John Hick

Religious Pluralism and Ultimate Reality


1.       Editor’s summary

          a.       God historically revealed him/herself though various individuals in different times and places

                    i.        Geographic insolation prevented a common revelation to all humanity

          b.       Each major religion has a different interpretation of same ultimate reality, of the same salvation

          c.       Other religious peoples participate in ultimate reality as validly as we do within our religion


2.       Definition of religion

          a.       Understanding of the universe

          b.       With an appropriate way of living within it

          c.       Reference beyond natural world to God, gods, the Absolute, or a transcendent order or process

3.       Definition applies to both

          a.       Theistic faiths

                    i.        Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism of Bhagavad Gita, Mahayana Buddhism (semi-theistic)

          b.       Non-theistic faiths

                    i.        Theravada Buddhism, non-theistic Hinduism

                    ii.       Believe in an “ultimate reality” or state of enlightenment (salvation)

4.       Definition does not apply to purely naturalistic systems of belief

          a.       Communism, humanism

          b.       Immensely important alternatives to religious life

          c.       What about paganism, earth worship, environmentalism?


5.       Religion has been a virtually universal dimension of human life

6.       Primitive man “crudely apprehended the divine as a plurality of quasi-animal forces”

          a.       Primitive spirit worship expressed man’s fears of unknown forces

          b.       His reverence for natural deities expressed his sense of dependence upon realities greater than himself

7.       Until about 800 B.C. man had religion w/o revelation

8.       Then for next 500 years had golden age of religious creativity

9.       Revelatory experiences in different parts of world

          a.       Religious faith attribute this to the pressure of the divine Spirit upon the human spirit

          b.       Isaiah, Lao Tzu (father of Daoism) and Confucius in China, Upanishads written in India, Gotama The Buddha lived, Bhagavad Gita written, Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato in Greece

          c.       300 year gap then Jesus of Nazareth and emergence of Christianity

          d.       Another gap then Mohammed and rise of Islam

          e.       All moments of divine revelation

          f.       These occasions of divine revelations slowly transformed the primitive/national religious into the world faiths we know today


10.     Same divine reality self-revealingly active towards man and different human responses related to different human circumstances

          a.       Divine revelation has taken its distinct forms in different cultures and led to distinct great religions

11.     Regional variations in human ways of conceiving divine have persisted and continue in the developed world faiths today

          a.       Indian religious thought involves idea of God the Mother and other more specialized female deities

          b.       Male expression of deity in religious had origin in Near East (Middle East)


12.     Why a serious of partial revelations at different times and places rather than a single might act?

          a.       Today a world wide revelation might be possible, but not 3000 years ago

          b.       Very little communication among people in ancient world

          c.       Men inhabited different worlds

          d.       Revelation of divine reality to mankind had to be a series of revealing experiences occurring independently within different streams of human history


13.     Great revealed faiths–Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism–not essentially rivals

14.     Hick considers argument that the great world religions are rivals

          a.       Theologically they conflict as they have different truth claims

          b.       Is the divine nature personal or non-personal?

                    i.        Non-theistic Hinduism conceives the ultimate reality (Brahman) not as a He, but It

                    ii.       If it believes in an ultimate reality, why is it non-theistic? Does theism imply the divine being must be a person?

          c.       Does the Deity become incarnate in the world

                    i.        Hindu idea of many incarnations of God

          d.       Are humans born again and again on earth?

          e.       Which is the word of God: Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita?

          f.       Is God Father, Son and Spirit of Christianity, the Yahweh of Judaism, or the Allah of Islam....

          g.       If what one religion says on these topics is largely true, some of the other religions will be largely false

                    i.        Christianity vs Islam; Buddhism vs Islam

15.     Hick’s reply: We can’t understand the nature of the Divine reality

          a.       All traditions think of the ultimate divine reality as infinite and thus transcending the grasp of the human mind

          b.       God is not a thing or part of the universe existing alongside other things

          c.       God cannot be defined or encompassed by human thought

          d.       We can’t draw boundaries around his nature and say that he is this and no more

          e.       The God we think about is merely a finite and partial image of God

16.     It follows (it’s possible) that the different encounters with the transcendent in different traditions may all be encounters with the one infinite reality

          a.       Each such encounter with divine is true

          b.       But not whole truth and nothing but the truth

          c.       All images of divine expressing some aspects a divine none by itself fully and exhaustively corresponding to infinite nature of ultimate reality.

17.     These are encounters from different historical/cultural standpoints with same infinite divine reality and so lead to different types of awareness of the reality

          a.       Different cultures, different ways of thought/feeling, different histories and philosophical frameworks lead to different responses

          b.       Possible the sense of the divine as non-personal may reflect an aspect of the same infinite reality that is encountered as personal in theistic religious experience

18.     Our divisions into Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, and so on are secondary historical developments


19.     Christianity is a way of salvation, but so are the other great faiths each providing a path to the divine reality for their believers

20.     Jesus’ supposed claim to be the only way to salvation is an interpretation of the church

          a.       Idea that Jesus proclaimed himself God incarnate and as the sole point of saving contact between God and man

          b.       Is w/o adequate historical foundation

          c.       Represents a doctrine developed by the church


21.     Parable of the blind men and the elephant

          a.       Elephant touched in different places by blind men

          b.       Leg: a living pillar

          c.       Trunk: a great snake

          d.       Tusk: a sharp ploughshare

          e.       Quarreled each claiming own account right

          f.       All were true, but each referring to one aspect of the total reality


22.     Not claiming any and every conception of divine is valid, still less equally valid

          a.       There are “primitive forms of religion”

          b.       But every conception of divine coming out of major religious traditions represents a genuine encounter with divine reality

          c.       What justifies believe that a religion is a genuine encounter with the ultimate reality?

                    i.        Great revelatory religious experiences

                    ii.       Tested through a long tradition of worship

                    iii.      Sustained human faith over centuries and millions of lives


23.     In future development of religion, religions may convergence

          a.       Sense of belonging to rival ideological communities will be obsolete

          b.       Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu will no longer describe men’s religious identifications and experiences

          c.       Still will differences between how people are religious

                    i.        With different cultures and psychologies of individuals

                              (1)     Divine as just; divine as merciful;

                              (2)     Worship as formal and communal; worship as free and personal

          d.       But more like differences between different types of Christianity in the U.S. than like different major religions of today.