Monday, February 26, 2007


For me, polygamy was the most awful of all things Mormon, all growing up. I tried and tried to think of the idea of having to live polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom--and found it abhorrent. Surely God wouldn't make me? Surely D&C just meant that some people would live it, just the ones that wanted to? Right? Like all those people in Africa that practice it anyway?

It just doesn't jive with the equality of men and women. One man-four women is inherently unequal. That seems to mean that each woman is worth only a fourth of what the man is worth. I can't accept that. But I grinned and bore it, and put it on the back burner. I manipulated my boyfriend (now husband) into promising he wouldn't ever marry after I died, so I wouldn't have a co-wife. (Sorry, BTW.)

I thought that Heavenly Father really had told Joseph Smith to practice polygamy, for some reason I couldn't comprehend. I even heard about polyandry and figured there must be some divine reason.

Then I read Mormon Enigma. The way Smith lied, manipulated, etc--in order to get sex and exert power--was just too much. No way that came from God. I started to believe polygamy came from nowhere but Joe's horniness, wild ideas, and thirst for power.

And that created a conundrum for me. How in the world could the prophet of God do such a thing? Could he still be prophet after doing that? Was he prophet only before that, and the power got to him, and he screwed up? Could I reject everything he taught after that (like all that weird stuff in the Pearl of Great Price)? My head whirled around and around like that until I read about the Book of Mormon (non)historicity, the Book of Abraham "translation," Smith's mistaking of the Kinderhoek plates as authentic, the evolving theology of the first vision(s), and the priesthood "restoration." The foundational claims of the church? They have no foundation.

And I stopped believing altogether. So polygamy didn't exactly help me stop believing--I did all sorts of mental gymnastics around it--but it was a major factor to help me stop wanting to be a Mormon.


Gunner said...

The way the early history unfold brings me to one conclusion. He had a low level scam that became a way of life for himself. Like Jim Jones, he bought his own lies near the end.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Yep. It is amazing how icky it is when looked at with clear and open eyes.

Meg said...

I could almost get over that stuff if I thought the church was a good place to be now. The dealbreaker for me is being a second class citizen. Sometimes I feel more angry about the creation story that says that a male god alone created the earth. I'm angry that god is referred to as "he." I'm angry that boys in the church are given responsibilites and told they are important, and girls are shamed about their bodies and told to simply prepare to be a good wife, rather than a good individual. Whew . . .I didn't realize all that was going to come up. The polygamy stuff is all related, but it feeds the same mindset about the importance of women in relation to men.

Nice post!

emerging from the ashes said...

gunner- From what I've read of JS (there's plenty more I could), I agree with you. I think he started out lying, but it got too big, and he eventually started to believe the lie himself.

SML- Yes. There are so many things I looked back on and saw in a totally different way.

meg- Let it out, girl. I agree; being a second class citizen is one reason I got out of there once I stopped believing. And one of the biggest issues I had growing up.

T. Wanker said...

I too have read the history and I also get to come at this from a male perspective -- brutes that we are -- and I have an alternate theory that I think comports with all the evidence and also explains why so many people actually believed and followed Joseph Smith. How do you account for all of those that got sucked in by a con, other than to say your ancestors were stupid?

Too much of Joseph Smith's work product is derivative of early 19th Century America. The most probable reasoning is that Joe was sincere and somewhat of a mystic. His pronouncements are mystical in the way a 19th Century Christian American male could be mystical. As with many mystics, the sexual got all entangled with the spiritual.

Joe also had a strong communal bent -- i.e. polygamy and the law of consecration. He was looking for a mystical union of one heart and one mind in Zion. He was also obviously a charismatic.

The mystical and archetypal speaks to the subconcious of most humans and is quiet powerful. It provides the staying power for most religious traditions. The good fun part of Mormonism is its mystical aspects: commune with God yourself, know God and all his creations for yourself, you are/or can become God and God doesn't stop talking to those who try and talk with him. Those are the kinds of ideas that get people to stick around even when you are proposing polygamy.

Just for clarification, I am no believer. The "Joseph was a cad" and "Joseph was a saint" just both seem equally shallow. The truth lies as Joseph himself said, "by proving the contraries."

emerging from the ashes said...

T wanker- Interesting thoughts. You're not the first person I've seen put JS among the mystics. Mormonism certainly had some powerful draws to people who converted to it. No doubt. And it was also powerfully repulsive to a lot of people. And a lot of people did leave once the polygamy thing was introduced to them.

Some theologians, I think, would argue that JS's ideas about God that you mentioned above ("commune with God yourself, know God and all his creations for yourself, you are/or can become God and God doesn't stop talking to those who try and talk with him") make the sacred profane--he pulled God down to our level. Which is totally inappropriate and the opposite of what God is to many people. But Mormons see it differently; Mormons see it as elevating man to God's level.

T. Wanker said...

I understand that the Christian West dislikes the mystical, in part because those concepts are antithetical to heirarchy. (This is a power grab for the control of the souls of the masses -- as are most arguments over religious dogma.)

The conepts you re-listed are definitional concepts for mysticism. The odd thing about this is that the Mormon concept is so fleshy. The concepts themselves are mystical, but in an earthy 19th Century American literalism.