of two main points and a third thought:
Point #1: You need one man and one woman to make a baby.
Not one man and two women, three women, etc. Physically, biologically, it just takes one man and one woman to reproduce. That's just basic, simple, scientific fact. This does bring up some questions about whether reproduction is the point of marriage or not (you may or may not agree) but within our church it is believed to be one of the most important things that a married couple can do: to bring new life into the world and "multiply and replenish the earth." Biologically, you don't need multiple partners to do that. If we're looking at this strictly logically, all of nature bears witness to the fact that there is no relationship on earth, no animal or living thing that needs anything more than one boy part and one girl part to create new life. The earth was created this way.
Point #2: In all nations, countries, and lands of the earth, there are about 50% boys and 50% girls being born, everywhere. Sure, the ratio flexes a bit, but only one or two percentage points in either direction. It's called "sex ratio." Following this link will take you to the wikipedia article about it, but basically it is the ratio of males to females in a population, and it shows that we are almost completely equal, and there are actually just a few more boys than girls in the world's population! For every 100 girls out there, there are about 105 boys (referred to as "a ratio of 105"). This article will show you the sex ratio for every country in the world, which almost all hover around 1 boy for every 1 girl, except in a few countries where the ratio is skewed (In Kuwait the ratio is 1.54 while Latvia is at .86). Skewing usually occurs in countries where mortality rates differ due to things like war casualties and deliberate gender control (as explained in this article on gender imbalance in the human sex ratio). But even if you even out all of those countries with the entire world population, you still get an almost perfect 1 to 1 ratio.
What this tells me is that there isn't a natural, logical need for men to take on multiple partners. There's no reason, even in polygamist societies today. Babies are still being born about 50/50, and I have heard about many boys being turned out from polygamist societies as teenagers, although I don't have any sources to back me up. I've only heard about it via word of mouth, so if anyone has a known source on that feel free to put it in the comments.
For both of the points I've made, I'm strictly using logic. Just what basic human reason and some simple math tell me. I can hear arguments in my mind saying, "Well, you're being strictly logical and scientific, but the Lord's ways don't always make logical sense to man." That's very true, except when they do.
An important and defining belief of Mormons is that we have both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. Church member Eliza R. Snow wrote a poem in 1845 titled "Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother" which includes these lines: "In the heav'ns are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason; truth eternal Tells me I've a mother there." The 4th president of the church, Wilford Woodruff, has called this revelation (Woodruff, Wilford. The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham. Salt Lake City, 1968. Pg 62).
The line that sticks out to me the most is: "Truth is reason, truth eternal." Eliza R. Snow reasoned that if we have a Heavenly Father - doesn't it just make sense that we have a Heavenly Mother? And if she can use logic and reason to discover something that is actually "revelation," then why can't I? Can God reveal things to us through logic? Yes, he has done so already if we believe this story about Eliza R. Snow.
I had a third thought to make, which is more rational than logical and it has to do with Adam and Eve. If you are a Christian, this is perhaps the most important couple in all of history for you. In Mormon temples, our worship is structured by the examples set by Adam and Eve, and I would just like to kindly point out: it wasn't Adam and Eve and her sister Judith. If it had been, certainly all of human history would look quite a bit different. And sure, there are other marriages in the bible, important ones, taking place between a man and more than one women. But this is the first, the ultimate relationship, Adam and Eve, one man and one woman, all that it takes to have a child and begin to "multiply and replenish the earth." Father and Mother of all mankind on earth, and we never needed more than one of each.
So... what does this all mean for our church history? What does it mean if the point I'm making is that polygamy basically flies in the face of all nature and reason? What does it mean if the most important men to our church, the ones who founded and organized it, participated in such a thing? Obviously, I don't have an answer. Honestly I don't even want to make such an accusation, but she asked how I felt about polygamy and in that moment I realized what I truly thought and I felt it so strongly that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. Maybe there were purposes to it in that time of our church's history. Maybe it was the wisdom of God that such a thing should happen. Maybe it was a misguided and heavily consequenced mistake. But I would like to add that not all men that bring good things to pass are perfect or without blemish. Look at the founders of our country, the amazing ideals and principles to which they held and fought for to establish this country. How many of them were slave owners? You could argue that the church founders are supposed to be men of God, whereas the founders of our country maybe shouldn't be held up to quite the same caliber. So my question is: Can you be led by God and still make mistakes?
Post script: I'm sure that not all of my arguments here are complete, I'm sure there are points I'm missing or not taking into consideration, so I invite you to comment and open my mind further, help me to understand this more. I welcome open discussion on this topic but please try to remain respectful of other's opinions.