Theology Essays – Rainbow of Faiths
Theology Essays – Rainbow of Faiths

Theology Essays – Rainbow of Faiths

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Evaluation of John Hick's Defense Mechanism in "The Rainbow of Faiths"

In this paper, I will assess John Hick's defense of his position in his book The Rainbow of Faiths (Hick, J. 1995). I will provide a brief historical and theological background to the argument and then review Hick's book. I will evaluate whether or not Hicks successfully defends his version of spiritual pluralism, which argues that the various world religions are different but equally valid ways of understanding and responding to the ultimate reality of faith (Hick, 1995:149).
Background: The debate about God's nature and existence, particularly within Christianity, originated from the arguments in the 18th century concerning reason and faith. Arguments for God's existence based on natural theology often ignored Christ. However, with Kant and later Schleiermacher, discussions about God became closely connected to discussions about Christ, despite con


sidering Jesus merely an example of moral and spiritual life. In contrast, Barth placed Christ at the core of theology. According to Barth's theology, knowledge of God as transcendent is only possible through the Incarnation. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the rise of comparative religious studies which exposed a fundamental disagreement between Barth's understanding of Christ and competing assertions from other religious traditions.Barth compared the dialogue between Christianity and other religions to howling with wolves. However, despite his critique, scholars' growing interest in understanding other religions resulted in the inaugural Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893. While this event has been seen as an expression of Christian Universalism, it also acknowledged the importance of fostering dialogue between Christianity and other religions. This eventually gave rise to interfaith dialogue and theologies

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concerning world religions.

D'Costa and Race identify three fundamental positions within religious dialogue and theologies of world religions: exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. Exclusivism maintains that there is only one true religion while all others are false or misguided. Inclusivism argues that although all religions may contain some truth, only Christianity possesses complete truth as the supreme religion. Pluralism asserts that every faith holds partial versions of the truth and shares a connection through one Universal Spirit.

It is worth noting that these three positions represent Christian perspectives on engaging with other faiths in dialogues. The question arises regarding their stance when considering that other faiths have no influence over the development of such theological frameworks. Clooney (1989) raises this concern by asking if other faiths can play a role in shaping Christian theology regarding various faiths and promoting interfaith dialogues (Clooney, 1989:201).In his work on the Rainbow of Faiths, John Hick acknowledged the challenge of maintaining a Christ-centered religion when encountering other world religions. He advocated for a revolutionary shift in Christianity, proposing that God should be placed at the center instead of Christ. This shared center would establish the basis for a theology encompassing all world faiths (Hick, 1977). Hick begins The Rainbow of Faiths by addressing the theological crisis faced by Christianity at the end of the twentieth century (as of 1995 when he wrote this). This crisis is manifested in the intellectual dilemma presented by diverse faiths, which Hick believes is both a theological and philosophical issue. The central concern lies in how different spiritual traditions respond to what he calls "the Real," referring to the Divine or Ultimate existence. The book itself is

based on lectures delivered by Hick in April 1994 at Union Theological Seminary, known as the Auburn Lectures. To present his arguments, Hick constructs a dialogue between two characters: Phil, a philosopher, and Grace, a theologian. During these lectures, two PhD students assumed the roles of Phil and Grace. In order to illustrate how various faith traditions reflect divine light differently, Hick uses the metaphor of a rainbow. This choice highlights his pluralistic perspective and is explained further in the foreword (Hick's viewpoint).In reference to addressing the rational problem in divinity and doctrine, the writer argues that theological and philosophical dialogue serves to not only find agreement but also to identify differences more precisely and examine arguments for and against a given question (Hick:1995:2). According to Hick, the topic of pluralism is controversial among churches, which range from conservative orthodoxy to broad relativism. However, he aims to convince his dialogue partners and readers that a pluralistic approach can be embraced within a Christian framework and is gaining interest from both Christian and non-Christian individuals. In regard to incorporating various faiths into theology, Hick contends that theological understanding evolves over time, with what was once suitable in the past possibly no longer being appropriate due to cultural changes in the present or future. Hick also critiques the belief of Christian moral domination where Christianity is viewed as the sole religion founded by God with followers having a closer relationship with God than others. He questions whether empirical observation supports this belief or if it is merely an a priori claim. Additionally, Hick recognizes the multi-faith nature of contemporary society, particularly in Britain following World War II

and increased migration of former commonwealth citizens resulting in changes within its religious landscape.According to Hick (1995:12), the presence of diverse places of worship and the recognition that newcomers are our neighbors have led to the understanding that people from different religions are not fundamentally different from us. The author also highlights that the qualities identified by St. Paul as the fruits of the spirit can be observed in individuals outside our own religious tradition, challenging the notion of Christian superiority. In light of this, Hick argues for a need for change in Christian theology to acknowledge and make sense of these facts rather than disregarding or contradicting them.

Shifting focus to soteriology, or the study of salvation, Hick emphasizes God's forgiveness and acceptance of humanity through Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection. According to Hick (1995:16), Christianity teaches that accepting Jesus as Lord, acknowledging his atoning death, and becoming part of the redeemed community known as the church is crucial for salvation and where one can witness an abundance of the fruits of the Spirit.

However, Hick points out that this perspective contradicts his earlier argument about finding these fruits in faith traditions beyond Christianity as well as non-religious individuals.Hick asserts that although he hasn't provided specific examples of these fruits in people of other religions, the importance lies in the fruits themselves. He utilizes scripture to support his argument that Jesus prioritized how individuals lived their lives over theological concepts. Additionally, Hick contends that salvation should be viewed as a transformative change within individuals, which can be recognized by its moral fruits (1995:17). The author highlights the significance of transforming human existence and transitioning from self-centeredness to

a foundation in God, referred to as "the Real" by Hick (1995:18). Whether Buddhism can adopt this foundation depends on the particular Buddhist approach under consideration. According to Hick, disciples from all faiths experience transformation through embracing existence, and he perceives all world religions as paths towards redemption and liberation rather than mere doctrines or theologies. While this perspective may hold validity, it may face criticism from adherents of Judao-Christian and Muslim beliefs who view their faith's focus as praising God rather than salvation or liberation. Hick identifies salvation/liberation as the central concern across all religious traditions and also explores various typologies of divine beings found in world religions, including those previously mentioned: exclusive, inclusive, and pluralist positions.De Costa (1986) challenges the concept of exclusivity and contends that it is centered around the belief that other faiths are inherently sinful and incorrect, while only Christ or Christianity offers a valid path (De Costa, 1986:52). Hick discusses exclusivism in his critique, specifically highlighting the Roman Catholic Church's previous assertion that salvation was exclusive to the church of Rome, a belief rejected at the Second Vatican Council. However, certain fundamentalist Protestants still maintain that redemption is limited to Christians. Hick argues that if we view redemption as a transformative experience for individuals, it becomes clear that this is not exclusive to any particular branch or even Christianity as a whole. Therefore, Christian exclusivism is not feasible. According to Hick, both the Catholic Church and most Protestants now adopt an inclusivist perspective; however, there are various forms of inclusivism. Some theologians like De Costa and Race recognize and appreciate the spiritual depth found in other religions but argue

that salvation can only be attained through Christ alone.Hick discusses different variations of the inclusivist position, with De Costa aligning with Karl Rahner's views. According to Rahner, individuals from other religions can be included in Christian redemption as "anonymous Christians." Panniker proposes the salvation/liberation model of inclusivism, suggesting that people from different faiths unknowingly follow Christ. However, Hick argues that this aligns more with his concept of pluralism rather than true Christian inclusivism. Kung opposes inclusive beliefs in universal religions, seeing it as a form of conquest and loss of identity. This raises concerns about Hick dismissing other religious traditions' uniqueness while referring to their diverse truth claims and concepts of God.

Hick's analogy comparing maps is questioned by De Costa because it implies questioning the usefulness of any faith if taken too seriously (De Costa, 1986).De Costa (year) argues that Hick's attempt to liberate religions from claims of exclusive truth may lead to the conclusion that there is nothing left of religion. However, according to Hick (1995:23), all world religions are rooted in the same reality: the Ultimate indefinable Reality can be genuinely experienced through different human constructs, such as Jaweh, the Holy Trinity, or Allah. This experience occurs at the point where reality intersects with our diverse spiritual perspectives and cultures. Hick follows Kant's distinction between noumena (the inherent nature of something) and phenomena (our perception of it). Consequently, while Hick encourages belief in transformation by the real, this reality, as he presents it, remains inaccessible to humans. He asserts that God's nature surpasses human comprehension; just as Anselm argued that God is the most perfect concept conceivable. Therefore, individuals and religions cannot assert

knowledge about God's true essence. In his book "The Philosophy of Religion" (1990), Hick proposes that different religions represent distinct expressions of religious experiences shaped by their respective cultural contexts. He draws on Phillips' notion of expressivism which posits that believers communicate their encounters with the unknowable through their lives. Despite claiming to be a realist, some argue that Hick's adoption of an expressivist approach undermines his position.The contradiction in his work is also apparent in his earlier book "The Myth of God Incarnate" (1977), where he critiques early Christians for asserting objective truth about Jesus' divinity. Wittgenstein's work suggests that most spiritual language is contextual and cannot be fully understood outside of its specific context, although it can be subject to logical debate. One major flaw in Hick's argument is its internal contradiction, as he defines a pluralist divinity of religions as having a deep regard for the human household. However, some observers argue that the concept of a common human history stems from the Enlightenment's political ideology and colonial imperialism mentality. Feminist observers contend that Enlightenment discourses claiming to speak for all actually oppress at least half of humanity by assuming a shared historical experience. This assumption poses a serious threat to Hick's argument as it disregards differences in opinion regarding the Real or Ultimate Reality.In his book, Hick provides a strong defense but fails to engage in dialogue with adherents of different faiths. This lack of engagement undermines the author's argument as they dismiss conflicting truth claims without acknowledging their distinctions. Instead, they propose a shared foundation called the "Real." However, it would have been more persuasive if they had interacted with

theologians and philosophers from non-Christian faith traditions. The bibliography includes references to works by D'Costa, Hick, King, Kung, Phillips, and Race.

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