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Study: Polygamy Bad for Society
Surveys & Statistics
Written by emperorbr549   
Thursday, 02 February 2012 18:28

From the University of British Columbia:

In cultures that permit men to take multiple wives, the intra-sexual competition that occurs causes greater levels of crime, violence, poverty and gender inequality than in societies that institutionalize and practice monogamous marriage.

That is a key finding of a new University of British Columbia-led study that explores the global rise of monogamous marriage as a dominant cultural institution. The study suggests that institutionalized monogamous marriage is rapidly replacing polygamy because it has lower levels of inherent social problems.

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PineHall  - Will this study make a difference?   |2012-02-02 22:47:36
I can not think of a story in the Bible where polygamous marriages worked without any bad consequences. (Even Abraham's marriage, though technically monogamous, had issues with wife Sarah and concubine Hagar.)

So this study says monogamous marriages are good for society. So why do I feel that Western Society with its anything goes culture is headed back toward polygamous marriages? A "good" polygamous marriage has already made an episode in a TV show.
emperorbma  - "hybrid vigor"   |2012-02-03 10:30:07
I'm not so sure polygamy ever truly disappeared.  It merely disguised itself under a different name due to cultural hostility. Some of these guises include "serial monogamy," mistresses and liaisons and, more recently, polyamory.

The impetus for the cultural hostility, oddly enough, owes more to the Imperial Roman law than it did to Biblical teaching. The Bible itself never rebuked polygamy even if, as you mention, it has a slight preference toward monogamy and/or celibacy in terms of the consequences.

The way I see it is that this optional diversity is a part of the intended design. God allows both strategies and both options provide necessary advantages. Having both kinds of relationship available ensures that particular families are more likely to survive.

Let us consider the Abraham example. I reckon that what Abraham and Sarah did here wasn't exactly irrational or even faithless. We know that Abraham had a promise from God that he would have descendants, this is true. However, they had absolutely no way of knowing God would cause Sarah to be able to conceive at her advanced age. Given what Abraham and Sarah knew at the time there was no reason to assume Sarah was included in Abraham's promise. Sarah, in a rather self-sacrificing act, actually gives her husband one of her maidservants so that he could have children. God's promise would have effectively been kept already except God went beyond and also changed the normal course of nature. Now, given this, was Abraham really wrong for taking the most reasonable possible course? It is interesting that God never actually rebukes Abraham for anything here. Furthermore, when God did deliver on the promise Sarah was clearly surprised by the possibility and laughed out. God's reaction wasn't to determine her wicked and faithless but merely to call her out on her fearful lie about the fact that she did laugh in surprise. Of course, given the circumstances, I think most people would be somewhat incredulous.

Considering that God doesn't work this kind of miracle very often, it is fair enough to suggest that the option of a polygamous strategy is by no means Biblically unacceptable. Sure, monogamy has some obvious advantages when society is well-established and children aren't likely to be dying off. In that case, there is little reason to have to "spread genes as far and wide" when this is the case. Conversely, in harder times, the opposite tends to be true. If children are likely to die off, there is a risk in investing in only one offspring. (i.e. a family line is far more likely to die off due to a fatality.) This latter case is amply demonstrated in the case of Abraham, who but for unique circumstances, would have been taking the reasonable course.

The option of "zerg rushing" evolution is a rather powerful one and it seems to suggest to me that God has intentionally created this trait and kept it available for people to use when necessary.  (Considering God's responses to Abraham, it isn't exactly one of disappointment, implying that it is kind of working as He intends.) It isn't socially ideal, but keeping the trait available provides a rather obvious advantage for the survival of humanity. The fact that this is entirely reflective of the predictions of evolutionary theory also indicates that God is well aware of having established a system that works on such principles.

Of course, this is simply taking the obvious reproductive role into account and ignoring the additional role of the non-sexual side of the relationship, wherein God doesn't seem to mind that either given that Abraham was married to a woman who (short of a miracle) literally couldn't have children...
PineHall  - polygamy   |2012-02-03 11:43:42
I would disagree. In the Bible, I think God views polygamy, much like slavery or divorce, as a tolerated wrong due to the culture of the day and the hardness of our hearts. Though many of the Old Testament characters were polygamous, Paul in giving instructions says that overseers, (1 Tim 3:2), deacons (1 Tim 3:12), and elders (Titus 1:6) must be husbands of one wife. The ideal is a monogamous relationship/marriage that reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:22-33). That passage in Ephesians assumes a monogamous marriage.
emperorbma   |2012-02-03 18:01:06
I'm not so sure I conveyed my point correctly.  I'm not saying that polygamy is the ideal. I was merely noting that polygamy has distinct advantages when society itself is not conducive to having children survive very long.

There are, indeed, passages that suggest polygamy is not ideal. From the OT, the Scriptures teach that the future King should not have "too many wives." (Deut 17:14-17) Also, there is the command that Paul conveys that "husbands... love their wives as their own bodies." (Eph 5:28) In polygyny (multiple wives), the wife is always the unequal recipient to her detriment. I generally agree that such an unfair situation is always, as you seem to be suggesting, contrary to what God considers ideal. (Polyandry doesn't seem to even EXIST in Scripture for some odd reason...)

You're right that God tolerated it, but there is a reason he tolerated it beyond merely culture. What I am saying is that God tolerated it because it was necessary to ensure the people of Israel from whom His Son would come would have been able to have enough children to be able to survive the coming events.

Don't get me wrong, I have no inclination to consider polygamy a "good thing." What I am saying, however, is that in and of itself it is not legitimately to be considered sinful. Furthermore, I am saying that God has permitted polygamy at times because it was necessary to accomplish His goal of bringing salvation to all mankind or to preserve groups of people from extinction.
PineHall  - No   |2012-02-04 23:14:07
emperorbma wrote:
You're right that God tolerated it, but there is a reason he tolerated it beyond merely culture.  What I am saying is that God tolerated it because it was necessary to ensure the people of Israel from whom His Son would come would have been able to have enough children to be able to survive the coming events.

Don't get me wrong, I have no inclination to consider polygamy a "good thing." What I am saying, however, is that in and of itself it is not legitimately to be considered sinful. Furthermore, I am saying that God has permitted polygamy at times because it was necessary to accomplish His goal of bringing salvation to all mankind or to preserve groups of people from extinction.

I can not go as far as you are going. I think polygamy was allowed because of the culture and because of the hardness of our hearts. No other reasons. I don't think it was necessary for God to permit polygamy for Israel to survive. God does not need it.

Is polygamy inherently sinful?  (Or slavery?) I don't know. If it is not sinful, it is an activity that makes sinful misuse of people very easy. Now I would advise a man with several wives who has become Christian to keep all his wives, but to treat and love them equally. I think those missionaries who require new Christians to divorce their extra wives are wrong in doing that. It creates more injustice.
emperorbma  - please excuse my insanity :P   |2012-02-05 03:39:26
PineHall wrote:
I can not go as far as you are going. I think polygamy was allowed because of the culture and because of the hardness of our hearts. No other reasons. I don't think it was necessary for God to permit polygamy for Israel to survive. God does not need it.


Fair enough. It is your prerogative to disagree with me about this and I don't mean to change your mind. I'm mainly doing a "what if" analysis here.

It just seems to me like polygamy is not the kind of thing that God would just let hang around just "because it is an accident." My mind tends to take note of things like the "butterfly effect" when analyzing alternate historical possibilities like this. Small changes can drastically change the results of history. As I was saying to laika, "we really don't (and probably can't) know all the factors that were involved in Christ's incarnation and to what extent God could have varied those plans and still produced the same result."

You are absolutely correct that God doesn't need polygamy to have existed. God could merely will in an additional miracle to change this fact and ensure that the necessarily intended descendants were produced despite the different social system and it would have been so. However, that mere choice of excluding polygamy would mean that the entire history would play out differently. It's not impossible for God do do that, of course, but the results of such a change would be rather significant and require a lot of work on His part to ensure everything fell into place correctly.  For example, David couldn't have married Bathsheba if polygamy didn't exist so Christ would have either had very different ancestors in His biological line or God would ensure that Bathsheba was David's only wife. If God chose the former route, he would probably have had one of Uriah's descendants marry into the Davidic line at some point. However, if God took the latter route, then David wouldn't have married Michal so he couldn't have been adopted into Saul's line. God would have also needed to fix THAT... and so on and so forth with everyone else in the Bible. [Of course, God could also have make a miracle to fix all the problems by having an entirely wacky universe where God split off several clone-Davids and one David married Bathsheba and the other married Michal and both Clone-Davids were the king at the same time somehow.] In effect, if God had forbade polygamy then the entire universe wouldn't even be the same universe as ours. The fact remains that "with polygamy" is how God did it in our universe and, for whatever reason, God decided not to remove it. That decision resulted in the history that we see now.

This is really the problem with having an analytical mind.  You always consider the consequences to a frustrating degree. In the end we really will just have to leave it all to God and focus on being thankful that Christ did come in accordance with God's Will in the way that God intended...
laika  - re: "hybrid vigor"   |2012-02-03 23:41:04
emperorbma wrote:
What I am saying is that God tolerated it because it was necessary to ensure the people of Israel from whom His Son would come would have been able to have enough children to be able to survive the coming events.


So one male member dominating the reproductive possibilities of the group is more efficient than allowing other males to have mates and reproduce? Sounds like a great strategy for the individual dominant male in the short term, but otherwise a huge waste of resource.

And I don't know about humans, but hybrid vigor in plants often only applies to a single generation. The seeds of a hybrid tomato usually don't stay true to the parent and aren't worth saving - one has to go back to the seed company the next year and buy more.

But perhaps you're suggesting that Jesus was the end product of some kind of strict breeding program that shouldn't serve as a model for the rest of humanity?
SteveGus   |2012-02-04 00:18:41
Historically, I think it's fairly well established that polygamy and concubinage are emblematic of societies with deep social and economic inequalities. Having multiple wives is a sign of membership in a leadership class everywhere, including the American instances.

Because human males and females seem to be evenly distributed (as opposed to many animals) polygamous societies also give rise to a large number of unattached male youths. Their ambition generally is to win membership in the polygamous elite by conquests or other conspicuous feats of arms. Most fail; enough succeed to make the path seem worth pursuing.

Polygamy represents a drastic drop in the social status of women. The custom of concealing women's bodies, for fear of drawing the notice of other males, and the confining of women in harems are fairly inevitable consequences of its social dynamics.

A harem is a status symbol. Adultery is a direct assault upon the social status of the husband, for whatever threatens his prestige threatens his power. The woman will be made to suffer; and being powerless, will be made to suffer for his slightest suspicion. An elaborate code of rules will be drawn up to forestall this violence.

Monogamy, or at least serial monogamy, is an entirely un-Scriptural European (Roman and Germanic, mostly) tradition. Its "sanctity" is not actually borne out by the Biblical tradition, which allows polygynous marriages and prefers the single to the married status; nor for that matter by the early Christian traditions of hermitry and monasticism.

As models for marriage go, it's still a basically good idea for reasons mostly unrelated to Scripture. But this model of marriage is an entirely human creation which we are free to revise as we find just and fit by our own lights.
emperorbma   |2012-02-04 01:02:51
laika wrote:
So one male member dominating the reproductive possibilities of the group is more efficient than allowing other males to have mates and reproduce? Sounds like a great strategy for the individual dominant male in the short term, but otherwise a huge waste of resource.


Consider the difference of times, though.

In Biblical Israel:
1. Children tended to die off more frequently.
2. Soldiers tended to die off in wars more frequently.
3. Women weren't given the same rights and privileges as men.

Today, we have a 50/50 male/female ratio and high infant survival rate. As a result, modern society is not as conducive to polygamy since any significant trend of it would tend to leave some men out in the cold.

Furthermore, polygamy was probably only practiced by those with enough wealth to afford it. Remember, the man has to provide enough for all his harem to live comfortably. This excludes most of the average men who probably only had one wife. Remember, the patriarchs weren't exactly poor men. The vacancies left by any soldiers who died defending against the Caananites were more than likely the vacancies filled by the polygamists creating harems.

Would this sort of situation be the case today? Absolutely not.  Children are far more likely to survive making the "spread far and wide" strategy utterly unnecessary. Very few males are dying off in wars compared to how many did in the days of yore.  Finally, and this is the kicker, women aren't treated as second-class citizens today so they don't benefit as much from a rich beneficiary.  (Not that it stops some less scrupulous women from looking for one anyway...)

A 50/50 male/female ratio means that any serious trend toward polygamy would result in leaving some males out in the cold. Of course, we don't really know the "Darwin Award" ratios so the exact ratio fluctuates a little bit. Nevertheless, modern society settles clearly better on monogamy than polygamy for practical reasons as well as the slight preference of the Bible in favor of monogamy.

However, are we so sure that the situation would never return to being like the Ancient world? In some places in the world it never stopped being like the Ancient world.  *cough*Middle East*cough* Furthermore, bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics making infant mortality more and more likely. Also, new wars are brewing with frustration, dissent and anger at an all time high because of government corruption that is taking root even in the First World countries. Can we honestly guarantee that we will live in a society like we have today?

laika wrote:
But perhaps you're suggesting that Jesus was the end product of some kind of strict breeding program that shouldn't serve as a model for the rest of humanity?


Well, I cannot really rule out the possibility.  It's really kind of a mystery why God chose the specific route of incarnation He did.

However, I think that the focus of this program wouldn't have been Jesus so much as Mary who would be willing and able to fulfill the role of mother to the Incarnate God. We really don't (and probably can't) know all the factors that were involved in Christ's incarnation and to what extent God could have varied those plans and still produced the same result.

What I do know, however, is that God actively intervened for the Hebrew people and the Messianic line on numerous occasions. The Messianic line itself would have had to have been drastically different if God did not specifically provide miracles on several occasions.

Nonetheless, I am also pretty wary about putting it in terms of genetic enginering because this characterization might lead to some very uncomfortable or incorrect theological conclusions about the human nature of Christ. Also, it smacks vaguely of Van Daaniken.
emperorbma   |2012-02-04 01:04:16
emperorbma wrote:
However, I think that the focus of this program wouldn't have been Jesus so much as Mary


Qualifying my statement, it wouldn't have been Jesus because Jesus would have already fulfilled the requirements simply by virtue of being God.
laika   |2012-02-05 22:56:02
emperorbma wrote:
However, I think that the focus of this program wouldn't have been Jesus so much as Mary who would be willing and able to fulfill the role of mother to the Incarnate God.


That would have been my next question. I wasn't sure where your brand of Lutheranism stood on that aspect.

The Roman Catholic church from which Lutheranism sprang teaches that Mary had to have had certain conditions at conception that were unlike the children of Eve in order to be a suitable vessel for Christ, so one assumes that the same would be true for her ancestors. I wondered if you held to the same idea.

emperorbma wrote:
Nonetheless, I am also pretty wary about putting it in terms of genetic enginering because this characterization might lead to some very uncomfortable or incorrect theological conclusions about the human nature of Christ. Also, it smacks vaguely of Van Daaniken.


I was thinking more in terms of Frank Herbert.
emperorbma  - nah. No "immaculate conception" in Lutheranism   |2012-02-06 01:18:20
laika wrote:
The Roman Catholic church from which Lutheranism sprang teaches that Mary had to have had certain conditions at conception that were unlike the children of Eve in order to be a suitable vessel for Christ, so one assumes that the same would be true for her ancestors. I wondered if you held to the same idea.


Not at all. For pretty much all Lutherans there isn't any "special criteria" other than Mary's willingness and faith and "being of the line of David" as per the Messianic prophecies. We don't have any doctrine of "immaculate conception" for Mary or anything and we believe that she was redeemed from sin at the same time as everyone else was... when Jesus died on the cross. All Lutherans would agree that Mary was a Virgin, of course. On top of that, Luther himself also accepted the "perpetual virginity of Mary" but most Lutherans today don't since it isn't really Scriptural and the plain reading of Scripture suggests it wasn't the case that Mary stayed a virgin after Jesus was born. In any case, except for the fact that Mary was a Virgin, neither of these can really be considered common ground with the RCC for most Lutherans...

What I was meaning with regards to the importance of "willing and able" in regards to Mary was that she would be in a position to recognize and respond to the Holy Spirit faithfully rather than disobediently or obstinately. Obviously, she would also have to have the necessary biology in working condition and be a Virgin, too. As far as the culture is concerned, if it was anything like modern Western culture, for example, we might hear all sorts of complaints from Mary if she had instead been acculturated into a feminist or individualistic mindset. (e.g. I have seen some modern feminists saying if they were Mary they would have had an abortion to spite us; likewise it's pretty hard to find an honest-to-God virgin in Western society today)
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