Do All Religions Have Part of the Truth?
There is an Indian tale about five blind men and an elephant. These men were all asked to describe what an elephant was like. So each man touched a different part of the elephant and assumed that the whole elephant was like the part they encountered. The one who touched the side of the elephant proclaimed that an elephant was like a wall. The one who touched the tail said that an elephant was like a rope. The one that touched a leg said that the other two men were crazy and that an elephant was actually like the trunk of a tree. The one that touched an ear was shocked and he loudly protested that an elephant was like a banana leaf. And the fifth man, who touched the tusks, insisted that an elephant was like swords.
Many people insist that the religions of the world are like the blind men touching the elephant. The religions give different answers about the nature of God and insist that everyone else is wrong. But perhaps, suggest some people, God is like the elephant and the religions of the world all have just part of the truth.
This view is often known as “religious pluralism” and although it is appealing, there is a significant criticism that can be made of it. That is, the pluralist assumes he is not blind but all the religions of the world are blind. How can the pluralist be so sure that he is not blind? How does the pluralist know that his view is correct? The story of the blind men could be modified so that five blind men touch five very different animals and then conclude that an elephant is like those animals. Or what if only one of the men touches an elephant while the rest touch something else? To just proclaim that all the religions of the world have part of the truth, doesn’t necessarily make it so. Perhaps its the religious pluralist that is blind.