Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason has an excellent piece called the Trouble with the Elephant.
The ancient fable of the blind men and the elephant is often used to illustrate the fact that every faith represents just one part of the larger truth about God. However, the attempt is doomed before it gets started.
In the story, multiple blind men feel different parts of an elephant and describe it in different ways. Someone who is not blind then points out the truth to them.
The typical application of the story is that religious pluralism is true – i.e., we’re worshiping the same God in different ways.
A good question to ask anyone who repeats this parable is, “Where do you fit into the story?” If he is one of the blind men, then why would he have anything to offer you? If he claims to be the person with sight, then what are his qualifications that he understand this world and you don’t?
Note that the blind men are describing different parts of the elephant, but it is still an elephant. But if one religion says God is personal and another says He is impersonal, then they can’t both be right. You can’t be an elephant and not an elephant. I wrote more on the irreconcilable differences in the essential truth claims of religions in Religious Pluralism is Intellectually Bankrupt.
In a sense, the whole story is self refuting. While the principle message is that we can only know a certain piece about God, the message itself claims to have the big picture.
It also has a rather odd premise: The “real” religion would be to follow every religion. That way you’d have the whole elephant.
The only way the parable would work is if the elephant described itself to the blind people – sort of the way the God reveals himself to us in the Bible. As Koukl says:
If everyone truly is blind, then no one can know if he or anyone else is mistaken. Only someone who knows the whole truth can identify another on the fringes of it. In this story, only the king can do that–no one else.
The most ironic turn of all is that the parable of the six blind men and the elephant, to a great degree, is an accurate picture of reality. It’s just been misapplied.
We are like blind men, fumbling around in the world searching for answers to life’s deepest questions. From time to time, we seem to stumble upon some things that are true, but we’re often confused and mistaken, just as the blind men were.
How do I know this? Because the King has spoken. He is above, instructing us, advising us of our mistakes, and correcting our error. The real question is: Will we listen?
For your viewing pleasure, here are a few pictures some fellow missionaries and I took in Kenya.