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God is an elephant?

August 15, 2010

A friend of mine shared with me her opinion that “All religions are attempting to describe the same being.” Then she reminded me of the analogy of the six blind men trying to describe an elephant. Perhaps you’re familiar with it.

One man mistakes the trunk for a snake, another the tail for a rope, the third the leg for a tree, the fourth the side for a wall, the fifth the ear for a fan, and the sixth the tusk for a spear. The analogy suggests that no individual religion fully describes the truth, but that each view should be regarded as equally valid.

There are ways in which the analogy fails, however.

First, the blind men are attempting to describe an actual elephant, which is known to exist. The elephant is the object of explanation. In order for God to be considered the object of explanation, he must first be shown to exist. “Show me the body” is a demand that can be fulfilled by producing an elephant, but not a God.

Second, all six blind men are in fact mistaken. The elephant is neither a snake, nor a rope, nor a tree, nor a wall, nor a fan, nor a spear. Their opinions are not equally true. They are equally and actually false. At best, substituting God for the elephant illustrates how religions are false, not true.

Finally, separate groups of people could very well come up with the same false beliefs. Human nature is universal, and thus prone to universal illusions and shortcomings of perception, memory, reasoning, and objectivity. Also universal are the human desires to understand our origins, our desire to survive our own death, our desire for justice, etc.

This is a nice children’s story, and one that easily lends itself to discussing religious diversity.

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