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Four Blind Men and the Elephant

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

What is shared in this article is nothing new. It has been used as an analogy for religious pluralism over the span of untold numbers of years. It tells the story of four blind men who happen upon an elephant. The quartet never encountered such a mighty animal. Curiosity led them to fumble and grope about in an attempt to understand this new marvel.

The first man, due to his proximity with the front of the animal, grabbed the tusk. Based on his previous experiences, he concluded he had just grabbed a snake. The second man felt one of the elephant's legs and described it as the trunk of a tree. The third fellow discovered the elephant's tail, and concluded he had just clutched a rope. The fourth and final investigator felt the side of the creature, and determined he had pushed against a wall. It is important to understand that while each man is blind, they all are describing the same thing - an elephant. The point is that obviously each man was detailing the same animal in their own way according to their experiences and perspectives.

This illustration is used by religious pluralist regarding different religions of the world. The argument forwarded is that various faith groups are describing the same thing only in radically different ways. From that the conclusion is posited that no individual religion has special insight concerning truth, but that all should be viewed as essentially equal and valid.

Maybe this is a powerful and provocative image that captures some element of truth. If so, I don’t get it. I am the first to acknowledge God is infinite, and we are finite. It is altogether reasonable to believe that none of us can fully capture His nature. But how does this analogy conclude that fundamentally different viewpoints are actually the same reality just wrapped in contrasting verbiage?

All four men are attempting to describe the same thing. An elephant, and nothing else. Whether or not God exists is a factual question. The same would be true concerning the identity of Jesus Christ, and whether He be the Son of God. If God exists and Jesus Christ is His unique, definitive revelation to humankind, then these are facts. The attitude or opinion of the audience is irrelevant altogether. Accepting these claims would be prudent. Denying them is to be mistaken. Consequently, not all opinions, whether concerning elephants or the nature of God, are equally true. That simply cannot be.

The listener of the analogy must not forget that all four men are blind. Because of their handicap they have arrived at an incorrect conclusion. The opinion of each man is equally false. But we cannot miss this imperative point, they are not equally correct.

Most importantly, the story does not consider any sort of special disclosure. What if another man were to arrive on the scene, and possessed the ability to see? What if this man were able to correctly describe the elephant, and then define the animal as an elephant? If that were the case, does it not then stand to reason that it would be irrational for the others to ignore his unique claims.

Just a cursory glance at the life of Jesus Christ reveals the most unique claims among all religious leaders in history. He said He was inimitable. and came as the ultimate revelation of God. Those who seek to understand the nature of God are imprudent not to appraise the claims and credentials of this man.

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