Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pearls Before Swine

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."
-Matthew 7:6

I could never understand this verse within the context of Christianity, because within Christianity we regard the gospel as true and we regard it as something that must be shared, distributed, and proclaimed. I, and many others that I knew of, took this as a verse advising against sharing the holy message of the gospel with at least some kinds of people - the dogs and the swine who could not appreciate it. But if the gospel is true, then it should not be defended through secrecy, it should be capable of overcoming any presented opposition by virtue of the fact that the truth will always be able to show itself superior to falsehood in a debate. That made this verse into one of those verses that you imagine has some deeper, more mysterious meaning that you do not yet understand.

Outside of Christianity, and with a healthy skepticism about humanity's ability to come to Truth, I think I understand the passage.

Pigs were unclean, they were reprehensible to the Jews. Dogs were common, wild, traveled in packs, and could turn vicious toward humanity. Neither of them have any appreciation for pearls. But a man does; a man can love pearls, he can regard them as precious, he can value and treasure them, and he can share them with those whom he loves. But if a man shares his pearls with dogs or swine, he is sharing them with those who are incapable of regarding them as he does, and he puts both the pearls and himself in danger.

This is the meaning: only share what is or what can be commonly loved, because it is a common trait of humanity to trample what is loved by few but not loved by many. The most important and defining things in life are often private in some way - unique experiences or unique blends of emotion that one will never find in another person. In this way, the experience can not be communicated, any other person will lack the vocabulary to understand you. Some will love you for having something that they can not share, but there are many who will seek to flatten you out, many who will devalue what you love simply because it is their nature to be amused by doing so.

Whatever you love dearly can not be shared too openly. Whatever is special and particular to you must be hidden except to those that you know will have some kind of appreciation for it. Because we are social creatures, and when we see what we love being trampled it is a challenge to our love. We can not make them see that whatever it is that we value deserves to be valued - because it doesn't - we love it because it is our nature to love it but it may not be their nature to love it. But when we see what we love being mocked and ridiculed, the social aspect of our nature will want to be reconciled to those who mock and ridicule and it presents us with a prompting to abandon some of our particularity and individuality for the sake of being reconciled with the crowd. On the other hand, instead we may cling more tightly to what we love and thereby come to hate the crowd who can not appreciate it.

By keeping what is particular to ourselves away from mockers, scoffers, dogs, swine, and crowds who loathe what is not a part of themselves, we avoid this challenge altogether. We avoid the experience of having what we love trampled - and the consequent challenge to our own identity. We also avoid the prompting to shut ourselves off from people to preserve our individual character.

I can scarcely imagine a more important lesson for the internet age.

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