Is having two wives a mere act of man?
This student was writing about a new religion in Utah claiming the right to erect a tablet of its basic precepts in a public park alongside a monument to Mormon pioneers and another presenting the Ten Commandments. His point was that although some of the new religion’s practices and beliefs seem very strange, the same can be said of more established religions when viewed by non-believers. I think that’s a very good point.
His explanation of Mormonism is a little stranger than he intends.
Joseph Smith, Jr., said that God endorsed polygamy for selected Mormon men (including Joseph Smith, Jr.); the next generation of Mormons broadened this notion; and the issue of polygamy became a public cause involving multiple prohibitions and some hair-splitting on the subject of religious freedom (U.S. law could not restrict beliefs but could legitimately restrict practices). An agreement by Mormons to disavow the practice of polygamy while not disavowing a belief in it as a concept was key to Utah’s achieving statehood. There are still fundamentalist Mormons—possibly a growing number—who practice polygamy without much interference; but such practice is not endorsed by the Church of the Latterday Saints. It is not legal as an act of men.
What does my student mean by “an act of God,” exactly? Does he mean that God can have three or more wives? The JudeoChristian God doesn’t have any wives at all, as far as I know; but there are religions with married gods, and some of them are polygamous. For those gods, having three or more wives would, by definition, be an act of God.
More likely he means fundamentalist Mormons believe God wants them to have three or more wives. But what is the mechanism? If a hurricane brings a tree down onto your roof and you file a claim for damages with your insurance company, you can be pretty sure the company will try to interpret the tree’s behavior as an act of God (it’s always fun when corporations get religion, isn’t it?). This model would suggest that suddenly one day a Mormon man wakes up with three or more wives puttering around in the kitchen or rolling around in his bed: “Where did all these women come from?” he asks, puzzled, and then has the revelation “Ah! It’s an Act of God! God wants me to have these wives He sent by overnight delivery! Come on, ladies—it’s meant to be!”
Oh, of course not. He meant to say that having three or more wives is condoned by God, or is an act God approves of, or is the act of a godly man. He must have meant that.
Maybe one of Mitt Romney’s problems with voters is that, as outsiders to his religion, they view his beliefs and practices as strange—even the beliefs he doesn’t practice. He should just tell them not to get hung up about what is, when it occurs, an act of God. If insurance companies don’t care about such things, neither should they.