Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On Faith

The Washington Post wants to start a conversation about faith.

I just heard this recently, but every time I hear people arguing about faith or abstract concepts lately-- like truth, love or knowledge -- my mind returns to this poem by John Godfrey Saxe:

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.

Each man touches a different part of the elephant and declares that elephants are exactly like a certain thing:

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

Even though each blind man only touched one part of the elephant, he thinks he knows and can describe exactly what elephants are like.

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!

And so, when I hear people arguing over what they can't know (which happens often enough, especially on college campuses) the last two lines echo in my head: "And prate about an Elephant/Not one of them has seen!"

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