Eating Sugar, Becoming Sugar, Both, or Neither? Eschatology and Religious Pluralism in the Thought of John Hick, Sri Ramakrishna, and S. Mark Heim

In Sharada Sugirtharajah (ed.), John Hick’s Religious Pluralism in Global Perspective. Springer Verlag. pp. 157-178 (2022)
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Abstract

This chapter explores the interrelation of religious pluralism and eschatology in the thought of John Hick and brings him into dialogue with the nineteenth-century Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna. According to Hick’s mature position, various world religions are equally capable of leading to salvation, since all the various religious conceptions of ultimate reality are different culturally conditioned ways of conceiving one and the same unknowable “Real an sich.” The contemporary Christian theologian S. Mark Heim convincingly argues that Hick’s theory of religious pluralism is less pluralistic than it appears, since Hick conceives the final postmortem state of salvation in vague and monolithic terms, thereby failing to honor the variety of specific religious fulfillments taught by the world religions. Building on Heim’s critique of Hick, I make the case that Ramakrishna’s experientially grounded theory of religious pluralism has significant philosophical advantages over Hick’s theory, since Ramakrishna accepts the equal reality and value of both theistic and non-theistic forms of salvation. According to Ramakrishna’s expansive eschatology, some souls choose to “eat sugar” by remaining in eternal loving communion with the personal God, while other souls prefer to “become sugar” by merging their individuality in the impersonal Absolute.

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Swami Medhananda
University of California, Los Angeles

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