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TAKING OTHER RELIGIONS SERIOUSLY: SOME IRONIES IN THE CURRENT DEBATE ON A CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY OF RELIGJ:ONS * 1GAvIN D'CosTA West London Institute of Higher E'ducation Isleworth, Middlese111 HE QUESTION oi Christian attitudes to the world eligions is becoming increasingly important. An lnterpretatwn of Religion is emblematic of a growing trend, which runs across 1denominational lines, that attempts fo take other ,religions seriously. John Hick .argues that for most of its ihistory Christianity has hrud a rpolitioaUy and theologicrully imperialist attitude towards the ireligions of the world. Superiority :and uninformed arrogance have generally prev:ailed with the accompanying attitude that the religions of the world 1aire 1 generally sinful and incapable of being 1 salvific. The 1 time has come foT a change of a;ttitude: the wol"ld reHgions must be taken seriously :and this means ·affil"ming them as alternative paths to salvation, possibly neither worse nor better than·Christianity. This Hick cru1ls a "pluralistic" outlook. The agenda is irrudical and Hick's Vioice is not solitary. Hick'1 s hook !is a ma;gisteri:al 4rn paiges and is ibrused on his Giffol'ld Lectmes of 1986-87. It contains cons!i.derruble indological , philosophicail and theological material, hut in what follows I shall ,be dea1ing with one aspect oll!ly, his argument for p1uiialism. Hick is acknowledged :as a leading irepresentative of this pluralistic approach. Initially he began as a conservative ,and exclusivist Christian ,and has over the years enoompassed a wide !l.'ange of thoofogica1 positions now ,culminating *John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). 519 520 GAVIN D'COSTA in this p11esent rbook.1 In :this review discussion I propose that many o[ the most mdical strategies in the theology of re1ligions in 'Spite 0£ their wish to take other rreligions seriously have an il'!Onic tendency to do just the opposite! In attempting to be genuinely accommodating to the 11eligions 0£ the world, Hick, I will argue, unwittingly ends up in danger of accommodating none, including Christianity. This tendency, which iI believe to 1be clearly illustrated in Hick's rrecent rbook, is shared in various degrees hy numerous theologians pursuing a, pluralist p111oject similar to that of Hick's.2 It would he foolish to assume they are " all the 'Saime," hut they certainly share common theological and philosophical tendencies which I wish to isolate and comment on. I should 1state dearly that iby such a critique I do not intend to discount the possibility that 1 a:ll religions ma,y lead fo God, but that the stmtegies often employed to a111g111e .for this are deepJy problematic. ~o put Hiok"s new rbook into :perspective it will he helpful to wace its genesis 1briefly. In 1973, using an astronomical analogy, Hick suggested a Copernican revolution in the Christian theoology of rreligions whereby Christians should "shift from the 1 He began, in his own words, as a "strongly evangelical and indeed fundamentalist " Christian: see God Has Many Names (London: Macmillan, 1980), p. 2. See also my analysis of his entire pilgrimage in John Hick's Theology of Religions (London/New York: University Press of America, 1987). 2 For some of those on Hick's trajectory, see A. Race, Olllristians and Religious Pluralism (London: SCM, 1983); Paul Knitter, No Other Name'! (New York: Orbis, 1985); Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); R. Ruether, Pluralism and Ohristology; the latter three and other influential co-contributors (including Hick) are to be found in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Towards a Pluralistio Theology of Religions, ed. J. Hick and P. Knitter (New York: Orbis, 1987). More recently, we can see the extremely thin line between pluralists and essentialist "inclusivists" in E. Hillman, Many Paths·: A Oatholic Approach to Religious Pluralism (New York: Orbis, 1989), who marries K. Rahner and W. C. Smith, divorces faith from history and tradition , and thereby provides an essentialist analysis. See the pertinent comments of K. Surin on Smith's essentialist project in "An Examination of the Discourse of John Hick and Wilfred Cantwell Smith", in Religious Pluralism and Unbelief, ed. I. Hamnett (London, Routledge...


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