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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars impressive work, but beware the subtext, April 10, 2003
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This review is from: Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion (Faith Meets Faith Series) (Paperback)
In the bumptious world of scholarly debates on religious pluralism, Mark Heim has been one of John Hick's ("An Interpretation of Religion," "A Christian Theology of Religions," etc.) most outspoken critics, and his "Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion" devotes a chapter to a rather brutal deconstruction of Hick.
Heim also tackles Wilfred Cantwell Smith and Paul Knitter, thinkers who, like Hick, see certain unitive elements in religion.

Heim's basic intention is to appear more pluralistic than Hick and Company; his own proposal is founded on an adaptation of Nicholas Rescher's "orientational pluralism," in which "one and only one position is rationally appropriate from a given perspective." Heim argues not for a Hickian salvation-liberation or a common-essence notion like Hick's neo-Kantian "Real," but for the possibility of "salvations."

Heim does this because he feels the usual "convergent" approach of common-essence pluralism squelches the richness and particularity of religions. Heim's "more plural" pluralism also leaves open the question of whether another religious perspective may in fact be wrong.

The analogy Heim uses to illustrate his view is the travel analogy. Going from DC to New York, for example, is very different from going to Honolulu from the same starting point. The MEANS to get to these places will have to vary (Greyhound bus to Honolulu from DC?), too. While various itineraries may share the very abstract notion of "travel" in common, the details of such travel are by no means "mere" details-- on the contrary, they become very significant and speak directly to the nature of the journey.

While I appreciate Heim's very significant contribution to the overall discussion of pluralism and his very clear (if overly punishing) critiques of Hick, I finished the book with a sense that Heim, an evangelical Protestant, arrived at his pluralistic proposal merely as a way to protect his evangelicalism, to which he still stubbornly cleaves (Heim's successive books seem to bear this out).

This childish attachment to old belief is precisely what Hick has been fighting against. Hick's proposal-- indeed, ALL pluralistic proposals-- demand something of their listeners: that they CHANGE. Hick demands that we work at our spirituality; Heim is proposing a "live and let live" paradigm, which sounds nice at first blush, but once you realize he's using it to justify his own evangelicalism (which isn't a "live and let live" form of Christianity-- it's an aggressively missionizing form!), you may see Heim as more than a little duplicitous.

Hick's model does have problems; various critics have beaten his "pluralistic hypothesis" to death, and Heim's 1995 "Salvations" arrived on the scene in time to provide a nice wrap-up and coup de grace. Heim's book is valuable on this score; his "orientational pluralistic" proposal is also worth study, but I recommend reading Heim on several levels.

A couple concluding remarks: First, philosophical models of religious pluralism all inevitably fail because they contain some sort of unitive element that makes them unacceptable. Heim's model also falls prey to this: in the travel analogy, all travel occurs on the surface of a single earth. Heim's model therefore allows for multiple salvations but still posits a numerically singular reality-- which is something he accuses Hick of when dealing with Hick's "Real." Hick, however, has been at pains to explain that his notion of the Real is NOT necessarily numerically singular (cf. Hick 1995)-- a crucial nondualistic point often missed in the ongoing debates over Hick.
Second: Hick, Heim, Stephen Kaplan, and others with philosophical models of pluralism all assume that religion has a soteriological dimension. I don't agree with this assumption: philosophical Taoism has no soteriology (swim with or against the Tao; it's all Tao), and so-called "primitive" religions were more about world-maintenance than personal or corporate salvation.

Anyway, I ended up writing tons of notes in the margins of Heim's book. Whether you agree or disagree with Heim, you'll find him thought-provoking and stimulating.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 29, 2007 5:42:40 AM PDT
matt says:
Useful review. Readers interested in this subject may find useful the writings of both James Cutsinger, Frithjof Schuon and Seyyed Hossein Nasr . Cutsinger is an Eastern Orthodox Christian and Schuon and Nasr are Muslim (Sufi?). They attempt to bring about a deeper understanding of what really unites us, without selling the theological, dogmatic farm. Useful reads inded.

Posted on Oct 22, 2013 3:02:03 AM PDT
Fascinating and knowledgeable review. I haven't read Heim's book yet, but I'm wondering whether his view would be amenable not only to a "live and let live" (and covertly evangelistic) perspective, but a genuine inclusiveness? I've read Cutsinger's book (very nice), as well as a good bit of Nasr's and Schoen's work, all of which has been helpful as I search for a way to live a life of faith shaped by a particular tradition (or rather, a couple of traditions) while at the same time being very uncomfortable with exclusivity.
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