By David Cramer
A Giant in Our Midst
John Hick, a pioneering interfaith theologian, died February 9, 2012, at the age of 90. This brief summary of his work is taken from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the link at the end of the article takes you to David Cramer’s biography and overview of Professor Hick’s contribution to philosophy and interfaith thinking.
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John Hick is arguably one of the most important and influential philosophers of religion of the second half of the twentieth century. As a British philosopher in the Anglo-analytic tradition, Hick did groundbreaking work in religious epistemology, philosophical theology, and religious pluralism.
As a young law student, Hick underwent a strong religious experience that led him to accept evangelical Christianity and to change his career direction to theology and philosophy. This experience would prove not only life-altering but also important for his subsequent philosophical views. Early in his career, Hick argued that Christian faith is based not on propositional evidence but on religious experience. He thus defended Christian faith against the evidentialist criticisms of the then dominant logical positivists. During this stage Hick also developed his Irenaean “soul-making” theodicy in which he argued that God allows evil and suffering in the world in order to develop humans into virtuous creatures capable of following his will.
In the late 1960s, Hick had another set of experiences that dramatically affected his life and work. While working on civil rights issues in Birmingham, he found himself working and worshiping alongside people of other faiths. During this time he began to believe that sincere adherents of other faiths experience the Transcendent just as Christians do, though with variances due to cultural, historical, and doctrinal factors. These experiences led him to develop his pluralistic hypothesis, which, relying heavily on Kant’s phenomenal/noumenal distinction, states that adherents of the major religious faiths experience the ineffable Real through their varying culturally shaped lenses. Hick’s pluralistic considerations then led him to adjust his theological positions, and he subsequently developed interpretations of Christian doctrines, such as the incarnation, atonement, and trinity, not as metaphysical claims but as metaphorical or mythological ones. However, despite Hick’s changes theologically, many of his underlying philosophical positions remained largely intact over the course of his long career.
Hick’s most influential works include Faith and Knowledge, Evil and the God of Love, Death and Eternal Life, The Myth of God Incarnate(ed.), and An Interpretation of Religion. Other of his significant works include Arguments for the Existence of God,God Has Many Names, The Metaphor of God Incarnate, A Christian Theology of Religions, The New Frontier of Religion and Science, and his widely used textbook, Philosophy of Religion.