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Thursday, October 07, 2004

Meet My Wives

In A Deafening Silence I discussed the unusually low amount of support rank-and-file Christians seem to have for outlawing homosexual marriages. While state initiatives in Missouri and Louisiana have overwhelmingly trounced the idea, US Congressmen are not hearing much from their constituents on the matter.

Now, USA Today has weighed in on the subject, or at least, weighed in on one aspect of the subject. The October 4, 2004 issue saw an article by Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School, in which he defended the idea that polygamy, polyandry and group marriage would soon have to be legalized.

Now, this is not news for anyone following the subject. His opinion precisely matches that of Justice Scalia in his dissent from the majority in Lawrence vs. Stenburg, the case that legalized sodomy in Texas. Numerous others have commented on the logical silliness of allowing sodomy while outlawing polygamy. But that isn’t the point I want to drive home here. The point that should be made now is precisely the same point made in "Silence." From a logical perspective, it is unlikely that this drive towards polygamy can be stopped. After all, who is left to oppose it?

Clearly, Mormons have a vested interest in remaining silent on the issue. While their faith now outlaws polygamy, this doctrinal position was taken up only after immense political, and even military, pressure was placed upon Mormon communities to conform to the larger Christian community. But Mormons are not the only ones who have no interest in fighting polygamy.

Muslims won’t lift a hand to stop its legalization – legal polygamy is part of sharia law, after all. Orthodox Jews are not opposed to polygamy either. "In the Middle Ages, Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz, known as the Light of the Diaspora, pronounced a herem (ban) on polygamy and, incidetnally, also on divorce without the wife’s consent… but this does not alter the fundamental fact that [Talmudic] laws of marriage and divorce recognize the validity of polygamy" (Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud, p. 133). The historical evidence seems to indicate that, like American Mormons, medieval Jews faced the same pressure from the surrounding Christian community to renounce their polygamous ways and resolved the issue in a very similar way.

But what of Christians themselves? When Philip of Hesse asked Martin Luther for advice concerning how to deal with his mistress, Luther advised Philip to marry her. Philip objected – he was already married. Luther replied that this was no obstacle. Nothing in Scripture expressly required a lay person to have only one wife.
"I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter."
However, Luther recommended that Philip should keep his second marriage a secret to avoid public scandal. Five other Lutheran theologians signed the letter advocating polygamy, including Melancthon and Bucer. Some groups of early Anabaptists, such as those in Munster, practiced polygamy.

Henry VIII almost certainly practiced polygamy. Historians agree that Henry had secretly married Ann Boleyn in 1532, well before he decreed his own marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled in 1533. At least two American Anglican ministers defended the practice as well, Reverend Mr. Michael Smith, an 18th century rector of Prince Frederick’s Parish in South Carolina, and Reverend Mr Martin Madan, an Anglican priest associated with the Methodist Revival. Both argued, like Luther, that it was better to enter into polygamy then to divorce the first wife and throw her into an uncaring world. All three appealed to the example of the Old Testament patriarchs and the fact that Scripture only restricts bishops to one wife, it is silent in regards to the laity. (1 Timothy 3:2). Even as recently as 1998, Wisconsin Lutheran Synod scholars have noted that the insistence on monogamy was questionable both on Scriptural grounds and on the difficulties it caused to missionary efforts in polygamous societies, which comprise about 70% of the world’s population.

It is impossible cultures that embraced homosexual marriage. It is easy to find cultures that permit polygamy. The silence from the viewers’ gallery will again be deafening. This will all weigh in the coming arguments and the court decisions which will soon follow.

The irony is rich. Despite their pretended insistence on Scripture alone, the Protestant "reformers" took with them much that Catholic Faith taught. Whether Protestant, evangelical or fundamentalist, every Christian today owes the core of his belief to Catholic Faith, a Catholicism that is unpolished and poorly ordered, but Catholic nonetheless. The opposition to polygamy in this country is unquestionably a vestige of Catholic belief, carried - unquestioned - by Protestants for generations, but now coming under scrutiny by secular atheists.

Protestants will discover, to their horror, that they hold to monogamy for no particular Scriptural reason. Like the fight over gay marriage, which consists largely of non-Catholic Christians saying, "It will harm marriage – we can’t really explain how, but it will!" the fight over monogamy will demonstrate just how poor a faith without reason is. Catholics can appeal not only to Scripture, but also to the natural law, to millennia of divine tradition, to the divine authority of the Magisterium, the teaching office of the Church. Non-Catholic Christians have nothing to appeal to but Scripture, and Scripture says nothing in particular in opposition to polygamy.

Appeals to "faith alone" no longer work in this culture, a culture that holds there is but one God and Materialistic Reason is His Name. The atheists of the Enlightenment are playing on their home court, while "faith alone" Christians have thrown away their defense with their opening statement of belief. Only an understanding of the world that embraces both Fides et Ratio, faith and reason together, can hope to defeat the atheist scourge. In short, unless America becomes Catholic, the laws against polygamy cannot hope to stand.


Jordanes551 said...

A fair overview, with the quibble that there is no good evidence that polygamy among medieval Jews was common or even existent. Already by the first century A.D. polygamy among Jews was rarer than hen's teeth. It is not, however, absolutely forbidden in Orthodox Jewish tradition, though seen as somewhat aberrant and exceptional -- and given the nature of Orthodox Jewish tradition, which lacks a supreme or final authority, it would be impossible for Orthodox Judaism to absolutely forbid it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Depends on exact geographic location. Amongst Ashkenazi, polygamy was rare. Amongst Sephardic Jews who were obviously heavily influenced by the Muslims who ruled over them, polygamy was fairly common through the 1500s.

As you note, it cannot be forbidden.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Whoops - this is the correct link

Jim Dorchak said...

This is a very interesting issue, but no longer for me. Here in Chile it is illegal to be a Homosexual and there is correctly no such thing as homosexual marriage,any more than there would be marriage to animals or to plants or rocks for that matter. Here in Chile,,,, what was stupid is still stupid. This is especially true concerning the primacy of the family and the role it plays in a solid society here in Chile. In the old USA there were similar affections for the same reasons, but those no longer exist. So if someone there wants to marry person of the same sex, (or a mail box for that matter) as the Pope says who am I to judge? The former USA has gotten the government and society they wanted and deserve. I just pray for those of you who keep thinking in some imaginary way that you are going to wake up tomorrow and everything will be right as rain! Not going to happen.... Get out now. (Steve sorry for the blunts but someone needs to say it).

Jim Dorchak

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Jim, I agree with everything you say. Sadly, many of us do not have the ability to make the move, for all kinds of reasons (economic, familial, etc.).

But I am under no illusion that America is doing well.