American Unitarian Conference™
Promoting Monotheism in the American Unitarian Tradition
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The Elephant of Salvation
|The 19th-century American poet, John
Godfrey Saxe, wrote a poem entitled “The Blind Men and the Elephant”
based on an ancient Indian fable that begins with this verse: “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.” The poem continues to tell of the observations
of these six seers, each with their own perception of the elephant as
revealed to them by their experience and expertise.
“The First approached the Elephant, and happening to fall against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl: ‘God bless me! but the Elephant is very like a wall!’” The ideological wall between Unitarian and Universalist beliefs about salvation was often reduced to the simple statement that Universalists believed that God was too good to damn humankind and that Unitarians believed that humankind was too good to be damned. The first seer did not seem disturbed by his perception of a wall, undoubtedly because of his understanding that walls define and support in addition to their lesser functions of division and exclusion. Following the 1961 consolidation, that ideological wall all but disappeared when the Unitarian Universalists united in giving the matter of salvation the attention it deserved.
“The Second, feeling of the tusk, cried, ’Ho! What have we
here so very round and smooth and sharp? To me, ’tis mighty ascribe
whatever symbolism they choose to these observations of the other five
men of Indostan. Biblical scholars may view this as an object to
be beaten into a pruning hook.
The last two verses express my personal “I don’t know” viewpoint on the subject of salvation. “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!” Expressing concern about salvation seems so selfish. Perceiving a need to be “saved” in this life or the next is insignificant compared with the duty one has to be of service to other human beings in the here and now. “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!”
© 2002 American Unitarian Conference™