Of elephants, blind men and religions

blind-men-elephant-religion.jpgDo you believe different religions are like fingers pointing at the moon, different reflections of the same reality? Would you describe yourself as “spiritual but not religious”?

If you said yes, then chances are you’ve come across the parable of the elephant and the blind men at some point in your journey. It’s a parable that teaches how different people have different perspectives and chances are you thought it sounded very inclusive. But I’d like to challenge that perception of inclusiveness with some words from Lesslie Newbigin:

In the famous story of the blind men and the elephant, so often quoted in the interests of religious agnosticism, 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  the truth. The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmation 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. The story is told by the king, and it is the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full  truth which all the world’s religions are only groping after. It embodies the claim to know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the  religions and philosophies.

What if the king had no eyes?

2 thoughts on “Of elephants, blind men and religions

  1. John says:

    Perhaps a better question or exclamation would be –
    “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
    For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro narrow chinks of his cavern” (or mind-forged manacles)

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  2. Matt Stone says:

    The quote presumes God is impersonal, that we can fully know God with sufficent “objectivity”. But consider opening up to an alternative possibility: what if God is personal? You don’t have to be Christian to recognize that the only way we can know the “subjective” side of another is through self disclosure. In that event the cleanest lenses can never provide full illumination.

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