The Australian Census, improved

Today saw the release of the 2016 census results by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Much of the coverage was focused on the increased proportion of respondents ticking “no religion” as their preferred option, with commentators either lamenting or cackling with glee, as their personal proclivities dictated. However, more thoughtful observers noted the actual options of the census question on religion lacked the nuance that the real religious landscape displays.

The inimitable James Garth stepped up to the challenge of “improving” the question to reflect a broader range of options. ABS, please take note.

ABS_census_James_Garth

James Garth improves the ABS census question on religious affiliation.

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Elephants and blind men

The well-known story of the six blind men trying to describe an elephant is often portrayed as an allegory of religious diversity: the descriptions of the elephant are different for each person, based on the particular aspect with which he came into contact:

The first touches its leg and says that an elephant is like a tree, another touches its side and says that an elephant is like a rough wall. Another feels its tail and says that an elephant is like a piece of rope. Each comes into contact with a different part of the elephant and is convinced that their own explanation is correct and that the others are wrong. None of them realises that they are all experiencing just one part of the same elephant and that none of their explanations are complete.

The suggestion is that diverse religions are likewise each only seeing part of the fuller and more complete truth. The problem with this explanation is that it takes the perspective of a sighted person who can actually see the whole elephant: without this perspective the story makes no sense. To make the claim that “all religions are just seeing a different part of the same truth” is to claim knowledge of that truth, and to claim to stand in a similar relation to the truth as the sighted observer in the elephant story.

Over at bethinking.org, Chris Knight offers an alternative version of the story which provides significantly more illumination on the question of religious diversity. Read it here:

The Blind Men and the Elephant at the Zoo

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