have a friend who's a freshman at a nearby college.
She and I have been emailing each other, and I've been
quizzing her about her classes, her major, and her plans
for the future. She loves literature, so she's majoring
in English. The other night she mentioned that she had
to write a paper comparing the allegory of the cave
with the parable of the blind men and the elephant.
allegory of the cave is my favorite image when it comes
to trying to explain what's wrong with the church. So
I thought I'd revisit it here in case some of you are
not familiar with it.
"The Republic," Book VII, Plato gives us a
striking image which attempts to illustrate the difference
between reality and illusion. To over-simplify it, the
allegory describes a group of prisoners chained inside
a cave in such a way that they can see nothing but the
back wall. Behind them is a bright light, and between
the light and the prisoners are men who are putting
on a show for them. They hold up various objects which
cast shadows on the wall, and the prisoners, never having
seen the real objects, try to think up names to give
instance, if the men hold up a certain object, the prisoners
might decide that the shadow it casts should be called
a "book." But it becomes clear that, since
they cannot see the original object, they think that
the shadow is the actual thing called a "book."
They never realize that there is a three-dimensional
and far more detailed object behind them which is truly
a book. They have mistaken illusion for reality.
convinced that those who are leading the church today
are prisoners, chained by the bonds of tradition in
a cave called the church. For 2000 years they have been
looking at shadows on the rear wall of their institution.
They have long since come to believe that those shadows
are the only reality. As a result, their theology is
made up of fuzzy gray images, and they are so invested
in those unclear shadows that they will go to any length
to defend them. If you suggest that there are real three-dimensional
objects casting those shadows, they will try to burn
you at the stake for heresy.
instance, their shadows tell them that they are the
only ones whom God loves, and that he condemns everyone
else. However, the real object, which they cannot see
because they refuse to turn around, is a God who loves
and embraces everyone regardless of their religion or
lack of it. Their discussion among themselves has convinced
them that God's entire truth is displayed in the monochrome
images on their tiny wall. They refuse to listen to
the truth, that outside the cave is a whole world of
color and light and indescribable beauty.
do we get them to turn away from the darkness and seek
the reality which projects those shadows? Human ideas,
traditional concepts, limited worldviews, religious
formulations are nothing more than the shadows of things
unseen. We have a choice -- worship the shadows, or
emerge into the light of God's truth and beauty.
John W. Sloat 2004