The Wrong and Right Kinds of Interreligious Dialogue


By Tim Muldoon

The wrong kind of dialogue among people of different faiths is the kind that works from the polite assumption that everyone has a little truth, rather like the blind mice exploring the elephant.  The parable goes like this: the first mouse feels the elephant’s ear and proclaims, “It’s like a giant leaf!”  The second feels the leg, and says, “No, it’s more like a tree!”  The third feels the trunk and is certain that it’s more like a huge snake.  The analogy to this parable suggests that interreligious dialogue is similarly a dialogue between different good people who have partial truths.

What’s wrong with this parable?  It eviscerates religions themselves as being capable of real truth claims, positing that there is some vague transcendent truth “above” the religions themselves.  Of course the only intellectually defensible posture in such a parable is to distance oneself from religions altogether and head straight for the putative transcendence itself.  Why be a blind mouse when one can take out a digital camera and just take a snapshot of the elephant?

I will speak of the view from Catholic theology, though I suspect that my friends from other traditions might make arguments that accept the structural difficulties of the parable.



One thought on “The Wrong and Right Kinds of Interreligious Dialogue

  1. Yet, truth is, there are more elephants, and many more species, and “truth” transcends religious opinion. The analogy only works if one assumes there is someone who can make “real truth claims.” If this is posited, how is any real dialogue or mutual learning even possible?

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