Pearls, Swine, and the Value of Blogs

A few months ago, someone close to me told me he had read a
scripture that was written for bloggers. Knowing God’s prescience for
technology (he told Truman Angell to design elevator shafts for the
temple!), this did not seem too far-fetched. Then I read the scripture,
and realized that the intended message was not as congratulatory as
I’d expected.

I quote from Alma 12:9:

It is given to many to know the mysteries of God;
nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not
impart– only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant
unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which
they give unto him.

There are some immediate problems that present themselves when one
tries to apply this command to blogging– the first being that nobody
ever blogs about actual, identifiable revelations one has received,
which revelations have not been delivered to the rest of humanity. But
the general point is one that deserves attention. It can be condensed
to a more familiar refrain, paraphrased from the words of the Savior
himself: Don’t cast your pearls before swine.

I am inclined to reject that command as fit for a blogger to
consider. Doesn’t a blogging policy based on pearls and swine require
one to assume his own words are gems and his audience are pigs? But
bear with me, because I think each of these questions actually presents
a relevant dilemma.

First, is there any way that my trivial musings on religious topics
could ever constitute pearls? It would be easy to blow this question
off as imposing a prideful perspective, in which the blogger holds
great gems of eternal truth delivered directly from the almighty. And
yet, who of us is prepared to say that all our thoughts are our own?
While I am wary of the pride that would claim revelation as the source
of all my religious thinking, its seems equally prideful to say that
everything I write springs full-grown from my own head, without some
whispering from the divine. Thus, although it may seem like an
unfounded and high-flown claim, we should approach our serious
religious writing as something of worth, if only because there is the
chance that it was suggested in some small way by a being higher than
ourselves. In short, they may be pearls, and they may not be, but those
who impulsively dismiss the notion may do so too quickly.

Secondly, who are the swine before which I should not present my
heartfelt, faith-based ponderings? Is there some test one should pass
before being allowed to participate in religious discussion, especially
when the discussion concerns the sacred or the deeply personal? Such a
test would be anathema to the nature of blogging, which depends upon
its openness and liberality for its appeal. While I respect the ideal
of keeping the sacred from those who will mock it, is there not also a
competing value of placing my take on what is holy next to your
interpretation, and jointly distilling a better truth from the
combination? The fact that some truth is God’s truth is not an
argument for keeping it from the give and take of the marketplace of
ideas; rather, it’s an argument for its inclusion. If we seek to find
real truth, we shouldn’t protect what we know, but set it loose to
see what else it will cling to. Still, the question remains: at what
point does the marketplace begin to encroach on the grounds of the
temple?

Perhaps the value-fraught paradigm of pearls and swine needs to be
reframed. The real dilemma is whether we are justified in conducting
robust discussion and debate on topics that relate to truths revealed
by God, not only to his prophets, but to us personally. Of course we
can never come to a global answer, because we cannot pre-define the
topics of conversation, nor the members of the audience. But we can
evaluate our own reasons for undertaking to write about issues of faith
and worship.

For me, it comes down to this single insight: by sharing with others
what are, to me, my most important thoughts, I am able to put those
thoughts to uses not available when I keep them to myself. If the
thoughts are simply our own musings, then we have done no harm by
discussing them. But if there is something of God in them– and the
feeling pervading so much online Mormon writing suggests that there
is– then we have made some small effort to bless each other, and
created a new, slightly different form of devotion.

That’s the little hope that I hold for a community like this
one– that everyone here can share a few pearls, but not be afraid
about what might happen to tarnish them. This vision would require two
commitments from all involved. First, that respect and civility be the
guiding principles of our interactions. While this is often difficult
to achieve in online fora, it might be easier than we think, if every
participant approached each topic with the assumption that every other
participant was sharing things of real spiritual value, rather than
mere ideas and opinions. Secondly, we should commit to share things of
spiritual value. Of course we can’t always pledge to say truly
meaningful things all the time, but everyone can do their best not to
say things that could insult a person, or deride faith generally. A
quick condensation of these two principles together would read
something like this: Knowing that your words are meant as pearls may
make me less of a pig; and knowing that you are not a pig should help
me commit to share important, valuable things.

There may be a time when contention or ideology overtake these
discussions to such a degree that few important truths are left. But in
the meantime, there should be no reason to refrain from sharing the
little things we are learning in the time that is given us. This
outlook prompts us to think less about pearls and swine, and more about
candles and bushels.

7 thoughts on “Pearls, Swine, and the Value of Blogs

  1. he told Truman Angell to design elevator shafts for the temple!

    I missed that earlier. I hope it’s tongue-in-cheek, because it’s
    another one of those faith-promoting rumors that just ain’t so…

    See “The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure: Studying It Out in Their Minds” -Paul C. Richards. BYUS 36:2 (1996-97):202-225.
    The first page is a picture…

  2. Ben, I’d hoped the exclamation point and the enthusiastic phrasing
    would make it clear that yes, the elevator shafts revelation was tongue
    in cheek. —–
    never assume anything. Besides, it’s a good BYU Studies article:)

  3. See “The Salt Lake Temple Infrastructure: Studying It Out in Their
    Minds” -Paul C. Richards. BYUS 36:2 (1996-97):202-225. The first page
    is a picture…

    Ben, that is a painful, only view one page at a time, messy viewer, slow as dirt over a fast DSL line.

    Do you have a sub-page. I read about twenty and missed the part where
    they blew up the urban legend, though I learned about burned beams,
    signatures, boilerrooms, types of rock, digging approaches, size and
    measurements, disregarding Brigham Young and scads of other things.

  4. now available to download free in .pdf format from the BYU Studies page.

    I had to go back and look at it again, since it’s been a while. I
    think the point they’re making is that both electricity and elevators
    were known to the Saints and deliberately incorporated. This paragraph, for example,

    Jennifer
    Lund at the Museum of Church History and Art says stories proliferate
    about vertical shafts being constructed in the temple without the
    pioneer builders knowing their purpose. Later these shafts turned out
    to be just the right size for elevators. Museum docents have heard
    similar tales about workmen wondering why they were cutting channels in
    the granite walls of the temple. Then, the story continues, when
    electricity was discovered, these shafts were used to run wiring.
    What these stories say, in essence, is that Mormon pioneers were
    unaware of the industrial and technological advances of the nineteenth
    century. Nothing could be further from the truth. Truman O. Angell Sr.
    went on an architectural fact-finding mission to England and France in
    1856. While there, he not only studied significant buildings and
    monuments, but also sugar factories, iron works, and shipyards. 44 At
    the time of his mission, the following developments had taken place or
    were about to take place.

    He then lays out a brief history of elevators and electricity, showing that they were known to the saints…

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