Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rod Dreher, Crunchy Conservatives, and the Texas Polygamists

Over at Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog some ill-mannered commenters have been tweaking him for not writing, as of yet, on the situation in Texas involving the polygamy compound. His reasonable statement to the effect that he'll write about it when he has something to say has been shrugged aside; the commenters seem to want to believe that Rod, who writes critically of gay marriage and other facets of societal decay, is going to give the polygamists a pass because they're heterosexual, because he and all Christian men secretly want to subject women to lives of oppression and thus approve when others do this, or because he won't be able to voice disapproval of this sect (or cult) and their way of life without mangling a few crunchy conservative sacred cows in the process.

They're wrong, of course. But it's quite telling that they would seize the opportunity to show their own hands so plainly.

Liberals tend to believe that conservatives, even crunchy ones, secretly pine for the days when a man's word was law, when women were considered helpless fragile little creatures who were dependent on their husbands in every imaginable way, and when the societal traditions that held place of honor were designed to reinforce ideas like these. Liberals also tend to believe that underneath every conservative notion about sexual morality lies the old boys' club double standard: that men will be men, and need more than one woman in their lives, but that a woman who loses her virtue loses everything, and a woman who strays from the path of respectability deserves to be shunned and mistreated at every opportunity. In a liberal's way of looking at things, all conservative men secretly think that wives should be subject to beatings or financial control or some such things, and all conservative men actually envy the polygamist for having worked out such a tidy solution to the problem of the male desire for variety.

So the fact that Rod hasn't, as of yet, gotten around to writing about the Texas situation is proof positive to people of this mindset that their awful suspicions about conservative men are fully justified. Conservatives, they reason, will attack gay marriage at every opportunity because gay marriage is a threat somehow to their own bigotry or hate which they want to impose on the rest of society; but conservatives will not attack polygamy with the same vigor, because they mostly approve of its elements, and raise only mild protests against the plural aspects of plural marriage.

But nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in fact, the liberal approach which has undermined the sanctity of marriage at every turn that makes it so difficult now for the law to say or do anything about polygamy. In every situation where the government has gotten involved in some group or cult that is practicing polygamy, the government has only been able to do so because minor children were involved in the marriages or in some other abuse. Thanks to the sexual revolution, it's no longer illegal in most states from any kind of public morals or public decency standpoint for a man to live with several women and consider himself "spiritually married" to all but the one with whom he actually has a marriage license. Unless he attempts legal bigamy, the law can't stop him from living with and sleeping with as many women as he wants to.

And if liberals get their way on the "age of consent" laws, too, there soon will be no grounds at all for law enforcement to stop a fifty-year-old man from living with a fifteen-year-old girl, whether he considers her a "spiritual wife" or not. The one cultural value our current society elevates above all others is the notion that sex without consequences is the most important freedom we have, and if children or innocent spouses or unborn babies or anyone else has to suffer for this freedom to be paramount, then so be it.

Conservatives aren't hampered by the need to protect this "value," as we reject it and the destructive consequences it has had on our society. For a conservative, polygamy is wrong for exactly the same reasons that gay marriage or cohabitation or serial divorce/remarriage and the like are wrong: because they attack and undermine the sanctity of marriage which is ordered toward the preservation and flourishing of the family, the basic and most essential unit of human society. The polygamy cult here in Texas sees the actions of law enforcement as an attack upon their religion, but what it actually is--or should be--is the reaffirmation by society of the fact that not all so-called "family" structures deserve the name. A gay couple raising children isn't a family; a man living with his girlfriend isn't a family; two single women raising the children each has had with several different men aren't a family; and a polygamist with multiple wives and dozens of children isn't a family.

Our society has chosen to believe that the definition of family is as fluid and changeable as it wants the definition of marriage to be. The consequences of this is that society will have to make as much room for the polygamist "family" as it has for all the other deviations it has decided are worthy of the name; unless, of course, society wants to start listening to the conservative voices who have been pretty consistent in rejecting these kinds of Orwellian redefinitions.

I'm sure Rod Dreher will have some interesting things to say on the Texas polygamy sect, but what he should not have to say is that he rejects the morality of this group and its chosen way of life. We conservatives aren't the ones who have trouble saying that, after all.

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