A Postmodern Perspective on Elephants
It was six men of Indostan of 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 study side, at once began to bawl:
"God bless me! But the Elephant is very like a wall!"
The second, feeling of the tusk, cried, "Oh! 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 his eager hand, and felt about the knee. "What most this wondrous beast like is mighty plain," said he, "is clear enough the elephant is very like a tree!" The fifth, who chanced to touch the year, 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 began about the beast to grope, then, seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope, "I see," said 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!
The postmodern world we live in has a bit of an issue. When issues of religion come up in conversation (debating and discussing issues of the existence of God, what God is like, morals and ethics, etc.), there is an underlying list of rules outside of the rational of logic and common sense that everyone is somehow expected to follow. Number one being, that no one can ever truly claim to know anything about God with any level of coherent understanding or certainty.
Rather, during such discussions our culture seems to fall back on buzz words, such as "arrogant", "dogmatic", or "intolerant." Christians know this all too well for the simple fact that as of late, we have often fallen on the receiving end of much of the cultural disdain. Violating the rules of polite society by claiming to actually and objectively know things about God.
In prior generations however, such claims would not have been ruled ignorant, intolerant, or out of bounds. Disagreement definitely, and debate almost certainly. The claims themselves however, were never regarded as inadmissible.
But the fact remains that intellectual landscape of our current state affairs within in society is shifting. Any claim to actually know one’s religious beliefs are true are counted as breaking the rules of intellectual inquiry. "These things," society declares, "simply cannot be known, regardless of whether they are true or not." Humanity simply does not have access to knowledge beyond the self-made fence of our self-constructed realities. Ultimately leading to the conclusion that stating such claims is uninformed or arrogant.
The presupposition that humans lack the understanding of knowledge outside of themselves is one that needs to be held accountable. Where does the postmodern individual get the idea that knowledge works like this? How do they know that reliable knowledge of God is impossible to attain? For when the proverbial rubber hits the road of inquiry it becomes clear that these are not modest claims.
In fact, these claims are huge, far-reaching, deeply rooted epistemological ones. The postmodern individual then must be claiming that every single religious person on the planet who claims to have knowledge of God is wrong, deluded, or deceitful (or potentially all of them).
How do individuals come to this conclusion? If all they have to draw from is their own self-constructed realities, then where does the foundation for such sweeping claims about all other religious systems come from? The smell of inconsistency has the hint of a postmodern dogmatic profession, coupled with the chiding of others for making dogmatic claims with an added dash of arrogance.
This being one of the issues with over used analogies that all religions are like blind men discovering an elephant. "An elephant is like a snake!" "An elephant is like a rope!" "An elephant is like a fan!" "An elephant is like a tree trunk!" And so on, and so forth the argument goes; they are all right because they are only seeing part of the truth.
Fundamentally however, the problem lies with the fact that the person using the analogy is assuming that they themselves are not blind. The person using the analogy standing up to declare how all religions really work. But that is a far reaching claim that requires borderline omniscient knowledge. What qualification gives such a person merit to declare how all religions work? And why are they subsequently exempt from the very analogy they impose on others?
However, the postmodern individual will likely reject the Bible as divine revelation and will then, maintain that the Christian is still arrogant. But, this misses the point entirely. Who has a more consistent foundation for making all-encompassing truth claims? The postmodern individual who rejects that anyone can have knowledge outside himself, or the Christian who at least purports to have access to divine revelation?
If an individual is going to make absolute, all-encompassing truth claims, it would be useful to have some access to a source of knowledge that is absolute and all-encompassing. This being the very thing that the postmodern individual lacks.
But who knows, I'm most likely just an arrogant bigot who hasn't thought about this issue at all.