9.24.2005

God like an Elephant? I don't think so!

There is a story supposedly told by Buddha that has no doubt been floating around for centuries. It is an analogy that claims to explain the truth about all religions. It is the story of The Blind Men and the Elephant.

"Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, 'Go and gather together all the men in this city who were born blind, and show them an elephant.' The servant did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, 'Here is an elephant,' and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the leg, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant. "When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, 'Well, blind man, tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?' "Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a great rock.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a fan.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a spear. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a snake; others said the body was a wall; the leg, a tree; the tail, a rope, the tuft of the tail, a brush. "Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' and so on, till they came to blows. "Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene. "Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing. . . . In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus."

How sweet. I suppose that all religions are really just different interpretations of the same basic God-aura. We can call it "religious pluralism." WRONG! The interesting thing is that those who quote this story always place themselves in the position of the raja. We, the dirty argumentative "preachers", are relegated to the position of blind men, groping around for something we supposedly know nothing of. They say that all religions are the same. Fine. They can believe that if they want to. But promoting religious pluralism is no different than promoting any other religion. They are in the same boat, "just as blind" if you will, as we are! Besides, the position that all religions are the same is fundamentally absurd. Why? God is not something subjective, like my favorite flavor of ice cream. If God or a god actually exists as a fact, then His supposed characteristics cannot be both contradictory and true! It is a logical impossibility. Mutually exclusive facts do not exist. Jesus said that "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can get to heaven apart from Me." Islam says that "There is no god but Allah and Muhummad is his Prophet." Get it straight: if Christianity is true, nothing else is. The same goes for Islam, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and a host of others. But let's give the religious pluralists the benefit of the doubt (without allowing them the position of all-knowing raja). In this case, we are all blind men arguing about something we have never seen. What we need is a man who is not blind. Someone who can see the thing that we argue about so fiercely. A Man did exist who claimed to be this "seeing man". His Name was Jesus Christ. He could see . . . because He was the very thing that we argue about. He is God. But what is so special about Him? Other men have claimed to "see" what no one else can see. Buhhda himself, with the analogy I just quoted, was such a man. Muhummad claimed to have visions of an angel who told him about God. Hundreds of men, like David Koresh (Branch Davidians) and Joseph Smith (Mormons) were supposed vessels of knowledge about God. What makes Jesus different? Today, we can visit Muhummad's grave. And Joseph Smith's grave. Mary and a myriad of saints, the Roman Catholic objects of worship, lie moldering in their coffins. Every other man who claimed to be God's vessel of truth is dead and gone. The grave of the Lord Jesus Christ is empty. In Him, David S. MacMillan III

8 comments:

gabriel said...

not to disagree with you, but i thought i would point out something in your argument which seemed logically questionable.

"God or a god actually exists as a fact, then His supposed characteristics cannot be both contradictory and true! It is a logical impossibility."

just like an elephant can't be like a snake and a tree.

again, i am not disagreeing with you, but i think that when you make the above argument you will get into a never ending cyclical argument with polytheists.

GabrielB said...

Gabriel (kind of interesting that we have the same name)

I don't think you understand quite how impossible it is for all different religions to be describing the same God. For instance, Muslims believe that we can't know whether or not Allah will bring them to heaven (unless of course they die killing infidels), while Christians believe that anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ will go to heaven. Not to mention the fact that Hindus believe that everything is part of God while Christians believe that everything is distinct from God. I'd say that these are qualities that couldn't both be describing the same Being.

jettybetty said...

I think you are right on--the big difference in our God and their gods is we have an empty grave--not to mention grace--no other world religion understands grace like Christians do--and personally I am very thankful I don't have to earn my salvation.

That said, I think Muslims (and probably all the others, the Muslims are just in the news right now) don't understand Christians right now--I think they perceive us as the violent ones. I pray that I can be a part in showing them wrong on this one--it probably will happen one-on-one, but I think it may be the only way they will come to understand Jesus. I would so love to see them come to Jesus!

Great post!!! I praise God for the empty grave!!

JB

Travis said...

Hey David!

I was just wanting to let you know about a blog roundup I am hosting over on my site called "A Political Perusal". In brief, I ask a question and other bloggers answer it(which should generate more traffic for all)! Please have a look at my site and consider joining the perusal! (The current question is: The War in Iraq - Right or Wrong?)

The Blogging Boy Scout,
Travis

David S. MacMillan III said...

Gabriel has a good point.

"God or a god actually exists as a fact, then His supposed characteristics cannot be both contradictory and true! It is a logical impossibility."

just like an elephant can't be like a snake and a tree.


The point of the pluralistic analogy is that all the different religions see part of the same god. Pluralism would have us believe that each one has part of the truth. But each of the blind men in the story was wrong!

An elephant cannot be both entirely a tree and entirely a snake at the same time, but its different parts could be similar to each.

But God cannot be a distinct being (Christianity) and a manifestation of each one of us (Hinduism) at the same time.

Religious pluralism is a religious belief just like any other religious belief. But Jesus said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through me."

If Jesus is right, pluralism is wrong. If pluralism is right, Jesus is wrong. But pluralism says that Jesus was right and everyone else was right. Religious pluralism contradicts itself.

BTW, Travis, that sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out.

ethan said...

If God or a god actually exists as a fact, then His supposed characteristics cannot be both contradictory and true! It is a logical impossibility. Mutually exclusive facts do not exist.

This is a sloppy assertion. Doesn't God both love and hate? Isn't God everywhere and nowhere? Why can't God make a rock so big He can't lift it? These are prima facie contradictory characteristics of God. I have one idea about how to make this comment about God more rigorously stand up against pluralistic arguments.

God does have contradictory characteristics. He does love, and He does hate. One groping blind man may run across God's wrath, while the second stumbles upon his kind and gentle mercy. They have not run across two different Gods; we are perfectly comfortable with the fact that it is the same God of the Bible. However, not all of his characteristics can get away with being contradictory in this way: Hume's oft-cited is-ought connection may be useful in thinking about where God cannot be, and is not, contradictory. By breaking God's characteristics into two categories, is-characteristics and ought-characteristics, we can look at each one. An is-characteristic--some thing that God does, like hating or loving--may seem contradictory at face value, because the contradiction lies in some way that God is, or something he does (like hating and loving). However, an ought-characteristic is the dogmatic instruction of God: "turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" This is where David's parable tries to do something that isn't logically possible. God cannot teach one thing, then teach another thing altogether. Either Jesus Christ is the son of God, or he is not. Either the Gospel is sufficient to cover a multitude of sins, or it is not. These dogmatic truths of scripture are not compatible with some other dogma. There is no room for understanding.

GabrielB said...

I would argue that it is not contradictory for God to love and hate different things, or in different ways; it would only be contradictory if He hated the same thing in the same way.

God can't create a rock so big that He can't lift it because such a thing is contradictory and He is by nature perfectly logical. My question to you is this: If God can have contradictory characteristics, than why doesn't He both exist and not exist?

Peter said...

Jack Kennedy's body does not lie in his grave. JFK must be God because he does not lie in his grave...

Is this your argument? It seems that your entire post relies on the one idea that Jesus does not have a grave.

There can only be one God; Your perspective of God is the only one that is correct; Those who other religions believe was a messiah all have graves; Jesus has no grave therefore Jesus is the only messiah or God

Is this your argument?