Let’s Talk: Elephants, Blind Men, and Religion

Posted: August 29, 2008 by clairer in Evangelism

” ‘I’m still stuck on this exclusive thing,” [Gregg said] “I’ve always thought that the blind-men-and-the-elephant story was a pretty good explanation for the differences in religion.’

‘You mean the one about the six blind guys who all find an elephant?’ [Bob asked.] ‘They think they know what a whole elephant looks like.’

‘Right.  One guy’s got only the tail so he thinks an elephant is like a snake.  And another guy’s got only the tusk so he thinks an elephant is like a spear.  Isn’t that what different religions are like — parts of the whole?’ (excerpt from Corner Conversations by Randy Newman)

This is another question I’ve encountered a lot in conversations with my friends.  Is there really just one true religion?  Don’t we all just grasp parts of the whole?  The elephant and blind men illustration I referred to above is a pretty commonly used explanation by those who believe that there are many paths to take in following God.  I personally have run across it in many conversations and several books.  As I was reading in The Reason for God by Timothy Keller the other day, he too referred to the elephant and blind men.  His response really stood out to me:

This illustration backfires on its users.  The story is told from the point of view of someone who is not blind.  How can you know that each blind man only sees part of the elephant unless you claim to be able to see the whole elephant?….How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have a superior, comprehensive knowledge of the spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?”

I thought this brought up an interesting point.  A lot of times, it seems like we like to think that by just saying we think each religion has a little bit of truth in it, we’re being humble and open minded, because we all know that it’s arrogant to assert our own beliefs are “truer than others” right?  Well, actually, as Keller brings out, it seems that by saying that all religions have a little grain of truth in them, we’re really saying that we can see and understand the truth of religion better than some of the greatest religious thinkers and theologians that ever lived.  So, are we really being any humbler by thinking this way?

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