By David Johnson, Class of ‘20
Some have compared all religions in the world to a group of blindfolded men touching an elephant. Wandering aimlessly, some of them will probably touch the trunk, others the legs, and others still the tail. Each will come to a different conclusion about what animal they are touching based on their different experiences and perspectives. Thus, everyone is told, various religions all take the same truth and interpret it in different ways, and no one view is less valid than the next, since all are discussing the same God (McDowell, 2016). Christianity, however, is not just a boring gong resounding the same message as every other religion; Christianity fundamentally differs from every other religion’s understanding of God, and surpasses them in its understanding of God’s relationship with mankind.
First of all, the analogy itself contains a lot of problems. Take a step back and think about what is being said here. The assumption is that all people looking at the elephant and evaluating the universe are blind. And yet somehow, the person making the observation doesn’t seem to be blind at all. How did we know that we’re blind to the entire truth if we’re blind? This requires observations from a person with sight! But according to the analogy, we’re all blind. Does the person making the claim really believe that they’ve been enlightened to some perspective about truth that Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and others have missed this entire time? That’s a pretty bold and arrogant claim, and it doesn’t seem reasonable. But the analogy is also faulty because it doesn’t really address the fact that most religions are hopelessly incompatible with each other. As we will see, Christianity makes powerful claims about the world around us that almost no religions agree with.
First of all, Christianity has a unique perspective about mankind’s method of salvation. Christianity affirms that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no-one can boast”(Ephesians 2:8-9). God gives Christians the gift of eternal life simply by virtue of his unconditional love towards humanity. According to Josh McDowell, “As to matters of salvation and the person of Jesus Christ, only historic Christianity recognizes Him as the eternal God becoming a man who died for the sins of the world and arose again the third day”.
Other religions declare quite the opposite; even if God is gracious towards humanity, only with religious devotion and good works can one be saved. In religions such as Islam, the Quran declares, “the one who has repented in this life, and believed, and done good deeds may hope to be among those who will achieve salvation” (Surah 28:67). For a Muslim to even have a chance of receiving Allah’s favor, he or she must pursue good works and deeds. Even then, however, salvation is not guaranteed. Furthermore, in Buddhism, mankind can only overcome its struggles through personal effort. Buddha is even credited with saying that “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path”(Translation of Dhammapada. No. 165). Even cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Latter-Day Saints involve some form of works-based salvation. For example, the Book of Mormon declares that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”(2 Nephi 25:23). Whilst acknowledging the gift of God’s grace, the Mormon worldview still affirms that human effort is required, because individuals must accomplish “all they can do” and prove their devotion to God before salvation can happen. Thus, Christianity’s method of salvation is fundamentally different from that of all other religions; the Christian gains salvation by God’s grace, whereas others must prove themselves worthy of it.
In addition, Christianity and other religions diverge greatly with regards to the identity of Jesus Christ. It is very well-established, in Christianity and even other religions, that Jesus existed two thousand years ago; even famous agnostic Bart Ehrman remarked that Jesus “certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees” (Carson, 2017). Nonetheless, with regards to Jesus’ true identity, only Christianity gives credit where credit is due, so to speak. Almost every other religion treats Jesus as a good person or something else inferior to God; only Christianity affirms Jesus’ deity. When Jesus told the Pharisees in John 8:58 that “before Abraham was born, I am”, he was not merely implying that he has existed for a long time. He was using God’s name from the book of Exodus, “I AM”, to describe himself. Anyone listening during that time would have immediately understood the implication: Jesus was declaring himself to be God.
No other religion in existence ascribes the level of Godhood to Jesus Christ. For example, Islam considers Jesus to be a mighty prophet from Allah, but it is still blasphemy to equate Jesus Christ with God. The Quran indicates in Surah 19:88-92 that “Those who say: ‘The Compassionate (God) has begotten a son,’ certainly preach such a monstrous falsehood, that the very Heavens might crack, the earth might cleave asunder and the mountains might crumble to pieces – at their ascribing a son to the Compassionate (God), It is not befitting to the Compassionate (God) that He should beget a son.” Indeed, Islam denies Jesus’ deity on the strongest terms. Furthermore, even Jehovah’s Witnesses declare that Jesus is merely Michael the archangel (Watchtower, 1979). Across the board, religions fail to capitalize on the true character of Jesus Christ.
In fact, these differences are truly what make Christianity remarkable. If, as Christianity affirms, Jesus is more than just a good teacher or holy prophet, but God himself, then there is more to Christianity than meets the eye. In all other religions, ultimate satisfaction and meaning is infinitely distant from humanity, and what effort men exert to make themselves right with God is woefully inadequate to bridge the gap. But Christianity offers a much more cohesive, satisfying, and hopeful outlook. For Christians, God did all the heavy lifting. He has already reached out to mankind, and offered everything good to us when mankind could offer nothing. It is as Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This radical statement gives mankind the plain truth of the matter—that we are sinful and incapable of saving ourselves—and offers a simple solution: Jesus Christ.
In retrospect, I find it rather interesting that people who discuss world religions use the analogy of the elephant and blind men. If all the men are blindfolded, then none of them will ever know if they have discovered the truth about the elephant; in one sense, they will continue to wander aimlessly in their “good works”, never certain if their salvation has been achieved. It is only when someone removes the blindfolds and shows them the truth are they able to reconcile all their viewpoints and see the truth for what it really is. C.S. Lewis once said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else” (Lewis, 2013).
Christianity is not a blindfolded man looking for truth; it is the man Jesus Christ showing light and truth to all men. Only through Christianity can mankind best understand God, and only through Jesus Christ can one understand the truth about humanity and experience eternal satisfaction.
Christianity Makes Sense of the World.” C. S. Lewis Institute. Published December 2013. Web. Retrieved January 2017. http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Christianity_Makes_Sense_of_the_World
McDowell, Josh. “Answering Skeptics Questions: Don’t All Religions Basically Teach the Same Thing?” Josh McDowell Ministry. Web. Retrieved December 2016. http://www.josh.org/resources/apologetics/answering-skeptics-detail/?id=26308
Qtd. in Weitnauer, Carson. “Did Jesus Exist?” Reasons for God. Web. Retrieved January 2017. http://www.reasonsforgod.org/the-best-reasons/did-jesus-exist/
The Book of Mormon. 2 Nephi 25:23. Web. Retrieved January 2017. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/2-ne/25.23?lang=eng
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
The Quran. Al-Qasas-Malik Translation. Web. Retrieved December 2016. http://www.alim.org/library/quran/surah/english/19/MAL
The Watchtower, February 15, 1979, p. 31. Qtd. in http://www.christiananswers.net/evangelism/beliefs/jehovahswitness.html
Translation of Dhammapada. No. 165. Karma: A Story of Buddhist Ethics. Chicago: Carus Publishing Co. © 1984.