First Thoughts on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian Hales

Hales_JSP1Title: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Vol. 1: History
Author: Brian C. Hales with Don Bradley
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Religious Studies
Year: 2013
Pages: 623
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN-10: 158958189X
ISBN-13: 978-15895818904
Price: $36.95

Brian Hales may have a tough audience for his new 3-volume set entitled Joseph Smith’s Polygamy.

According to a Pew survey released in 2012, 86% of Mormons believe that polygamy is morally wrong. It is unclear how many among this group believe that it was a mistake for Joseph Smith to introduce this principle in the first place, but it would seem an increasing number of Latter-day Saints do, and several with this mindset have already emerged in online discussions of Hales’ treatment of polygamy.

In a recent interview on the “A Thoughtful Faith” podcast, Sarah Collett asked Hales: “Do you feel that there is room for an LDS person to believe in a restoration prophet, Joseph Smith, being called of God, translating the Book of Mormon, establishing a Church, who also was a flawed man who maybe made mistakes with polygamy?” Another Latter-day Saint commenting on a recent Mormon stories thread said:  “I would love to hear Dr. Hales’ thoughts regarding how he would reconcile the possibility that polygamy wasn’t actually commanded by God and [yet]  Joseph [was] still . . . an inspired prophet.”

Echoing views long heard in the RLDS/Community of Christ tradition, increasing numbers of modern Latter-day Saints believe that while Joseph Smith was a prophet, he was an imperfect man who may have erred in some points of doctrine. Such individuals may have difficulty with the idea that God commanded Joseph Smith to practice plural marriage, and certainly would never want to personally engage in such a life, even if it were available to them. Even before reading his books, they are uncomfortable with Hales’ suggestion that polygamy is a theological necessity in Mormonism, and that the practice will exist in the highest degree of celestial glory.

While his discussion of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy may be hard for many ordinary members of the Church, what Hales has to say about that practice is similarly problematic among many LDS historians. The dust jacket of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy contains endorsements which qualify their praise by stating “His answers may not satisfy everyone…” (Richard Bushman), “While I disagree with some of Hales’ conclusions…” (Todd Compton), and “Hales’ fellow scholars of Joseph Smith’s polygamy may not always find persuasive the ways in which he interprets and contextualizes his evidence” (Lawrence Foster). Hales begins with what he considers a rather standard apologetic stance: Joseph Smith was commanded by God to practice and teach celestial plural marriage, and that he engaged in the same in a way modern Mormons could agree was both moral and ethical. It is fascinating that so many are already poised to disagree.

After a careful reading of volume 1, I suggest that the jacket remarks by Bushman, Compton, and Foster are insightful, accurate and understated. Hales doesn’t always analyze his data in useful ways; he argues positions which presentation of evidence in later chapters appears to contradict; he qualifies arguments in ways which seem driven more by agenda than demanded by the evidence.  I’ll go into more detail on this in later posts.

Yet, despite the various difficulties Hales has with analysis and handling of evidence, this set is nevertheless a “must-have.” It is a significant milestone as one of the first rigorous historical treatments of Joseph Smith’s polygamy from an apologetic standpoint.  It is clearly the single greatest guide to available resources on the practice of polygamy in Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo. And, it will without any doubt shape the arguments regarding the centrality of plural marriage in early Mormon theology, as well as arguments on precisely what that plural marriage means historically and theologically for Latter-day Saints.

Make no mistake about it: this is apologetics. Hales is committed to making Joseph Smith look as clean as a whistle. To do this, he is obliged to paint some witnesses as unreliable, extravagant, and anti-Mormon; yet, somewhat inconsistently, he is willing to accept statements from these or like characters when they support his claims. Hales’ polemical concerns drive him to defend a number of difficult positions such as:

    • Joseph learned of the correctness of plural marriage by 1831 (85).
    • Joseph was never accused of polygamy prior to 1841 (144-146, and over and over throughout the book).
    • A marriage ceremony (as differentiated from a sealing ordinance) took place between Joseph and Fanny Alger in 1835 (198, 109 note 7).
    • Authority to perform such a plural marriage existed before the sealing keys were restored in April 1836 (119-120).
    • Joseph did not have sexual relations with his two 14-year-old wives, his polyandrous wives who were experiencing conjugal relations with their legal husbands, or any woman to whom he was not married (285).
    • Some of Joseph’s marriages were for “eternity only” (421-441).
    • John C. Bennett’s licentiousness was completely unconnected with Joseph Smith’s polygamy (ch. 20).

And that’s only in the first volume.  But never before has so much information and evidence been gathered together in the same place. Hales and Don Bradley, his research assistant, have made a remarkable effort to include every pertinent source they can find. Overall, Hales’ writing style is engaging and thorough; he uses just enough of each quotation to include the context, yet not so much as to be boring or pedantic. Footnotes are placed at the bottom of each page; I confess that I find this a much more suitable practice for historical writing than endnotes. They are easily accessible and readable.

One of the biggest contributions Hales has made to this topic is that he has framed the way future Latter-day Saints are likely to think about  and discuss Mormon polygamy – specifically Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo-era polygamy.  His distinction between sealings for time only, sealings for eternity only, and sealings for time and eternity may prove to be a “game-changer.”  In future writing and conversation on the subject of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, the issues that Hales has set forth will demand first attention.  There is little doubt that Brian has done a substantial work in laying out the major topics and giving the pertinent documentation. From this base, others will be able to make their own interpretations.

At the very least, Brian Hales has helped to make the issue of celestial plural marriage in the LDS Church difficult to ignore; it will continue to be discussed and debated for many years. My reading of Hales’ volume 1 reminded me of a statement by Community of Christ historian Roger Launius, concerning the doctrine of baptism for the dead in that faith’s tradition. One might profitably compare it to how we treat the doctrine of plural marriage in the LDS church:

“The April 1886 [RLDS] General Conference passed a resolution especially singling out baptism for the dead as one of those commandments . . .that would not be practiced until reinstated by divine revelation (Rules 1980, Resolution 308). . .in time the Reorganization gradually drifted away from the doctrine. At the present, I suspect that while the doctrine still has some support, the overwhelming majority of Reorganized Church members no longer accept, even theoretically, baptism for the dead. Until recently, although the church has continually suggested that baptisms for the dead be carried out only by divine direction in a temple built for the purpose, with no prospect for the building of such an edifice in the immediate future, the doctrine was shunted into a limbo between belief and practice. To ignore, as Alma R. Blair has appropriately remarked, was ultimately to reject.” (Roger D. Launius, “An Ambivalent Rejection: Baptism for the Dead and the Reorganized Church Experience,” Dialogue, Vol. 23 No. 2 [Summer 1990]).

Many modern Latter-day Saints are inclined to lay aside even the theoretical belief in this early Mormon teaching, preferring the notion that Joseph Smith mistakenly introduced this idea to provide theological justification for behaviors connected with his high libido. By contrast, Brian Hales invites us to reconsider the meaning of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. He challenges Latter-day Saints to think more deeply about this aspect of their history and theology. Whether or not you are inclined to agree with his conclusions,  I encourage you to purchase these volumes and enter this discussion. Read the evidence and Brian’s analysis, and decide for yourself what theory best accounts for this fantastic presentation of the facts.


First Thoughts on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian Hales — 75 Comments

  1. Good grief, I almost couldn’t get through this review for all the surly griping about what an “apologist” Hales is, and how obviously biased he is, and trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole, etc., etc.

    Really, the review says more about the objectivity of Cheryl Bruno than it does about Brian Hales.

    We get it Cheryl – you hate polygamy, and are disgruntled that Hales didn’t back you up. Therefore he must “obviously” be an “apologist” who started with foregone conclusions. And consequently “not a scholar.” Apparently the word “scholar” somewhere along the line became in Mormon studies – “agrees with a subset of the fashionable Sunstone elite.”

  2. We get it Cheryl – you hate polygamy, and are disgruntled that Hales didn’t back you up.

    hahaha! That’s the first time I’ve heard that particular accusation!

  3. “We get it Cheryl – you hate polygamy, and are disgruntled that Hales didn’t back you up. Therefore he must “obviously” be an “apologist” who started with foregone conclusions. And consequently “not a scholar.” Apparently the word “scholar” somewhere along the line became in Mormon studies – ‘agrees with a subset of the fashionable Sunstone elite.'”

    This is a bit harsh for what I personally considered a very balanced, well-written introductory review. Cheryl did not make the distinction between “scholar” versus “apologist” that your comment assumes. There’s no question that when it comes to Joseph Smith, that Brian is an “apologist,” since he seeks to defend not only Joseph’s role as “prophet” but polygamy as an “inspired” practice. As I have tried to explain through my recent posts, I personally find it helpful to contextualize the approach that a commentator is adopting in terms of his or her analysis.

    Certainly an apologist would not object to contextualizing an analysis by identifying an author as a “critic.” I believe I’ve seen that happen before, at least once.

  4. I appreciate the balanced review. I am an apologist at heart, but had hoped to be more of an “objective researcher” in my writings. While I’m not big on labels, “believer” could be applied so perhaps “apologist” is unavoidable. Thanks again, Brian Hales

  5. David, I admit it was harsh. I’ve been a bit grumpy recently and trying to keep it out of blogging (and often failing miserably).

    But consider – Cheryl hasn’t given us any examples of the accusations here. Just dark vague hints. Like how Bushman and Compton had vague qualifiers – that could really apply to anything. That gives the reader of the review nothing to go on.

    Then there’s the completely uncalled for insinuation that Hales is just an “apologist” and therefore must obviously be starting with the ending in mind. In light of your recent article, it hints pretty strongly at the narrative being attempted here. It seems like there is a concerted effort to ghetto-ize apologetics into some illegitimate branch of thought – unlike “real scholarship.” Furthermore, there seems to be some knee-jerk impulse going on that if some scholar draws a “faithful” conclusion – then he must automatically be some shill for the Church hierarchy, and not someone whose conclusions need be taken seriously.

    But really, it boils down to this – examples.

    Where are the examples of Hales doing what you say he’s doing? Without that, this review is nothing more than implied innuendo based on the author’s own biases. We simply weren’t given anything more to go on.

    So what else am I supposed to think?

    I’ll freely admit that I’ve probably misjudged Cheryl’s view of polygamy completely, for all I know she thinks it’s great. Who knows?

    I liked the rest of the review just fine. It’s just the implication in the first few paragraphs rubbed me the wrong way and never seemed to be substantiated with real examples. I mean, why even bring it up that Compton and Bushman qualified their endorsements? Isn’t it already a given that they wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything?

    I don’t mind the review in general, but if your going to imply some sort of bias on the author’s part – evidence please.

    I’ll apologize for the irritated rhetoric though. Sometimes one’s impulse to make a point bluntly and strongly is one’s own worst enemy.

  6. Do those who view plural marriage as uninspired view section 132 as bogus? From the D&C:
    “Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.”

    As well as, “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”

    That’s very clearly written in first person, “thus sayeth the Lord” language. I realize some “progressive” members are content with waiving away this and other verses as justifying Joseph’s libido. But Jacob 2 proceeded Kirkland, and I don’t think you can credibly accuse Joseph of planting a “throw away” clause/disclaimer that never gets revisited in order to justify his libido. If that’s the case you’d see a lot more focus on it, and even pointing to Jacob in order to justify is so called libido.

    Now, it seems progressive members are content to chalk this one up to an uninspired prophet satisfying his libido, because it also allows them to disregard, on principle, whatever else they think is unprincipled (in their view). They can invent their own faith to their liking and make every square fit nicely within their world view if they have historical-scriptural examples of modern day prophets of preaching erroneously.

    It’s not a case of dealing with what’s uncomfortable, or offering up an apology. In both cases you can claim the two sides are apologists.

    One side, claims their interpretation of the scriptures + history is true, and rejects scripture and the early restoration prophets, while the other side claims their interpretation is true, and has to deal somehow with the messier aspects of plural marriage in the early days which we don’t have nearly enough details on (and never will in this life).

    I think it’s a far stretch to assume Joseph was seeking to justify his libido, rather than seeking to understand how such a practice could have been the will of the Lord, and as he learned more about the eternities, the blessings of Abraham, the concept of eternal lives, etc. he became aware of God’s desire for this practice. That we get all confused on the details of polyamory isn’t surprising, because we don’t have 1% of the details of what happened and what was said. We don’t know how those relationships were different or the same.

    We might as well just assume that because some men were once baptized for women that there is no male/female sex in eternity. Or perhaps, as doctrines and practices unfolded, so did their understanding of what “to do” with it.

  7. The bigger question for me is what is the rhetorical effect of saying that some work is “apologetics”? For David it means it is not “scholarship,” not based on canons of reliable evidence and argument but a preconceived view that is not really sensitive to evidence. The undertow for me is that it is an ad hominem argument without merit that reduces to name-calling. Rather than assessing the evidence, or in this case even giving examples, it has an unstated assumption that implies that this work can be discounted because it argues for a particular point of view whereas something like real history, or in David’s case some kind of idealized “scholarship,” stands outside such constraints. Anyone who believes that the historian or scholar does not really stand anywhere and just gives us unadulterated, self-selecting and self-interpreting facts seems rather naive about scholarship and what historians actually do. It is the kind of unsustainable modernist assumption that I though post-modernism had exposed.

    And yes, polygamy in the Mormon culture has always functioned as a test precisely because everyone involved saw it as immoral. That was the entire point! God was asking them to do something they disagreed (vehemently disagreed) with. The issue is whether God can ask such things. If we did not see polygamy as immoral in the first place it would not serve the function in Mormon practice that it did. More importantly, it could not have served the theological purposes it did. And virtually everyone involved in “the practice” had moral issues with it. I am surprised that even though it is a culturally relative moral assessment and practice, more did not find polygamy to be immoral.

    This is a very interesting theological and philosophical question that ought not be trivialized. Those who reject God’s authority, or who refuse to trust God in the sense that they believe God could ask such things and not have their best interests in view, have faith and trust issues. Maybe those issues are both justified and inevitable — and I would think that is the very point for the practice as well.

    Those who take the philosophical position that God cannot ask us to do anything against our personal moral system have to argue for that view and not assume it — especially in light of the faith and trust issues inherent in such a view. It is a very large and important discussion about the nature of authentic faith and trust. But it is also a discussion about the nature of God, the nature of meta-ethics and moral absolutes. It is also a discussion about what best leads to our growth as individuals and what is consistent with love and flourishing as a community of individuals.

    Brian Hales does not enter into this discussion – he assumes it. However, Cheryl Bruno also merely assumes it as a tacit assumption against which the discussion takes place. As such, they have unexamined starting points that seem to me to underlie a real disagreement — but one that is very important to recognize before assessing the historical evidence because it drives the real reason that one is looking at the evidence in the first place. It also drives how one assess the evidence, parses and categorizes it and how one determines what is relevant to include and exclude. As such, Cheryl’s use of the term “apologist” decides a very important and fundamental argument with a moral assessment that she excuses herself from — and yet drives her as much as Brian. Yet she is writing as much as an apologist as Brian even though she seems not to recognize it.

  8. “The undertow for me is that it is an ad hominem argument without merit that reduces to name-calling.”

    Blake, I haven’t see this occur. Again, identifying the approach that a commentator is using need not be “name-calling.” It may be contextualizing of perspectives or one’s methodology, which can be very helpful. Perhaps your assessment reflects your own use of such terms as “critic” or “anti-Mormon”?

  9. David: I see it occuring here in Cheryls’s review and in your posts on this blog — the use of “apologist” and “apologetics” is a dismissal without an argument of the important underlying philosophical and theological issues. You say that she is merely “identifying an approach,” when I see her as making a value assessment about the scholarly quality of the work and whether his assessments have merit. And where did I use “antiMormon” and “critic”?

  10. Interesting, Blake. Did we read the same post? Because what I see is Cheryl saying that even though Brian is operating as an apologist and one must thus be more cautious than usual of his conclusions, everyone should still own a copy of Brian’s book because the underlying philosophical and theological issues he raises are that important. I don’t see her dismissing those issues at all.

    Also, I’d like to point out to Cheryl’s rather vehement critics in this thread that she titled this post “First Thoughts.” That implies that there will be more thoughts to come, including perhaps the specifics Seth is asking for. In fact, she explicitly promises to “go into more detail on this in later posts.”

  11. Fair enough Christopher. I’ll freely acknowledge I went to far in my rhetoric anyway.

  12. Blake,

    Operating as an apologist changes—one might even say distorts—the reasoning process in rather important ways. In Bayesian terms, the apologist assigns a very high—sometimes even 100%—prior probability to Joseph Smith having been a prophet and a morally unimpeachable guy. This dramatically alters the apologist’s assessment of “posterior probabilities” and requires him to explain away any evidence that seems to fly in the face of his assumptions about Joseph. This is useful to know, because if you happen not to share Brian’s assessment of the prior probabilities then you’re going to want to be much more skeptical of how he assesses the posterior ones and handles the relevant evidence. Just as I would want a naturalist writing a book about religious experience to disclose that he assigns miracles a prior probability of close to zero, I also want to know when I’m reading a book by an apologist.

  13. Christopher, I see little difference between most scholars and apologists much of the time.

    Most of them operate the way you describe.

  14. Blake,

    “I see it occuring here in Cheryls’s review and in your posts on this blog — the use of “apologist” and “apologetics” is a dismissal without an argument of the important underlying philosophical and theological issues. You say that she is merely “identifying an approach,” when I see her as making a value assessment about the scholarly quality of the work and whether his assessments have merit.”

    I agree with Christopher. I did not see this in her post, and I certainly never implied that an apologetic piece should be dismissed without an argument. To the contrary, I referred to the final chapter in my own forthcoming book on Higher Criticism in the Old Testament as “apologetic,” since it argues that a Latter-day Saint can be both religious and critically minded. It is “apologetic” since it presents various ways of making sense of one’s spiritual convictions and use of LDS scripture in light of the way scholars understand the development of Israelite textual sources.

    In so doing, I was certainly not suggesting that mine or anyone else’s apologetic views should be simply dismissed because they do not fall under the category of “scholarship.” I’m afraid you misread my posts (and I believe you misread Cheryl’s).

    “And where did I use ‘antiMormon’ and ‘critic’?”

    I’m not making an accusation (hence, the question mark). Only trying to understand why you would view categorizing a person’s work as “apologetic” as an “ad hominem argument without merit that reduces to name-calling.” In light of the fact that this has not occurred, perhaps there is a reason you feel this way when you see these labels?

  15. No – most of them are advocates for a position.

    And for the record, most apologists I know are not assigning a “near 100% probability of moral impeachability.

    Nice straw man.

  16. Advocating for a conclusion is not the same thing as advocating for a conclusion using a methodology that assumes a very high prior probability for your conclusion.

  17. Not always. The Edwards and Edwards chiasmus study, for instance, I found to be quite balanced in its approach. They take care not to start with a lot of strong assumptions about the prior probabilities of their conclusions. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even call their study “apologetics,” even though it comes to a conclusion favorable to the truth-claims of the Church.

    But by contrast, certain apologetic scholars’ work on the Book of Abraham appears to brook no possibility that the Book of Abraham is not what it claims to be. No amount of evidence—and there’s quite a bit—would suffice to overturn their conclusions. They have, in effect, assigned a near-100% prior probability to Book of Abraham historicity.

    In the case of polygamy, what Cheryl appears to be suggesting is that Brian begins with an atypically high prior probability for his conclusions about Joseph’s sexual/moral unimpeachability. From my own reading of the exchange between Brian and Mike Quinn, I tend to agree. This doesn’t vitiate all of his conclusions or the overall value of his work, but it does mean that those of us who disagree with his assessment of the prior probabilities will read his books with an extra critical eye and will disagree with many of his conclusions about the posterior probabilities.

  18. Christopher: I believe that you are right about apologists. They view their position as one that has prior commitments and they argue for a point of view. I never suggested otherwise and so your post misses the point. My point is that no one comes to the discussion unfettered by prior commitments. No one avoids having biases that color their views. That includes both you and David.

    Your very statements here betray exactly what I say: you assert that apologetics uses “a methodology that assumes a very high probability for your (whose?) conclusions.” Another less charitable way of saying it that gets at the nub of: Garbage in – garbage out. But that is a dismissal while pretending not to dismiss apologetics. You do exactly what I say by asserting that an apologist merely adopts a preconceived view. That just is not accurate in my experience — and smacks of the false modernist assumptions that everyone recognizes about a stance outside of one’s self. Just like everyone else, the apologist has assessed the evidence and arguments and believes that a position is defensible for reasons. Or perhaps an apologist argues that reasons given against belief are not logically sound, not well-grounded in evidence or unsound for other reasons. That assessment is not merely dependent on some methodology or other, but an honest assessment given where the apologist stands. But we all stand somewhere before assessing arguments and evidence and so the apologist is hardly unique. We are all apologists — just for different things and agendas.

    In this case Cheryl says that what Brian does is “apologetics” pure and simple. Well, I suggest that all written works that seek to persuade to a particular conclusion or point of view are in a sense apologetics. You are correct that knowing the prior biases is helpful in assessing the work. However, it does not set it apart from other works that are “secular” or about non-religious issues.

    In this case Cheryl does not even begin with Brian’s evidence but Pew poll about people thinking polygamy is immoral. No big surprise at the result. But to assert that this work needs to be taken in light of its shortcomings (somehow evidenced by dust-jacket statements) is hardly necessary in one sense, and functions to devalue what Brian argues in another. Surely none of this is news to you.

    However, you also missed the point, at least as far as I can see, about the important underlying philosophical issues that are really driving the discussion. Most importantly, I would like to know how you somehow quantify prior probability for a view. I doubt the concept has meaning in this context.

  19. Christopher and David: Another way of saying it is this: why assert that something is apologetics at all? Why not just assess the arguments and/or evidence?

  20. The assessment that the work is indeed “apologetic” could easily have been left out.

    I was going to say something about this statement “Hales doesn’t always analyze his data in useful ways; he argues positions which presentation of evidence in later chapters appears to contradict; he qualifies arguments in ways which seem driven more by agenda than demanded by the evidence,” because there waer no examples, but I did read the last sentence of the paragraph, “Hales doesn’t always analyze his data in useful ways; he argues positions which presentation of evidence in later chapters appears to contradict; he qualifies arguments in ways which seem driven more by agenda than demanded by the evidence,” but I did continue on to read the last sentence of the paragraph, “I’ll go into more detail on this in later posts.”

    So I will wait on those further posts to see how Cheryl develops those ideas.

    I also hope that she will provide as assessment of why the list she providesafter “Hales’ polemical concerns drive him to defend a number of difficult positions such as:” are that difficult to defend. As it stands now, she has made an assertion without anything to back this up.


  21. Blake,

    Defining apologetics as “any work that defends a position” renders it an essentially meaningless term. Most of us use the term “apologetics” to mean something like what Protestants call “presuppositional apologetics,” which is a whole different animal.

    You point that “no one comes to the discussion unfettered by prior commitments” appears to be fairly trivial in the context of the current discussion, since no one here is claiming perfect objectivity. You’re also correct that we all have reasons for our assessments of both prior and posterior probabilities; these things don’t materialize out of thin air, either for the religious believer or for the naturalist, and neither is acting in bad faith. However, this again appears to be a trivial point in the context of the current discussion, since no one is disputing that.

    What appears to distinguish the (presuppositional) apologist from other scholars is that he or she overtly admits different kinds of reasons to enter the analysis as prior probabilities, and allows these reasons to heavily influence the interpretation of other data and the assessment of posterior probabilities. We are all biased by our upbringing of course, but the apologist allows the religious testimony experience to become a variable in the analysis by assigning a high prior probability to the point to be proved. The project becomes largely one of reconciling evidence to a presupposition rather than answering an open-ended question based on empirical data. For those of us who don’t regard the testimony experience as a reliable way of knowing and thus disagree with the apologist’s assessment of prior probability, this means that we come to different conclusions. This isn’t a negative reflection on the apologist’s character; it’s just the reality of communicating across different epistemologies. So basically what I’m saying is, quit freaking out. 😉

    Concerning quantification, it’s occasionally possible to quantify probabilities in the humanities, but not usually. Usually we’re working with vague estimates along a spectrum from “very improbable” to “highly probable.” That doesn’t change the fact, though, that most of us are still doing some kind of mental probability calculation. We’re just working with vague, estimated probability ranges rather than specific numbers. I think the Bayesian model provides a useful way to conceptualize what we’re doing even though we usually can’t put numbers to it.



  22. This is strange because I thought apologetics was precisely that – a defense of a position (usually which involves faith).

    There is no doubt in my mind that you can either offer up a apology for a traditional view of our faith or you can offer up an apology for a progressive view.

    Both involve taking pieces of information and working them rhetorically into our world view. Of course, if you want to claim (apologize?) that one group looks at the facts of JS and “merely” proclaims what is most likely, you’re ignoring the spaghetti monster in the room. Because just as some would take the conclusion that JS was a prophet and polygamy was the will of God (at the time), and some would take the conclusion that JS was sexually motivated revelation imposter at times and a prophet at others, still some others would claim that he was an imposter all the time.

    Clearly, this isn’t new. Just as the you are certain the apologist grasps at evidence to confirm their foregone conclusion, so too does the disbeliever act certain in their convictions and grasp for whatever evidence is available to support their notion, so do the progressive believers.

  23. I’m sorry that the word “apologetics” has caused such a stir here. I certainly don’t mean it to be a derogatory word. My use of it here was meant to be descriptive. I think some of my own writings can be considered apologetics, and in my mind it does not necessarily imply lack of scholarship.

    What word would you all suggest could be used to replace “apologetics” in a case such as this? I struggled to find a term that would fit the particular bias that Brian brings to these volumes. I considered the word “faithful,” but didn’t think it fit, exactly. Many LDS who do not accept Joseph Smith’s polygamy as inspired would describe themselves as “faithful” or “believing.”

    Those who know me well will realize that I do not include myself in the 86% of Mormons who believe that polygamy is morally wrong. In this case, I would align myself more with Brian, or perhaps Blake in #9, where he describes a God who might ask his followers to do something that they cannot at the moment harmonize with their personal inclinations. I do not set myself up against Brian’s assumptions, I agree with him far more than many of you know. I simply point out that he has a tough row to hoe with the views of modern, more naturalistic members and scholars. And I feel that the evidence he himself presents often argues against his conclusions.

    No need to fear, at this very moment I am working on additional posts which will expound on the charges I’ve made above. I think that when you’ve read volume 1, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I’ve only had a few days to read, and I wanted to get my first impressions out as soon as possible.

    I’m glad that Brian stopped by, and seemed to take no offense at this review. I really do think that this 3-volume set is an important work, and I recommend it as a foundational part of any Mormon library, private or public.

  24. Cheryl, it’s probably just as much my fault as yours (if not more) for setting the tone.

  25. kaphor,

    The issue is not that a position is taken, nor is it which position is taken. Rather, it’s that the position is really taken for different, less empirical or independently verifiable reasons than the ones on which the overt case is built. For instance, a patriot writing a defense of America, a racist writing a defense of slavery, or a Democrat writing a defense of liberalism would all likely be apologists to some extent, because there are strong underlying emotional attachments to the positions defended—presumptions that the positions are true—which go much deeper than the rational reasons given, and this results in a rather different handling of evidence than most scholars strive for. So, for instance, there’s quite a tribe of strident ex-Mormons who I do not hestitate to characterize as ex-Mormon or Spalding Theory apologists, because they, too, typically operate by reconciling evidence to non-negotiable presuppositions rather than attempting to answer open-ended questions. We all slip into an apologetic mode from time to time and to different degrees, no matter what “side” of any given issue we find ourselves on. This does not mean, however, that all scholarship is apologetic in this sense. Simply taking a position does not make one an apologist in the sense meant here.

    In the case of religious apologists, the underlying attachment to the presupposition is rooted in a different epistemology rather than an emotional bias, so I would argue that it’s actually a more legitimate kind of apologetics because it’s got a philosophical framework behind it and it’s done with eyes wide open. Still, it’s similar to the above examples in the sense that those who don’t share the presupposition still need to approach it with extra caution.

  26. Christopher: I believe underlying this discussion are very important philosophical issues — issues which will not be important to a non-Latter-day Saint or secularist: like whether God could even ask anyone to do what Joseph did. Cheryl addresses it; but it isn’t based on historical evidence because it is a philosophical and moral issue. Nevertheless, there are important philosophical arguments to support varying views. These issues deserve treatment at some length in my view.

    Second, OK I will not freak out if you won’t spaz out. Nevertheless … there you are doing it again: “the apologist allows the religious testimony experience to become a variable in the analysis by assigning a high prior probability to the point to be proved. The project becomes largely one of reconciling evidence to a presupposition rather than answering an open-ended question based on empirical data.” Here you assume that Brian (and all other people of faith for that matter) is simply attempting to reconcile evidence with his religious testimony and has allowed his prior beliefs to significantly color his assessment. That must be shown and not assumed with respect to each issue. Moreover, describing this as the apologist’s project is ridiculously reductive.

    Hales has not made his prior religious testimony a variable in his assessment of the evidence — or somehow factored it in as a basis for his conclusions. I’d like to see where you think he has factored in his prior religious testimony in his discussion. He may do so unwittingly and unconsciously, just like everyone else. But as you admit, that is so trivially true it is hardly worth mentioning. It appears to me that he looked at the evidence and noticed that a lot (and I emphasize a lot) of assumptions were being made about the evidence regarding Joseph’s introduction and practice of plural marriage that were not justified by the evidence but were filled with assumptions about what must have motivated Joseph Smith or what some statement made 60 years after the fact meant when there were other, more parsimonious explanations. I noted the same kinds of knee-jerk assumptions unjustified by evidence when I went through every available work on Mormon polygamy about 5 years ago. So I think he is noticing something important about the evidence at issue.

    No doubt, as you say, it is trivially true that his background beliefs influenced his conclusions. But he has controlled for them by giving the evidence and showing the prior assumptions made about it to lead to possible different conclusions about Joseph. If anything, he is being much more critical and careful than the prior generation(s) of historians. He is doing a real service to call into question the assumptions made about this practice.

    The Bayesian model of probability assigns specific background probabilities numbers before beginning. I have now idea how you think that would proceed with prior background beliefs since no such numbers are remotely available.

    Let me give another example. I wrote a piece on creatio ex nihilo and its origins in Christian and Jewish thought. I simply noticed that arguments had been made about its origins that did not seem to be historically correct. I researched the evidence and found that the evidence did not support the arguments. So I wrote to show that the evidence will not support the argument that the idea originated in scriptural texts or within the first 150 years of the onset of Christianity. I think I am fairly capable of seeing when evidence won’t support a position and when it will. The outcome of my research happened to support the LDS view as many understand it so I thought it would be interesting to others. The outcome of my research was not dictated by my beliefs, but my interest in the subject was. The piece I wrote was both apologetic and also historically accurate and informational. Based on my own experience, what you assert about apologetics does not appear to be accurate — at least not always (and I think you would agree with that). But if that is the case, then the issue is not apologetics, but how professionally and fairly one handles evidence and adduces and assesses arguments.

  27. Blake,

    Here you assume that Brian (and all other people of faith for that matter) is simply attempting to reconcile evidence with his religious testimony and has allowed his prior beliefs to significantly color his assessment.

    You’re mistaken. This isn’t an assumption, and I certainly wouldn’t agree that all “people of faith” do scholarship in an apologetic mode. I’m rather startled to find you making such assumptions about me; do I really seem like the kind of person who would categorize people so blithely? Rather, I’m commenting on Brian’s work based on my reading and analysis of it. I’m not going to get into the details because I’ve discussed enough of the specifics with Cheryl on our backlist to feel confident that her follow-up posts will touch on some of my major issues with Brian’s reasoning and conclusions. As for the rest of your post, I agree (as I presume was clear from my previous comments) that Brian has made important observations and contributions and has been commendably careful to include his sources and logic. That’s what makes his work so useful and important even for people who don’t share his presuppositions.

    As for your argument that the lack of concrete numbers means Bayesianism can’t serve as a model for how people approach issues probabilistically, I don’t see why a lack of concrete numbers would preclude people from making vague, intuitive probability calculations in a more-or-less Bayesian mode.

    I also disagree with your statement that “the issue is not apologetics, but how professionally and fairly one handles evidence and adduces and assesses arguments.” I think it would be unfair to characterize apologetics as necessarily unfair or unprofessional. It’s simply rooted in a different epistemological tradition that’s considered professional enough within certain venues and circles. And as you note, Brian’s work more than meets other standards of scholarly professionalism. IMO, any characterization of Brian’s work as unfair or unprofessional would be offensive and inaccurate.

  28. Cristopher (#32 et alia),

    Your comments regarding how to understand (rather than just define) apologetics deserve a post. I feel, as I commented on David Bokovoy’s post, that within Mormon Studies discourse the term might be irretrievably tainted for use as a descriptive (i.e., neutral) label. Yet the underlying epistemological assumptions of apologetics, and the wider intellectual tradition of apologetics that informs its Mormon Studies incarnation are still worth unpacking.


    Thanks for your impressions of Hales’s work. It sounds like a serious work, and I look forward to reading it.

  29. Don’t give Brian such a hard time for his take on Nauvoo polygamy. Brian is on of the foremost experts on current-day polygamist cults. When he talks about polygamy, everybody who knows anything about the topic will perk up and listen. You may not agree with all of his interpretations, but his research is always good and he always gets his facts straight. And frankly, it’s too much to ask of an author that he persuade you on every point — what author possibly could? Lastly, Don’t peg Brian as an apologist, either; Brian is always willing to engage in serious debate about polygamy issues in ways that allow for a level playing field in which all sides can be heard.

  30. #31:
    ooh, Blake–I would think that “partisan” had much more unfortunate connotations than “apologist.” But that’s just in my head…ymmv.

  31. Christopher,

    That’s not exactly how I would assign the blame for the tainting of the term.

    Still, the topic—a priori commitments, epistemology, intellectual tradition, etc.—merits real discussion.

  32. Chris, “apologist” had a negative connotation long before the dustups at the Maxwell Institute and other places.

    Usually the only time I heard the word being used was when someone was trying to weasel out of confronting the substance of an argument.

    But maybe I’ve just been keeping the wrong company.

  33. Well, certain parties were giving Mormon apologetics a bad name long before the MI dustup. But apologetics isn’t an inherently negative term. In fact, Christian universities offer degrees in apologetics, and many apologists openly avow themselves as such. Presuppositional apologetics is actually a formal, well-defined methodological approach in Protestant circles. I really do think that the bad reputation of apologetics in Mormon circles is mainly a result of the mode of engagement adopted by those who have dominated the field for the past few decades.

  34. Chris, just out of curiosity – would you say the atheist view of broader Christian world apologists is the same? Like William Lane Craig, for instance?

  35. I’m not sure it’s fair to compare William Lane Craig and Brian Hales, Seth. Craig is a philosopher, while Hales is a historian. It’s probably easier for an atheist like myself to find value in the work of an apologist-historian than in the work of an apologist-philosopher whose sole work is crafting logical arguments for the existence of God. I’m also not sure atheists are the group we should be using as our standard. Mormon apologetics seems to command disdain from mainstream “insider” scholars as well as from the “critics,” so perhaps a better question would be whether Protestant apologetics are similarly marginalized by that tradition’s academic mainstream.

    A good example might be SBL (the Society for Biblical Literature), which is the go-to venue for serious Protestant apologetic scripture scholars. Much of the faith-promoting work produced by believing scholars at the SBL is taken quite seriously by both believing and unbelieving colleagues. Of course, it’s always a great deal more work to sift through a book that operates with methodological assumptions which aren’t shared by the reader, so I’m sure there are plenty of unbelievers who look down their noses at it and avoid it. But apologetic scholarship on the Bible certainly doesn’t seem to carry the same sort of stigma as Mormon apologetics. Look at folks like Ben Witherington and James Hoffmeier—highly respected in their fields.

  36. Really, I think I’d like to have it laid out who these mainstream insider scholars are who disdain LDS apologetics, and why and how they disdain it. Someone ought to catalog that sometime.

  37. I think Christopher is vastly overstating both the supposed stigma of Mormon apologetics and also the length of the list and the credentials of those on the list of supposed Mormon-insider apologetics disdainers. Each is entitled to his or her own opinion — but here is Christopher once again grouping all Mormon apologetics together as a subject when each piece must be taken on its own merits.

    However, I agree that apologetics has a long list of rather august participants in the biblical tradition. I would argue that all who advocate for any view are apologists in the strictest sense — even (or maybe especially) atheistic apologists such as Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris et al.. As a rule, their grasp of the relevant theological issues is downright embarrassing for them. Dennett has a good grasp of the philosophical issues, but the others are up in the night.

  38. Blake, I’m not going to give a specific list, but I think that it is very fair to say that at least 95% of Mormons who have received graduate degrees in religious-studies related disciplines in the last dozen years and are actively engaged in Mormon Studies have a disdain for the type of apologetics that Dan Peterson, Bill Hamblin, and Greg Smith have been actively doing, and at the same time appreciate (though perhaps largely disagree with) the apologetics Brian Hales is engaged in.

  39. narrator – this is obvious hyperbole. You can’t back that assertion up at all.

  40. Seth, gather together the programs for every Mormon Studies event the last three years (MHA, MSH, F&K, SMPT, etc, events at CGU, UVU, USU, etc). To lean things toward apologetics, lets even include FAIR and exclude Sunstone. Include publications as well. From those programs and publications, take every person who has received a graduate degree in Religious Studies related fields in this millenium and has participated in or attended at least 3 or 4 other conferences (to gauge their involvement in Mormon Studies). Poll them and you will find I am correct.

    I’m at these conferences. I know most of these people. I have lunches with them. I chat with them. I’m in email lists with them. They are Facebook friends, associates, classmates. It’s a pretty small niche of scholars and not that difficult to get to know most of them. They simply don’t care about the “Classic-FARMS” approach to apologetics–and dislike/disdain the polemical approach exemplified by Hamblin, Peterson, and Smith. It’s not hyperbole.

    And I’m done here.

  41. Well, the conversation has veered wide from the actusl contents of the review and had gotten stuck on theone word, apologetics. I think that this is doing Cheryl’s effort a disservice.

    Maybe if she had phrased it that Hales is approaching the matter from the viewpoint of a believing LDS, everyone would not have gotten bogged down. But, that is our fault also, for not responding to the gist of the review.


  42. My own first reaction to Brian’s work was slightly more … hmm … excited and energetic?… than Cheryl’s. I absolutely disagree with several key points Hales raises, and probably used a few expletives in my private expressions of disbelief. I’d share, but I’m looking forward to what Cheryl is going to say about this, and wouldn’t want to steal her thunder. LOL.

    Having said this, I absolutely agree with Cheryl and others who suggest this set is an important one to own. Both Brian Hales and Don Bradley deserve some serious credit — these books represent a significant effort in assembling documentary evidence and in thinking seriously about what that evidence means. For the several reasons Cheryl and others have already clearly stated, I do not know that this will end up being the “definitive” work on this subject. Yet it is certainly comprehensive, and any future argument on the shape of early Mormon polygamy will necessarily draw on the resources Hales provides — and will need to address Hales’ own arguments on what those resources mean.

  43. Blake said: “I think Christopher is vastly overstating . . . the supposed stigma of Mormon apologetics.”

    I personally don’t mind a decent apologetic, and I find that Brian’s writing is apologetic in the non-odious sense of that term.

    But when I specifically think of Mormon apologetics, I confess more than an occasional wince.

    I appreciate that Christopher chooses not to name names. However, never-to-be-forgotten are such schoolboy antics as the (in)famous “Metcalf is Butthead” episode, and much likeminded meanspirited “apologia” by a specific group of individuals that I confess I otherwise like.

    Stigma. Yeah, it has some.

  44. I think a large part of that is the opponents that some in apologetics decide to engage with. Because, with a few notable exceptions, the anti-Mormon side is far-and-away more vicious, wretched, vindictive, and mean-spirited than the Mormon apologist side is.

    The problem for the apologist is that when they engage such dregs of humanity, there is a really strong impulse to drop one’s own rhetoric to the company one is keeping. So the apologist also gets meaner, and more aggressive. Just in response to the sheer vile hatred being thrown at him or her. Human nature.

    But then of course, you cede the moral high ground.

    I know there are a few exceptions lurking on the message boards (I’d name some if I didn’t already think they’d gotten more attention than they deserve). But by and large, the Mormon apologist side is far and away more civil than their usual opponents.

    Maybe that’s the problem though – they need better opponents in order to raise the discourse. And certainly, who an apologist chooses to engage is partly his or her own responsibility.

  45. Seth R. “The anti-Mormon side is far-and-away more vicious, wretched, vindictive, and mean-spirited than the Mormon apologist side is. . . when [LDS apologists] engage such dregs of humanity, there is a really strong impulse to drop one’s own rhetoric to the company one is keeping. So the apologist also gets meaner, and more aggressive. Just in response to the sheer vile hatred being thrown at him or her.”

    Hmm. Questioning the temple-worthiness of an individual, or engaging in coded name-calling in one’s response to a critic is really cheap, IMO. This kind of tactic is what gives LDS apologetics a bad name in some circles.

    My example was Brent Metcalfe. I don’t suppose “vicious, wretched, vindictive, mean-spirited, dregs of humanity” or “displayer of vile hatred” characterizes Brent at all. Even if it did, the best response is to recognize that critics do us a favor, and then provide a well-crafted response to the argument rather than an attack on the person, I would think. Certainly Brent’s criticisms deserved a reply sans the personal nonsense and intimidation.

    And so this doesn’t run too far afield of the initial post: Whatever else one might wish to say about this series on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Hales, he nowhere engages in the kind of negative polemic described in this thread — good on him for that! Rather, it is the kind of apology described by Chris — it doesn’t suggest bad scholarship, but is a useful bit of contextual information when reading these books.

  46. Joe, I don’t think I’m the sort of person who is the subject of this debate about apologists in the first place. We’re talking about scholarly work in LDS apologetic circles.

    I don’t pretend to be a scholar. I’ve published before in my own professional field, but never in Mormon issues. Nor do I expect I shall. I’m not really a flag bearer for apologetics in the sense of its scholarly contingent.

    And none of the rhetoric I engaged in in my own comment above is even remotely close to the hate speech that the anti-Mormon contingent delights in throwing around.

    However, I won’t pretend my own warnings don’t apply to me. I’ve had to fight against getting more jaded from dealing with a parade of hateful people as well. I’ve gotten more aggressive myself in response. And it’s a real problem. It’s a worse problem when it happens to members of the LDS apologetics community who actually matter though – unlike me.

  47. More to the point of the OP: Cheryl, were there any big surprises for you in the first volume — things that you didn’t expect, delightful details, insightful episodes? I really live for those when reading books like this. I did have a few moments of illumination myself, and wondered if you did, as well.

  48. Cheryl, I’ve only gotten through the first four paragraphs so far and had to say, “thank you,” for letting me know that I was in the minority of the membership on this issue (the 14%.) I had no idea that it was 86% to 14%, nor do I know where you are getting these numbers from, but I imagine that they are accurate, at least insofar as the U.S. is concerned. The foreign converts may make that number quite different.

    You already know my own views on polygamy, so I won’t waste any time on it. Btw, I thought Seth’s comment in #3 was classic and your own level-headed response in #4 perfect.

  49. I imagine that many of the 86% were thinking that the practice of polygamy TODAY, with multiple living wives, is immoral (thus following current church policy), not that it has always been immoral. Or have the 86% also not read the Old Testament?

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  51. Trevor (#59): I suspect that the Old Testament advocates all kinds of practices which we reject as “immoral,” and not merely because of current prophetic disapprobation.

    I recall reading in Sunstone (!) several years back the results of a survey, which asked pointedly if survey-takers would enter into polygamous unions if invited to do so by the current prophet. Perhaps others remember this survey? I was surprised by the numbers of individuals inclined to refuse such an invitation. I don’t think this was based upon a supposition that polygyny is immoral until the prophet says otherwise. Rather, like Brian himself, many modern Mormons believe that traditional “Mormon-style” polygamy is fundamentally an unequal arrangement. They (not Brian, I’m assuming) would therefore conclude that it is innately immoral.

    Secondly, I think Cheryl’s comparison of this issue with that of Baptism for the Dead in the RLDS/CofC tradition should give Latter-day Saints significant pause. I strongly suspect that LDS, availing themselves of the same logic and mechanism utilized by the CofC, will continue to believe but not practice plural marriage until the entire issue becomes obviously and increasingly theologically irrelevant. The only remnant of the practice may well be Hales’ proposed “eternity-only” plural sealings, in which living Mormons are “theoretically” married to deceased bachelors/spinsters from their own family line. Any talk by any faithful Latter-day Saint in a Church setting regarding a theoretical re-institution of polygamy is likely viewed as a kind of kooky crackpotism, or perhaps the need for someone to get some serious marital counseling.

    Just sayin!

  52. Joe, I realize most people in the Church today (including my wife) are not interested in practicing polygamy either here or in the hereafter. Incidentally, if I understand correctly, such was also the case in the 19th century. However, my actual point, which apparently I wasn’t clear enough on, wasn’t that people only consider it to be immoral because it’s not currently commanded. What I was saying is that even if your typical church member thinks it’s immoral today, it doesn’t mean that they think 19th century church members or various Old Testament people were being immoral when they practiced it.

  53. I think it would be certainly interesting to hear his sources.

    The problem I often have when debating polygamy is most people don’t really know which accounts to trust. Most church members just seem to go with the version taught in their lesson manual and it’s hard to prove that actually,things might have happened differently. If you say, well, there was this account by this person, it gets shot down with a, “Well, they were just anti-Mormon.”

  54. I am a descendent on many lines of individuals who practiced polygamy and I listened to this podcast with great interest for several reasons:
    1. I like to think I have noble ancestors for their “faithfulness” to have embarked upon such a difficult path and their faithfulness to their religion and their spouse(s).
    2. It gives me great difficulty to accept it within the context of what I have observed within myself and others when it comes to sexuality, the potential for the abuse of power, the feelings of women, and the overall sordid appearance that Joseph’s secretive actions gave the whole concept.
    3. Why would just one more wife have satisfied the angel with the drawn sword and not 33 wives? As I examine many of whose stories individually they give me pause and I don’t see the differentiation as to whether or not he consummated the marriage.
    4. What about all of the men who died in wars as young men who never had the opportunity for marriage and then accept the gospel in the spirit world and are in need of wives to allow them to meet the qualifications of celestial marriage? I have a hard time with the line of logic that more women will be in the celestial kingdom than men.
    5. The overall experience of groups in the United States that have continued to live the concept of plural marriage seems to not be too different demographically speaking except for the mental gymnastics that are taken to explain different levels of marriage within the context of Joseph’s practices.
    6. I find within myself that the natural man is too willing to explain behavior that is advantageous sexually for me (a man), the use of power, opportunity or privilege to expand sexual privilege and indulge sexual appetites. I cannot speak to whether or not this situation would be reversed if women enjoyed the opportunities of power, privilege and opportunity. It is my gut feeling that it may not be so as our gender gives a different perspective as to the needs, wants and desires that sexuality brings to the table. Speaking from a practical standpoint, women more directly bear the burdens of sexuality and are therefore seem inclined to look at it from a perspective of fidelity, commitment, support, and emotion.
    My wife and I have discussed this topic for years and the longer I am married and the clearer my perspective gets. I suspect this is from a probable decline in hormone levels, and I am able to have greater empathy for her feelings and those feelings that each polygamous wife may have felt as she “shared” her husband. I am reminded of the scripture from The Book of Mormon Jacob Chapter 2. To be brief I’ll only quote the last verse:
    35 Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.
    Jacob 2

  55. Taylor, there is very little evidence that any “young men” in late 1800s Utah died without wives because of polygamy. That’s certainly a feature problem of FLDS modern practice of polygamy. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the FLDS are a time capsule of late 1800s Utah. The population and social dynamics are utterly different.

    The population of women and men in Utah was not so different, so I don’t buy into the argument about “caring for widows” (though Brigham Young himself seems to have done exactly that in a few instances). But if the young men in Utah followed standard marriage practice and married a few years younger than them, the growing population pyramid in Utah ensured that there would always be literally, as the Beach Boys sang, “two girls for every boy.” As long as the population grew, and as long as men married younger brides, there was no shortage – even if every young man were to have two or three brides.

    Of course, the reality is that only a small minority of Utah’s population ever practice polygamy at any point – and of those who did, two or three wives was the norm, not dozens like my great, great, etc. grandfather Aaron Johnson – mayor of Springville – who had 23 (I’m from the seventh).

    The practice of large numbers of wives was actually confined largely to men who were introduced to the practice in the “Nauvoo period” of Church history. After that, the practice calmed down somewhat.

    It was all quite sustainable in the short term, as far as I can tell. And there is no evidence of “lost boys” in Utah around the turn of the century.

    P.S. some have pointed to US Census figures showing more men than women in Utah in the late 1800s – but this is easily explained away by the fact that the Census included all the “gentile” men who moved in to mine silver in places like Park City during the silver rush. Those men weren’t in the LDS marriage pool anyway, so they don’t need to factor into the figures.

  56. Seth R.

    I admit I am not qualified to discuss long-term population trends in territorial Utah or now for that matter. I do not believe that it can be sustainable for a protracted period of time without men being without wives. I think that and other reasons contribute to the lost boys of Utah.

    My ancestors had two-three wives each. I believe they were sincere and doing what they thought to be right. I cannot figure out why a young woman would be married at age fourteen to any man for eternity only. How does she know what her life holds? What if she marries for time and decides her husband is a great guy and she’d just as soon keep him? It take some mental twisting to work my way through that one.

    I believe my ancestors were sincere, good, faithful people who did what they was right. I’ve read their histories and their testimonies and am not in a position contextually to judge their actions.

    However, polygamy is so counter to natures of women in general that I cannot wrap my mind around a woman accepting willingly. It would take some sort of use of authority to lend the credence to it to have her accept it. Broach the subject with them and see how much mileage you get out of claiming that it is right. Joseph did not follow the “Law of Sarah” in his entering into most of his polygamous marriages.

  57. I think it’s a sticky subject trying to say what is or is not counter to the “nature of women.” Define it first and you might be getting somewhere. Or you might wind up offending a lot of women, depending on what your conclusions were.

    I discovered that what I personally can or cannot tolerate is a lot more flexible than I would have thought. For instance, I sat down once and asked myself if I’d be OK with my wife being sealed to someone else besides me in the temple. Did that bother me?

    After thinking about it, I decided it did not. My wife did the same exercise and said she was fine with the concept too (though we both agreed I’d make a lousy polygamist – best leave well enough alone).

    You know… I even once sat down and tried to conceptualize whether I be capable of entering a gay relationship if God commanded me to (this was in response to a challenger in a gay marriage debate). I came pretty darn close to seeing how I could change my mental state to finding that appealing. Didn’t make it all the way – but I could see the path.

    You work hard at something, and I think you’d be surprised at how adaptable human beings are.

    Secondly, I think too much of your view on marriage has been shaped by Hollywood romances about sexual desire being paramount, and indistinguishable from the romantic ideal of “true love.” The “Sleepless in Seattle” myth that there is one “soulmate” out there who is perfect for you – more than any other person on the planet.

    It’s hogwash, but it sells popcorn, so hey…

    But the fact is, this romantic fantasy is a pretty recent invention. It hasn’t been that way for most of human history – and it still isn’t that way for a lot of people, even today.

    For many, marriage is a social contract that is more about the woman’s place in society and her goals for well-being, financial security, and community status. Think Jane Austen’s book “Pride and Prejudice.”

    The heroine Elizabeth rejects the proposal of marriage from the pompous ass Mr. Collins, and then is shocked when a mere week later, her no-nonsense best friend Charlotte agrees to marriage with the insufferable stuffed-shirt.

    Elizabeth interrogates her friend and finds her well-aware of how ridiculous her suitor is. But quite happy with catching a stable clergyman with an INCOME, and nice bit of property, and no vicious traits like drunkenness or violence. She’s quite content and pleased with the match and considers it, honestly, the best she was likely to do for herself given her family status and wealth.

    THAT, my friend is what marriage has been about for the majority of human history. Fiddler on the Roof “Do You Love Me?” kind of stuff. This soulmate song and dance wasn’t invented in the 20th century, but it certainly took over in that short period.

    I wouldn’t presume to think what Joseph Smith’s wives thought of the whole thing. At least not too far anyway. They lived in a very different reality than we do.

  58. Seth,

    All very valid points and ones that I can think of examples that would agree with what you are saying…

    In fact, I’ve made the same arguments myself. My wife had a very good friend tell her she’d married because she knew he would be a good provider and that she did not love her husband. I’m still guessing she’d be irritated at his having someone else even if he did have the resources.

    Hollywood aside, I don’t think that most women would appreciate the arrangement and I don’t think that the day-to-day burdens of a family are better handled by one parent instead of two as polygamous husbands would split their time between families.

    I still contend that it does not meet the emotional needs of women and that your arguments, while having examples, do not represent the ideal. Consider the Family Proclamation as the ideal.

    I believe women enter into alternative relationships because they lack the power to have the ideal and they “want to take away their reproach”.

  59. Seth,

    Who does the Hollywood ideal appeal to? Many women seem to be drawn to those types of movies for some reason. Did you ever wonder why?

  60. Actually, believe it or not, men tend to be a bit more idealistic and romantic about love than women.

    The old maxim goes – “A maid to a man is a vision ethereal. A man to a maid is a piece of material.”

  61. Seth,

    You’ve side-stepped the Family Proclimation, and the rest of my post. I sincerely doubt I’d see you first in line and a ‘chic flick’.

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