Tuesday, October 26, 2004

...the most beautiful

Tonight as the fellas were all out smoking cigars, drinking beer, eating red meat and talking about life, Greg brought up an interesting view that he has about his marriage. More specifically it is about his wife. He says that he believes that his wife is the funniest, most beautiful, most intelligent of all the wives of the guys there. He would make the claim that she is the funniest, most beautiful, most intelligent woman that he knows.

At first, this view seems very arrogant. Initially and without further explanation, it seems as though Greg is saying that his wife is "objectively" better or prettier than all the other women of the world. This isn't actually Greg's claim at all. He is not basing his view on "objectivity" since things like intelligence, beauty and humor are all "relationally subjective." Thus, what Greg was actually saying is that God has set a definition of beauty, humor and intelligence for women in Greg's life and that definition is embodied in his wife.

Most of us would have a hard time understanding what Greg is talking about. If we have a spouse to speak of, we might make the claim that "although they aren't the most beautiful or most intelligent or most humorous person of the opposite sex that we have ever met, they are who I love. And further, because they are my spouse, they are mine."

But broken down to its philosophical roots, these two views have different starting points. Greg is coming from a "nominalist" view of reality and most of us would be thinking in a "realist" or "extreme realist" perspective. Here is a working definition of what I mean:

Nominalism (Latin nominalist,"of or pertaining to names"), in medieval Scholastic philosophy, doctrine stating that abstractions, known as universals, are without essential or substantive reality, and that only individual objects have real existence. These universals, such as animal, nation, beauty, circle, were held to be mere names, hence the term nominalism. For example, the name circle is applied to things that are round and is thus a general designation; but no concrete identity with a separate essence of roundness exists corresponding to the name. The nominalistic doctrine is opposed to the philosophical theory called extreme realism (see Realism), according to which universals have a real and independent existence prior to and apart from particular objects.

In the case of Greg, the universals which he was referencing were intelligence, beauty and humor. His understanding of these universals is that God gave him his wife to be the standard of defining these ideas. He is not pulling from prior experience or even his own media culture. Most of us probably have ascribed to an "idea" of beauty that is disembodied. We may believe that it is a universal which exists on its own merit. Thus, we compare things to this universal ideal in order to decide the level of its beauty. This is a form of "Realism" in our thinking.

Taken to the level of God, a nominalist would say that something is "good" because God declares it to be so. There is no universal called "good" that exists on its own merit. The idea of "good" is really only embodied in that which God calls "good." A realist's view would say that there is an idea out there called "good." And God is good because he conforms to the idea of what "good" is.

In Greg's case, he is attempting to allow God to define for him what female humor, intelligence, and beauty are through the gift which God has given him, that is, his wife. At first this way of thinking about one's spouse and one's marriage seems far fetched. But when broken down into its philosophical roots, it is exactly how most of the Christian world views God.

We are very willing to say that God is the author of our definitions of what is "good" in the world. But we hesitate to say that God has defined for us the definitions of "beauty" or "humor" or "intelligence" through our own spouse. It is not that Greg is saying that his wife is perfect. He is simply acknowledging that the "subjective lens" through which Greg is to understand feminine beauty is his wife.

It seems to me that this would guard a marriage from the unhealthy attacks of comparison. If we have this disembodied universal of what we consider "beautiful," then we tend to judge our spouse up against that standard along with other people of the opposite sex. In a sense, our mind wonders into thoughts like, "my wife gets this close to my standard of beauty but this other girl gets even closer." or "I connect with my wife at this level, but my connectivity with this other girl is through the roof."

These thoughts and other similar thought patterns are impossible if your wife IS your standard of connectedness and beauty. In a sense, Greg's "nominalist" approach creates a situation where the extent to which another girl is not your wife, is the extent to which she becomes unattractive.

Its definitely something to think about for all of us married guys out there. Any thoughts?


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