Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Blind Men and the Elephant

We've probably all heard the story of "The Blind Men and the Elephant." It has been used to appeal for greater toleration amongst religions and as a parable in the cause of pluralism. But what is the real point of the story?
In the famous story of the blind men and 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. [emphasis mine] 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.

Lesslie Newbigin in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (pp. 9-10)

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