Parable of the Sign: Religion vs. the Path

The Traveler

Once upon a time, a traveler who was passing through a certain town claimed to have found a city called Paradise. The city itself was a legend; it was thought to be the most magnificent and beautiful place in existence. However, the local people weren’t sure that it existed, much less how to get there.

The arrival of this traveler was met with much fanfare, excitement, and – by some – a bit of skepticism. The man’s stories about Paradise seemed like something out of a fantasy, and yet it left most people with the intense desire to go there. The man made it known that the road to Paradise was indeed not without its challenges. However, before he left, he erected a sign that pointed – as the man himself stated – exactly in the direction that one must go. As a final warning, the man made it clear that in order to successfully make it to Paradise City, no one should deviate from the path indicated by the sign.

Some of the local people became excited and left immediately on the course indicated. Others waited to see what would happen. Would these people return? And what would they say?

Protecting the Sign

Years past, but nobody returned. Meanwhile, the story about the sign spread to other towns and cities. People from far away started to visit the sign, and it became a popular tourist attraction. 

The growth in tourism led to an increase in the wealth of the local population. The local people eventually realized that the sign was important and needed to be protected. It was repainted and made to look even better than the original. A large fence was erected around it, and tourists were charged an entrance fee to be able to see the sign for themselves. 

After a certain number of years, there was a rumor that the arrow on the sign had been slightly “adjusted” by the owner of a trading post to point in the direction of his store. If the rumor was true, it meant that the sign no longer pointed directly to the city of Paradise. Due to this rumor, the local people were worried about the possibility of tampering (or further tampering) with the sign. As a result, tourists were no longer allowed to approach the sign on their own, but could do so only under the supervision of a local tour guide.

The Debate over Truth

However, the damage caused by the rumor could not be undone: many people were no longer certain that the sign pointed in the right direction. There was a big debate about whether or not the sign was in fact correct, but no consensus was reached. 

Consequently, a group of people who thought the sign was inaccurate decided to put up another (and in their view, more accurate) sign. This led to more debating and arguing, and neighbors who used to be friendly with each other started to openly fight with one another.

The people who believed that the first sign was correct began labeling themselves “The Originals”. This led to people who thought the second sign was correct to label themselves “The Purists”. As the years of fighting continued, new groups were created who put up even more signs that supposedly also pointed in the one, true direction to Paradise City. In the end, people had completely lost interest in finding Paradise, and were only interested in being right about the direction needed to get there.

Key Points:

  • All religions point in the general direction of truth, and none should be assumed to be more correct than others.
  • It doesn’t matter how accurate a sign (religion) is if the knowledge isn’t used to help one find the intended destination. Attending religious services and  learning about Truth/God is irrelevant if the knowledge gained is never put into action and fully incorporated into daily life.

Photo credit: Jens Johnsson