"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Polygamy: always a maddening subject for me

I've long loathed the idea of polygamy especially as I've read Muslim blogs the last couple of years. However I can respect the idea in which polygamy was passed along to the Islamic world in the beginning -- a way of taking care of war widows and the notion that you must treat all wives equally and limit yourself to only four (unless you happened to be Muhammad who conveniently got an exception from Allah on that requirement.) At least the Muslims have a respectable reason for taking more than one wife even though I highly doubt it is the reason most polygamists take more than one wife today. Somehow I get the impression they are looking for younger, newer models when they take plural wives these days. Especially when they hold the "I can get another wife if I want" thing over their current wives as a threat when said wives don't give into their whims or serve them enough. But I digress.

I am currently reading The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Although the book is fiction it also has a lot of church history intertwined as it relates to Joseph Smith and the beginning of the Latter Day Saints or the Mormons. Ages ago, I'd read a few fiction books that discussed Mormon things, but now I am reading this book and it's quite eye-opening. Mormons today come across as such decent, truly wonderful people -- and likely most of them are! They project a great image to the world. However, their beginning makes me shudder. Like their prophets urging them to accept plural marriages so that they will obtain salvation and help others obtain salvation. And then their prophets lying about their polygamy because they know outsiders won't understand. They figure they'll first convert them and then explain that these celestial marriages are needed and part of church doctrine. The way they went around quizzing people on their thoughts and actions in order to urge confessions from their members. The way Brigham Young said, "Will you love your brothers and sisters likewise, when they have a sin that cannot be atoned for without the shedding of their blood? Will you love that man or that woman well enough to shed their blood? That is what Jesus meant. This is loving our neighbor as our self; if he needs help, help him; if he wants salvation, and it is necessary to spill his blood upon the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it." (pg. 180) Although the 19th wife, Ann Eliza Webb Young, admits that some have interpreted his words differently, STILL! Can you imagine "the Prophet" of your religion saying such things?! And, yes, this 19th wife just mentioned was wife of the famous Mormon prophet Brigham Young. She divorced her husband and crusaded for ending polygamy here!

This book also deals with an offshoot or sect of the LDS which claim the Mormons today have compromised by calling for the end of polygamy. This cult still practices polygamy though the US only recognizes one legal wife per man. Therefore, they learn how to apply for government benefits and get loads of welfare checks. It's not unheard of for men to have 15 or 20 wives with scores of children! Because of all the inbreeding, you can have a cousin, aunt and half-sister who are the same woman! :-O Ugh...it sounds horrendous to me!

This book has over 500 pages and I've not quite read 200 and have been disgusted by much thus far. To be fair Ms. Young said that some women like polygamy. They have accepted it as something from God so they are fine with their husbands taking new wives which help them all obtain salvation. Also these women like the companionship of other women around the house, their help with the chores and children and so forth. However, she said many women hate this practice even though they have been brainwashed to believe it's necessary and the will of God.



Veroinca said...

It's so sad that these women either don't mind polygamy because they think it is needed to obtain salvation or feel trapped in it. I can't imagine having a aunt, cousin, and half sister...but the same woman filling all of those roles. It amazes me how one man created a religion with such strict rules. These people need to know the real Jesus.

Veronica said...

And, obviously I can't spell my name correctly. Sigh.

Bridget said...

SO weird that I just replied to your comment and then clicked over to this post. The mention of polygamy in that comment was totally unrelated to this.

I didn't read this post in-depth because I just wanted to make the above clear, but I will read it and toss in a few thoughts. I have to say, though, that I started reading this book recently and knew within about 10 pages that it was not a book I would finish. It made me shudder - maybe the same feeling you described thinking about some of the aspects of the beginning of the church I belong to.

A quick note - if you're not too disgusted with polygamy books after this one, may I suggest you read Escape by Carolyn Jessop? It's not extraordinarily friendly to the mainstream LDS church, but I do think that she did a good job distinguishing between the fundamentalists and the regular Mormons.

Amber said...

Sounds interesting. Is it a good book? Aside from the things that make you wiggy, I mean. Something you'd recommend reading in a fictional light, obviously... y'all....*snickers*

Amber said...

Ah! Forgot to say that among the many things that bother me about polygamy as practiced in the Mormon sense is the STEALING FROM THE PEOPLE by taking government aide and the fact that the women are taught that their salvation is dependent on a man. *makes rude noises at the idea*

Susanne said...

V, I agree that it is sad.

Bridget, thanks for your reply and the book recommendation. Since you are one of only two Mormons whom I know, I kept wondering what you would think of this book and how you would show me a different side that I am blind to. I can understand people doing something because they believe it's what God wanted. I know MY faith is bizarre to much of the world because I believe God came to earth (as Jesus) and died for my sins. So, thanks for speaking up on this topic. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective.

Amber, it's pro-gay and used the "f" word frequently. Do you mind those things? I found the history part fascinating. Probably more than half the book was the beginnings of the LDS (though NOT in great detail) and the issue of polygamy as told from one of Brigham Young's ex-wives. The fiction part dealt with "the Firsts" who departed from the mainstream Mormons when the Mormons declared an end to polygamy in the US. They thought they were keeping Mormonism pure and not caving into the US pressure, but it's clear the Mormons don't think of them fondly as dear cousins.

Yeah, I know what you mean about men being in charge of women's salvation. It reminds me of some Muslim women who share on blogs that husbands can get "points" for good deeds their wives do. I just find all that weird, but I know people believe it is sincerely from God so I shouldn't be so cavalier about it. *sigh*

I've heard Americans tend to be more individualistic than many in other countries. And I think this also pertains to my faith. I just think *I* am responsible to God for me. Yes, pastors and parents are responsible for how they taught, but as far as salvation goes, I don't think I save others or give others points with God as far as earning salvation. Maybe I am too individualistic...hmmmm.

And thanks for making fun of me per the pothole thing! :-P

Amber said...


None of this stuff bothers me even a little. :)

While there needs to be a level of respect for others beliefs, just because they sincerely hold a belief that they sincerely believe comes from God doesn't make it true, or right.

No other human being can save me, or anyone else for that matter. On a certain, basic level, your relationship with God has to be an A & B conversation. :)