by Sharon Barrett
October 23, 2012
Have we ever considered that we might be living in a polygamous society?
This is the question posed last week by MARRI intern Maria Reig Teetor. Maria observes,
Its common to hear complaints of how horrible it is that in certain cultures and religions, polygyny is respected and normal. We hear an outcry that it attacks womens dignity and reduces them to objects. But have those who are raising this outcry ever stopped to question whether their own sexual behavior may be reducing their human dignity?
Where is the difference, when men and women in Western society embrace sexual activity with whomever they please, whenever they please, leading to multiple sexual partners by the time they are thirty?
A French intellectual writing over 200 years ago made a similar observation. Louis de Bonald was a French reactionary a conservative in France who opposed the libertinism of the French Revolution just as MP Edmund Burke opposed it in England. In On Divorce, published in 1801, Bonald wrote the following:
The union of all with all indiscriminately is the promiscuity of the beasts; the successive union of one with many is polygamy, repudiation, divorce; the indissoluble union of one with one [is] Christian marriage….
Thus, as promiscuity is the union of the most imperfect of human beings, the beasts, it appears that indissoluble union, which is the other extreme, must be the union of the most perfect of living beings, men….*
In other words, sexual promiscuity reduces ones human dignity because it is equivalent to animal behavior. Promiscuity can be made more socially acceptable when covered with the veneer of divorce and remarriage, but it still fails to reach the standard of fidelity for Christian marriage prescribed by in the teaching of Christ (Matt. 19:3-9). As a conservative Catholic, Bonald believed in an indissoluble union; but as a student of history, he also believed (as MARRI research also shows) that lifelong marriage is naturally superior to other unions because it provides security for every member of the family.
Bonald, along with other conservatives of his time, thought of human society as a community ordered by the duties each member owes to all others (what Edmund Burke called a web of obligation, stretching from our forebears to future generations). He described marriage and the family as a society in itself, one that the larger human community has a duty to uphold and protect.
The French Revolution upset this social balance by proclaiming radical individualism and freedom from religious restraint (which, as Bonald pointed out, led to new divorce laws and an epidemic of divorce that he called serial polygamy). The same is true today, as Maria Reig Teetor describes:
As Pat Fagan points out, in the Western culture of polyamorous sexuality, family life is just one option among many other lifestyles. This culture treasures sexual freedom, meaning whatever is desired by the partners (two or more partners, as the case may be). It wants to eliminate religion and suppresses its public manifestations, attacking religious freedom. Ones moral code is individual and consequently relative; anyone should do as he or she pleases, not only sexually but in any arena of life (so if I need to kill an unborn child, I should have that right). In short, the idea of freedom is to have no constraints imposed on you, to have a carefree life.
The Enlightenment concept of freedom that shaped the French Revolution continues today, shaping our cultures view of marriage and sexual license. Those working to strengthen the family will find a powerful resource in writers like Bonald, who fought for social conservative principles long before the term culture wars was coined.
*De Bonald, Louis; trans. Nicholas Davidson. On Divorce (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1992), 60.