METAPHYSICS AND CROSS-CULTURAL TRUTH IN RELIGION
Sweet, William - St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, B2G 2W5 Canada)
The plurality of religions and worldviews, not only throughout the world, but within most cultures and nations, is something of which we are all aware. But how we respond to these different faiths or worldviews, and what we can learn from them, depends on what we understand their adherents to be doing when they express their faith or worldview.
Adherents of these different faiths would say that they are not just expressing their sentiments or commitments, but are claiming that what they say is true. But is it possible to talk of 'truth' when we are faced with the plurality of religions? And so we are led to ask if the utterances of believers really are the sorts of things that can be true, how we should respond to them, and even whether we can say that some religions are true or are better than others. This is a matter which, in the last quarter century, John Hick has made some effort to address, and Hick's solution has attracted sympathetic attention.
According to Hick, one can hold a theory of religious pluralism and yet still talk about the meaning and truth of religion. He identifies three levels within religious traditions--the historical, the quasi historical, and that which concerns issues about ultimate reality and which reflects the salvific promise (i.e., ways of conceiving and experiencing or awareness of the divine), suggesting that while religions may be opposed at the first, historical, level, it is the third level that makes a tradition genuinely religious and that here religions are generally not opposed to one another.
Hick's view is interesting and valuable because it attempts to take both religious plurality and the claims of other world views (e.g., scientific world views) seriously. Admittedly, there are some problems with Hick's approach. Still, despite such inadequacies, Hick points to a number of important features of religion which allow for the articulation of a more robust account of religious belief and religious truth. And this allows us to construct a view that can help to address the challenges arising out of the encounter of religions and religious truth in a cross or multi-cultural setting.
I will argue that, while religious beliefs are not simply attitudes to or opinions about the world and while they reflect the noetic or epistemological framework of the believer, they also reveal something about the world. And so they must be 'in contact' with other beliefs--there must be commensurability among religious beliefs and other beliefs, and even some kind of commensurability between one religious tradition and another.
Such a view holds that it is appropriate to say that there are understandings of ultimate reality that are true. Not only this, there can be cross cultural conflict--and cross cultural agreement--among religions and, by extension, conflict and agreement with other systems of belief (e.g., with science). There is, then, 'shared ground' among religious traditions and worldviews. And so religious plurality, as such, is not incompatible with the idea of religious truth.
I conclude by suggesting what some of this shared ground is--and I indicate that we can see how a religious tradition or worldview can conflict or be compatible with other worldviews in exactly the same way that religions can be so with morality (for example, with questions about how one ought to treat other humans, animals, and the environment).