From time to time I get to talk with people who try to convince me that all religions are equally valid. That is, all religions point in the same direction, and each has a different piece of the puzzle.

The parable most often used to illustrate the point is one of several blind men who encounter an elephant. One grabs its tail and describes something thin and flexible. A second man grabs the trunk and can't agree with the "thin" part, but also describes something flexible. Another grabs the elephant's leg and argues that the "something" isn't flexible at all.

The story goes on, but you get the point. The person sitting at Starbucks will argue that mankind's view of the supernatural is like trying to describe that elephant. Each religion describes a different piece.

I recently ran across a quote by Lesslie Newbigin that was new to me though after some more reading it seems to be a fairly popular critique. It's from his book "The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society."

"In the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. . . the real point of the story is constantly overlooked. The story is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of it. The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmations of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of the truth. But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite. If the king were also blind, there would be no story."

In order to make any Truth claim (either for it, or against it), someone has to be able to see the whole elephant.


Pilgrim said...

David Wells makes the same point in Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World. I can't remember if Wells was quoting Newbigin, but as you say, many lucid minds have seen through the falseness of the "blind men" argument.

When I read it the first time, I felt very, very foolish for ever having given the "blind men" argument a modicum of plausibility. Makes me fear for how much post-modern nonsense I've absorbed by virtue of breathing this air; also makes me very grateful for the longsuffering and mercy of God.