Plurality; Divine Revelation and Human Response


The Thought of Muhammad Legenhausen

Before describing the thought of Legenhausen, I would like to review some points of thought both John Hick and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. According to Hick the religious plurality is human response to the Divine presence. By perennial philosophy, Nasr said that the diversity of religions appears as expressions of the one of Ultimate Reality. No matter each religion is different exoterically, but in esoteric dimension all religion is same in the way they concern to one Truth. Nasr based his argumentation on the essence of human existence in Qur’an. Humanity was created from a single soul (Qur’an: 39:6) but differentiate into different races and tribes. Briefly, the problem of religious plurality for Hick is first and foremost soteriological and moral, and subsequently epistemological and metaphysical, while for Nasr religious plurality is primarily a metaphysical or (more specifically) a theosophical problem, although he does not ignore its epistemological and moral dimension.

Both Hick and Nasr, according to Legenhausen, are rather extreme. Legenhausen states that Hick seems to err by making religion too much of a human construct, contends that religion is a genuine response to the Real, while Nasr seems to think that it all must be divine. Therefore, Legenhausen suggests taking middle position between Hick and Nasr, that we have realize that religious pluralities are human constructions as well as divine revelation contained in the religious traditions. Hick is right, Legenhausen says, that religious differences may reflect difference in human attempts to confront the Real, but he is wrong to think that the Real cannot purposefully make Itself manifest in different. Nasr is right to insist that religious plurality as revealed by God are different crystallizations of the divine message; but he is wrong to think that because of this, the doctrines accepted by the major religious traditions today are all divinely sanctioned. As a result, Legenhausen says, we should follow the lead of Nasr and Schoun and seek to explain religious diversity as required by differences in manifestation, which God arranges to accord with cultural differences. However, then we should go further and seek to understand these differences in manifestation as part of a historical process through which God realizes His plan for humanity.

Furthermore, Legenhausen criticizes Nasr’s claim that differences are caused by divine manifestations. This claim, Legenhausen says, is incompatible with the following facts: [1] cultural diversity within religions, [2] religious diversity within cultures, [3] the phenomenon of conversion, [4] revealed claim to universality, [5] revealed invitation to members of other communities to join the new faith, [6] doctrinal contradiction between religions, and [7] practical contradiction between religions. For Hick’s notion, Legenhausen says that Hick’s notion cannot be applied in Islam, because syariah places central position in Islam. Syariah is both manifestation and way to reach Allah, and Muslim have to follow Muhammad model. If syariah is just a response to Arab circumstance, surely, Islam will have many syariahs.

After all, I agree with the Legenhausen critique to Hick and Nasr that both God manifestations and human responses are basic of religious differences. This notion of Legenhausen is middle way between Hick and Nasr. Nevertheless, I agree with Nasr’s notion that every religion has esoteric (universal, transcendent) and exoteric (particular, temporal, practice) dimensions. The problem is not esoteric dimension, but exoteric. How we can live among religious differences when every religion has different practice and invites other communities to join the new religion. We can make the sameness esoteric dimension of each religion, but it cannot be applied in exoteric dimension. As a result, the notion of religious pluralism, which wants to make the sameness of each religion, is impossible to be done in religious practice (reality), unless we make a new religion taking certain aspect in every religion.

[Note: This is my assignment of Philosophy of Religion at CRCS]

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