ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN
Pluralists, i.e. folks who say that all religions are basically the same and are headed in the same direction, like the metaphor of the elephant and the blind men. According to the story, a group of blind men who have heard of or experienced an elephant before are led to a real elephant and asked to describe it. The problem is that they each touch different parts.
“The elephant is a pillar,” says the blind man who touches the leg.
“No,” says another who is touching the tail. “How can you say that? The elephant is a rope.”
“You’re both wrong,” say the man touching the trunk. “It is the think branch of a tree.”
“It’s a big fan,” says the blind man touching the ear.
The fifth man who is touching the belly says, “It’s a wall.”
And the sixth man who is touching the tusk says, “It is a solid pipe.”
Pluralists use the metaphor to illustrate how all religions, although different in the language the use and traditions they practice, are really talking about the same divine being. They differ in their descriptions of that being, because they are experience it in different contexts and from different historical/experiential perspectives.
The problem is that for the metaphor to work, you have to assume that what they are touching is really an elephant.
But what if a man was touching a pillar and claimed it was the leg of an elephant, or another when was holding a rope and said it was an elephant’s tail, or another man was feeling a big fan and declared that it was an elephant ear?
Those of us could see would conclude that they are wrong, because they are blind.
In my eyes—you catch the irony—we are all blind and only know what we are touching if someone with sight tells us the truth about that which we cannot verify for ourselves. The trick, of course, is to find such an authority. Do we trust our own “feel” for what is real or what is not? Do we trust the one authority who claims to have clear vision? Do we trust the story we read in braille which is handed down to us and was written before we all lost our sight.
Epistemologically speaking, the human condition dictates that we all must leaps of faith regarding the existence and character of a supreme being. We have to trust someone or something which claims to see what we cannot. To claim agnosticism doesn’t allow anyone to escape the predicament.
Faith is required of all. We all must choose. The only question is whom do we trust?
Declaring that all religions are basically the same is just as much a leap of faith as saying they are all different. Saying that “our tradition” enables us to be among the few who see that what everyone is arguing about is really the same thing reveals a faith in the perspective of the Enlightenment, a mere blip in theological time which has allowed us to see some things more clearly than others. That perspective has enabled great progress in technology. I have my doubts about whether or not it has increased our wisdom, strength of soul or ability to love.