Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

“It just IS” v. “It’s just…”

May 08th, 2017 by MC

Image result for temple wedding certificate
Like many Mormon missionaries, I was the catalyst for a fair number of overdue weddings.

Been together for years, have several kids together*, can’t imagine living their lives separately, just never got around to an actual wedding. Indeed, it was usually impossible to tell which domestic arrangements were official until you asked them at the end of the fourth discussion. Happily, the goal of preparing for baptism was all that some of them needed to take the plunge (no pun intended).

Then there were the others, with the common refrain: “Why does it matter if we get married? We’re already together. It’s just a piece of paper.”

The first few times I tried to dissuade them: “It’s so much more than a piece of paper,” etc. Sometime around the middle of my mission I got the idea of playing along. “OK, well, since you already said you want to be baptized, and since it’s just a piece of paper, why don’t you just meet us at the courthouse at 4:00 on Thursday to buy the license? It’s only $50. If that’s too much we can find someone to pitch in. It’ll take ten minutes tops. Then the bishop will marry you for free. It’s just a piece of paper, right?”

This actually worked at least one time that I can remember. But most of the time the response was, “Hmm…..Gosh, I’m not sure we’re ready for that.” “He has anger problems.” “Our relationship is having trouble right now.”

“It’s just a piece of paper.” Pfffff.

I.

In his recent post on “Mormons and Metaphysics,” Dr. Charlton asserted that Mormonism is:

the first and only metaphysical system built upon the primacy of relationships, specifically of the loving relationship between God (i.e. our Heavenly Parents) and children. Whereas, almost all other metaphysical systems are based upon concepts derived from physics (Time, Space, Change, Stasis, the apparent versus the real etc). The idea of Mormonism is that at the very bottom level of reality is family relationships and love – these are the ultimate things.

In the comments, Agellius queried how exactly this works: What does it mean for metaphysics to be based on relationships? After some discussion, Dr. Charlton responded:

I know a metaphysics of beings and relationships seems strange and bizarre; but it *is* possible to re-imagine metaphysics in this way – in fact it is probably the spontaneous way to think about the world (‘animism’ is natural to hunter gatherers and children). BTW all metaphysical systems without exception are based on some assertions of the nature ‘it just IS’ – so it is no criticism to have found this in another person’s beliefs – indeed to be aware of one’s own it-just-is assumptions is perhaps the most valuable insight of all.

The point about metaphysical systems being based on “It just IS” assumptions is a crucial one. The importance of “It just IS” can be elucidated by examining its exact opposite:

“It’s just…”

II.

To show how “It’s just…” works, let’s take the marriage example. What do people mean when they say that marriage is “just a piece of paper”? Obviously they mean to minimize the significance of marriage. But more importantly, what they’re doing is deconstructing marriage.

By way of contrast, when you excuse a little indulgence by saying, “It’s just one cookie,” you are minimizing the act of eating the cookie, but you aren’t deconstructing it. You aren’t asserting that the cookie is anything other than a cookie.

But the person who says that marriage is just a piece of paper intends something more fundamental. No one would think to say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just marriage.” That would be obviously ridiculous, since everyone knows that marriage is by its nature a big deal. The only way to minimize marriage is to deconstruct it, to reduce it to its constituent pieces, none of which are, taken separately, as meaningful as marriage itself: “Well, isn’t marriage just a partnership where people agree to live together, have sexual relations, possibly raise kids together? How would a wedding or a piece of paper change anything about that?”

III.

I use the word deconstruction advisedly, as it is the cornerstone of postmodern thought. Every idea that underpins religion and civilization must be deconstructed, dissected; nothing is ever more than the sum of its parts. To de-construct something is to un-build it, to tear it down. And when postmodernists dissect an idea, it dies as surely as the poor frog in a freshman biology lab.

Of course, “deconstruction” is high-falutin’ ivory tower talk. On the battlefield of ideas, deconstruction campaigns under the banner of “It’s just…”

“It’s just a clump of cells.”

“It’s just sex.”

“It’s just an arbitrary line on a map.”

“It’s just a number; what’s really the difference between 15 and 18?”

“It’s just a social construct.”

“It’s just a bunch of words written down by dead white males.”

Surely you’ve already thought of your own examples. “It’s just…” is everywhere.

IV.

I said above that “It’s just…” is the opposite of “It just is.” Another way of putting it is this:

That which “just is” is that which cannot, or ought not, be deconstructed.

“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

V.

If there are things which ought not be deconstructed, it follows that there are some things that ought to be. And in fact, deconstruction is not inherently evil. Deconstruction is only evil if we conceal or destroy something real by chopping it up into an incoherent and unrecognizable jumble of parts.

Indeed, the right engages in deconstruction regularly.

“Transsexuality is real. You can be a girl born in a boy’s body. Your sex is not the same thing as your gender.”

“No, transsexuality isn’t real. It’s just a delusion and a perversion which is aided and abetted for ideological reasons. It’s just play-acting as the opposite sex. Since when did cross-dressing turn into some truth about the universe higher than physical reality?”

The disagreement here is purely metaphysical. No matter what Bill Nye says, it is impossible to prove these ideas through natural science or even logical argument. They are assumptions about the nature of reality. There is no meaningful argument to be made with the notion that a man can be trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa. [As a rhetorical strategy, I can think of little better than to point out the delusion and to ridicule the very idea of it as self-evidently absurd.]

VI.

In light of the above, let me try to elucidate what it means to say that family and relationships are the basis of Mormon metaphysics.

Creedal Christian metaphysics proceed from assumptions about what God must be, within a certain view of the cosmos. They reason from the general to the particular. And their general assumptions about the universe don’t leave room for a God of flesh and bone.

Whereas Mormon metaphysics are based on the particular, which is itself based on our own relationship with God, and the personal witness of his prophets. We generalize from there. This is why Mormons and creedal Christians are constantly talking past each other:

Creedal Christian: “Don’t you guys understand that the universe can’t exist without God, and therefore God created it, and encompasses it, and cannot possibly be limited to a human-like physical form?”

LDS: “Well, I don’t know about all that. What I can tell you is that God the Father actually appeared to Joseph Smith. And that I have witness from the Holy Ghost that he really is my Father in a literal sense, and that I am in his image in a literal sense.”

CC: “But all that father/son stuff; it’s just a metaphor. You aren’t literally the offspring of God. That would imply that you could someday become a god.”

LDS: “Oh, so you have heard of our church before.”

CC: [crosses self].

To Mormons, a God “without body, parts, or passions” is a deconstruction of the Man we know as our Father. It sounds suspiciously New Age-y, as though “God is just a name we give to that Unknown Something that made the universe and gives it life-force.”

To us, God “just IS” our Father. Christ “just IS” our Brother. Families “just ARE” the fundamental unit of of exaltation and of union with God and all mankind. To the extent that our understanding of God and his Plan runs afoul of Thomistic cosmology, we take what we know over what a philosopher has decided must be.


*“Well, look, you’ll both be nervous. But, then, you remember that you love each other, you know, and that you trust each other, and that you’ve had two kids together.”

Comments (1)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: ,
May 08th, 2017 05:17:36
1 comment

G.
May 8, 2017

It’s interesting where you went with this. Another way of putting it is that Mormons and creedal Christians put different things in the “we don’t know, but we’re sure it’ll work out somehow” pile.

But I like your frame even better. “It’s just vs. It just IS.”

Pieces of paper and other ceremonies–baptism comes to mind–“It’s just getting wet a little bit”–are truth-revealing things. Most of the time, the truth that God reveals to us is the truth about us. And its those truths that can (possibly) set us free.

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