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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Polygamy is Next

In Canada, the federal Justice Dept. sponsored a study on whether or not to legalize polygamy. The study was commissioned because with the legalization of gay marriage, the question of how to define marriage has arisen. Not surprisingly, the commission recommended de-criminalizing polygamy. See here.

This is very simple. Where does the definition of marriage come from? If it comes from tradition, that can be changed. If it comes from the norms of Western culture, it can be changed. If it comes from the will of the people, then it can be changed. Only if the idea of marriage springs from a source beyond humanity, a higher authority, can any definition of marriage remain stable.


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13 comments:

c. l. miller said...

We should ask, what type of society do we have? Canada does not appear to draw their values from a higher authority, rather one of the questions you asked about the origin of the definition of marriage would be answered in the affirmative, it is either tradition, the culture, or the people's will.

Can we expect non-christians to live by a moral code drawn from scripture? No, but we can expect them to live according to the legal code of the land. As citizens of the United States were we do have the oppurtunity to vote for those who make our laws; we have a oppurtunity to support and vote for those who we believe will uphold moral standards we agree with for our society.

It should not surprise us though when non-christians do not obey scriptural moral standards or even acknowledge them as good. When our society does not conform to these standards we can and should feel some displeasure; we should keep our focus on the true King and kingdom that awaits us, meanwhile continueing to do the work required of us as citizens of this earthly kingdom.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

c.l.,
I do expect the world to operate according to general precepts of God's law because it has been revealed to all humanity by being imprinted on our hearts. It is called Natural Law.

Our founding fathers did not expressly call upon Scripture for their understandings of law, but from what they took to be natural law, imprinted on all by the Creator.

At the same time, it does not surprise me when men act contrary to natural law. But they are, as St. Paul said, without excuse.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Paul also say, somewhere,
"Their consciences are seared"?

Rob Berry said...

Why should we believe that entrusting the definition of marriage to "a higher authority" that is "beyond humanity" would make it any more stable? It's equally plausible that such an authority would have no compunctions about changing the definition of marriage. If this hypothetical authority was friendly to humans, then it might do so to better suit the needs of changing human cultures. If this authority was inimical to humans, it might do so to keep humans in a state of confusion, or to make marriage an instrument of misery and chaos. And if the authority was indifferent to humans, and was merely using humans as a tool for its own inscrutable purposes, then it might change the definition of marriage as part of its larger plan. In any event, you've offered no reason to suppose that a "higher authority" would pick a single definition of marriage and then stick to it for eternity.

Now, as a good little pancritical rationlist, I have no objection if you want to hold an unjustified belief. But if you want to do anything other than preach to the choir, you'll need to offer some rationale for believing this claim. You'll also need to address the question of how you know this "higher authority" exists, and how you know that its definition of marriage is the same as yours.

c. l. miller said...

Pastor Stiegemeyer,
I understand that God has imprinted the natural law on our hearts. When it comes to working in the political realm we often have to base our arguments on natural law. When it comes to their guilt before God, I agree with you that these men are without excuse for their violations of His law; really just as we are without excuse for our violations as well, receiving our righteousness only as a result of Christ’s justifying work.

It seems you may have misinterpreted my point, because really I agree with what you seem to be saying. As a U. S. citizen I can not do much beyond making a comment on Canada’s legal system; as a Christian it does not surprise that they could come to find ways to attempt to justify their sins claiming that they are not at all sins.

If a judge in the United States were to attempt to legalize polygamy, then as a citizen of this country I would be taking action to stop that action, by contacting my elected representatives, making public arguments against that action, voting against those who supported that judge, and encouraging others to do likewise.

When dealing with individuals, who do not draw their rational from scripture, in the political realm I would argue from that natural law imprinted on their hearts. These battles can be long and difficult though. We need to be careful how we wage them and avoid being too disheartened when we face defeat knowing the kingdom of the left hand is not the ultimate kingdom.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking that a legally binding relationship other than a traditional marriage, could be called a "parriage" comming from the word pair. Now, if it's a relationship involving more than a pair (of people, hopefully), I don't have a term thought up yet.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I think about the question of polygamy, I wonder, do we have a leg to stand upon?

Let's look at the Old Testament (and bring up an old exegetical debate) How many wives did Jacob have? David? Solomon?

Now, one can say that they had a special despensation (Luther certainly would, Calvin, not so much) to propogate the line of the Messiah. So, let's look at the Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther sanctioned the bigamy of Philipp von Hesse, and counseled Henry VIII of England to enter into a bigamous relationship. In fact, Luther urged bigamy over divorce in cases of impotence.

Granted, that's the 16th century. But for me, whatever the Canadian courts decide -- hey, it's the Kingdom of the Left. The Church still regulates the Kingdom of the Right, and can make its own definition. Let the Kingdom of the Left make it's decision based its own evidence (like oh crap, how in the world do we do divorce and child custody and so on....).

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Anon,
Yes, the Patriarchs practiced polygamy. They also were known to sleep with their handmaidens. The kings of Israel practiced polygamy and had concubines.

Here's where I rest my case. When Jesus taught about marriage, he referred to Adam and Eve. One man, one woman. And when St. Paul teaches about marriage, he compares to Christ and the Church. Seems to me that monogamy is what God has established for marriage.

Bob Waters said...

Anonymous, you're referring to 1 Tim. 4:

4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Doesn't sound like the secular liberines of the age as much as the Christian legalists, actually. But you're right in that it's still disobedience. Rather we're talking about supressing the voice of conscience by allowing what God forbids or by requiring what God doesn't require, you're still talking rebellion.

But you're also talking about the deliberate suppression of what Romans 1 tells us is written on the human heart. Consciences become seared when what all human beings know instinctively about God and His requirements is ignored. They don't start out that way.

Bob Waters said...

Hey, Rob... your question isn't that hard to answer.

Contrary to the spirit of the age, the ethical outlook of all the societies there have, taken together, far more in common than otherwise. The Ten Commandments are not merely a set of religious rules. They are not just the foundation of all of the Western legal systems. They are one summary of a generally common set of ethical principles existing pretty much in all societies anywhere which- for all the differences- resemble one another in far more than they differ,

That includes marriage. Polygamous societies are few and far between; where they exist, women become chattels, children of both genders are raised with role models which serve them poorly, and everybody loses- and
economics go batty. Reality being what it is, except in economically very primitive cultures only the wealthy in most societies can even afford polygamy. Polyandry, of course,is so rare as to be almost unheard of.

How do we know that there is such an Authority? By that Law written on the heart which Pastor Steigemeier refers to. By the consensus of human societies throughout the world and throughout the ages, and their experience of what works and what doesn't- as well as by an instinct which must be actively suppressed in order to be denied.

How do we know what that Law says? By that instinct, by that generally denied but nonetheless actually rather formidable consensus- and by our common sense. By the common wisdom of our species, of which the Ten Commandments is an expression reflecting a common human experience and consensus far more than the cultural differences it's fashionable to fixate on.

All you have to do is to be able to see the forest for the trees, and the pattern of uniformity in that diversity

Bottom line: we have plenty of data in the experience of our species and in common sense as to what works, and what doesn't. Monogamy works. Polygamy
is economically non-viable and socially disfunctional. And the consensus at least of the economically advanced and politically egalitarian
segment of our species remains pretty much what it's always been: monogamy is the way to go, if you're interested in the welfare of the society and most of its members.

If you're into exploiting women and don't particularly care what happens to your kids, of course, that's another matter.

Bob Waters said...

BTW, I recently discussed these issues in some detail at my blog:

http://watersblogged.blogspot.com/2006/01/when-should-sins-against-god-be.html

http://watersblogged.blogspot.com/2006/01/when-should-sins-against-god-be.html

and

http://watersblogged.blogspot.com/2006/01/when-should-sins-against-god-be_04.html

I really doubt that these links will be clickable, and I'm afraid they'll have to be copied and pasted into the browser.

Bob Waters said...

Hmmm. I guess the links work!

Rob Berry said...

Hey, Rob... your question isn't that hard to answer.

Unfortunately, your response didn't really answer the question. Yes, you did address the questions, "How do we know that there is such an Authority" and "How do we know what that Law says?" But you didn't address the question, "How do we know that the Authority won't change that Law?" Remember, Stiegemeyer's original statement was, "Only if the idea of marriage springs from a source beyond humanity, a higher authority, can any definition of marriage remain stable." And my question was, "Why should we believe that entrusting the definition of marriage to 'a higher authority' that is 'beyond humanity' would make it any more stable?" That's the question that needs to be answered, because even if we grant both the existence of a higher authority and its exclusive right to define marriage, it still isn't clear that this authority would choose never to change its definition of marriage. As I wrote in my original post here, there are several reasons why it might choose to change the definition. None of what you wrote rules out that possibility.

Contrary to the spirit of the age, the ethical outlook of all the societies there have, taken together, far more in common than otherwise. The Ten Commandments are not merely a set of religious rules. They are not just the foundation of all of the Western legal systems. [emphasis added] They are one summary of a generally common set of ethical principles existing pretty much in all societies anywhere[...]

I don't want to drift too far off topic, but I can't let that one go unchallenged. Only four of the Ten Commandments (six, seven, eight and nine) could possibly be considered part of "the foundation of all of the Western legal systems." The rest were not legally enforced in the earliest Western societies (ie. Greek and pre-Christian Rome) and the first four weren't even practiced by these cultures. Furthermore, even the four commandments that did have corresponding laws in Greco-Roman culture do not appear to have been inspired by the Ten Commandments, but rather arose independently. It would thus be more accurate to say that Greco-Roman law, not the Ten Commandments, was the foundation of Western legal systems. The Ten Commandments simply happen to have some points of commonality.

That includes marriage. Polygamous societies are few and far between; where they exist, women become chattels,

Smells like post hoc, ergo proptor hoc to me. Are you sure that polygamous marriage was the cause of women being treated like property? Because there's an equally plausible alternative-- that these societies already treated women like property, and polygamous marriage evolved as a way to hoard one's property. Certainly I am not aware of any studies showing that societies with gender equality begin to view women as property after the introduction of polygamous marriage. (Of course, if you happen to know of any, I'd be happy to have these studies pointed out to me.)

children of both genders are raised with role models which serve them poorly,

Well, in one sense I agree with you-- in a society where women are treated as property, children of both genders are indeed going to grow up with poor role models. Boys, because they will be taught that it is okay to treat women as property, and girls, because they are taught that such treatment is normal and right and not to be fought against. However, this would occur whether or not the child was raised in a polygamous or monogamous marriage, since monogamous parents in such a culture would also impart these attitudes to their children. In other words, the poor role modelling is a result of the general cultural attitudes towards women, not the number of women that one is allowed to marry.

and everybody loses- and economics go batty. Reality being what it is, except in economically very primitive cultures only the wealthy in most societies can even afford polygamy.

True, but irrelevant. In most cultures, only the wealthy can afford to have dozens of children, but that's not a good reason to impose China-esque legal limits on the number of children one may have.

Polyandry, of course,is so rare as to be almost unheard of.

True, but that doesn't work in your favor. In fact, it meshes nicely with my claim that these ancient societies already viewed women as property, and that polygamous marriage as practiced in ancient societies is a result of this attitude, not its cause. If ancient societies truly practiced gender equality prior to the introduction of plural marriage, then we would expect to see polygamous and polyandrous societies in about equal numbers. That didn't happen.

How do we know that there is such an Authority? By that Law written on the heart which Pastor Steigemeier refers to. By the consensus of human societies throughout the world and throughout the ages[...]

There are two problems with the "consensus" argument. First, it can prove the wrong things. For example, throughout history, there has also been a consensus that slavery is normal and just; the notion that slavery is wrong is purely a modern invention. Yet nobody here (I hope!) would argue that slavery is morally acceptable, or that we should re-legalize slavery.

Second, modern Western society is unique. There has never been a society in the past that combines freedom, democracy, science, and technology in the way that we have. This consensus that you speak of was forged by societies which were radically different than ours. The laws and customs that they adopted were intended to solve a completely different set of problems than the ones we face. A million carpenters may well reach the consensus that a hammer is a good way to pound in a nail, but that consensus is useless to somebody trying to cut a piece of wood in half.

For these reasons, their consensus should not be considered the final arbiter of what laws Western society should enact, or how Western society should define its institutions. To be sure, I'm not suggesting that we cannot be informed by this consensus, or use it as a starting point in our deliberations. But neither should we treat it as sacrosanct or inviolable. Critical thinking is what is needed, not blind obedience to tradition.

In any event, none of this shows that a "higher authority" (if it actually exists) with exclusive rights to define marriage (if it actually has these rights) would decide to keep the same definition throughout eternity. And as we've already seen, there are good reasons why such an entity might choose to do so. Thus, Stiegemeyer's original statement is simply mistaken. Entrusting the definition of marriage to a "higher authority" is no guarantee that the definition won't change at some point in the future.

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