Thursday, December 12, 2013

Salvific Religion and Pluralism

I took a World Religions course at HACC as part of fulfilling my associates degree in Business Studies. This was my first paper due of the semester. I found it quite challenging, as my brain does not work like a philosopher...there is simply too much to do in a day, rather than spending hours reading masses of other people's opinions and contemplating maybes and what-ifs. For what it is worth, the following is a crack at evaluating pluralism according to John Hick. I did receive a 95% though, which made the effort worthwhile...along with the knowledge I gained.

Philosophy 200
October 10, 2013
Salvific Religion and Pluralism
Religious pluralism is a concept deliberated in great detail by John Hick, a 20th century philosopher of religion and theology. Wikipedia defines religious pluralism as “an attitude or policy regarding the diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society (Wikipedia).” Furthermore, each cultural religion, such as Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Ahmadiyya, Bahá'í, and Islam has their own separate and lengthy views on the topic, making the ideologies endless. Many people from many faiths agree, as Hick ascribes, that religious pluralism reveals that all faiths are responding to the same Ultimate Reality, or “the Real”, as John Hick coins it.
Hick insists that a pluralistic attitude is the most reasonable stance to take, since each religion is a response to the Divine, within the context of each respective culture, religious traditions, code of ethics, and even art forms. He adds that such beliefs do bring up even more questions about the Divine Reality, such as: is the Real “personal or non-personal; if personal, is it unitary or triune; is the universe created or emanated, or itself eternal; do we live only once on this earth or are we repeatedly reborn? (Hick)” These are questions that are not easily answered, and are frequently disputed amongst the world’s many religious groups.
Additionally, Hick assumes that all faiths are ultimately seeking some form of salvation, by defining that term differently, depending upon the culture. He believes that all religions offer a means to salvation or enlightenment as they progress from self-centeredness to reality centeredness. For example, Hick encourages his readers to “see them as different forms of the more fundamental conception of a radical change from an unsatisfactory state to one that is limitlessly better because rightly related to the Real (Hick).” He adds that salvation “is the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to a new orientation, centered in the Divine Reality…Each tradition sets forth the way to attain this great good (Hick).”
Since the salvific idea of mankind changing from a self-centered position to a Reality centered state is found in all religions, Hick determines that a person’s behavior and ethos will change in an honorable way in response to the Real. For example: Hick points out that all of the great religions express compassion, and love for others; all have the concept of doing good, as treating others as you would want to be treated. He determines that if everyone were to follow such truths, injustice and suffering would be cease to exist, and our world would live in a peaceful state. Since that is not the case, Hick concludes that none of the world’s religious traditions are superior or more salvifically effective than another.
Hick asserts that all people can experience the Real through whatever method and religious tradition that one devote themselves to; therefore, different religious beliefs and doctrines should be able to co-exist within a community, and on a greater scale, within nations.  He proposes that the Divine may be experienced differently in each culture, yet it is all a part of the Real. He also tells us that the Real is beyond our human conception; it transcends above what our human intellect is capable of perceiving, and cannot be grasped.
Some might question Hick as to how he can unite all religions as a Divine response to the Real, especially when views are so different concerning their metaphysical beliefs. On this topic, he points us in the direction of Buddhism and asks his readers to “accept that we do not know whether, e.g., the universe was created ex nihilo, nor whether human beings are reincarnated; and, further that it is not necessary for salvation to hold a correct opinion on either matter (Hick)”. He goes on to declare that “whilst we have theories, preferences, hunches, inherited convictions, we cannot honestly claim to have secure knowledge (Hick)” concerning the different religious beliefs about the big bang theory, creation, or even the possibilities of reincarnation. He concludes that ultimately, the answers to these questions are not important, nor are they vital to salvation.
Hick dismisses the authenticity of any pertinent historical facts as being “so remote in time, and the evidence so slight or uncertain, that the question cannot be definitively settled (Hick)”. He reiterates his belief that having correct and truthful historical or scientific information is not a requirement for one’s salvation.
The final message which Hick leaves us with is his supposition that all religions are simply different cultures responding to the Divine. He explains that “our human religious experience, variously shaped as it is by our sets of religious concepts, is a cognitive response to the universal presence of the Ultimate Divine Reality, that, in itself, exceeds human conceptuality (Hick)”. So how can one indisputably know the answers to these questions that have been troubling mankind for generations? Hick would have us accept that the Real is abiding in all places, through all times, and freely offers salvation to those who commit their lives to the pursuit of ethical living, and affirm their belief in that higher power. He suggests that salvation can come through many different religious means, and there is no concrete proof or reason to think otherwise. The flaws in this outlook are many.
The most obvious problem that arises with Hick’s reasoning is the fact that all the world’s religions do not have the same end goal. It seems clear that Hick’s intent was to make a way to settle his own mind on how moral and upright faith-seeking people from other cultures might attain salvation without coming to Christ. Although it makes Hick feel good to include all religions that proclaim faith in a deity(s) or Divine presence who holds the key to salvation; Buddhists, for example, are not even looking to be saved. They may be trying to achieve personal goodness and high ethical standards towards the final goal of enlightenment or Nirvana, but Buddhists clearly state that they do not know what happens after death, or if there is an afterlife. Their goal is not to obtain salvation.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines religion as “1. The belief in a god or in a group of gods, 2. An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods, 3. The service and worship of God or the supernatural, 4. A commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance, 5. A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith, 6. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, 7. An interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group (Merriam-Webster)”.  Religion has also been defined as “Man’s attempt to reach God.”  This concept is seen in many of our world’s religious faiths. For example, a Jew following the law by keeping all 613 commandments (Rich). A Muslim living in a way that is pleasing to Allah with the goal of earning salvation, “The Muslim doctrine of salvation is that unbelievers …and sinners will be condemned, but genuine repentance results in Allah's forgiveness and entrance into Paradise upon death (Anonymous).” A Sikh lives his life in the pursuit to “overcome the self, align life with will of God, and become a "saint soldier," fighting for good (Anonymous)”, resulting in being reincarnated until he resolves karma and can merge with God.
However, it is better not to look to man to answer our questions about God. We have access to the only Holy book written by men through the inspiration of God Himself, the Creator of mankind and the world. The Bible is clear that there is one God, " I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” (Is.45:5a) (Holy Bible).  He has already given us His Word, and has explained how we might have a salvific relationship with Him, resulting in an eternity of bliss and perfection in His presence. Although Hick rejected God’s sole plan of redemption because in his mind, it didn’t seem right or fair. The truth is that God made a way to redeem mankind, and has given us His Holy Word which clearly directs us on this matter of salvation. At the beginning of the Old Testament, God tells us how and why He created us.  He also included prophecies of the coming Messiah; “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”(Gen.3:15). The  New Testament fulfills the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, explains God’s free gift of salvation, and how he justified mankind through his atoning death: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) (Holy Bible) and "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:15-18) (Holy Bible).
God has provided the perfect way of salvation. We need not ask mankind his opinion on the matter, we need only listen to our Creator and Father in Heaven. This is not exclusivism, the idea that “I believe my religion is the only way,” this is our Triune God making a way for his creation to attain salvation by his grace and mercy alone. Yes, it’s His rules, His way, His design. As his creation, we simply need to accept His plan and come into a right relationship with Him, not create our own salvific ideology that might suit our finite minds better.

Works Cited

Anonymous. n.d. Website. 9 October 2013. <>.
Hick, John. "Religious Pluralism and Salvation." Hick, John. Faith and Philosophy 5. 1988. 365-377. Book.
"Holy Bible." Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011. Book.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 9 October 2013. <>.
Rich, Tracey. Judaism 101. n.d. Website. 9 October 2013. <>.
Wikipedia. Religious Pluralism. n.d. Online Encyclopedia. 7 October 2013. <>.

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