I think Kaimi’s metaphor is apt, maybe in more ways than he intended. Every few weeks, or every few days, there’s another discussion of polygamy, and some country hick who’s new to the big city suggests in breathless wide-eyed wonder that plural marriage was a way to care for widows and other women without families. Thereupon much merriment ensues among those who are wise to the ways of the world. Who could be so naive?
But then I read what Richard Bushman told the Pew Forum a few weeks ago:
In actual fact, polygamy seemed to have served a function in society. We now have a fine-grained study of polygamy in one community where we know every family in the community and all of the details about them. And what polygamy seems to have been was a way in which young women without male protection â€“ no father, no older brother, no near relative to care for them â€“ were absorbed into Mormon society.
Polygamy went up when the immigration rates went up. And the young women who came into these families in this little town were young women in that position. Not all of them â€“ but that was the single most common type of plural wife. More than 50 percent of them fit this description. So it was a way of caring for people and may have contributed to the resilience of the society.
Bushman seems to be referring to Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001. And so we are presented with a dilemma: are we going to believe the pre-eminent living scholar of Mormonism and his citation of published research, or the collective wisdom of ldsskepticguy, CESgrad2003, and TheologianX?
There is, of course, plenty more to be said about polygamy. I agree in principle with Kristine that more reading on the subjects of discussion is a good thing, but I also agree in practice with Lisa; if I think I have something worthwhile to say, I’ll say it, and figure out the footnotes later. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the world of Mormon blogs can develop its own received wisdom, and sometimes we are all full of cr*p.