The Blind Men and the Elephant – The Response!

The following is an excerpt from my book, Contradict – They Can’t All Be True (FYI – the spacing doesn’t always transfer correctly from my PDF file to the blog):

Drawing by my friend Danny Martinez.
Drawing by my friend Danny Martinez.

A popular analogy that depicts an “all religions lead to God” form of pluralism is the story of several blind men touching various parts of an elephant and being unable to agree on a single description of the creature they’re touching. This story has connections to Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Sufi Islam, a mystical branch of Islam. The story is found in the teachings of the Buddha within the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism. One of the most popular versions comes from a nineteenth-century poet, John Godfrey Saxe, who rewrote the story in rhyme.

Though there are minor discrepancies among the versions, they all present the same basic scenario: since each blind man is touching a different part of the elephant, they disagree on what the elephant actually is. The one touching the tail might think the elephant is a broom; the one touching the side of the elephant might think the elephant is a wall; the one touching
the elephant’s trunk might think the elephant is a snake. Individually, they each know a part of the elephant accurately, but not the sum total of the animal. They fail to grasp what the elephant actually is because of their blindness. Their dispute is futile since they are all mistaken.

It is pretty clear how this story can be used within the framework of pluralistic relativism. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and the like are all touching the same sacred elephant, God. But because all of humanity is spiritually blind, we are incapable of knowing God as he actually is. Any fighting among religious faiths is thus futile.

On the flip side, the good news within pluralism is that every religion is true based on what its adherents have experienced of the sacred reality. Since all religions have touched the sacred elephant, all religions lead to the same divine truth. Religious pluralists argue that if humanity could only come to “see” this predicament, all religious fighting could stop. We could recognize what each religion has learned about God and, by compiling the parts of the whole, come to a better understanding of who or what the nature and personhood of the sacred reality is.

The view of the divine expressed by the sacred elephant analogy is plausible and worth considering. Before considering the accuracy of its assertions, I want to stress the pluralistic uses of the story. Far from saying all religions are true, the story of the blind men and the elephant takes all religions and throws them under the bus, where they are left broken in their false perceptions of ultimate truth. As hopeful as this story can appear, in reality it just drops the bomb on absolute truth, at least absolute truth concerning God. The blind men show us that truth concerning God is unobtainable due to our limited faculties.

Skepticism toward God doesn’t invalidate this brand of pluralism. The problem lies within itself. Nestled within the story of the blind men and the elephant is a self-contradiction that makes the entire claim crumble in on itself. The pluralists claim that God is unknowable; every religion is wrong about its perceived understanding of the divine. However, in making this claim, the pluralists also implicitly declare they have an inside track on who God is. If no one is capable of knowing God due to our lack of sight in the realm of the divine, then what prescription glasses have enabled the pluralists to know the nature of God with such certainty? Pluralists are rejecting all exclusive truths concerning God, but making one themselves.

End of excerpt from Contradict – They Can’t All Be True.

In my book, I intentionally wrote with a non-Christian voice for the first six  chapters.  I first present what religious pluralism is and why its so dominant in our culture and society right now.  I then demonstrate how religious pluralism doesn’t actually work logically.  Responding to the elephant analogy was near the end of that section of the discussion before moving into presenting an evaluation of religious truth-claims and ultimately landing on the trustworthy nature of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth to save us from sin and death and reconcile us into a right relationship with God!  Since I wasn’t ready to let it out of the bag that I was a Christian yet in that stage of the book writing process, I didn’t  respond to the elephant analogy the way I typically would.  The following is a more complete Christian response to this popular analogy:

A critique of this parable would contain the following points:

  1. This parable is actually claiming that all religions are false.
  2. This parable makes all aspects of life subjective.  There is no absolute, objective reality that we can be certain we are experiencing correctly.  If absolutes don’t exist in a way that we can comprehend them, morals and ethics also become subjective.  There would no longer be such a thing as right and wrong.
  3. Any exclusive religion, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are forced to give up their claims to exclusivity to fit into the inclusive, pluralism which this parable projects.
  4. With Christianity’s exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation, all other religions would have to be false if Christianity is true, or Christianity could be false and other religions true.  This does not fit with the elephant analogy at all.
  5. The original telling of this legend has a king who sees the blind men groping at the elephant arguing about what they are touching.  The king reveals to them in laughter that they are all foolish men that they are all touching the same reality, the elephant!  This is very interesting that the original legend has a word from above revealing the truth to the blind men.  This indicates that the truth is actually discernible – we might just need some help from someone up above.
  6. The original ending of this parable lends itself very well to Christianity.  Christianity teaches that help did come from above.  That God has revealed himself to mankind through what he has created as well as through special revelation from the Scriptures and in particular through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, taking on flesh and walking amongst us, revealing the truth to us, healing the blind and helping them see.  This revelatory claim of Christianity isn’t even considered or introduced in pluralistic uses of this parable.

Conclusion: Declare truth where truth is found!

It seems clear that all religions cannot be fully and equally true.  There are direct contradictions within the teachings of the world’s religions, such as Jesus is God (Christianity) and Jesus is not God (Islam), which eliminate the possibility that all religions are true.

This however doesn’t mean that aspects of the truth cannot be found within various religions.  Christians would do good to point these truths out from time to time.  If Christ’s claim is true that he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), then all truth would be God’s truth, no matter where it is found.  Where truth is found, declare it, use it, put it in its full context of which it is fully and directly revealed from God in the Bible.  The Apostle Paul did when he quoted the philosophers of the Athenians (Acts 17).  We can do it too!

G220 Radio – Contradict: They Can’t All Be True

I was just on a padcast show called G220 Radio.  The name comes from Galatians 2:20.  You should look that verse up, here. The show is hosted by Ricky Gantz.  He has followed the Contradict – They Can’t All Be True Facebook page for quite awhile.  He recently launched this podcast and he has a lot of great topics that I think anyone who likes this blog would be interested in hearing discussed.  The show before the Contradict episode was on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the show that will be aired next week is on interracial relationships and marriages – you know from the Bible.  I hope they address the insane idea that dark skinned people came from the descendents of Ham, because Ham was cursed to have children born to slavery.  If you want to see where people get that idea, go to Genesis 9.

For the G220 Radio episode I was on as the guest, I love that Ricky focused on Chapter 2 of Contradict – They Can’t All Be True.  Chapter 2 teaches the basic history, beliefs, and practices of the world’s five major religions via 20 key terms for each.  So 100 terms in total.  Ricky went through each of the five religions and asked me to speak on some of those terms for each religion.  I like that he did this because I took it upon myself to compare and contrast the teachings with what the Bible teaches us.  I also was able to give some good points for where the Gospel could be interjected into the teachings of other religions – in other words points at which adherents of these other religions would find the Gospel to be truly Good News for them!

Ricky also got to share some experiences he has had using Contradict in evangelism.

Give it a listen and share it far and wide.  G220 Radio: Contradict They Can’t All Be True!

G220

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Alan Shlemon writes a monthly letter for Stand to Reason.  This month’s letter addresses the person and nature of God within Christianity by asking the question:

Do Christians worship the same God as Muslims? (Click to read the article)

Alan opens the letter by saying that most Muslims would say yes.  That’s not my experience… I have yet to meet a Muslim who has said yes.  They have always told me that Christians worship three gods, not one!  I also don’t agree with part of his conclusion in the letter.  I think if Jesus were to show up on the streets of Detroit today, every Muslim would fall in worship – they’d have no choice at Christ’s second coming – Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!  Philippians 2 says this.  But I get Alan’s point.  If Jesus were to somehow return a second time in his state of humiliation and not his exaltation, Muslims wouldn’t bow and worship him, unless they converted to Trinitarian worship.

With that said however, Alan does a great job in my opinion of showing how Muslims believe in a God that is one person, one essence.  Christians believe in a god that is three persons, one essence.  Big distinction!

I like to say, “Jesus is God or Jesus is just a man.”  Clearly, we’re not worshiping the same God.  But from my experience, many Christians simply don’t fathom this.  I have seen classrooms filled with mostly Christians divided on this question, just like Alan said.

Why?  Why are Christians divided on this issue?

TruthXchange – Only 2 Religions

only 2 religions
Click the image to be taken to the truthXchange website to order this book.

A wonderful lady, Mary, who works at truthXchange was cut off driving on the freeway over a year ago.  The person had one of those Coexist stickers on the back of his car… but then she noticed that it said something different – Contradict. She found my website and shared her ministry with me.  TruthXchange was new to me.  I had never heard of its founder, Dr. Jones before either.  Mary sent me a copy of Only Two Religions.  It’s a user’s guide to the truthXchange Evangelism Tool.  She asked if I could read it and give some feedback.  I finally finished reading it in Dec. 2013, long after receiving it, and I’m just now getting to write something about it.

The premise is simple.  There are only two religions – One and Two, termed as One-ism or Two-ism.  The truthXchange, pocket-sized evangelism tool, explains it very simply:

One-ism, all is one. We worship and serve creation as divine.  All distinctions must be eliminated.  Through enlightenment, we discover that we also are divine.

Two-ism, all is two.  We worship and serve the eternal personal Creator of all things.  God alone is divine and is distinct from His creation, yet through His Son, Jesus, He is in loving communion with it.

The book addresses the topics of humanity, religions, our problem as humans, and the solution to that problem from both a one-ist view of the world and a two-ist view of the world.  Each section is designed to be read as a group with assignments to do during the week – pretty cool stuff, like looking for one-ist articles and movies to share with the group at the next meeting.

This framework comes from Romans 1:18-25.  This section of scripture states very plainly that all of creation knows there is a God from what has been created, yet men, have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and have instead worshiped and served created things, rather than the Creator – who is forever praised.  When the Creator God is denied, men still worship.  The Created becomes the object of worship – creation, nature, is now One, not Two.  When the Creator is not exchanged for a lie, there are Two – Creator and His creation.  This means there are only two religions – worshiping the Creator or worshiping creation.

Dr. Peter Jones explains that “One-ism can be either atheistic (God is nothing and nowhere), or pantheistic (God is everything and everywhere)” (page 9).  From either form of One-ism, mankind’s ultimate problem is that we don’t recognize this all pervasive oneness.  One-ism says that our solution is to turn inward to ourselves – to become enlightened, that together, not separate, we can solve all of our problems.  Either way – atheistic or pantheistic, this is humanism, mankind is now divine.

This is a good starting point for discussing the uniqueness of the Christian truth-claims amongst the world’s religions. Christianity after all is the turning from one’s self (one-ism) and turning to Christ for salvation (two-ism).

I personally struggle with labeling this one-ism and two-ism distinction as justifying that there are only two religions, because I think that Jews and Muslims would be Two-ist in the sense that they recognize that there is a Creator, that God is transcendent and separate from what he has created.  I must not be the only one to have raised this objection or had this question because Appendix 2 in Only 2 Religions is entitled, “Are Judaism and Islam Two-ist?”  The answer seems to lie in the “personal” nature of the Two-ist Creator God.  According to Dr. Jones:

Is the Jewish God personal?  Well, yes it would seem so.  The Old Testament speaks often of God’s love, His compassion and His grace.  Such attributes are indeed personal.  And yet, the same Old Testament Scriptures give hints that God is triune.  The first verses of the Old Testament include the hovering of the Spirit, the power of the Word, and the intentions of God the Creator.  (See also Genesis 1:26 and other plural references for God, Psalms 110 and other passages that clearly speak of the coming Messiah).  We also see that the Messiah must be God himself.  (Isaiah 58).

Essentially, I understand Dr. Jones to be staying that sense the Jews have rejected the God revealed in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) they have rejected the Creator and are now “functioning as One-ist (page 58).  The same explanation also applies to Muslims with their view of Allah, who though He is viewed as transcendent and the Creator of all, “is made out to be so transcendent that no one can actually know anything about him” (page 59).

In conclusion on this question of framing Christianity as the only Two-ist religion, Dr. Jones writes:

Traditional Judaism and Islam claim to be Two-ist, yet both are functionally One-ist and the god they worship lacks both true transcendence and true immanence.  If God is remote, untouchable, impersonal, impotent and silent, there is no hope for any of us!  If He has not come down Himself to rescue us and to restore communion with us, we would have no way of knowing and loving Him. (Page 59)

two religions
This is the inside of the unfolded truthXchange “Only 2 Religions” evangelism tool. Note, they don’t call it a tract.

Because of this hiccup on Judaism and Islam essentially claiming to be Two-ist, I personally don’t like this One-ist and Two-ist framework to say that there are only two religions.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like this framework though.  I was able to use this framework to explain patterns of religions with a man on plane a ride this past winter.  I pulled out the truthXchange “Only 2 Religions” evangelism tool to show the difference between religious pluralism/pantheism/New Age/Hindu thought and practice compared to Christianity.  We went through each of the topics listed in the tool from the “All is One” perspective and the “All is Two” perspective. Having the tool in my pocket was very useful and gave a good visual to our discussion. I then was able to share Romans 1:18-25 to clarify that we all know there is a God from what he has made and that we all worship, we just don’t all worship the one true and living God.  I stressed that we all know there is a God even if we have exchanged that truth for a lie, and that it is through the person of Jesus Christ that the one true God has been personally revealed to us, that Jesus is the invisible image of God made visible to us!

I then explained the way I like to classify religions – There are only 2 religions, either “paid” or “not paid.”  I then quoted Romans 4:4-5 to the man, which in paraphrase says that when we work our wages are due to us, but when we don’t work, but trust God who justifies the wicked, we have salvation.  Essentially, all religions besides Christianity require men to work to attain some end goal.  We have been given a bill, a debt if you will, and we must either do yoga as in Hinduism, meditate as in Buddhism, adhere to the Law as in Judaism, follow the Five Pillars as in Islam, or adhere to other practices and rules according to other religions to pay this debt, to earn our way to the highest goal of mankind.  And in the end, no one from any of these religions has any certainty that they have paid the bill in full.  They are left to die in despair.  Or we can turn to Jesus who has paid the bill for us!   Through his life, death, and resurrection, he has paid all of our debts!  In the Christian worldview, our works our worthless.  If we want to trust in them and demand to be paid what we are due, we get and deserve eternal death.  When we turn from our sins, our unrighteous works, and turn to Christ and his righteousness for our hope and glory, we receive an inheritance that comes from the Lord. Death becomes sweet.  To live is Christ, and to die is gain.  Christanity alone stands apart as the only saved by grace, saved by divine redemption, religion.  In this sense there are only two religions “paid” and “not paid.”

I also like to classify religions as either, “from man” or “from God.”  All religions besides Christianity were founded by men, who claimed to be men.  They were either heroes, sages, prophets, or the like, but only in Christianity do we get a religion that is founded by a man who claimed to be God in the flesh.  This is why it should be no surprise that Christianity is the only religion that is “paid” for us by God.

So please, whatever way you want to share it – “One-ism vs. Two-ism” or “Paid vs. Not Paid” or “From Man vs. From God” or through none of these categorical tools- proclaim the Good News that salvation has come to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Do not be ashamed – Romans 1:16.

In conclusion on Dr. Jones’ helpful Only 2 Religions evangelism tool and user’s guide, I think this framework does a great job of explaining why so many in our day and age are turning to homosexuality, religious pluralism, and humanism.  The explanation for the rise of homosexuality in our culture was most helpful to me – and a brand new idea that I hadn’t read from anyone else.  I’ll close by quoting that section:

A One-ist believes that God is no different than creation… which means that he is the one who decides what to worship and usually ends up worshiping himself!  A One-ist will naturally seek to suppress the distinctions God has placed in the world and may be tempted to embody his One-ist tendencies in a One-ist sexuality, such as homosexuality, transgenderism or lesbianism. … A Two-ist recognizes the distinctions God put in the world as a reflection of the distinction between the Creator and the creation.  Sexuality is one of those distinctions, as so a Two-ist rejoices in the sexual differences between men and women and enjoys normal, created sexual relations within the marriage and family structure ordered by the Creator.  … If you believe in a God who is “other,” then you will worship something “other” and will be in human sexual relationship with someone who is “other” (male or female). (pages 33-34)

Watch this following video to get the One-ism vs. Two-ism distinctions directly from truthXchange:

Click here for Only 2 Religions.

Click here to get my book, Contradict – They Can’t All Be True.

Is Atheism a religion?

atheism is not a religionI think the person who made this image is trying to make the case that Atheism should be considered a religion.  I disagree…

There are other elements that need to be considered when defining something as a religion or not in addition to the belief of a God. Any belief system that is labeled a religion usually has a belief about the afterlife and they provide a way to attaining the best possible afterlife, they usually have a moral code, they have rituals, they provide a sense of community, they have a central myth (or story), they tend to recognize something as being sacred, they tend to recognize a universal problem for mankind, and they provide a way to overcome that problem.

Atheism falls flat of possessing many of these traits… do atheists have rituals, yes, but are they accepted amongst a community of atheists who practice them together? Do atheists recognize any afterlife? Nope. Does Buddhism? Yes. Does Taoism? Not so much, but some branches do recognize that people can become immortal or gain supernatural powers, and some Taoist even believe in spirit beings and gods. Jains believe in reincarnation! I could go on….

I could go on and on.

Watch this video to learn more about what makes a religion a religion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1Wv0FHfzD8…