My RE Teacher Says 'All Religions Are the Same'
One day three blind men came across an elephant. Not knowing what it was they began to touch it, trying to figure it out (apparently it was quite a friendly elephant to let them do this).
“It’s long and flexible…perhaps it’s a snake!” the first cried, grabbing the trunk.
“No, it’s thick and round…some sort of tree trunk” the second said, hugging the elephant’s leg.
“Don’t be silly, it’s a huge flat wall” said the third, pushing against the elephant’s side.
Perhaps you’ve heard this story before, or something like it? It’s often used to argue that when it comes to God (if there is one) we are all like the blind men. We can’t see, we can only feel hints and aspects of the truth.
In RE lessons it can often seem that this is the assumption. RE teachers are trained to treat all viewpoints fairly, teaching about all religions accurately. That’s a good thing and we should all aspire to it. We want to truly understand what others believe and why.
But sometimes this desire to be fair can end up saying that all options are equally true. Some teachers might even express this more explicitly. So here are a couple of questions you could ask to challenge this in a way that will hopefully lead to more fruitful discussion in class, and encourage others to seek out the truth. (For more practical tips on approaching and speaking with your teachers, check out Engaging Well with Teachers).
What reasons do you have for thinking you can see the whole picture?
This highlights the problem with the story of the blind men and the elephant. In order for the story to work, there has to be someone who has seen the whole elephant and knows that the blind men are only seeing part of it. So it assumes that the person telling the story can see, while everyone else is blind. The same goes for another common view, that ‘All religions are different paths up the same mountain’. If someone claims to know where all the paths lead, they must already have the map of the whole, or perhaps they’re flying over the mountain in a helicopter
How can religions that make opposing claims be equally true?
Although well-meaning people try to claim all religions are equally true, this is difficult when you look at the details. For example, the Quran says ‘God is only one God, He is far above having a son’ (Sura 4:171), while the Bible sees God the Father saying to Jesus ‘You are my beloved Son’ (Mark 1:11). Other religions would claim there are many gods or no gods. But they can’t all be true – where religions flatly contradict each other the argument that they are equally valid falls down.
The idea that all religions are just attempts to grasp something bigger than ourselves can seem attractive because it seems humble, and people don’t want to seem arrogant. But in fact it is claiming to know something that all religions have missed!