Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Religion versus the Religions: The Dialectic of Divine Reality and Human Response in Karl Barth and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Religion versus the Religions: The Dialectic of Divine Reality and Human Response in Karl Barth and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Article excerpt

Recent philosophical work on the question of religious diversity has revolved around the pluralist hypothesis of John Hick, according to which the different religious traditions of humanity are valid responses to the same transcendent Reality, and responses to Hick offered by defenders of mainline Christian positions who have charged that his position suffers from certain inconsistencies and ignores the presence of deep-seated conflict of truth-claims across these traditions. (1) Hick developed his views over the years against the standpoint of Christian exclusivism, which holds that Christianity is the only true faith, which implies, according to him, that many individuals will not attain the highest end of human existence, namely, communion with the God of love.

Roughly half a century before Hick, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan leveled a similar set of criticisms against Karl Barth, who is often regarded in the current literature as the paradigmatic example of an "exclusivist," for making a sharp distinction between God's self-disclosure in the Christian "Religion" and the world "religions." Sharply criticizing Barth's view that no reasoned justification of the Christian claims can be provided outside the circle of Christian faith as "fundamentalist," (2) Radhakrishnan instead offered the attitude of Hinduism toward the other faiths, which, he argued, was based on the conviction that the religious life was rooted in the depths of every human soul. It is, therefore, ironic that some recent scholars of Radhakrishnan have pointed out the centrality in his thought of a parallel disjunction between Advaita Vedanta as the "Religion" and the historical "religions," arguing that this interpretation of religious diversity in terms of an Advaitic framework is ultimately a faith-stance. That is, Radhakrishnan's conception of the "true religion" in terms of a self-validating intuitive awareness of one's identity with the ultimate transpersonal reality is arguably as "exclusivist" as the Barthianism it opposes.

However, if God's revelation in Christ and Radhakrishnan's intuitive experience are two distinct interpretive lenses through which the religions are to be viewed, this divergence of standpoints raises the important question of the possibility of dialogue between a proponent of Radhakrishnan's views and a Barthian. In dealing with this question, we shall (a) outline Radhakrishnan's distinction between the religion of the Spirit and the historical religions, then (b) discuss some recent interpretations of Barth's theology not as "exclusivist" but as a form of "committed pluralism," and, finally, examine the implications of our results in (a) and (b) for interreligious understanding.

I.

For Radhakrishnan, there are two broad categories of "religion": first the "monistic" religions that emphasize the immanence of the Spirit in the realm of phenomenal reality, and second the "theistic" religions that regard the Spirit as an Other with whom one can enter into communion but cannot become assimilated. (3) These differences are legitimized by the fact that they are partly a product of an individual's temperament, one's location in a finite cultural environment, and one's daily experiences--and out of this crucible there emerge different religions with distinct emphases. The sages of the Upanishads affirm repeatedly the transience and the unreality of the world; the Buddha's way of liberation is grounded in his acute realization of the suffering that is inbuilt within existence; the Hebrew prophets and Muhammad were, in their own ways, struck by the majesty of a supreme God of righteousness; Protestant Christians regard God as the loving Father ever-willing to welcome them even when they have, like prodigal children, strayed away from God; and Catholic Christians and Sakta Hindus view God as the compassionate and loving Mother. Therefore, Radhakrishnan emphasizes at several places in his writings that the different religions of the world, with the specific impulses and values that they embody, should come together in a relationship of mutual friendship so that they are regarded "not as incompatibles but as complementaries, and so indispensable to each other for the realization of the common end. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.