[Rough Draft]

A weblog about god, doubt, insomnia, culture, baseball


the blind men and the elephant

i haven't posted in quite a while, primarily b/c we've been traveling and work has been really busy lately (plus, "friday night lights" and "heroes" are way better than i thought they'd be, and i still owe aaron sorkin some loyalty). but after last night's community group meeting, i thought i'd throw this out and see what happens.

last night's issue was whether muslims and christians worship the same god, and one of the guys brought up the "blind men and the elephant" argument, an standard illustration of the "all religions are the same" position, and something i'd been thinking about lately even before last night. so, what w/ the pope in turkey and our community group hashing through all this stuff, for your consideration is tim keller's (and lesslie newbigin's) take on the elephant argument:

it’s a kind of fun illustration. it’s about a group of blind men who come up to an elephant [a]nd they all grab hold of it, and everyone begins to say what the elephant is like. and one grabs hold of the trunk, and he says “ah, elephants are long and flexible creatures.” but another one has hold of the leg, and says “No, no, no, no, no . . . elephants are very short and thick and stiff creatures, they’re not long and flexible . . . ." and another blind man has a hold of the side, and says “you’re not right at all; it’s huge and flat.”

they begin to argue, and each one says “no, no, your view of the elephant isn’t right.” and as they’re arguing we realize that every one of the is right and everyone of them is wrong: they all have part of reality of the elephant, they grasp part of it, but nobody can see the whole picture, and therefore none of them should say they see the whole picture . . . . and so, the illustration concludes: religions are the same. all religions see part of the spiritual truth; nobody can see the whole thing; no one should say insist that they have the entire truth; and that’s how we ought to understand religions.”

lesslie newbigin, who was a british missionary to india for many years, writes in a book called the gospel in a pluralist society that over the years he got that illustration thrown @ him over and over [a]nd one day he was listening to it and it suddenly hit him: the only way you could know that none of the blind men had a grip on the entire reality of the elephant was if you could see the whole elephant. the only way you could tell the story othe blind men and the elephant is if you saw the whole elephant. you can only tell about the blind men if you see. and that means, he suddenly realized, the only way you could possibly know that every religion only sees part of the truth is if you assume you see all of the truth. it’s the only way you could know that religions only see part of the truth is that you assume you have the whole truth, which is the very thing you say nobody’s got.

and so lesslie newbigin concludes this page in which he suddenly realized how incredibly arrogant and imperialistic intellectually it is to say "all religions are equal," and he says:

“there is an appearance of humility in the protestation that the truth is much greater than any one of us can grasp, but it may be, in fact, an arrogant claim to a kind of knowledge which is superior to all others. so we have to ask the person, what is this absolute vantage point from which you claim to be able to relativize all the claims these different scriptures and religions make?”

see what the point here is? when you say “no one has a superior take on spiritual reality,” that is a take on spiritual reality which you say is superior to everybody else’s. and whey you say "no one should convert everybody else to your view of religious reality," that is a view of religious reality that you want the listener to convert to. there is no way for you to know that all religions are equal unless you assume the kind of knowledge you say nobody has, and so how dare you have it? how can you have it? so it just doesn’t work; it doesn’t work in the slightest. it’s imperialistic. it looks humble, but it’s not.
(from a sermon entitled "exclusivity: how can there be just one true religion?" by dr. timothy j. keller, redeemer presbyterian church, new york on 24 september 2006)


old vs. new

old sammy: bought 2 copies of every book; one, w/ mylar cover, to read for myself, and one to let anyone else (wife) read.

new sammy: "if it ain't got coffee stains on it, it ain't a book."


the ministry of "active helpfulness"

being part of the community group that meets in our apartment on monday nights has challenged me to grow in many areas, and an aid to this growth has been bonhoeffer's life together, which i'm re-reading for about the 5th time. here's a snippet that speaks to the part of me that is overwhelmed w/ keeping the kids and still trying to be a decent pastoral assistant:
we must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by god. god will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people w/ claims and petitions. we may pass them by, preoccupied w/ our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps -- reading the bible. when we do that we pass by the visible sign of the cross raised athwart our path to show us that, not our way, but god's way must be done. it is a strange fact that christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. they think they are doing god a service in this, but actually they are disdaining god's "crooked yet straight path" (gottfried arnold). they do not want a life that is crossed and balked. but it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by god.
(dietrich bonhoeffer, life together (san francisco: harper & row, 1954): 99.)

dc4free#19: hill-o-ween

this week's outing was to the eastern market area of capitol hill for some trick-or-treating. some friends from our church graciously invited us to their home for pre-game pizza, then the kids scoured the neighborhood en masse for goodies. we didn't make it on the hayride b/c our fairy and pumpkin were melting down, but we had a great time and saw a part of dc that we seldom get to see.
WWW [rough draft]