Polygamy, Part 2 of 3

(single marriages and multiple marriages)

Does marriage to one spouse at a time signify monotony for some people?

  • While polygyny has been rather common historically and occurs today in certain parts of the world, polyandry has always been a rarity and its citations are limited to a handful of insignificant tribes.
  • Consequently the term polygamy is commonly used to denote the much more prevalent polygyny.
  • Polygamy allows sexual relationships between one man and two or more women, all of whom are members of a single socially accepted marital unit.
  • The entrance of Western monogamous values into polygamous areas has created strong cultural clashes.
  • Muhammad permitted his followers to marry women in “twos and threes and fours” (Sura iv: 3) provided that the women were treated equally, and he allowed them to have as many concubines as affordable (Sura iv: 22).
  • Muhammad's directive to marry several women was issued after the Battle of Uhad in which there were heavy losses and it is best interpreted as a strong encouragement for the survivors to provide for the orphans and widows.
  • Christian teaching and its historically accompanying doctrine of monogamy have yet to challenge seriously Muhammadan teaching.
  • Predictions of the disappearance of polygamy due to the growth of Christianity, literacy, or a cash economy have not been successful; indeed, polygamy appears to have increased in some areas due to these factors.
  • An increase in personal income can make polygamy more affordable.
  • The unique and important African phenomenon is the existence of a strong community of independent churches which accept polygamists into Christian fellowship, some even approving of the practice itself.
  • Western missionaries have historically solved the confrontation with polygamists in a simple manner—polygamists could not become Christians.

  • A modern tech marriage
    Used with special permission from the cartoonist, Randy Glasbergen.

  • All but one wife had to be divorced in order for the husband to be baptized.
  • In some places the prestige of Christianity resulted in a large-scale rejection of polygamy, but elsewhere people remained in their polygamous state and rejected Christianity.
  • The acceptance of polygamists into a seemingly healthy and growing Christian context directly challenges the practice of the West, and for some, the Christian faith.
  • Since several studies in polygamous areas suggest that many Christian men remain open to the option of polygamy, an increase in African Christianity may well result in the perpetuation of Christian polygamous practices.
  • Today’s world is quickly changing and, with the mass media making that world smaller, a syncretistic society; such as America, is especially vulnerable to new influences.
  • Polygamous societies have existed in America (most notably the nineteenth century Mormons), and remnants are still present.
  • The possibility of a legal reinstitution of polygamy in America is not necessarily remote when the direction of the courts and society toward open-ended toleration is considered.
  • A new domestic moral and pastoral problem would then exist which would likely produce only a reaction rather than a serious evaluation.
  • Polygamist authors have challenged the West to argue on the basis of the Biblical data and not cultural tradition.
  • The fact that the West possesses a monogamous heritage of over 2,000 years is an insufficient basis in itself for the East to change its own marriage patterns.
  • The East obviously has its own heritage and no historical or social impetus exists to agree with the West.
  • Although Christianity has been traditionally associated with the West, Easterners have found in the Bible a standard of reference (especially the Old Testament) which seems culturally closer to their own oriental society.
  • An argument based on tradition is an evaluation based on the social standards of a group.
  • Even in the Christian world, open polygamy has occasionally been permitted, or at least tolerated.
  • While these instances do not alter the traditional Western monogamous rule, they illustrate that many social mores can fluctuate according to time and place.

—Essentially compiled from information located in the
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.; William Benton, Publisher;
Chicago; 1968; Volume 18, pages 193-194 & 201 + Volume 10, page 952.

Pointing to a page about polygamy. Part 3 of polygamy is continued here.