July 6, 2006

Line by Line, Precept by Precept

My career as a mathematician was very brief. In the fourth grade, I was the fastest multiplier and divider that Stonegate Elementary had ever seen. Thanks to good ol' Kumon math, I was as fast as lightning. 7 x 7? 49. 8 x 2? 16. 10 x 10? 100. Yep, I was that good.

My career as a scientist was even shorter (meaning I never had one). Much to my parents' chagrin, I was always a dunce when it came to science. Newton's Laws of Motion were foreign concepts to me as well as the organization of the Periodic Table of Elements (halogen what?). Good Chinese children excel at biology and physics and grow up to become doctors and engineers. My father received his masters degree in chemical engineering at the University of Virginia, but for some reason my dad's genetic affinity towards math and science was never passed down to me or my siblings. (Sorry Mom and Dad, but you'll have to look to your grandkids to receive the Tung family's first M.D.)

As much as math and science perplex and boggle my mind, I find them to be fascinating subjects. Especially theoretical physics, which attempts to explain the inner-workings of the universe on both macro and micro levels. Multiple dimensions, parallel universes, warp theory---oh my!

I'm currently reading Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, which explains superstring theory (as well as quantum mechanics, special relativity, and general relativity) in layman's terms. The book truly is an exercise of my mind because these theories are so complex, even when they are dumbed down for dunces like me.

Our universe is a strange place, my friends, and the laws that govern it on a macro level differ from the laws that govern it on a micro level. Weird. And not only are there four dimensions in space, there possibly may be a fifth, a sixth, and even more. Weirder.

Reading The Elegant Universe has made me greatly appreciate the lives and works of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. In many ways, Newton and Einstein are the "prophets" of science. They shattered previous methods of thinking and replaced them with their own radical ideologies. They are the "enlightened ones" who provided answers to centuries-old dilemmas. Their ideas have affected technology, engineering, and astronomy as well as culture and philosophy. People like Sir Newton and Mr. Einstein only come around every few hundred years. Much like Jesus Christ, Mohammed, or Guru Nanak.

An interesting idea has been brewing in my head... In the scriptures we read that humans learn "line by line, precept by precept," meaning we learn a little bit at a time. We can't learn all the lessons we have to learn in a month or in a year. Instead, we learn a little here and we learn a little there, continually building up our well of knowledge and experience.

Thus it makes sense that the realm of science is dictated by this "line by line" methodology as well. Over six-thousand years ago when human civilization first emerged, our ancestors had only a rudimentary understanding of the world around them. Slowly, mathematics and the sciences developed. We grew to understand astronomy, biology, geology, chemistry, and physics. We mapped the constellations, developed measurements, discovered new species, and even harnessed nuclear energy. Our world today is a product of nearly 10,000 years of learning. And what's wonderful is that we will continue to better understand our world and our universe as time continues on---line by line, precept by precept.

OK. So if human understanding and science run on this line-by-line precept, then what about religion? What if, like physics, we are gaining a little knowledge here and a little knowledge there about the nature of god and the extent of his creations?

If this theory is correct, then religion cannot be static. It must be fluid---it must be willing to change and it must be willing to learn. When the human race was in its infancy, god revealed a small portion of his nature and his will to our ancestors. And now after centuries of progression, god continues to slowly teach us about his plan for mankind. Thus, to learn about god, we must learn about all faiths. If he has revealed a part of himself to the Jews and a part of himself to the Sikhs and a part of himself to the Zoroastrians, then we must look for him in these religions.

And if God indeed knows all things, then we must search for him beyond religion alone. We must study philosophy, art, science, history, literature, linguistics, mathematics---in short, everything. In D&C 93:53, God commands us to: "obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion." The last portion of this verse is so interesting: all this for the salvation of Zion. In essence, we cannot progress if we refuse to learn. For learning is of God; and to learn is to be of Him.

God is far less mysterious then we are inclined to believe. (At least in my mind anyway.) If he loves us and is concerned about us, then surely we can find him. And with the wealth of religions and philosophies in this world, I know he is not very far.


  1. the only thing I would add regarding religion is this: it is true that all religions have some truths about God. It is also possible that God revealed only parts of his true nature to different religions. But, I don't think it makes much sense that we have to study all other religions to understand God better. What was revealed in part surely exists within what was revealed in its entirety (i.e. through the prophet Joseph Smith). I think it is safe to say that we CAN find truth in other religions, but that truth will only reaffirm the truths we already posess. We used to tell people on my mission that we believe in ALL truth. It just so happens that we know where it all is. But, even our own religion is revealed line upon line, precept upon precept.

    I like this post. I love it when I can see other people thinking deeply about stuff. I'm always doing that.

  2. I echo your sentiments, Travis.

    As well as yours, Caroline. When I was reading your post it made me remember all the things that excited me about the world religion class I took. There is so much truth and wisdom out there. And there is so much to learn in all aspects of life. I think the Lord loves to watch us learn and begin to understand...as long as we do not get high and mighty on ourselves and forget him.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement that even our own religion is revealed line upon line, precept upon precept. I find much truth in my faith, but I also find it amazing that there is still so much out there that will be revealed to us one day.

    Since there is so much we still have to learn, I enjoy studying other religious beliefs and partaking in the truths therein. Learning about other faiths helps me to understand God better because it helps me to understand His children better.

    I guess for me, I kind of view spirituality as a big buffet. I find Mormonism to be nutritious and quite delicious, but I also like to dabble in the rich array of foods around me. Trying new things (whether or not they taste good or bad) helps me to grow.

    Hope that makes sense.

  4. Don't get me wrong -- I also really like to study other religions. I love learning about Judaism especially. It always makes me happy when people believe in something higher than themselves - whether it's Buddhism, Islam, or whatever. I DID serve my mission in Korea, after all. I didn't intend to disparage other religions at all. I guess I just thought I would weigh in on the issue. I love the story of the guy who sold his farm to search the world for diamonds - and his farm ended up containing the biggest diamond mine in the entire world. He went searching for something he had all along. I guess that's all I was trying to point out.

    Won't it be exciting when the Millennium comes, and we become blessed with the answers to all of the mysteries of our religion? I sure have a few questions I'd like to have answered. But, part of why we don't have all the answers is because we MUST develop faith while we are in this life. Those things we don't understand must be accepted on faith, and on the ministrations of the Holy Ghost - which turns out to be better than factual knowledge.

  5. No, I completely agree with you, Trav! And I thank you for bringing up that story about the man looking for a diamond. That story definitely reminds me of my own life in the past few months---so thank you for mentioning it.

    I too am excited for the day when I can finally understand God's entire plan. There definitely are a lot of questions that I have! I think it's wonderful that there is still so much to learn---and I think it's so amazing that we will never stop learning.

    Thanks for your comments, Trav. Your faith is really an inspiration.

  6. I'm surprised our atheist friend hasn't tried to rip this post apart yet. Ha ha ha.

  7. Hi Caroline,

    This post really spoke to me. I try to avoid applying evolutionary thinking to history (the 20th century seemed to demonstrate the best and the worst that humanity had to offer), I'd like to think that religion is being refined as time marches on. It's hard to study religious history, even of Mormonism, and not get a sense of this.

    A few illustrations: the God of the Old Testament orders the elimination of entire tribes, including infants; in the New Testament, he orders us to turn the other cheek. Polygamy, withholding the priesthood from the blacks, and the more violent parts of the temple ceremony have been removed.

    There's even room for the idea of refinement in Mormonism. There is the teaching of eternal progression, and we know that there are "higher" laws--the law of Moses is considered by Mormons to be a lesser law (though it was the only valid law for some time). The Church is living the law of tithing instead of the full law of consecration. I'd like to think of this as God distilling finer and finer principles as his people are ready to receive it.

    As far as learning from other religions is concerned, meditation is one area where other traditions excel. Not necessary for salvation, perhaps, but President McKay taught the Saints the value of meditation. Our Evangelical friends do a wonderful job of emphasizing the importance of Christ (I've sat through sacrament meetings where the only mention of Christ is in the sacrament prayers and the closing of the talks). Buddhism emphasizes the interconnectedness of all people (and living things) perhaps better than any other religion. Mormons used to be pretty wise stewards of the environment in Brigham Young's day, but seem to have lost much of that in the 20th century. I don't say any of these things to diminish Mormonism, but to suggest that there are lovely things, teachings of good report, even in the other religions of the world, that could add value to the LDS spiritual experience.

  8. Dear John,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I enjoyed your insights very much.

    I definitely believe that Mormonism is evolving as a religion. (Perhaps sometimes not as quickly as I would like, but ah well.) There is so much we still have yet to understand about the nature of God.

    And I guess this is why I enjoy learning about other religions (and even learning about agnosticism and atheism too). There are so many aspects of spirituality---like meditation---that I find fascinating and fulfilling.

    Furthermore, learning about other religions helps me to be more humble. I'm forced to realize that my own little viewpoint of the world is too narrow.

    Thanks again, John! I really look forward to reading more posts about your religious pilgrimmage.

  9. Here is a quote from Elder James E. Faust's talk in the last General Conference. It is an amazing talk. I think it applies really well to this topic:
    "We believe that the fulness of the gospel of Christ has been restored, but this is no reason for anyone to feel superior in any way toward others of God's children. Rather, it requires a greater obligation to invoke the essence of the gospel of Christ in our lives—to love, serve, and bless others. Indeed, as the First Presidency stated in 1978, we believe that "the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God's light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals."25 Thus, we have respect for the sincere religious beliefs of others and appreciate others extending the same courtesy and respect for the tenets we hold dear."