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6 John Hick’s Monotheistic Shadow Paul Rhodes Eddy The British scholar John Hick has spent a lifetime investigating a wide range of issues related to the philosophy of religion. Today, Hick is most widely known for his articulation and defense of religious pluralism. In barest terms, Hick’s mature pluralist philosophy of world religions holds, “The great world faiths embody different perceptions of, and correspondingly different responses to, the Real from within the major variant ways of being human; and that within each of them the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness is taking place.”1 The most critical conceptual problem facing Hick’s pluralist project involves the de facto existence of radically conflicting human conceptions and experiences of the divine. The most obvious—and problematic—of these differences is the fundamental conceptual dichotomy between those religions that view the divine as a personal being and those that view it in terms of a nonpersonal principle, force, or “absolute.” Thus, from the very beginning of his move to pluralism in the early 1970s, Hick’s central apologetic project has been the construction of a viable solution to this problem of the apparently conflicting conceptions of the divine.2 Despite his best attempts, however, one of the most persistent charges leveled against Hick’s pluralism over the years is that it continues to privilege a personal over a nonpersonal conception of the divine. More specifically, the charge has been made that Hick’s ostensively tradition-neutral pluralist philosophy of religions hides, in fact, a cryptomonotheism at its very core. Here, “mono-theism” is to be understood as over against any sort of pluralistic conception of ultimate reality, on one hand, and any form of impersonal monism on the other. This paper is composed of two major sections. First, I will trace the history of the charge of cryptomonotheism in its several forms and Hick’s 117 respective counterresponses. Finally, I will argue that, while Hick’s mature pluralist apologetic does surmount some of the earlier forms of this critique, it nonetheless remains vulnerable to the charge of cryptomonotheism at several critical junctures. John Hick and the Cryptomonotheism Debate STAGE ONE: THE “COPERNICAN REVOLUTION” In the early 1970s, Hick announced his move to a pluralist theology of religions, which in his eyes amounted to a “Copernican revolution” in terms of its theological magnitude.3 With this move, Hick immediately felt the force of the conflicting conceptions of the divine problematic. His initial response to this problem was two-pronged, involving both theological-conceptual and experiential facets.4 Hick begins by suggesting, “The Hindu distinction between Nirguna Brahman and Saguna Brahman is important and should be adopted into Western religious thought.”5 In briefest terms, Nirguna Brahman literally means “God without attributes,” God as the self-existent, utterly transcendent reality that is beyond all human categories, including the “personal.” Saguna Brahman, on the other hand, refers to “God with attributes,” God as in relation to creation and thus experienced in personalistic categories. By dislocating the Nirguna-Saguna dichotomy from its specifically Hindu context, and by emphasizing God’s infinite nature, Hick argues that “the one ultimate reality is both Nirguna and non-personal, and Saguna and personal, in a duality which is in principle acceptable to human understanding.”6 Second, Hick goes on to support this distinction by suggesting that, when it comes to actual religious experience, all the major religious traditions exhibit some type of parallel dichotomization in regard to the divine. As examples, he offers the personal God Iswara and the nonpersonal absolute Brahman found within Hinduism. And within Christianity, he notes that the typically personal conception of God has been complemented by the idea of God as beyond personal by various Christian mystics.7 In spite of his attempts to rinse the nonpersonalistic Brahmanic privilege from the Nirguna-Saguna cloth, it was not long before Hick’s religious pluralism was charged with covert Vedanta Hinduism.8 Interestingly, at the same time, Hick’s pluralist model also became the target for charges of cryptotheism.9 One can identify two primary foci with regard to this latter accusation. First, in spite of his attempts to equalize the conceptions of a personal God and a nonpersonal absolute, Hick nonetheless continued to grant 118 | Can Only One Religion Be True? the moniker God most-favored terminological status when describing the ultimate divine reality. Hick was to wrestle with this terminological problem for the next decade. Second, one of Hick...


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