Analysis of the Parable of the Ring
Previously I published the full text of the “Parable of the Ring” by Lessing.
I would like this post to generate a bit more conversation about what the parable means to different people. I’ll begin by explaining what I learn from the parable.
There are many themes in the Parable of the Ring (PotR) that I would like to discuss.
1.) The similarity of the rings. While I don’t believe that all religions are indistinuishable, even in non-shallow attributes, I can appreciate the point that most religions have a lot more good in common, than bad in differentiation. That is, all Abrahamic religions (AR’s) (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) teach the need for humility and submission to God’s will, with individual adaptations of how it is exhibited. Most serious sects of the three AR’s value faith in God, family, spousal fidelity, love, charity, forgiveness, faithfullness to God. While there are variations in how they are implemented and taught, I feel the principles are completely indistinguishable.
2.) Summoning the earthly father before the judge’s tribunal. I disagree with Lessing that the Father of the story cannot provide evidence to us. In reality, God can and does speak to man today, both institutionally, and to an individual. While we can’t bring God before a U.S. court, say, we can humbly approach Him in prayer and ask him if one religion has anything more than the other. In fact, my belief is that without summoning the Father (or supplicating Him for knowledge) we cannot KNOW which ring is right. Then we are stuck with only our traditions, and our limited knowledge, which we sometimes claim or “objective”, but in reality is just a mirror of our limited knowledge.
3.) The advice of the judge boils down to a lot of religious tolerance. In the judge’s view, as well as Lessing’s, God was silent on the matter for now. If we follow Lessing’s viewpoint, even if we disagree with it, his advice is that every religious person should strive to show, by true love, that theirs is the true religion. The judge almost gets sarcastic, “You all claim the ring will make you loved by man but none of you love your brothers.” Their faith claim was, we have the right religion, the right religion will make us love, yet the judge pointed out, they lacked love. “Does each love himself only?” The judge thought that lacking the trait of love, none of the remaining factions could be authentic.
Without prejudice each son should endeavor to compete with his brothers in displaying the virtue of the ring, added to the rings might one’s own gentleness, benevolence, forbearance, with an inward submission to God. If over time, the virtues of the ring continue in the man’s descendants, after a million years, a wiser judge may take up judgement again, and decide which religion was right.
4.) Our response to the parable. We can accept the humility that Saladin exemplifies before God. We can recognize that it isn’t our “objective analysis” that leads to the right religion. We can recognize and what for the day that a wiser one than ourself comes to set and judge. For Christians, we anxiously await Christ’s return to do this. Jews await Messiah they’ve been promised. I’m not sure who Muslim’s wait on, but hopefully we can all admit that this is God’s decision and not ours. What God has given is the ability to choose our affiliation. He’ll let us choose which path we want to follow, and how well we want to follow that path. I have a feeling he may judge us by how well we followed our chosen path in addition to the absolute “rightness” of the path. In the meantime though, not only our beliefs should be correct, but also our hearts. Orthopraxis is just as important as Orthodoxy.
5) Misgivings. I do not feel that all religions are right or equal in how they draw us to God. I usually think the direction is right, but I feel some paths are shorter, more direct, and even, more authorized than others. I think there’s nothing wrong with feeling thinking and preaching, “one’s own” religion is right. But along the way, let’s not forget how we act and how we treat people. If we say we have the true religion, and charity isn’t our main motive, do we really have that true religion? If we say we have charity for someone, and they say, “Your actions do not feel like charity to me.” do we really expect God to be pleased by our actions.
What it means to me as a Mormon:
This parable teaches me the tolerance we should have for anyone with any different (yet ultimately “good”) faith, however incorrect that faith may be. It is absolutely impossible to prove certain things in life. If there is a God, what God is like, what God wants each person to do; are all questions that can’t be be proven scientifically or logically. However, are we truly left as complete slaves to history? What Lessing did not know was that there IS something other than history upon which we can rely. REVELATION: the means by which God communicates to man, personally through personal revelation, and institutionally through apostolic, prophetic authority. So, although in general, humanity depends on their own religious traditions, the call of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that there IS a way to know the truth from God. Additionally, we don’t find it necessary to suppose dishonesty on originators of religion in the past. LDS leaders have always believed that all uplifting religions have some amount and form of the truth. Some have much more than others, but we are able to rejoice in the similarities recognizing they have the same source (the same Father).
Let us not love only ourselves, but our neighbors within and without our faith. Let us use our gentleness, benevolence, forbearance to glorify our God and love our fellow men. I believe that that that is what God really wants all of us to do.