What Do We Teach Our Children?

Generally, UUs don’t impose religious training upon their children, preferring to let them make up their own minds when they come of age. UU youth are introduced to many religious traditions, challenged to formulate their own beliefs, and encouraged to respect the beliefs of others. UUs, young and old, are encouraged to look for wisdom beyond what’s immediately available, to the wider world around them.

This approach is illustrated in a story about a group of seekers from different backgrounds who argued about God, the afterlife, and many other religious questions. Each had different answers. “I’m right and you’re wrong,” said one. “No, you’re wrong and I’m right,” the others replied.

To resolve their disputes, they asked a respected elder to tell them whose answers were correct.  Instead, he told them this story:

A sage once faced a similar request from adherents to six different religions.  He answered by blindfolding them and taking them out to an elephant pen. He asked each to touch an elephant, then describe it to him. He put one at the elephant’s head; another touched its ears, and others touched its tusks, trunk, side, legs, and tail.

The one who touched the head said, “Oh my, this animal is like a large waterpot.” “No,” countered the ear-toucher, “that’s wrong; it’s like a flat basket.”

The others insisted upon insights drawn from their own limited experience.  The tusk-toucher said the animal is “Like the sharp end of a plow.”  The trunk-toucher replied, “What? It’s like a giant snake.”  The side-toucher Insisted that “It’s like big crib full of wheat.”  The leg-toucher said, “Absurd, it’s four pillars.” And the tail-toucher added “Nonsense, it’s like a thin rope.”

The sage then told the seekers quarreling over the nature of God and the afterlife, “We’re like them–we can’t be sure of what we can’t see. We can’t see God or know what happens after we die. We’re all partially right in our answers, yet none of us is fully right.  Let’s not quarrel over what we can’t be sure of.  Let’s be humble about what we believe and learn what we can from each other.”

[published in the Red Rock News on March 18, 2022]