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The blind men and the elephant: an argument for religious pluralism?

From Please Convince Me, a post by Aaron outlining 7 problems with the blind man and the elephant story.

Here’s the set up:

Maybe you’ve heard the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. In this parable, six blind men feel a different part of an elephant and come to different conclusions regarding what the elephant is actually like.

One blind man grabs the tusk and says, “An elephant is like a spear!” Another feels the trunk and concludes, “An elephant is like a snake!” The blind man hugging the leg thinks, “An elephant is like a tree!” The one holding the tail claims, “An elephant is like a rope!” Another feeling the ear believes, “An elephant is like a fan!” The last blind man leaning on the elephant’s side exclaims, “An elephant is like a wall!”

This parable is often used to illustrate a view known as religious pluralism. Like the blind men, no religion hasthe truth. Rather, all religions are true in that they accurately describe their personal experience and the spiritual reality they encounter, given various historical and cultural backgrounds.

There are various types of religious pluralism, but one way to define it is as follows: “the view that all religious roads – certainly all major or ethical ones – lead to God or to ultimate reality and salvation.”1 This idea is commonly reflected in such statements as “All religions basically teach the same thing” or “All roads lead to the top of the mountain.”

The elephant parable, while attractive to many, suffers from a number of problems.

And here’s one problem:

Problem #4: The parable commits the self-excepting fallacy.

The religious pluralist who tells this parable claims everyone is blind, except the religious pluralist himself! In other words, there is an objective perspective presented here. However, if all religious views are essentially blind, this would include the religious view of religious pluralism. But the religious pluralist conveniently exempts himself, having somehow escaped the spiritual blindness which has enveloped all other religious views and has come to see the truth of religious pluralism! In so doing, the religious pluralist claims to have the only objective perspective:

In fact, he wouldn’t know that the blind men were wrong unless he had an objective perspective of what was right! So if the person telling the parable can have an objective perspective, why can’t the blind men? They could – if the blind men suddenly could see, they too would realize that they were originally mistaken. That’s really an elephant in front of them and not a wall, fan, or rope. We too can see the truth in religion. Unfortunately, many of us who deny there’s truth in religion are not actually blind but only willfully blind. We may not want to admit that there’s truth in religion because that truth will convict us. But if we open our eyes and stop hiding behind the self-defeating nonsense that truth cannot be known, then we’ll be able to see the truth as well.5

5 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 49.

Read the whole thing!

UPDATE: Greg West of The Poached Egg tweets an announcement of his post on the same topic.

Responding to the parable of the blind men and the elephant

This article on Stand to Reason is worth reading again and again until you get it! We live in a postmodern world, where people believe that religion is a matter of personal preference. Young people especially assert that no knowledge of God is possible, and that we are all grasping at straws when it comes to knowing God and making sense of morality.

First, let’s take a look at the parable:

In the children’s book, The Blind Men and the Elephant, Lillian Quigley retells the ancient fable of six blind men who visit the palace of the Rajah and encounter an elephant for the first time.  As each touches the animal with his hands, he announces his discoveries.

The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant.  “How smooth!  An elephant is like a wall.”  The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant.  “How round!  An elephant is like a snake.”  The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant.  “How sharp!  An elephant is like a spear.”  The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant.  “How tall!  An elephant is like a tree.”  The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant.  “How wide!  An elephant is like a fan.”  The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant.  “How thin!  An elephant is like a rope.”

An argument ensued, each blind man thinking his own perception of the elephant was the correct one.  The Rajah, awakened by the commotion, called out from the balcony.  “The elephant is a big animal,” he said.  “Each man touched only one part.  You must put all the parts together to find out what an elephant is like.”

Enlightened by the Rajah’s wisdom, the blind men reached agreement.  “Each one of us knows only a part.  To find out the whole truth we must put all the parts together.”

And then Greg explains why this is a problem for Christianity:

The religious application holds that every faith represents just one part of a larger truth about God.  Each has only a piece of the truth, ultimately leading to God by different routes.  Advocates of Eastern religions are fond of using the parable in this way.

The second application is used by skeptics who hold that cultural biases have so seriously blinded us that we can never know the true nature of things.  This view, de rigueur in the university, is called post-modernism.

This skepticism holds for all areas of truth, including the rational, the religious, and the moral.  In Folkways, a classic presentation of cultural relativism, anthropologist William Graham Sumner argues that morality is not objective in any sense.  “Every attempt to win an outside standpoint from which to reduce the whole to an absolute philosophy of truth and right, based on an unalterable principle, is delusion,” he states.

Sumner is making a very strong assertion about knowledge.  He says that all claims to know objective truth are false because each of us is imprisoned in his own culture, incapable of seeing beyond the limits of his own biases.  Sumner concludes, therefore, that truth is relative to culture and that no objective standard exists.

I want everyone reading who doesn’t know how to respond to this challenge to click through to STR’s web site, read the correct response, and then explain it to your spouse, children and/or pet(s). (If Dennis Prager can lecture geese in Ohio, then you can explain the blind men and the elephant to your pet(s)) The important thing is that you feel comfortable explaining it to other people.

You learn these things by reading, and then by trying to explain what you’ve learned to people around you – especially to the people who don’t agree with you. So, go to work, and leave a comment about your experience below!

One last thing. Christians – I forbid you to argue using parallels, analogies or parables like this. (I’m looking at you, my Catholic readers!) When you argue for your view, don’t use these whacky stories. Jesus used miracles to prove his statements. But you can’t perform miracles. So you can argue using the miracles in nature, and the miracle of the resurrection from history. Find your evidence here, and see it applied in debates here.

Friday night funny: Fleeing communism, velcro, single-payer health care

This is the funniest thing I have seen all week! (H/T Pugnacious Irishman)

There’s a little grown-up content at the end, there, so watch out!

And this one was sent to me by commenter ECM:

I found that YouTube version of the video on the Heritage Foundation blog.

Scott Ott of Scrappleface.com wrote a hilarious satire of Obama voters for the Washington Examiner.

Excerpt:

While opinion polls indicate a growing concern among Americans that their new president has no coherent plan to reverse the nation’s economic woes, and lacks the principled conviction to boldly address crises in Iran, North Korea and the Middle East, still a majority say they love “the idea of an Obama presidency.”

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that 56 percent still of approve of President Barack Obama “as a theoretical concept,” even as support for his handling of the economy and foreign policy has slipped in recent days.

…In an unrelated poll, 79 percent of women said they would “continue to date a hot guy with a great car even if he made me pay his way into the movies and I lived in constant fear that his reckless driving was going to get me killed.”

My God, Scott has talent. If you feel that the people who voted for Obama made a mistake, and you want to make fun of them, this is your article. You will laugh, and then you will cry.

Scott is actually on fire this week:

These are all very funny posts.

Frank J. Fleming of IMAO.us has a post up at Pajamas Media:

Excerpt:

Okay, liberals, I have a radical idea I want to run by you: the Iranian government is bad and worthy of some of your outrage.

Yeah, I know, it sounds crazy. Iran is not a beauty queen speaking out against gay marriage, or Sarah Palin. Why in the world would you want to direct any scorn towards a brutal theocracy seeking nuclear weapons? It’s not obvious, but let me explain.

The second page is even funnier than the first! I wish Frank was still writing “filthy lies” about Glenn Reynolds and his puppy-blending habit. That was really funny! Maybe I should try that. I could write a filthy lie about Richard Dawkins, claiming he’s really a secret Southern Baptist, who just loves to sing praise hymns. I could photoshop some fake evidence of Dawkins with his hands raised and eyes closed in church. I think that would work!

Happy Friday!

Why should Christians embrace chastity?

Christians should be chaste because research shows that sex before marriage decreases marital stability.

Story from Life Site News. (H/T Mary)

Excerpt:

Couples who reserve sex for marriage enjoy greater stability and communication in their relationships, say researchers at Brigham Young University.

A new study from the Mormon college found that those couples who waited until marriage rated their relationship stability 22 percent higher than those who started having sex in the early part of their relationship. The relationship satisfaction was 20 percent higher for those who waited, the sexual quality of the relationship was 5 percent better, and communication was 12 percent better.

The study, published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology, involved 2,035 married individuals who participated in a popular online marital assessment called “RELATE.” From the assessment’s database, researchers selected a sample designed to match the demographics of the married American population. The extensive questionnaire included the question “When did you become sexual in this relationship?”

Couples that became sexually involved later in their relationship – but prior to marriage – reported benefits that were about half as strong as those who waited for marriage.

[…]Sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the study, responded to its findings, saying that “couples who hit the honeymoon too early – that is, prioritize sex promptly at the outset of a relationship – often find their relationships underdeveloped when it comes to the qualities that make relationships stable and spouses reliable and trustworthy.” Regnerus is the author of Premarital Sex in America, a book forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Because religious belief often plays a role for couples who choose to wait, Busby and his co-authors controlled for the influence of religious involvement in their analysis.

“Regardless of religiosity, waiting helps the relationship form better communication processes, and these help improve long-term stability and relationship satisfaction,” Busby said.

Research matters when discussing morality

Young men and women growing up really need to be informed by their parents what they are going to want to be doing long term, and what they should be doing today to accomplish those goals. Young people benefit greatly from the guidance of older and wiser people, but in defining goals and defining the steps to reach those goals. To be a convincing parent, you have to be convinced yourself. And to be convinced yourself, you need to be seen as having knowledge, not just opinions, but knowledge. Having the right peer-reviewed papers at hand will help you to be a better parent.

My previous post on research showing how sex before marriage greatly reduces the stability of marriage. That post contains even more research showing that having even ONE pre-marital sex partner can GREATLY reduce the probability that the marriage will last. And it gets worse as you add more partners.

Christians and chastity

What should Christians know about the purpose of chastity?

1. Chastity is not just abstinence

Chastity is not just abstaining from sex. Chastity is the Christian virtue by which Christians take God’s character and goals into account in their relationships with the opposite sex. Probably about 99.9% of the people in the world look at members of the opposite sex and think “what’s in it for me?”. Chastity allows you to look at members the opposite sex, even the unattractive ones, and ask “what’s in it for God?”.

I’ve written about how the goal of life on atheism is to be happy. One of the consequences of this is that atheists look at other people as objects that can make them happy or not, depending on how resistant they are to sticks and carrots. In Christianity, chastity is the gift that allows you to look at people you are not attracted to in the least and to love them enough to help them grow in the knowledge of God.

2. Physical contact clouds the judgment

Chastity allows you to make a better decision about who you are going to marry. When you are desperate to be loved (women) or desperate for physical intimacy (men) it’s easy to hide the bad parts of yourself and to overlook the flaws of others. Physical contact leads to rushed commitments and emotions that are difficult to undo later once you learn more about the other person’s moral and spiritual beliefs.

Chastity allows you to keep God in the picture as you evaluate prospective mates. Instead of looking at candidates who will fulfill your needs, you look for candidates who benefit God, perhaps because they are skilled at explaining Christianity to your future children. Without chastity, women choose men who are amoral, to avoid being judged, and men choose women solely on appearance, who are unqualified for married life.

3. Sex without commitment destroys the capacity for trust and vulnerability

When persons have sex outside of a lifelong commitment, they have to make an effort to separate their emotions from the physical activity. This leads to a kind of “guarded” condition where a person is no longer free to be really engaged emotionally in a relationship. For example, women lose feminine qualities like trust and vulnerability, which are necessary to attract good men without using sex appeal. (Men can tell)

In addition, I would say that when a relationship is kept platonic, the break-ups are going to be a lot less damaging emotionally. All my relationships have been platonic, so even when the break-ups occurred, there was never any physical element to add to the pain. It is important for people to go after the best spousal candidate they can find, not to settle for some amoral loser just to avoid the pain of rejection.

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