Imagine that three people are all touching a part of an elephant. The first is touching the elephant's leg and says that the elephant is like the truck of a tree. The second is touching the elephant's trunk and disagrees with the first, saying that the elephant is like a large snake. The third person is touching the elephant’s side and says that the elephant is like a great wall.
Each person is convinced that they are right and the others are wrong because of what they know and have experienced. What they don’t realize is that they are all technically right because they are each describing a different aspect of the elephant. The same analogy can be applied to the major religions of the world.
In 1973, John Hick discussed the idea for a paradigm shift in thinking about different religions in his book God and the Universe of Faiths. Hick suggested that each of world's religions should be viewed as "different human responses to one divine reality…." In a later book, Hick presented a theory that attempted to explain all the religions. Hick refers to this theory as a "pluralistic hypothesis" and was that all religions are culturally conditioned responses to the same ultimate reality.
Hick’s pluralistic theory faces one major difficulty though, the contradicting claims that each different religions makes. How can all major religions be responses of the same ultimate reality when they contradict one another? For a pluralistic view to be plausible, the hypothesis has to sufficiently explain how religions can make incompatible claims while at the same time be responses of the same ultimate reality.
To overcome this difficulty, Hick attempts to explain four critical factors: (1) people are inherently religious; (2) there is substantial diversity in the content of religious beliefs; (3) the assumption that religious beliefs are not an illusion; and (4) the recognition that almost every religion positively changes its followers' lives.
The first two factors are self-evident to most people, so in arguing the third factor, Hick examines two approaches to understand religious phenomena that he finds unacceptable: naturalism and absolutism. Naturalism is the belief that only natural laws and forces operate in the world and that nothing exists beyond the natural world. Though Hick acknowledges that the universe can be interpreted from a naturalistic perspective, he does not find plausible the claim that all religious beliefs are delusional.
Absolutism, in contrast to naturalism, generally accepts a realist view of religious phenomena. Absolutism also maintains that only one system of religious beliefs is exactly true and all other religions which disagree with it are false. Hick rejects this attitude, claiming that although absolutism may seem plausible when focusing on only one religion, application to the real world leaves it highly implausible. Also if absolutism were true, empirical evidence would exist to confirm it.
It is obvious that different...