I’m a little drowsy right now, since I’ve just eaten lunch, so please pardon any incoherence in this post. I finished Part I of More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Part I is John Hick’s defense of religious pluralism, as well as responses to his position.
There are things that are quite seductive about what Hick says, so seductive that I may read some of his books. Basically, he believes that there are all sorts of religions that can involve an interaction with God, which he labels “the Real.” According to Hick, both Eastern and Western religions have at least two things in common: an interaction with something or someone who is transcendent and incomprehensible, and a commitment to morality, particularly love of neighbor. For Hick, salvation occurs in these religions when people abandon selfishness for something larger than themselves.
To be honest, I don’t really mind the view that God, on some level, interacts with people in non-Christian cultures and belief systems. After all, God is a big God. Who’s to say that he cares only for Christians, while having nothing to do with the rest of the human race?
But does Hicks believe that all religions are right? I mean, to his credit, he doesn’t say that all religions are basically the same, for he acknowledges that differences exist. He says that his access to God comes through Christianity, so does that mean he accepts Christianity as true? And, if he does, doesn’t that make other religions false on certain issues, since different religions have concepts that are not really compatible with one another?
And that may be why Hick’s pluralism leads him to water down Christianity. Basically, he views Jesus as a great religious teacher, who incarnated God only in the sense that he was open and transparent to God’s purposes. He does not believe in traditional Christian views of the incarnation, nor does he embrace the atonement, the doctrine that Christ’s death brought forgiveness to people. For Hick, all one has to do to receive forgiveness is ask for it, as Jesus discusses in the Lord’s prayer. So Hick’s pluralism leads to a Christianity-lite, one that lacks the doctrines that make it unique. Hick’s Christianity is more like a pious moralism.
In my opinion, Hick is rather unclear about the truth-status of the different religions. Sometimes, he seems to say that there is a basic interaction with God and morality in them, and those are the inspired parts. The rest of the package, however, is rather extraneous. And then there are other times when he appears to embrace the “men and the elephant” story, which says that different religions sense different parts of a bigger picture.
This is a hard one for me. Do Taoism and Buddhism teach anything valuable that Christianity does not? And, if it were valuable, wouldn’t God have included it in Christianity? Taoism talks about not stressing out about life, and Zen Buddhism emphasizes that all is one. Christianity has these things on some level: there is the peace of Christ, and the doctrine that God has created everything, which I guess makes all one (sort of). But, often, my impression of Christianity is that it is rather insular. You have a minority of people that “gets it,” while Satan has blinded the rest. And God will destroy most of the world in his wrath, preserving only a righteous remnant. There isn’t much “all is one” there!
I was cheering Hick on when I read parts of his essay, largely because of my own bitterness towards evangelicalism. He said, for example, that Christians are not morally superior to people in other religions. It’s not that they’re worse. It’s just that they’re not much better. Wouldn’t we expect them to be better if they had access to the Holy Spirit, something that non-Christians lack? That’s why Hicks doesn’t believe that one religion is better than another.
I remember raising a similar question years ago in an undergraduate Bible study. I pointed out to the leader that non-Christians can lead moral lives. He acknowledged that they could and often did, but that something is missing from their belief system: the idea that God sacrificed himself out of love for humanity. Other religions have God’s love. But does it run as deep as the love of the Christian God?
Next, I’ll be reading Clark Pinnock’s defense of inclusivism, the notion that other religions can be a preparation for the truth of Christianity. At the moment, all I can say is this: Hick’s views are tempting, but I’m not sure if I, as a Christian, can embrace them wholly.