Today we are going to look at polygamy from a secular, social and philosophical point-of-view.
I shall later look at the question of polygamy from a Biblical viewpoint -- this does not pose
very many problems (if any at all) because the Holy Bible is polygamous from cover to cover.
Darwinist and New Age Perspectives
The secular view of marriage, with its Darwinist underpinning, must be treated a little
differently. As Darwinism (and all its offshoots) has no central guiding laws or principles
(save for the 'survival of the fittest') we are dealing, to some extent, with a moving target, where 'right' and 'wrong' are purely
relative concepts. If we look at what might be called 'religious Darwinism', that is, those
religions were are based on concepts of biological and spiritual evolution, we shall see that
morals and ethics are equally nebulous. Often we hear New Agers say that the individual must
do 'what is right for YOU' as though truth were somehow within. Were this proposition true
then everyone would arrive at the same conclusions. Sadly, it is not, and what is 'right' for
one person is more often than not 'wrong' for another.
Disagreeing But Coexisting With Others
We shall, of course, attempt to co-exist
with those who disagree with us, and that is commendable. Many will do this, and are already
doing so. A sign of true maturity is when people espousing different views can 'agree to
disagree' and get on with life. My mother from Lubartów often visits my family and is opposed
to plural marriage but has accepted it as a reality and has good relations with all my wives and our
children. But one of my mothers-in-law, from Krasnik, is quite hysterical and has done everything
in her power to make life as miserable as possible for us. This we expect. Some people are mature and
some are not, and there is little we can do about it. And it will always be so.
Multiple Secular Approaches
We shall not be surprised, therefore,
to find many secular approaches to the question of polygamy. Accordingly, we shall not
be able to answer our critics to their full satisfaction since their basis of truth is
relative. Typically, when they are defeated with one set of arguments, they will resort
to another set, ad infinitum, even if the various sets contradict each other. Their purpose is invariably to defend their own personal
comfort zones and not to establish absolute truth. Without bringing them to Christ and the
Bible there can be no final victory of ideas for polygamists. Whether they are intellectually
defeated or not, they will continue to remain hostile. We can at best demolish stupid arguments
and leave them to stew in their own soup, and though this is far from satisfactory in terms of
building bridges of understanding and mutual respect, it is inevitable if the ultimate purpose
is to establish truth.
Answering From Science and Logic
I shall be ommitting the views of
Muslims, Jews, Hindus and other major religious groupings in this article as my purpose will
primarily be to answer the objections of secular humanists whose stance is supposedly 'logic'
Objection #1: Polygamy is Immoral
As soon as we start using words like 'morality' in a secular context we have major problems
because morality has no absolute meaning. The morality of one generation is viewed as
immorality by another one, and vice versa. We can argue out of the Bible, Koran or
Vedas to determine what is, and what is not, immoral, but we surely cannot do so from a
secular viewpoint. What the secularist usually means by 'immoral' is what his society currently
defines it as, in other words, the view of the democratic majority at any one point in time.
Homosexuality and Relative Morality
Fifty years ago homosexual liasons were considered grossly immoral even by
many secularists (including psychiatrists) whereas today they are generally accepted as 'moral'. Fifty years ago having
sex with a minor (someone under 18) was considered grossly immoral whereas today, in some
countries, sex with children who are 13 years old is considered moral.
Secular Morality Shifts and Changes
There is no answer to this objection. We can only stress that in fifty years time polygamy
may well be accepted as 'moral' by secular laws. Already one High Court Judge in the USA has
stated that if homosexuality is no longer defined as 'immoral' then other lifestyles such
as polygamy cannot either.
Different Criteria for Making Judgments
Since the secular society does not judge in the same way as a Bible-believing Christian/Messianic we
must approach it differently. Secular society proclaims monogamy to be the only permissable
form of marriage whilst accepting common law marriage. It permits married people to commit
as much adultery as they want to, to engage in orgies, and every imaginable depravity. Who,
then, is immoral?
Many secularists will agree that society is wrong and so will end up giving their own personal
views which are not uncommonly a mixture of tradition and religious belief. Which brings us
back to the individual and the sad truth that 'concensus' is a pretty fluid sort of thing: when people
talk about 'immorality' it is usually highly personal, with 'society' being recruited to support
that personal feeling to give a sense of legitimacy.
Define What You Mean
If someone says you are 'immoral', get them to define what they mean.
Objection #2. Bigamy is a crime.
Polygamists are therefore law-breakers
Yes, polygamy is a crime in most western countries, yet sexual co-habitation with several partners
is not. Isn't that a little odd? A man may sleep around with several women, get them pregnant,
and abandon them and their children. He is not considered a criminal. Whereas a polygamist,
who wants to live with his wives and take care of his children, is.
Secularism's Double Standards
From this double standard we are to deduce that taking responsibility for, and nurchuring a
family, is a crime, whereas showing recklessness and irresponsibility is not. Where is the
logic in that? A polygamist earns the money to take care of a family. The man who sleeps
around leaves women who cannot care for their children and who must either get the state to
support them financially, or get a job. That means more jobs in the state sector for looking after single mothers with benefits
so guess which side the state will take?
Good and Bad Laws
There are many stupid laws and this is one of them. What do we conclude? That some laws are
good (sensible/common sense) and others are bad. It has always been that way with human
institutions. Apartheid was law once and it was a criminal offence for a white man to sleep
with a black woman, or vice versa. Aryans were not allowed to cohabit with Jews in Nazi
Germany. Democrats smile at their moral superiority in judging the proponents of apartheid and
nazism yet demonstate the same hypocritical attitude towards polygamy.
Good and Bad 'Criminals'
Conclusion: some are good criminals and some are bad.
Objection #3. Polygamists are sex-mad
I imagine some of them are. But then so are alot monogamists and unmarried people. So what? Though western society
is nominally monogamist the reality is that, in a loose sort of way, it is 'polygamist'. Men cheat on their wives, and
women cheat on their husbands. In many monogamous marriages I know of, that is accepted as
'normal'. Half of all monogamous marriages fail today with many marrying several times in
a life-time. In my experience, many of those who attack polygamy have sexual hangups of their
Good and Bad Monogamists
To be a monogamist or a polygamist says nothing of the quality of a marriage. There are
good monogamists and bad ones, just as there are good polygamists and bad ones. What must also
be understood is that polygamists are not against monogamy -- we accept both. So we aren't
actually attacking monogamists.
To say that all polygamists are sex-mad is as stupid as saying that those who remain chaste
before they marry hate sex.
The truth of the matter is that such criticisms are not the result of careful study and analysis
but an irrational emotional reaction.
Objection #4. The only Western
polygamists are religious cultists
...and only Western monogamists aren't cultists??! There are many who live polygamous life-
styles who have no religious beliefs at all just as there are monogamists like Jim Jones who
was a New Age cultic leader who massacred his followers.
Celibate, Monogamous and Polygamous Cultists
Yes, there are polygamous cultists like the late David Koresh, but so what? There are also
celibate cultic leaders like Ron Hubbard.
These are the arguments of ignorance, sometimes deliberate. All Jews are bad, Hitler said. All
the upper classes are bad, Lenin said. We all know these are scapegoat arguments yet people
continue to use them. All communists are bad...all capitalists are bad.
Not a Black-and-White World
The world is not monochromatic. Most polygamists are 'normal' people according to the definitions
of 'normality' that most secularists use. They are not all psychopathic religious lunatics, anymore
that all Dutchmen are nazis because some were in the last war.
Objection #5. No decent person would live polygamy
That depends what you mean by 'decent'. We are dealing with relative terms here. No 'decent' white
American would associate with a black man a century-and-a-half ago. In a good many cultures
polygamy is considered 'decent' and 'honourable'.
In my experience a Westerner who thinks polygamy is 'indecent' visiting an eastern culture
rately has the guts to speak his mind.
All Kinds of Indecent People
Are there indecent polygamists? Of course there are. There are polygamists who treat their wives
like slaves and oppress them. But then there are monogamist husbands who do exactly the same,
as well as men in common law arrangements who do exactly the same thing.
An Illustration in Contrast
Decency is in the individual, in the way he treats his fellow man, and in this case, the way a
husband treats his wives. Consider this scenario: a monogamist husband regularly beats up his
wife, abuses her psychologically, subjects her to degradation in front of her friends, keeps
her a virtual prisoner, and abusestheir children. A polygamous husband is kind and
considerate to his wives, shows them respect and courtesy, forgets himself to serve them, is
warm and affectionate, and loves his children as a family man.
Fantastic Leaps of Illogic
Now consider the reverse -- the good, kind monogamist, and the wicked abusive polygamist. Who is the decent
one in the first example? The polygamist, of course. Who is the decent one in the second example?
The monogamist, of course. What do we conclude? That some monogamists are decent, and some polygamists
are decent; some monogamists are indecent, and some polygamists are indecent. Do we then take
the next leap of logic and say that monogamy is 'decent' and polygamy is not?
Condemnation of the Irrational
These sorts of objections do not come from thinking people but from the irrational and
Objection #6. Polygamy belongs
to the primitive past
What is meant by 'primitive'? The image usually conjured up is of a despotic sheikh who keeps
numerous concubines and wives locked away in a harem for his personal gratification. If that is
the picture, then I would have to agree that this is 'primitive'.
As I look through history I see that in most cultures where monogamy was practiced the same
sort of 'primitiveness' prevailed. Yes, there is 'primitive polygamy' but there is equally 'primitive monogamy'.
Mathematics of Worth is the Real Issue
The real argument of secularists, though, is not about the way the men treat their women (which
everybody knows varies enormously within institutions like monogamous marriage) but in
the perceived WORTH of persons. It is really a question of mathematics: If a man is married to, say, four women,
is that not saying that one man is worth four times as much as a woman?
If this is true then every family should be limited to one child, as (until recently) in China today, because
parents with four children are 'obviously' going to love them less than parents with only one;
therefore a child in a four-sibling family is going to be worth less than the child who has
no brothers or sisters. (If you're not already laughing at the stupidity of the suggestion,
then maybe I need to say more...)
When is a Woman Disadvantaged?
The fact of the matter is that I can point to MANY polygamous families where women do not
consider themselves to be at a disadvantage when compared to a monogamous one, or who feel
themselves to be worth less. But I could point at many monogamous where the woman
feels like a piece of property to be discarded as a man's merest whim.
Qualities and Values Determine Worth
The issue of worth has nothing to do with monogamy vs. polygamy but on the QUALITIES and
VALUES of those who practice the systems. I am not saying one is superior to the
other only that both are equally workable, fulfilling, and acceptable.
Objection #6. If polygyny is OK, why not polyandry?
The correct term for one man being married to more than one woman is polygyny; 'polygamy'
also technically includes polyandry, that is, one woman being married to more than one
The History of Polyandry
From a purely 'technical' point-of-view, there is no objection. Historically, it has always
been very rare. Psychologically, men appear to be better equipped to handle polygyny than women
can handle polyandry. Polygyny has proven itself stable whereas polyandry has not, and this because
of the biological dispositions of men and women which are different. One can argue, of course,
that polyandry has never been successful because men have traditionally always had power and
control, and would therefore more naturally favour polygyny.
Polyandry Driven By Other Factors
In the few cases where polyandry has functioned historically it has not really been true
polyandry, and has usually been motivated by poverty or a lack of women.
Experimenting With Lifestyles
In our 'free' western society people are experimenting with all kinds of family life-styles.
Polygamy is on the increase and women are being increasingly attracted to it because they see
safety and stability. Those who would have polyandry tend not to be family-oriented women, but
rather liberal feminists who want to have many sexual partners -- starting a stable polyandrous
family is usually far from their minds. And men who just want sexual flings with lots of women
without the responsibility of family are repelled by polygamy altogether when it comes to the nitty gritty
No Stability in Polyandry
This tells me that polyandry is not 'natural' to women, but that polygyny and monogamy are. I
can point to thousands of happy, stable polygamous marriages (as well us unstable,
unhappy ones, I hasten to add), and I can point to thousands of happy, stable monogamous ones (as
well as unstable, unhappy ones) but I have yet to see a happy, stable polyandrous one. If any
one knows, please point me to it!
Objection #7. Polygamy is unequal sexually
That is true. A man must 'perform' more than his individual wives. However, not all enter
polygamy for sexual reasons, and a man who thinks that polygamy is going to give him an
outlet for his libido, may find himself disappointed, because when his wives are pregnant
(as many often are simultaneously) then he can be as restricted sexually as he would be in
a monogamous situation, because of his wives being sick, or whatever). Many polygamous
cultures proscribe sex during pregnancy, menstruation and lactation and this can be a big trial for a
polygamist man with high testosterone levels. In short, most polygamous cultures demand self-
control on the part of the man.
The Macho Male Chauvanist
Not to the macho male chauvanist who has little interest in pregnant women or women who
have children to look after and who do not have so much time for sex. In speaking with
various polygamists I have discovered that once their wives start getting children he has
about as much sex as a typical monogamist.
Polygamy Not a Sexual Circus
This is a big subject and is dealt elsewhere on this site where the practical aspects of
polygamy are considered. Suffice to say that nature has her way of 'balancing' things up
sexually in a polygamous marriage, and men who enter the principle out of sexual lust (and
there are some) soon burn themselves out or are forced by reality to change their attitudes.
Polygamy is NOT a sexual circus for over-sexed men -- the latter tend to prefer the 'immoral'
life (pardon the expression).
Marriage and Self-Control
Most happy, succcessful polygamous households usually testify that sexual self-control on the
part of both men and women is the inevitable outcome.
Objection #8. Polygamy is selfish
-- many men lose out
If polygamy were a universal principle and monogamy were wrong, I would have to agree. In fact,
the reverse is true in our societies today. With the exception of China (with its one child
policy, leading to a highly precocious and selfish generation) where men outnumber women,
everywhere else there aren't enough men to go round to meet monogamous needs. This forces
the surplass women into either prostitution or to living their lives out as singles.
When War Depletes the Male Population
There are many reasons for this imballance in the genders. War is a common one, and where
the male population has been decimated, even fiercly anti-polygamist cultures like Catholic
Europe have in the past permitted polygamy to ensure that widows were adequately cared for (an interesting
paradox for religions which considers polygamy to be a sin!).
Women are More Religious
Most of Europe and the USA have not experienced a depletion of the male population because of
war for over 50 years and yet women are outnumbering men everywhere. Women tend to be more
religious than men and so many religious organisations are having trouble finding enough men
to marry their female devotees off to (in some parts of Christendom, the ratio is 7:1).
There are many questions that we could ask about the demographics of gender proportions which
are quite complex. We will deal with these elsewhere on this site.
When Men Shy Away
Where polygamy is practiced, though, there seems little evidence that men lose out in the
'marriage lottery', probably because most men shy away from the responsibility of taking care
of more than one woman and her children, or simply cannot afford it.
Objection #9. Polygamy can only
be afforded by the rich
It is temptaing to think this is so but it isn't. One of the remarkable things about polygamy
is that it frees mothers to pursue careers if they want to because they can get help child-
minding from their co- or sister-wives. Indeed, in many polygamous families, most of the mothers
are income-generators. The cooperative spirit can be quite remarkable and impressive; dynamic
polygamous families like these are often the envy of their monogamous counterparts who are
forced to place their children in day-care which in many cases they do not want to do and
which many (including ourselves) consider to be a disadvantage of children.
The Industry of Polygamous Families
A polygamous family can therefore often sustain itself with the same sort of initial resources
as a monogamous one, encouraging cooperation and mutual dependency, which serve to strengthen
family bonds. By contrast, many monogamous families these days are so weak because neither
parent is much at home as to make the concept of a 'nuclear family' almost null and void. The
most successful polygamous families are therefore highly FAMILY-CENTRED.
Objection #10. Only ignorant
religious people practice polygamy
Not true. Increasing numbers of non-religious people are discovering the benefits of polygamy
and are practicing it. Indeed, in some countries, there are religious people who are entering
polygamy contrary to the teachings of their religious traditions, for example, Catholics
in the Philippines. It's a principle that is spreading, and it cuts across every economic and educational
Objection #11. Polygamy is a part of
the oppressive patriarchal system
That depends what you mean by the word 'patriarchal' which in the secular environment is
usually exclusively applied to male tyrranical systems. That is unfortunate but a sad reality,
and therefore we are required to define terms.
There is 'righteous patriarchy' and 'unrigheous patriarchy'. There are good and bad patriarchs,
whether monogamous or polygamous. There is no one stereotype of 'patriarch' just as there is no
single stereotype of polygamy.
The Abuse of Language
We have to be so careful with words. We have this notion, for example, that all 'liberal democracy'
is good and all autocracy is evil. Yet distinguishing the two can sometimes be very hard these
days and I would view some 'liberal democracies' as autocratic, particularly in the cultural
arena. I would even hazzard to suggest that there is a thing called 'liberal fascism'.
Many Shapes and Forms
The fact of the matter is that polygamy, like monogamy, appears in many shapes and forms, both
good and evil. It is not that polygamy and monogamy are at fault per se but the values
of some of the people who live these marriage estates.
Liberal secularists often hail liberal secular values (that include monogamy, free sex, &c., but
not polygamy) and pour accolades on liberal leaders who in private are leading lives of adultery
The lesson to learn: don't be hasty in sticking over-simplistic, faulty moral labels on people and
systems like polygamists and polygamy.