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Hicks Hypothesis: the Key to Peace?

In this paper, I will argue that John Hicks pluralist hypothesis may be the key
to peace amongst the adherents of the worlds religions. As an atheist, there
are aspects of his hypothesis that I am unable to accept due to a lack of
evidence that supports the basic assertions behind the hypothesis.
However, even I would be able to co-exist happily and peacefully in a world
of religious people who could embrace his hypothesis. I will discuss the
issues with exclusivism, inclusivism, and why I believe that pluralism, as
proposed by Hick, is the only way to ensure that people of all belief systems
can live together in peace.

Religious exclusivism is the belief that there is only one true religion for
humanity. The reasons for this belief is usually tied to religious beliefs in
salvation, or the religions soteriology. One of the areas in which most
religions differ is the understanding of humanitys relation to their god(s) so
a belief that humanity can be saved/reconciled/reunited with god(s) can be a
strong motivation to exclusivity.

There are a few major problems with exclusivism. I believe the biggest flaw
of exclusivism, is the inherent contradiction between exclusivism and
omnibenevolence. Omnibenevolence is the attribute of being perfectly

good/loving to all. I would argue that there are certain clear conclusions that
follow the attribution of omnibenevolence to god(s). An omnibenevolent god
or gods would ensure that a clear path to salvation exists and that this was
communicated to all of humanity, to ensure that everyone could be saved.
Anything other than this is unjust and a contradiction of the attribute of
omnibenevolence. The proponents of exclusivist faith traditions cannot
escape the inherent injustice of holding all people to a standard for salvation
that may never have even been communicated to them. If one has never
been exposed to the correct faith, then they lose any opportunity for
salvation by default.

Another issue with exclusivism is that it does not account for the fact that
there are many people of other faith traditions that would be considered
righteous and even saintly by adherents of the exclusive faith. One question
that arises when discussing religion is should religious people adhere more to
correct belief (orthodoxy) or correct living (orthopraxy)? I would imagine that
there are very few Christians would demonize Gandhi as an ungodly person
yet, he was a faithful Hindu. Does living a saintly life count for nothing in the
eyes of any god? Another thing to note is that it appears religious
experiences of differing kinds can still produce the same results in human
beings. This appears to be another indicator that the exclusivist position is

Inclusivism isnt necessarily another strain of religious thought but, in my

opinion, more a reaction against the excesses of exclusivism. Inclusivism
still shares the idea with exclusivists that their religion is the only true one
but, allows for the idea that their deity, being omnibenevolent, has allowed
for other paths to salvation. This allows the adherents of inclusive religious
belief to still feel that they are correct in their belief, while providing a
defense against ascribing injustice to their deity.

One issue that I have with inclusivism is that it renders itself indefensible by
its adherents. We see this consistently in the struggle between moderate
and fundamentalist religious adherents. An example is the current struggle in
the Islamic world where religious fundamentalists attack and kill their
moderate co-religionists. Fundamentalists believe that their more inclusive
brethren have disregarded or diminished key tenets of their faith and so they
are acting as guardians of the truth. How can a proponent defend against
the accusations of the fundamentalists if they also believe that their faith is
true and the only correct way to salvation? It appears they cannot, without
ultimately arguing for a higher understanding that lies outside of the faith as
it is currently understood. Essentially, proponents of inclusivism find
themselves in a precarious position religiously. They either find themselves

agreeing with the fundamentalists and becoming more exclusive, living as

virtual or actual heretics in their faith, or leaving the faith altogether.

John Hick hypothesizes that all of the worlds religions are human constructs
that attempt to describe our understanding of a transcendent, ineffable
Reality. He uses this idea to reconcile the different conceptions of godhood,
salvation, and the correct way to live. Hicks idea of the Real as it is in itself
and what we perceive as Reality creates a juxtaposition that I see as the key
to peaceable co-existence of all religious and non-religious human beings.
One thing that I noted is that Hick appears to mythologize religion in order to
subsume it within the concept of the Real in Itself. Another thing to note is
that Hick doesnt define what this Reality is. This is actually a good thing
because, if he did attempt to describe or attribute traits to the Real in Itself,
then he would have to provide evidence that he admitted he would not be
able to provide. Hick explains that Reality is currently and may be forever
unknowable. Because of this, one could argue effectively that every religious
faith is simply an attempt at describing a portion of what can or is
conjectured about the Real in Itself. No matter how contradictory each of
these faith claims are, they become placeholders or signs pointing toward
the ultimate truth, not truth in and of themselves.

Whatever my personal issues are with the fact that Hicks failing to define
the Real in Itself (in fact he states that the ultimate Reality may never be
known), it appears to dissolve all religious differences into a sea of
possibilities that allow for the creation of infinite conceptualizations of
religion. I would argue that while this is pluralist in a sense, because
ultimately all expressions of faith (or even the lack of faith) are rooted in
Reality, that this Reality is the only truth, however unlikely we are to
understand it fully.

In conclusion, Hick gives humanity a way out from the limitations imposed
upon us by the proponents of exclusivism and inclusivism. By accepting the
idea of the Real in Itself and grounding all expressions of religious belief in
this idea, humanity can hold to some of its most cherished traditions and
eliminate the atrocities and inhuman acts committed by those who claim to
have sole ownership of the truth of God.