"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Posts tagged ‘polygamy’

Chesterton on Polygamy

I never could join the young men of my time in feeling what they called the general sentiment of revolt. I should have resisted, let us hope, any rules that were evil, and with these and their definition I shall deal in another chapter. But I did not feel disposed to resist any rule merely because it was mysterious. Estates are sometimes held by foolish forms, the breaking of a stick or the payment of a peppercorn: I was willing to hold the huge estate of earth and heaven by any such feudal fantasy. It could not well be wilder than the fact that I was allowed to hold it at all. At this stage I give only one ethical instance to show my meaning. I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion’s) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind.

– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


Much of the national conversation is dominated by issues on which the media and academic elite claim that they’re out in front of us backwards Christians.  What I find rather remarkable is the number of issues on which those same people end up figuring out that us backwards Christians were right all along.  One excellent example comes from this paper:

Monogamy reduces major social problems of polygamist cultures

You got that?  It turns out that “societies that institutionalize and practice monogamous marriage” have major advantages over those that don’t.  Among the bad things that researchers found in societies that practice polygamy are “greater levels of crime, violence, poverty and gender inequality” and “significantly higher levels of rape, kidnapping, murder, assault, robbery and fraud”.  Societies that only allow monogamous marriage will see “lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death, homicide and intra-household conflict” and “increases [in] long-term planning, economic productivity, savings and child investment”.  The researchers also note that “monogamous marriage has largely preceded democracy and voting rights for women in the nations where it has been institutionalized” and “monogamous marriage increases the age of first marriage for females, decreases the spousal age gap and elevates female influence in household decisions which decreases total fertility and increases gender equality.”  Sounds pretty good for monogamy, doesn’t it?

None of this should exactly be news for informed people.  All of it has been known for awhile.  For instance, The American Conservative published an article a decade ago, Sex and Consequences, which covers the same ground.  I’d hazard a guess as to why that article wasn’t announced all across the media landscape as this latest one is.  It probably has something to do with the fact that the earlier one was published in The American Conservative, and also because it tackles gay marriage along with polygamy, and the results aren’t very positive for either.

But nonetheless, the word is now out.  There is actual evidence that allowing polygamous marriage will lead to harm for individuals and society.  But why should we care?  After all, virtually no one thinks that polygamy should be legal, right?

Actually, I’d say this is very important.  Anyone can look and see that there’s a movement afoot to make polygamy acceptable in America.  There are whole TV shows dedicated to doing so, and to presenting a highly innacurate portrait of how a polygamous family functions.  Such families have been interviewed on Oprah and other high-profile places, again giving a misleading picture.  And it’s obvious, though some would try to deny it, that if it’s legally accepted that  the government can’t discriminate in its marriage laws, then eventually polygamy will become legal.  When that happens, the research tells us that we can expect higher crime, higher poverty, greater gender inequality, and other bad effects.  If we don’t want those things, we should ensure that monogamous marriage remains the only legal possibility, and that socially it’s encouraged as much as possible.  Indeed, I seem to recall that Jesus Christ took that general position, and if he were actually just an ignorant carpenter from first-century Palestine it would be rather remarkable that he stumbled on precisely the definition of marriage that is best for modern society.

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