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Polygamy question


Ariarates

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I have an electronic database of church books, the 1996 LDS Collector's Library by Infobases, Inc. One of the books in that database is John Widtsoe's Evidences and Reconciliations. In part XII he clears up a number of misconceptions about polygamy. He first refutes the misconception that polygamy was instituted because there were more women than men in the early church (in fact there were less women than men). I already knew this, no surprises there. Then, a few paragraphs later, he writes:

Another conjecture is that the people were few in number and that the Church, desiring greater numbers, permitted the practice so that a phenomenal increase in population could be attained. This is not defensible, since there was no surplus of women.

This never occurred to me, even though I knew there weren't more women than men but it is, in fact, obvious that polygamy does not result in more progeny because it doesn't change the number of fertile women. That also means, however, that the reason for polygamy given in the BoM - to raise up seed unto God - is faulty.

After clearing up all common misunderstandings, Widtsoe is left with only one explanation:

The simple truth and the only acceptable explanation, is that the principle of plural marriage came as a revelation from the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith for the Church.

While this is an explanation, it does not provide a reason why God might have commanded it. The only reason I am left with, therefore, is the one from anthropology, i.e. that a large number of wives is a tribal status symbol, a sign of power and wealth. This explanation fits very well with the fact the polygamy was mainly practised by church leaders and less so by the general membership.

I readily admit that the misunderstanding that polygamy was commanded to raise up seed was entirely mine but I still find it shocking that there is, then, absolutely no good reason whatsoever for polygamy except that God commanded it. I have a very hard time with this. Thoughts anyone?

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There is only one reason we have for the Lord commanding that they institute plural marriage... Because the Lord for his own purposes commanded it. That is it. We don't know why.

6 ...And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.

(Moses 5:6)

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Poligamy may not have resulted in more children to the church, but it did concentrate a greater number of children born to the leaders of the church who had demonstrated their loyalty. One demonstration of loyalty being the willingness to enter into the plural marriage practice which many of those men and women had at first found hard to accept. This seems to fit with Jacob's comments about raising up a righteous generation.

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This never occurred to me, even though I knew there weren't more women than men but it is, in fact, obvious that polygamy does not result in more progeny because it doesn't change the number of fertile women. That also means, however, that the reason for polygamy given in the BoM - to raise up seed unto God - is faulty.

I have to agree with Senator and kamenraider. Raising up seed does not necessarily speak to numbers. The "unto me" seems to imply they are raised believing in God. It's like active believing members being authorized to practice plural marriage to ensure a greater proportion of children grow up believing. A subset of this would be the taking care of widows and otherwise single women, ensuring their children, if any, are properly raised in a believing household.

The simple truth and the only acceptable explanation, is that the principle of plural marriage came as a revelation from the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith for the Church.

We can speculate all we want, but it does come down to God's authorization and/or command. This does not make the BoM reason wrong in any way.

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That also means, however, that the reason for polygamy given in the BoM - to raise up seed unto God - is faulty.

I'm also going to have to agree with others, the words in Jacob 2:30 are "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people..."

Its pretty clear that we aren't speaking of sheer numbers here, but rather raising up a covenant people, people raised up to the Lord.

...I still find it shocking that there is, then, absolutely no good reason whatsoever for polygamy except that God commanded it. I have a very hard time with this. Thoughts anyone?

Has it ever occurred to you that trials of faith and things people may have a hard time with are part of mortality's test? That God might do something for precisely the reason that a person would have a hard time with it as a test of faith? Do you suppose that all trials be strictly limited to physical difficulties and hardship? Are difficult doctrines to be excluded from our test of faith?

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I have to agree with Senator and kamenraider. Raising up seed does not necessarily speak to numbers. The "unto me" seems to imply they are raised believing in God. It's like active believing members being authorized to practice plural marriage to ensure a greater proportion of children grow up believing.

Do the facts confirm this? Are children from polygamous households more believing than children from traditional families? And is polygamy the reason for that?

I have a hard time imagining why children would be more believing by seeing less of their father - but that may be my personal/cultural bias.

And as for "God commanded it" as a reason: obedience without understanding is blind obedience. Whenever this is brought up in the scriptures, a reason is usually given, even if only afterwards. It's been a hundred years since polygamy was abandoned. Rationally speaking, the anthropological explanation is the only one that fits the facts, as far as I can tell.

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Has it ever occurred to you that trials of faith and things people may have a hard time with are part of mortality's test? That God might do something for precisely the reason that a person would have a hard time with it as a test of faith?

Ever since I saw my mother wither away and die of cancer, I have concluded that a loving God cannot possibly be so cruel. My mother was the most righteous person I knew, there was no need to teach her any lesson by making her body rot away from under her.

I believe the trials and tribulations of mortality are a consequence of the fall, indiscriminately dealt out by nature.

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I have an electronic database of church books, the 1996 LDS Collector's Library by Infobases, Inc. One of the books in that database is John Widtsoe's Evidences and Reconciliations. In part XII he clears up a number of misconceptions about polygamy. He first refutes the misconception that polygamy was instituted because there were more women than men in the early church (in fact there were less women than men). I already knew this, no surprises there. Then, a few paragraphs later, he writes:

Another conjecture is that the people were few in number and that the Church, desiring greater numbers, permitted the practice so that a phenomenal increase in population could be attained. This is not defensible, since there was no surplus of women.

This never occurred to me, even though I knew there weren't more women than men but it is, in fact, obvious that polygamy does not result in more progeny because it doesn't change the number of fertile women. That also means, however, that the reason for polygamy given in the BoM - to raise up seed unto God - is faulty.

After clearing up all common misunderstandings, Widtsoe is left with only one explanation:

The simple truth and the only acceptable explanation, is that the principle of plural marriage came as a revelation from the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith for the Church.

While this is an explanation, it does not provide a reason why God might have commanded it. The only reason I am left with, therefore, is the one from anthropology, i.e. that a large number of wives is a tribal status symbol, a sign of power and wealth. This explanation fits very well with the fact the polygamy was mainly practised by church leaders and less so by the general membership.

I readily admit that the misunderstanding that polygamy was commanded to raise up seed was entirely mine but I still find it shocking that there is, then, absolutely no good reason whatsoever for polygamy except that God commanded it. I have a very hard time with this. Thoughts anyone?

"to raise up seed unto God"

What does it take to raise up seed unto God? It requires a Savior, a Redeemer.

And where did this redeemer come from? Well, he had to be perfect, but able to die for us. He had to be half immortal, half mortal. Heavenly Mother is perfect and immortal - she was therefore unable to beget Jesus.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord

(New Testament | Luke 1:38)

Jesus was not a ******* child. His parents were married. He was born to a handmaid. You do know what handmaids are right?

You know how the goal for some of us here is to become like God? Well, there is only one way to raise up children, only one plan

21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.

(Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 31:21)

so... if any of us are going to follow in His footsteps, we better prepare ourselves now for what that is going to take.

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That also means, however, that the reason for polygamy given in the BoM - to raise up seed unto God - is faulty.

I think theres a key word in that verse even though it's only implied and that is to "raise up RIGHTOUS seed." I believe there is certainly a difference in any man being a father and a rightous man being a father.
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I think theres a key word in that verse even though it's only implied and that is to "raise up RIGHTOUS seed." I believe there is certainly a difference in any man being a father and a rightous man being a father.

I agree that there's a difference between "a" father and a "righteous" father but I don't see how polygamy factors into the equation. You can be a righteous father without a polygamous marriage (at least I try to be).

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I agree that there's a difference between "a" father and a "righteous" father but I don't see how polygamy factors into the equation. You can be a righteous father without a polygamous [sic] marriage (at least I try to be).

Non sequitor.

(And it is not a question of "polygamy", nor even or "polygyny", which is by far a more accurate term, but of "plural marriage".)

The issue is raising up a righteous seed unto the Lord.

A righteous man with a single wife can have, what, 20 children? A righteous man with five wives, can have 100. (The numbers don't and never did work out quite in the extremes, but the principle is sound.)

Brother Brigham had far more children than he could have had if his only wife had been Miriam Angeline Works (2 children) or Mary Ann Angell (6 children), it is doubtful that he would have had 46 children survive him.

Lehi

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Do the facts confirm this? Are children from polygamous households more believing than children from traditional families? And is polygamy the reason for that?

I have a hard time imagining why children would be more believing by seeing less of their father - but that may be my personal/cultural bias.

And as for "God commanded it" as a reason: obedience without understanding is blind obedience. Whenever this is brought up in the scriptures, a reason is usually given, even if only afterwards. It's been a hundred years since polygamy was abandoned. Rationally speaking, the anthropological explanation is the only one that fits the facts, as far as I can tell.

Well said, Ariarates. I would speculate that there would be some marginal increase in likelihood that children in early LDS polygynous households would grow up more steeped in LDS tradition. But I think there is a host of other issues raised by the rationale that God commanded polygyny because he wanted to raise up more righteous seed, including the following:

(1) If the institution of revelation-based polygyny (i.e., polygynous relationships based on the will of God as revealed by the Church heirarchy) does in fact increase the number of children who would ultimately be saved via increased faithfulness and steadfastness in the Gospel, why in the world wouldn't God continue the practice today (or why wouldn't the church be backing efforts to legalize polygyny)? Isn't it his greatest goal (according to TBMs) to have the greatest number of righteous people possible?

(2) If it is true that polygyny is ordinarily an "abomination" in the eyes of God, as stated in the BoM, wouldn't God much prefer a less abominable alternative to polygyny that could accomplish the same goal? For example, why couldn't the less/non-believing members be commanded to have their children raised and/or adopted by the more believing ones? (Or is God in need of propogating "believing-DNA"?)

Considering the above concerns, my own observations, and other material I have read over the years, I draw the conclusion that the following is most likely true:

(a) JS was naturally pre-disposed to want to have multiple sex partners;

(b) JS was conflicted between his natural pre-disposition and the existing values/prejudices within Christianity and western society as a whole;

© JS had a part of him which sensed that God did not have a blanket prohibition on polygyny, because of, inter alia, examples in the Old Testament;

(d) One of JS's greatest fears was to be perceived by others as wicked by virtue of his sexual desires;

(e) JS could not seriously consider taking the position that God allows people to freely marry multiple members of the opposite sex as they saw fit, because such a position would be perceived as carnal/devilish/morally-bankrupt, etc.

(f) All of the above factors combined to strongly influence JS, subconsciously if not consciously, to genuinely believe that God can and does command polygyny under certain circumstances, including his own circumstance.

(g) BY and other male church leaders were at first horrified by the revelation on polygyny because they felt insecure about their own sexuality and had been conditioned by puritannical traditions to fear and mistrust their own sexual desires.

(h) The males who ultimately accepted the "commandment" to practice polygyny drew comfort from the belief that they were simply obeying God and should not feel ashamed about enjoying having multiple sex partners.

(i) Polygyny was ultimately repealed because the writing was on the wall that the church could not survive in the U.S. if it kept practicing it. Woodruff really faced the pragmatic choice: End the official practice of polygyny, or witness the destruction of the Church. Woodruff, himself a polygynist, decided to preserve the church and announced that polygyny would no longer be practiced.

(j) Once polygyny was repealed, and then repealed again in the early 1900s, the church worked furiously to rid itself of the reputation it had gained as an outlier in the Christian world. These efforts contributed to a broader crackdown on sexuality generally, to get us where we are today.

(k) The failure of the Church leadership and the majority of the active membership to come to grips with the real issues and history surrounding polygyny (and the decision to hide behind the excuse of, "We really don't know the reasons, but all that counts is that God commanded it.") facilitates the restrictive and puritannical attitudes towards sexuality which prevail in the church today. In my own speculation, if JS were alive today and willing to tell the absolute truth about himself and his sexuality, there would be a major shake-up. Either the church would have to condemn JS, or it would have to re-think and re-consider the very foundations of its notions about chastity.

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Whoever would want more than one wife is beyond me.

Reminds me of the quote from Winston Churchill.

A woman came to him and said she disagreed with his political view and said, "If you were my husband, I would put poison in your tea." Churchill responded, "If you were my wife, I would drink it."

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if JS was only insterested in sex... it's odd that the only children he had were Emma's.

I don't mean to be rude or insensitive but really, if Joseph Smith was in it for the physical nature of marriage, would he really marry Eliza Snow.

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I have said before and will continue to maintain (you can search my other posts on the subject, from my profile) that the main purpose of polygamy was to produce a church of prophets. That is, individual men and women who knew how to get clear answers directly from God himself RATHER than through even a prophet. Polygamy was (may have been) God's way of getting his sons and daughters to know for certain that they weren't following a prophet blindly, but knew for themselves. They were confronted with something so far out of their comfort zone that they had to get answers to go forward with it, by personal revelation.

By the way, the only way life or the church and gospel of Jesus Christ is going to make sense is if you have the first key. And the first key is that we are literally sons and daughters of God. If you don't accept that wholly (I don't know if you do, or if you don't), then something like polygamy; or dying from cancer; or, or, or, or; will NEVER make any sense, and one shouldn't attempt that understanding without absorbing more foundational principles first. Just my opinion.

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Ever since I saw my mother wither away and die of cancer, I have concluded that a loving God cannot possibly be so cruel. My mother was the most righteous person I knew, there was no need to teach her any lesson by making her body rot away from under her.

I believe the trials and tribulations of mortality are a consequence of the fall, indiscriminately dealt out by nature.

I'm sorry about your mother, but I respectfully submit that you may have missed the point. My point is even more relevant especially if you believe that trials and tribulations of mortality are a consequence of the fall, if they are indiscriminately dealt out by nature (and I agree that some are) then the trials that come from God would be those things that test our willingness to obey him, even when we don't know why or even when we might find it particularly difficult - such may be polygamy. If you have a tough time with it then it just may be your test. The question is, will you pass?

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This never occurred to me, even though I knew there weren't more women than men but it is, in fact, obvious that polygamy does not result in more progeny because it doesn't change the number of fertile women. That also means, however, that the reason for polygamy given in the BoM - to raise up seed unto God - is faulty.

Not so fast.

The implications of that passage depend entirely on the intended meaning of "raise up."

As you have asserted, the "seed" being "raised up" could be a reference to future children (as most assume).

Or, it could instead refer to something else much more simple.

There's no cause to rush to the assumption that the Book of Mormon is in error.

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That is, individual men and women who knew how to get clear answers directly from God himself RATHER than through even a prophet.....They were confronted with something so far out of their comfort zone that they had to get answers to go forward with it, by personal revelation.

Pardon my obtuseness, but isn't that what prayer is? You don't need fabfantastic prophet DNA in order to get a clear answer from God.

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Pardon my obtuseness, but isn't that what prayer is? You don't need fabfantastic prophet DNA in order to get a clear answer from God.

I don't think that's what she's saying.

She's not saying literal children of the prophets, but that the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy and since this commandment was so far out of their comfort zone, they had to really pray and strive to know the truth themselves, i.e. become a prophet by getting revelation.

A very interesting theory that I'd never heard before. Not sure I believe it, but definitely thought-provoking.

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I don't think that's what she's saying.

She's not saying literal children of the prophets, but that the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy and since this commandment was so far out of their comfort zone, they had to really pray and strive to know the truth themselves, i.e. become a prophet by getting revelation.

A very interesting theory that I'd never heard before. Not sure I believe it, but definitely thought-provoking.

How is this any different from personal revelation?

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