When John Hick (1922- ) published a collection of essays entitled God Has Many Names back in 1982, he wasn’t the first writer to adopt the notion that all the religious traditions are, at core, one, and that the differences in religious practices and doctrines are the result of the different locales and cultures in which humans find themselves. There have been others, including the poet and artist William Blake, who, late in the eighteenth century, wrote and illustrated a little book called All Religions Are One.
But it is Hick who has made the fullest argument for this notion. His grand theory is spelled out in great detail in his 1989 tome, An Interpretation of Religion, which is tellingly subtitled Human Responses to the Transcendent.
Who is John Hick?
The first thing he tells us in an autobiographical essay is that as a child, he was taken every Sunday to an Anglican church, where he found the services infinitely boring.
Many of us, Anglican or otherwise, recognize the sentiment. But none of us have spent our lives moving from a brief fling with theosophy, converting to fundamentalism, joining the Presbyterian Church of England, becoming a conscientious objector, joining an ambulance unit during World War II, writing a few theological books before moving to Birmingham, England where, it seems, there were large Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Jewish communities, which provided friends with whom he found common ground. The latter experience led him to see the world religions as just so many responses to the Eternal One, the divine Reality that seeks “to be known and responded to by man, and [seeks] through man’s free responses to create the human animal into (in our Judeo-Christian language) a child of God, or toward a perfected humanity.”
To be brief, this vision bought him trouble with Christian authorities but later led to his selection to give the prestigious Gifford Lectures that became An Interpretation of Religion.