Ever heard the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant? While teaching Religion at University of Phoenix, I discovered this story in our textbook: “A famous story illustrates the relativity of truth. Several blind men touch the same elephant but experience it quite differently. The first man touches the ear and says it is a fan; the second man touches the leg and says it is a tree trunk; the third man touches the tail and says it is a rope; and so on“ (p.196). But something’s missing. Something important.
Over 1,000 people watched Craig Hazen expose the “secret” ending that’s often left out of Religious Studies textbooks in his entertaining talk, “Christianity and the Challenge of World Religions” at the recent Bayside Apologetics Seminar. I was in the front row and caught this bit on video.
Press F5 if the ‘play’ button is not visible in the video above.
There’s an elephant in the middle of a courtyard and this courtyard belongs to a rajah or a king. A number of blind men come into the courtyard. They’re walking their way into the courtyard and they all start bumping into the elephant…
In the traditional story, they all start punching each other! Fighting over what it is they’ve encountered. And this is supposed to illustrate that, “Look, we need to be kind to one another because we’re all walking around blindly, trying to figure out what this thing in the courtyard is. And we’re all grabbing on different parts of it.”
When I went back to the oldest rendition of this story, I found out that there’s an ending that’s left out of the Religious Studies textbooks. And it’s this: The rajah is actually a part of the story. He steps out on the balcony that overlooks the courtyard… saying, “You foolish blind men! Don’t you understand? You’re all touching the same thing. You’re all touching the elephant.”
The interesting part of that parable is not what the rajah tells them. It’s that the rajah stands above the situation and sees it as it is.
That’s what we’re really looking for. We’re looking for a rajah. It’s clear that we’re all involved in some kind of blindness, kind of bumping around, trying to make sense of things. But what we really need is a word from above.
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Turns out, this story’s actually a good illustration of how truth isn’t relative at all. It doesn’t matter what these blind guys think they’re touching. They’re really touching the elephant. And beyond this, they can know what they can’t see because they got the truth of the matter from a guy who actually can see: The king.
Your turn: Have you ever had this parable come up in a class? In casual conversation? How was it used?