In cities across the world, the blind are leading the blind, quite literally. In an exhibit that hopes to promote understanding between people with and without eyesight, Dialogue in the Dark takes small tour groups through a variety of environments in complete darkness, inviting them to rely on senses they are far less used to trusting. For approximately one hour, visitors are led by visually impaired guides like George Pinon, who has been blind since age 3. Along the way, visitors can ask questions of their visually impaired guide, whose face remains unseen until the end.(1) In a similar worldwide exhibit, Dinner in the Dark, participants are served a four-course meal in complete darkness by blind waiters, challenging taste buds and table manners alike.
In each scenario, the turn of phrase “the blind leading the blind” challenges every negative connotation associated with it. The idiom is, of course, not meant to depict actual visual impairment like Pinon’s, but the far more common impairment of insight, knowledge, or vision of reality. Typically, the saying is applied in situations where the person (or people) in charge knows no more than those whom he or she is leading. The phrase is one used in antiquity, most notably used by Jesus in Matthew 15:14 and Luke 6:39. “Let them alone,” Jesus said of the Pharisees; “they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
Just as Jesus seems to say here of the scribes and Pharisees of his day, the non-religious sometime describe every religious person in such terms. They reason that the anatomy of faith in general promotes a culture of the blind leading the blind. Moreover, Christianity in particular, some argue, is founded on such a blindness. The deluded disciples, blind by their love for Jesus or perhaps simply their need to be right, perpetuated a story that continues to delude the world. In his Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris writes that nonbelievers like himself are thoroughly dumbstruck by the pervasiveness of Christian blindness, by the Christian “denial of tangible reality,” by the suffering these Christians create “in service to religious myths” and their wholehearted “attachment to an imaginary God.”(2)
While blindness to reality is a common accusation among the nonreligious, their accusations typically extend well beyond the charge of blindness. Charles Templeton, for instance, describes the resurrection story as a fable put forward by followers hoping to keep the dream alive. He insists that resurrection is first of all implausible, and that the story must be false because there are no secular histories which mention it. What’s more, he describes the discrepancies within the gospel accounts themselves as evidence of dishonesty or tampering of the storyline. Like many, he ends with the sharp conclusion that though Christians embrace it with blind eyes, “the entire resurrection story is not credible.”(3) In such a scenario, however, it would be far more accurate to accuse Christians of being “the deluded following the liars” than “the blind following the blind.”
In fact, I think most Christians would vigorously agree that the resurrection is indeed unfathomable. In the same way that Mary and Joseph understood that pregnancy among the virginal does not make sense, the resurrection flies in the face of what we know to be true of dead bodies: they do not rise. On this point, no one is blind. If by some way a body did happen to rise, it would have been a miracle unparalleled in history. On these details, I think most Christians and atheists can, in fact, agree!
But the claim that resurrection is implausible cannot be accurately bolstered by the claim that secular histories make no mention of it. Secular writers of the time, including Pliny, Josephus, and the Roman historian Tacitus, in fact affirm the biblical accounts in matters of historic detail. Christ’s life, his reported miracles, his sentence under the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, his crucifixion, and his reported resurrection are all well documented by the historians of the era. Templeton’s insistence that a miracle of resurrection proportions would have convinced the entire population in a matter of hours is optimistic at best; there are far too many who prefer to watch from afar or to keep their eyes closed entirely.
Further, the oft-mentioned claim of discrepancies in the biblical accounts of the resurrection story cannot be used to logically discount the story itself. First, error must not be confused with imprecision. It makes sense that Paul mentions men as the first witnesses of the risen Christ because in that historical context women (who are named as the first witnesses in other accounts) were not considered valid witnesses. Second, falsity must not be confused with perspective. The minimal differences between the gospel accounts actually assure there was legitimate conveying of perspective going on and not simply a memorized story they needed to keep straight.
Finally, the theory that the story was conjured up by disciples who simply believed what they wanted to believe is not quite plausible. If the disciples had agreed to propagate a story, it serves to follow that they would have known to conceive something far less remarkable, a story that would accommodate the arguments they would undoubtedly face. With even the slightest bit of intelligence, one could see the claim that Jesus had only “spiritually” or “figuratively” risen again would have been much harder to prove false by antagonists. Furthermore, when standing up for these falsified claims was a matter of life or death, it seems likely that at least one of them would have buckled—far more likely than an entire group (and many others) being willing to die for a lie. A far cry from “the blind leading the blind,” such a scenario would call for “the liars following the liars.”
On the contrary, the disciples took the dangerous and difficult road—the inconceivable road—and they went to great lengths to proclaim it. Unlike those who might call them “blind” for conceding to the unfathomable, I find it far more difficult to examine the bigger picture and yet refuse to see.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Elizabeth Landau, “Being blind, ‘You Have to Be Adventurous,’” http://CNN.com, May 12, 2009, accessed May 12, 2009.
(2) Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 91.
(3) Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996), 122.