Philosophy of religion refers to the philosophical examinations of the themes and concepts drawn in religious traditions alongside other broad thoughtful tasks of concerned with reflections on religious matters such as the ;nature of religion, the alternative ideas of God, and the religious significance of the general universe features (e.g. laws of life, and the Holocaust). The study of religious philosophy involves all the major areas of philosophy; value theory, metaphysics, and epistemology. John Hick is identified as one of the most influential religion philosophers in the second half of the twentieth century. While a young law student, Hick underwent a robust religious experience that made him accept evangelical Christianity as well as change his career to philosophy and theology. Hick identified three major groundbreaking approaches to faith and religion namely; religious epistemology, philosophical theology, and religious pluralism.
John Hick’s religious epistemology view served as a response to the various issues raised by analytical philosophers and logical positivists about religion. Hick attempts to demonstrate that the falsity or truth of the religious propositions has an observed difference in the life of a believer. Under this view, Hick discusses three issues namely; religious experience, eschatological verification, and religion and neuroscience. Concerning religious involvement, Hick argues that the ordinary believer gains spiritual knowledge by personally experiencing God. So, the knowledge of religion is mediated through the experience of the world; the same way other forms of knowledge in the world are gained.
The second argument supporting Hick’s philosophy deals with eschatological verification. The latter is a response to the logical positivists to show that the claims by Christians are cognitively meaningful. Hick suggests that the construal relationship between God and humans is the Noumenon behind the phenomena of religious experiences. Hick argues that Christian faith can be verified in the afterlife, although this is only applicable if the belief it true. On the same note, Hick believes that the eschatological expectations of Christians provide them with a valid claim with which the whole institution bases the truth and lies of the religion.
The third concept Hick discusses under the epistemology of religion is religion and neuroscience. Hick identifies that the practice of neuroscience provides a possible objection to religious beliefs in the twenty-first century. So, rather than judging the language religion as meaningless, the same as the approach taken by logical positivists, neuroscience finds the religious experience to be delusory. Under this assumption, Hick states that there is a corresponding physical event in the brain for every mental activity that takes place in humans. However, he identifies that brain stimulation through activities such s drug use, seizures, and brain surgery can result in non-religious experiences.
All in all, Hick summarizes the possibilities of religious experience by stating that individuals are more than a physical organism, and as such, they can not be excluded from the non-physical supra-natural reality. So, the view on epistemological philosophy makes Hick invoke the principle of critical trust, in which the experiences are veridical unless or until there is a reason to reject their veridicality.
The Irenaean “Soul-making” Theodicy is the most significant contribution to Hick’s philosophical theology on religion. In his view, suffering is a way of ensuring spiritual development among humans because such experiences are what make them develop maturity as far as their souls are concerned. Hick identified that indeed God is responsible for the pain and suffering people go through and that such experiences are not that bad as perceived by people.
In light to the Irenaean thought, humans are created in an imperfect state which allows them space to continually develop from morally immature creatures to perfect ones to fit the description of being the suitable God followers. Hick finds this as an ethically responsible judgment that God has bestowed to man because the goodness of the humans is slowly built up through the personal historical experiences of humans and their journey to the soul development process.
The other approach Hick uses to explain the philosophical theology feature is that Christology is a myth.
Hick calls for the reinterpretation of the divinity of Jesus in light to the contemporary biblical criticism and the growing criticisms of awareness and religious diversity. According to him, the narrative on the fall of human beings (Adam and Eve) from God’s grace is a myth used to provide meaning to the present situation of humans. As such, humans have a certain level of autonomy from God by being created at an “epistemic distance “from the creator. So, although humans can know God, they can only achieve this after being able to freely exercise a faith response, which Hick states can be achieved “in an uncompelled interpretive activity whereby we experience the world as mediating the divine presence.”
Hick argues that the two- natures view of Jesus as a human and fully divine is deficient. For instance, it misreads the original poetic intent of the divine titles given to him. Secondly, it is an incomprehensible view, and lastly, Hick thinks that the literal understanding of Jesus as the son of God has to be done so in a restrictive manner to the Christian tradition. Having such knowledge will not decrease, but instead will increase the importance of Jesus for global Christians.
The third discussion under this tenet by Hick is about death and the afterlife. Hick takes an empirical stance towards the notion of an afterlife by looking at the different world religions. He argues that there is the possibility of life after death. To give further clarification on this notion, Hick invokes the principle of openness to all data and attempts to withhold any bias for or against the afterlife. As a result, Hick ends up evaluating the western idea of survival, bodily resurrection, and the Eastern conceptions of rebirth in which an individual can inhabit other bodies after his or her death. Therefore, during the soul-making process, people maintain their identities which end up being devoid of any ego or evil and are filled up with unselfish love which is known as agape in the New Testament.
While in the theological seminary, Hick was doubtful of some of the Christian doctrines such as the six days that God took to create the earth, how Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the book of Genesis, and the birth of Jesus Christ through the Virgin Mary.These are some of the significant doubts which prompted him to develop a radical view of religious pluralism. Hick’s primary reason for adapting to religious pluralism stems from concerns for contemporary scientific knowledge and the experience of other religions. Hick’s thought that theology is a continuous exercise that requires the church to adjust or reconstruct continually.
Under this assumption, Hick’s looks at religious pluralism in four significant ways namely; religious ambiguity; Kantian unusual distinction and the Transcategorical real; soteriological and ethical criteria; and religious language as a mythological concept. Hick’s pluralistic approach attempts to answer four primary concerns, (a) that people are inherently religious, (b) the notions that religious beliefs are not an illusion, (c) the observation that religion is a diverse belief, and (d) that every religion has a positive influence on the lives of the followers.
The first argument (religious ambiguity) stems from Hick’s belief that religion can be a religious or non-religious experience and interpretation of the world. That is, no religion has the authority to claim to be the most authentic or true among the many religions in the quest to change the lives of the believers. Immanuel Kant’s philosophy influences Hick’s pluralism. Hick claims that the knowledge of the real can only be known in light of how it is perceived. That is, their perception of Him influences the belief of God by people. For that reason, cultural and historical contexts that affect the perception of humans are necessary for the knowledge of the Real concept given that the experience they have is based on their cultural and ancient beliefs.
Concerning the soteriological and ethical criteria, Hick states that the primary goal of each of the major religions worldwide is to make the humans change from being self-centered to being Reality centered. In his view, the salvation of humans through religion is dependent on this transformation. Subsequently, in discussing religious language as mythology, Hick emphasizes that the Real is mysterious and that all the jargon or things people know about religion are myths. So, although the religious language in untrue, it tends to evoke an appropriate dispositional attitude towards the Real.
In summary, Hick’s religious pluralism view identifies that: there is no Real, the divine reality, which is the ultimate source of religious experience; the religious traditions do not influence the Real; the Real is uniquely represented in an authentic way per given tradition; and that the Real goes beyond all descriptions, both definite, and contrary.