Thursday, December 23, 2010

They'll Never Understand

I have the sense that a lot of people in this world are really galled by the whole polygamy thing. The reactions to news articles; the comments about Fundamentalist Mormon families and communities - it all shows a deep disdain for the culture, the practitioners and even the religion. Many people seem to be as enthused about polygamy as they are of learning they are HIV positive. It is repugnant and impossible to understand.

A significant number of characters seem to be making a career out of combating polygamy and polygamists. Even well-balanced, compassionate people are at least baffled as to why so many men and (even more) women deliberately choose to be polygamous.

A possible feminist complaint could grow out of the common perception that polygamous men dominate and subjugate their wives. What's confusing is that there are multitudes of monogamous men who do exactly that. Generally, such situations are the result of character shortcomings in one or more of the spouses (- NOT because they happen to be believers in Mormonism).

These perception problems are still very hard to resolve. WHY?

I believe the simple answer is - PATRIARCHY.

Patriarchy is a controversial concept. It is plainly endorsed by the Bible and, until the 20th century, it was pretty much the accepted family model across 99% of the world. In our modern, progressive world view, we are taught to shun patriarchy. We repudiate the idea that a man is the "head" of his "household", especially in the very binary, dyadic monogamous arrangement. Modern monogamy is more like a duel than patriarchy. In the monogamy model, the partner with the strongest personality (or muscles) wins more of the arguments.

Patriarchy, however, evinces an asymmetrical family model where the husband holds an position of political and/or religious supremacy and has the "final say". To the average outsider, this is an almost indefensible arrangement. Why would a woman voluntarily subject herself to the "leadership" of a husband, when she could freely choose otherwise? Why would she not choose instead to join a "polyamorous" relationship, where all of the players are egalitarian and secular, and negotiate a vast array of different intimacy dynamics?

Here's the dilemma though, - when there is one man and several women, the women all crave the husband's time and attentions. What they get is ALWAYS a portion - a fraction of his total, available energies (just as in monogamy), and here's the CRUX. WHO decides how to divide up his time (daytime or bedtime)? Ultimately, it is the husband who MUST govern his own schedule, his eating, his bathing, his working, his playing, his waking and sleeping. It is just a simple fact of life and logistics. The husband is thus elevated upwards a notch in the political hierarchy, because he (and he alone) must make those moment-by-moment, executive decisions about what he is going to do with his time and with whom he will spend it. Face it folks - that is the inherent NATURE of religiously-inspired polygyny - there is no getting around it.

Yes, the poor man is vastly outnumbered by the women in his family. They may even (individually or collectively) have more robust personalities than his. They can out-vote him and even threaten to leave. Still, in the end, he is the de facto chief, because he often governs a significant percentage of the family's resources. Plus - what if he is just like typical men - lazy, selfish, inconsiderate, rude, controlling, brutish, smelly, short-tempered, deceitful, disloyal, ignorant, impatient and oversexed? It has been proposed by no small number of advocates that there should be strict laws against men having more than one partner, ever. Heck, it's a wonder that our noble government allows men to have a partner at all.

I know the Mormon Church looks at modern men that way (except for the ones in leadership positions). The distinguished Mormon polygamist leaders (and apostles) of the 1800's were nigh unto godhood - Joseph, Brigham, John Taylor, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, Heber J. Grant and so on. Nowadays, the men who enter the New and Everlasting Covenant are criminals, apostates and filthy adulterers.

So, to all you diffident outsiders I say this, "What if there are five good women who discover a man who is truly decent? - a man who is honorable, fair, studious, charitable, kind, compassionate, patient, wise, prayerful, generous, loyal, strong, industrious, loving and humble? What if our Heavenly Father inspires and directs those five women to join with that man in an eternal marriage? Should the government step in and stop the relationships before they blossom?"

Tens of thousands of Fundamentalist Mormons have embraced this lifestyle as part of a deeply-held religious theology. The women recognize that they exchange a certain portion of their political autonomy for the opportunity to spend the eternities with someone who aspires to godhood. They see this covenant as a huge blessing, and not as a burden. They develop rich, enduring relationships with their sister-wives - which would have been impossible outside the covenant. They live according to the revealed convictions afforded them by the restoration of the Fullness of the Gospel. They face hardships and adversities like the rest of humanity, but they accept their trials as a gift from God - calculated to magnify and exalt them. They worship our God, our greatest Patriarch, and they rejoice in having a mortal patriarch who cherishes them - and whose sole objective is to return, with them, to the presence of God, so that they might inherit ALL that He has.

So, do we embrace a healthy form of patriarchy? Do we allow Barack Obama to exercise leadership over the Executive Branch? Do we allow the Pope to oversee the Catholic Church and the Vatican? Do we condone Thomas S. Monson's primacy over the LDS Church? Do you let your boss lead you when you are at work? Would we let Jesus Christ direct his apostles and disciples? These are all different types of leadership - even "patriarchy" scenarios. Have you lived inside a fully-functioning polygamous family? In such a home, compulsion cannot work. Duress and tyranny would bring swift destruction. There can NEVER be success, except through collaboration, true love, common-consent and leadership through compassion and service.

Outsiders may NEVER understand this. If they did understand it, they would not be outsiders anymore. Still, as alluded to in D&C 113:8, conviction is often genetic.

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