Six old wise blind men were directed into the middle of a large field. In the middle of this large field was an elephant. Each of the wise men were positioned at a different part of the elephant and asked to touch it and tell what they believed was in the middle of the field with them.
-The first touched the tusk and announced it was a spear.
-The second felt the trunk and after a moment exclaimed it was a large snake.
-The third man slowly walked around one of the legs, feeling his way along, and claimed it was a tree.
-The fourth man had been holding the tail and he shared that it was a rope.
-The fifth man had been reaching up feeling the elephant’s ear and said he had found a large fan.
-The sixth and final man had been positioned at the side of the elephant; after running his hands over the elephant’s side he announced to everyone that it was a wall in the middle of the field.
Each of these old men represent a world religion. Each one ‘thinks’ they understand and know what is in the field, and each comes to a different conclusion. In college, students may be taught that each man has his own interpretation, and that no one has the truth.
This has been a popular illustration with some college professors over the years to demonstrate to students how each religion has its own perspective of a truth. Some may use this illustration to teach you that each religion may claim to know the truth, but in reality they don’t know. Or students may be told that each religion only offers a path, one of many, to the truth. Everyone can choose their own path, their own walk, and we should not be judgmental of others and their world religion. Ironically, after a moment’s consideration, there is a truth to this parable – the one telling the parable knows it is an elephant.
The problem with this view is that when we consider several of the major world religions, they don’t come to the same conclusion. We are told that there may be many different paths, none of them are right and none of them are wrong because each of the paths lead to the mountain top, but what is discovered at the top is quite different with each religion. A Christian would find Jesus. A Hindu would find Vishnu with thousands of other gods. A Buddhist would discover he is god. What would an atheist find? I am not sure. Himself?
With the exception of religion and morality, we demand truth in our lives. We hope and expect truth when we visit the doctor or dentist so we know best how to deal with illness, disease, or cracked tooth. We hope and expect truth in our courts of law hoping and expecting that only those guilty will be punished. We hope and expect car manufactures to deliver the product that will function as advertised, (less the female draped over the car). We hope and expect the cashier to hand us back the exact change when we make a purchase. Although sadly, few actually count it back to you any more, or even know how. Most just count out what the cash register says into their own hand and then drop it into your hand.
When it comes to religion or morality, you may be taught that truth is subjective, not objective. What exactly is subjective truth? Subjective truth is a truth that is true for you, but may not be true for me. For example, I may believe pralines and cream is the best ice-cream in the world. That is true for me, but may not be true for you. You may think banana blue-berry ice-cream is the best ice-cream in the world. Simply put, a subjective truth is an opinion. Greg Koukl explained it this way, “Subjective truth is always ‘neither true or false’, while objective truth is always ‘either true or false’.” 1
An objective truth is true for all people, in all places, and at all times. For example gravity is true for you and true for me. Norman Geisler put it this way, “Truth is also unchanging even though our beliefs about truth change. When we began to believe the earth was round instead of flat, the truth about the earth did not change, only our belief about the earth changed.” 2
Truth is not invented, it is discovered. Recognition plays no part in truth. Every man, woman, and child on this earth could deny the existence of gravity, but that would not make the actuality or existence of gravity vanish. For example, if God does exist, the disbelief of everyone on earth would be irrelevant. He would still be there. No matter how many people believed the earth was flat, it was still round.
Some may say, “That is your religion, your opinion. Christianity works for you, but not for me.” Sadly, many Christians are comfortable with that. Some Christians, when asked why they are Christians, may say, “Christianity works for me; it has helped me get through some tough times.” As if it is some brand of cough medicine, or new diet. If Christianity is true, it is true for everyone, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist.
This week my class earned a movie day with me and we watched The Day After Tomorrow. About ½ way through the movie, one of the main characters was trying to convince everyone to stay put in the public library where they could stay warm, (Global Warming triggered a Global Ice Age, but it made for a fun flick). He was pleading with them not to go out in the storm because he was sure they were going to freeze to death. He knew the storm was going to get worse and their chances of survival were slim to none. As they filed by him, ignoring his pleas and warnings, you had a sense that he was speaking truth. Not subjective truth, as if he was trying to convince them pralines and cream was the best ice-cream, but an objective truth which had grave consequences if ignored. Objective truths are like that. Often, if ignored, a penalty is paid by those choosing to ignore it.
In America today we are taught to be tolerant, and the foundation of the tolerant movement is the idea that truth, all truth, is subjective. If all truth is subjective, then it would make sense to be tolerant of one another. If no religions have the truth, or each religion is just a different path to the same result, then why would anyone want to push their religion on someone else? It would be silly to risk offending someone when we all end up in heaven anyway. If all life styles are just different flavors of ice-cream, to each his own. Why worry about the consequences of the choices people make?
We are told to be tolerant of other religions, and other lifestyle choices. If we offer opinions counter to the world’s view, we are labeled as intolerant. Or if we say, as Christians, our view is correct and all others are wrong, we are intolerant. Tolerance use to mean putting up with views that were counter to your own. Tolerance is tolerating something that you may not like or agree with. Now tolerance means accepting other views as true, or at least considering them just another ice-cream flavor. Your view is no better or no worse, no more right or wrong than any other view or religion.
Recently, Donald Sterling was banned for life from basketball for making racist comments. Not only that, he was spanked with a 2.5 million dollar fine and may be forced to sell his team. 3 I don’t condone his racist remarks or other questionable behavior he has been accused of, but the intolerance of the tolerant is obvious if you stop and consider it for a moment.
In another example, a talk show host walked off the set because she could not express her opinion about being uncomfortable with Michael Sam’s kiss with his boyfriend. Or more accurately, she caught some flak for expressing her opinion. 4 It was obvious to me that she was uncomfortable with the gay life-style, but was not about to openly state it for fear of the “tolerant”. It is just another daily example of how the tolerant expect the intolerant to behave, and if they don’t agree, it is obvious the intolerant should not be tolerated.
Peter Boghossian said in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, “Few things are more dangerous than people who think they’re in possession of absolute truth.” He also said, “Our epistemic, [validating knowledge] problems have begun the moment we’re convinced we’ve latched onto an eternal, timeless truth.” 5 My question to him, or anyone else that states truth is dangerous, truth causes problems, or nothing can be true would be, “Do you believe that to be a true statement?” If so, it’s dangerous, causes problems, and can’t be true. It is a self-defeating statement.
Examples of self defeating statements would be when someone says in English, “I don’t speak a word of English.” Or when we knock on Winne the Pooh’s door and he says, “No one is home!” The classic example is when someone says, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” You ask them if they know that absolutely.
“The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.” – St. Augustine
“If the truth offends, then let it offend.” – Pastor Steve Peters
1. Koukl, Gregory. Tactics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. Print
2. Geisler, Norman. Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004. Print.
3. Silverman, Robert. “The NBA’s War With Donald Sterling Is Just Getting Started.” The Daily Beast. Thedailybeast.com, 29 April, 2014. Web. 13 May, 2014.
4. Darcy, Oliver. “I’m Done!: Talk show host storms off set after heated discussion over Michael Sam’s kiss with boyfriend.” The Blaze. Theblaze.com, 14 May, 2014. Web. 13 May, 2014.
5. Boghossian, Peter. A Manual For Creating Atheists. Durham: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013. Print.
The Truth about Elephants by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.