The Blind Men and the Elephant

Discussion in 'Important Things To Consider' started by Banarenth, Sep 28, 2011.

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  1. This poem has been on my mind a lot lately. I feel that there is a particular and important application of it on our site, so I want to post it here asa reminder to us, and as a guide for new members what it's all about. As relevant as it is today, I wonder how we can claim growth when we know that it was published nearly 150 years ago....

    It was six men of Indostan
    To learning much inclined,
    Who went to see the Elephant
    (Though all of them were blind),
    That each by observation
    Might satisfy his mind

    The First approached the Elephant,
    And happening to fall
    Against his broad and sturdy side,
    At once began to bawl:
    "God bless me! but the Elephant
    Is very like a wall!"

    The Second, feeling of the tusk,
    Cried, "Ho! what have we here
    So very round and smooth and sharp?
    To me 'tis mighty clear
    This wonder of an Elephant
    Is very like a spear!"

    The Third approached the animal,
    And happening to take
    The squirming trunk within his hands,
    Thus boldly up and spake:
    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a snake!"

    The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
    And felt about the knee.
    "What most this wondrous beast is like
    Is mighty plain," quoth he;
    " 'Tis clear enough the Elephant
    Is very like a tree!"

    The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
    Said: "E'en the blindest man
    Can tell what this resembles most;
    Deny the fact who can
    This marvel of an Elephant
    Is very like a fan!"

    The Sixth no sooner had begun
    About the beast to grope,
    Than, seizing on the swinging tail
    That fell within his scope,
    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
    Is very like a rope!"

    And so these men of Indostan
    Disputed loud and long,
    Each in his own opinion
    Exceeding stiff and strong,
    Though each was partly in the right,
    And all were in the wrong!

    So oft in theologic wars,
    The disputants, I ween,
    Rail on in utter ignorance
    Of what each other mean,
    And prate about an Elephant
    Not one of them has seen!
    ~John Godfrey Saxe
  2. Thanks for posting it Bana,

    I think this is the first time I've seen the whole poem although I have heard of it often. But it is interesting as my wife and I and our daughter were discussing it just the other week as to how people try and use this as justification for the right to interprete scripture as they see fit (to them). The point they seem to miss is that all six were quite .... WRONG!

    We finally came to the conclusion that the Lord knows ALL about elephants and is willing to teach us all about them .... IF we listen to what HE is telling us and not think that WE know better than the Lord what an elephant is like.

    IF those six men had a book (have to be in braille I guess:)) written by somebody who could see an elephant and know all about them then all six could have known everything they needed to know about elephants AND been in total agreement ... IF they paid proper attention to what is written and not their own interpretration of what an elephant is like.

    Apart from that little in-depth "analysis" and being a poet myself I think it is a wonderfully simple and insightful poem-come-parable we should all paste on the inside cover of our Bibles.:)
    Chuckt likes this.
  3. Perhaps if these men had touched the whole elephant, rather than just a part they may have been able to describe it more accurately. After touching the elephant, they would each have gone to other blind men giving their own interpretation of an elephant, and so the faulsehoods would be passed on. The moral of this story for me is ....

    Always refer back to the Word Of God whenever men declare anything concerning Him.
    Enow likes this.
  4. I just look at it as a reminder that we are often all looking at the same thing, but from a different point of view, a different angle, with a different filter based on our own experiences. Not only were all six "wrong", all six were also "right" from their perspective, and it would be difficult to convince them otherwise. Lets say I take the one who felt a spear around the back and let him feel the leg. What guarantee does he have that I'm even showing him the same animal? Sure, because I can see the whole thing I know I'm leading him to the right thing, but we don't currently have someone who fully understands God.

    We do have a book. Yet, God is not a finite thing that we can hold in our hands and examine. We can describe the characteristics that we know of God, but so often people choose to pick only one characteristic and ignore all other aspects. WBC for instance only dwells on the aspect of God that is wrathful. Many in our culture now only view God as loving and compassionate. Those are starkly different views of God, but both are right, and both are wrong. God is wrathful, He is a jealous God, but He is not solely wrathful. God is love, but that love drives so much of how He relates to us. That love does not negate His Holiness.

    The fact is simple. We must recognize that we cannot always see the entirety of the truth. If we really could, there would be fewer debates. Perhaps WE could still debate and argue, but the great scholars that have gone before us would have resolved every one of these issues. We wouldn't have Calvinists and Evangelicals and Armenians and Baptists and Catholics, because it would be so easy to see who is right. Each looks at the truth from their own perspective. Some even look at a completely different animal. We must understand who is looking at the same thing we are and accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ, and who is looking at entirely the wrong thing. The petty bickering over perspective does not accomplish anything great in the Kingdom.
    dario68w likes this.
  5. I really like this!
  6. Due to some apparent misunderstandings of my stated intentions for this topic, I am going to attempt a careful explanation of my intention here. The original poem may have been used to support a different idea, but for the purpose of this illustration, I want it to be clear.

    First, this was posted during a time of great arguments over doctrines and beliefs on this site. I used this poem to illustrate the differences in doctrines. This is meaning CHRISTIAN doctrines as defined in the site's Statement of Faith. It was not meant to support Universalism nor stating that all religions are the same, etc...

    Second, the elephant represents God's Will. Meaning the Christian God. Or it could represent God, or simply the true understanding of the Bible. The important point here is that as Christians, we are all examining the same elephant. This would mean than non-Christians are on the other side of the zoo studying tigers, or sitting in bakeries playing with loaves of bread.

    Third, the illustration as I intended it assumed that the blind men studying the elephant were all Christians and not various other religions, cults, or sects.

    Lastly, this is not a Scriptural parable. It is not air-tight, nor should any rational mind view it as such. I used this as an illustration to show that Christians bickering among themselves only causes the people watching them look on with disdain and wonder how ridiculous they are.

    This was my intent. It is most likely not the intent of the author of the poem. Thank you for your understanding in this matter. This topic will now be closed for further comment.
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