by Bernard James Mauser, Ph.D., San Diego Christian College
The famous poem written to illustrate what happens when six blind men try to describe the elephant that none of them have seen has been used to describe religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is actually understood in at least two major ways. Sometimes the words are taken to refer to the fact that there are a plurality of religions in a society. This is unproblematic and everyone recognizes that this is the case. However, according to John Hick’s thesis, religious pluralism’s real significance is that all religions are simply different perspectives of the same reality. This second explanation is much more controversial and, although popular, has some significant problems.
Hick sees the characteristic that all religions share – namely, the belief in a higher reality – as significant. Coupled with this belief is that only by having a relation to the higher reality will we reach our highest good. Third, the only way to have a relation to the higher reality is to give oneself freely and totally to it.
Hick also wants people to accept a distinction that has been handed to him by Immanuel Kant. As Kant famously said, there is a difference between something as it appears to you and as it is in itself, so too one needs to understand there is a distinction between the Real as it is in itself, and the Real as we experience it.1 The reason for the variety of religions is basically the Real as it is in itself can be experienced in many ways and described differently.2 For Hick this is the heart of his hypothesis.3 For example, when a police officer questions many people who were witnesses to an accident, he writes many different reports about the same event. In the same way, people may experience and describe the same Reality in different ways.
To read Public Interest Institute’s INSTITUTE BRIEF, Religious Pluralism, please click HERE.