"[...] if we are to understand a great religion it is always first of all necessary to that we should find out, not merely what its formularies are, but what it has meant in the experience of those who follow it. That is the only way in which we can pronounce judgement on it. The man who stands outside of a religion altogether, and merely criticises its theological formularies, is like a blind man attempting to pronounce judgement upon pictures from hearsay. If, for example, a man should repudiate the doctrine of the Trinity simply on the ground that it clashes with his own mathematical conceptions, without ever inquiring how it has come about that people quite as mathematical as himself have none the less felt driven by their experience to formulate their belief in this way, he is like a blind man who should deny the possibility of perspective on the ground that pictures are painted in two dimensions."
- William Temple, The Kingdom of God, 1-2.Of course it is possible to know something of things from the outside, indeed, sometimes one must be outside to see the whole in a particular way. However, what Archbishop Temple is pointing out is that the converse is also true: sometimes one must be inside an experience to know what terms used to describe that experience mean. To use an example from C. S. Lewis (whose "Meditation in a Toolshed" makes much the same point), who has the more important perspective on romantic love: a young man in the first flush of new love, or the neurologist who studies the electrical patterns and chemical changes in the brain, but has never known what these feel like from the inside? Of course, both perspectives are important. But our tendency is to give precedence to the objective viewpoint that observes and does not participate (or rather, who participates primarily through observation). In some circumstances, this is an important stance. But it is a mistake to make this priority absolute and universal.
Indeed, even the observer who attempts an "objective" perspective is far from neutral, but brings her assumptions and categories to her experience of observation. But here I have begun to repeat contemporary platitudes. So I will finish with one more:
Never criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Then, when you criticise him, you are a mile away - and you have his shoes.