Elephants, Pluralism, and Huixtocihuatl
There is an old fable that tells of a few blind men and an elephant. One feels the tail; he thinks an elephant is a flyswatter. Another feels the leg, and thinks an elephant is like a tree trunk.
A third blind man feels a tusk; to him, an elephant is a spear. To the blind man who feels an ear, an elephant is a fan. And to the blind man who feels the elephant's side, it is a wall.
The moral of the story is religious in nature. Everyone may hold a different belief dear; they may worship different gods in different styles and have different customs. But ultimately, nobody is technically wrong; all have pieces of the truth.
And that is good enough for God.
What is really being said in the fable of the blind men and the elephant? For one thing, all of the blind men are wrong. And just because they believe sincerely in their interpretation of an elephant does not mean that they are safe in being wrong about it.
Try using an elephant as a delicate fan or personal flyswatter. The result is not pretty.
And seriously, who tugs an elephant around by the tusk to use it to fight off his enemies? If I lean up against an elephant that I sincerely believe is a wall, I will be crushed as soon as the creature moves.
Having a partial truth is not the same as having a whole truth.
If Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Taoists, Pagans, Shintoists, Buddhists, Judaists, Sikhs, and Atheists all claim different pieces of the elephant - different aspects to reality - each one of them is wrong.
In fact, the only person who is correct in evaluating the true status of the Elephant is the sighted man who watches all the blind men make ridiculous proclamations. The Sighted Man gets to be right and watch everyone else stumble around the Elephant and be wrong. Only the Sighted Man is wise and well-informed enough to make the proper judgment of the Elephant, and he sees it as his task to enlighten the poor old blind men and explain to them why they are all mistaken in their assessments.
Can all the religions of the world really just be different manifestations of the same ultimate truth, actual reality, or God?
Interesting question. Consider:
Can God be offended when people try to make hundreds of different representations of him (as Muslims believe) AND be honored by the use of thousands of earthly idols (as Hindus believe)?
Can the root of all evil in the world be due to the sin and pride in every human's heart (as Christians believe) AND be because each human is secretly perfect but plagued by desires (whether for the finer things in life or basic needs) (as Buddhists believe)?
Can God both exist (as theists believe) and not exist (as Atheists and some Buddhists believe)?
Can God be both impersonal (as some Hindus believe) and personal (as other Hindus believe)?
Does it matter if Hell exists (as Christians believe) or if it doesn't exist (as Pluralists believe)?
Does it matter if each person will be judged for honoring or dishonoring God with their lives?
Is there really just one path to heaven, or does it matter if you are on the right one or the wrong one?
The real insult about the Blind Men and the Elephant is this: it accuses all religious people as blind men. Only the Pluralist is the blessed Sighted Man. Every Jewish person, every Sikh, every Muslim, does not really know much of anything about their very own beliefs and heritage. If they really understood their beliefs, they'd realize that they're only blindly feeling one small part of a bigger, truer Elephant.
The Sighted Man claims to be tolerant; his views make him appear more pretentious. Since he's not blind, he knows more about your religious texts than you do. He knows more about your Jesus, your Muhammed, or your Buddha than you do. If you see a difference between your faith and another's faith, the educated, sighted Pluralist is happy to tell you that that difference doesn't matter; your faith is just a different manifestation of the faiths of everyone else.
I've been raised a Christian, and I'm convinced my faith is something deeper than finding spiritual happiness in a Book that's one of many different revelations from God. I imagine someone raised Muslim would be similarly offended if told worshipping Allah is the same thing as worshipping Huixtocihuatl, Aztec goddess of salt (who appreciates a celebratory human sacrifice every now and then).
Then again, I could be mistaken. But why wouldn't they be? Pluralism, which claims to be tolerant by treating all religions as one - or as different paths to the same goal - actually insults all religions, treats adherents as blind followers, ignores unique nuances and important doctrines of major world religions, and refuses to tolerate anyone who believes differently.
Each world religion is unique. It is disrespectful and not particularly tolerant to treat them like they are all basically the same thing.