Polygamy means a system of marriage where one person has more than one spouse. There are two basic forms of polygamy: polyandry, where one woman has more than one husband, and polygyny, where one man has more than one wife (Merriam Webster dictionary). Over the course of history and at present, polygyny is by far the most common form of polygamy, though there have been some documented reports of the practice of polyandry in isolated societies (Al-Krenaw, 1995). Polygyny appears to be the only type of polygamy practiced in North America. While Polygyny is practiced in several societies in the world it is most common in Middle Eastern and African nations, where cultural and religious background continue to encourage its practice (Agadjanian, 2000). There has been growing concern and controversy about polygamy around the world. In many countries where polygamy has traditionally been practiced, there has been increasing encouragement for the restraint of polygamy to protect women from abuse and support gender equality. In the United States, there is increasing concern about the practice of polygamy and other abuses of women and children in fundamentalist communities (Altman & Ginat, 1996). Furthermore, these communities are composed of Christian, Jewish and Muslim believers.
In this paper I will use two ethical theories Divine Command and Egoism to discuss the morals and ethics accepting polygamy. Let’s first begin with the assumption that religions are acceptable sources of morals. Morals are broad societal rules or guidelines that define the boundaries of acceptable behavior. In other words, morals are the principles that determine right and wrong in relation to human activity and character (The American Heritage Dictionary).
Moral principles are most often expressed in terms of what should or should not be done. You shall do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Thou shall not steal. These rules fir together seem to create a framework that form moral codes by which a society may behave. Rules that are determined to be crucial for societal order are codified as laws and consequences are affixed (Hinman, 1998). As I continue with an assumption of religion’s being acceptable sources of morals I have selected to discuss three religions Judaism, Islam and Christianity which are closely related, in order to see where they stand on the issue of polygamy. Further I will discuss how ethical egoism can influence and encourages polygamy.
Polygamy is a very ancient practice found in many human societies. The Bible did not criticize polygamy and most of the content in the Bible is an influence of the Old Testament. The Old Testament frequently demonstrates legality of polygamy. In Judaism it is prominent that most of the Old Testament Prophets are polygamous. According to the Old Testament, Abraham "the friend of God" had more than one wife, David had one hundred wives, and Solomon is even said to have had 700 wives 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Also, king David is said to have had many wives and mistress (2 Samuel 5:13). The Old Testament does have some injunctions on how to distribute the property of a man among his sons from different wives (Deut. 22:7). The only restriction on polygamy is a ban on taking a wife's sister as a rival wife (Lev. 18:18). The Talmud (book of Jewish law) advises a maximum of four wives.
Polygyny is permitted in Judaism. According to Talmudic law, Abraham had three wives, and Solomon had hundreds of wives. The practice of polygyny continued till Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah (1030 C.E) issued a law against it (US Marriage laws). An express prohibition of it was not pronounced until the convening of the Rabbinical Synod at Worms, in the beginning of the eleventh century (US Marriage Laws). This prohibition was originally made for the Jews living in Germany and Northern France, but it was successfully adopted in all European countries. Nevertheless, European Jews continued to...
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