Last week, I began to sketch out the relationship between rules and principles. For the CliffNotes: faith is a process of applying correct beliefs that enlarge our souls and enlighten our minds. This application process is best analogized to the planting of a seed, where the seed is the Word (and the various beliefs, principles, and rules within). As we apply correct beliefs, the seed takes germinates, sprouts, and grows. What catches in our souls and minds, enlarging and exlightening them, is the true principle.
Our goal is to get at true principles, but we are best able to seek after true principles when those principles are cultivated and reinforced through rules. However, if we lose sight of the principles for the rules, then our obedience becomes Pharisaical; we miss the point.
As I mentioned last week, I think the seed analogy is powerful because how visual and universal it is. But another way that it is powerful is in its flexibility — we know quite a few things about seeds in reality that can be applied to the simile. What is the flexibility of an analogy of the scriptures being a seed?
The issue is this: principles such as honesty and chastity are general and universal. Rules such as the Law of Chastity are particular and specific. Sometimes, it seems like planting the word as a seed doesn’t work. Alma 32 assumes that the seed will grow for anyone. Yet, this isn’t always the case.
Different people are enticed by different philosophies, religions, and lifestyles. They are driven away by different philosophies, religions, and lifestyles as well. What does this do to our seed analogy?
Well, actually, the seed analogy is surprisingly robust for this case.
Firstly, within the seed are remarkable meters for temperature, moisture, light, and so on. Seeds germinate when these various factors are ideal and remain dormant until then. Similarly, proper application of scriptural precepts requires appropriate internal and external conditions.
Secondly (and much more obviously), there are several kinds of seeds in life. Each seed has the same kinds of parts, like the embryo, nutrients for the embryo, and the coat which shells around the seed. Yet seeds all basically work the same way ideally. They germinate, sprout, and grow. But beyond that, the seeds can look quite different and produce very different plants.
So then, shouldn’t we recognize that when Alma 32 refers to the Word as a seed, this does not mean there can’t be other seeds? And since living seeds all can germinate, sprout, and grow, doesn’t this mean that different spiritual seeds could enlarge the soul and enlighten the mind?
In the last post, I made an analogy to accounting standards (and traffic rules). This works well with this modified seed analogy. Believe it or not, but accounting isn’t this monolithic and universal structure. To the contrary, there are different accounting standards (as there are different tax codes). Just like there are different traffic rules and norms.
What does all this diversity mean? Does it mean everything is completely relative and there are no general principles to glean?
Actually, the diversity supports universal principles in each case. Different traffic rules are all different approaches that all try to reach the same goal of a safe driving experience for all. Different accounting standards are all different approaches that all try to reach the same goal of communicating economic decisions. And different religious, philosophical, and lifestyle codes are all different approaches that all try to reach the same set of principles.
We are often situated in a particular setting of rules, whether it be religious or legal. Most of the times, the rules that we have prime us well to seek true principles. Other times, we look to improve and build upon our rules (at least, that’s what Congress thinks it’s doing, right?). Nevertheless, we must always be looking out for the right principles — wherever they may be — that will truly enlarge our souls.
As Mormons we are encouraged to seek truth, wherever it may be found. But we also believe that our own tradition, by virtue of being led by prophets, seers, and revelators, contains that truth. May we then recognize truths that can be found universally through our own particular station.