John Hick

John Hick

John Hick, one of 20th century most influential religious philosophers, was born on January 20, 1922, in Scarborough, England. His family owned a prosperous shipping business, and his parents, Mark and Aileen Hick gave equal importance to both entrepreneurship and education. Young John was an avid reader, and encouraged by his uncle, Edward Hirst who was a retired Professor and author of several books on Christian ethics, Hick devoured the works of Nietzsche, Mill, Whitehead, Freud, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Kant, the empiricists and several other philosophers by the age of 17.

Following his uncle’s advice, Hick enrolled at the Hull University and began to study law. Prior to the WWII, John had a very diversified and holistic perception of religion which had been influenced by the divinity theories presented by spiritualists, pentecostalists and theosophists. However, influenced by the bombings of WWII and the revolutionary activity around him, Hick experienced a religious transformation which he himself explains in his autobiography as “a powerful evangelical conversion to fundamentalist Christianity”. Hick adopted the fundamentalist belief of Protestantism, and decided to begin training for the ministry.

In 1941, he joined the University of Edinburgh to pursue religious studies. His education was interrupted a year later, when he received his call to military service. Hick was strongly against the notion of war and he refused to fight, therefore, he joined the Friends Ambulance Unit. Working for the FAU, Hick’s task was to provide medical services to the allied soldiers, distribute aid to civilians and other non-violent services to the allied forces. In 1945, he resumed his education at the University of Edinburgh. There he came in contact with the religious theories of Kant through Professor Kemp Smith, who was notable translator of Kant’s work. Upon discovering Kant, Hick began turning away from fundamentalism and found his religious calling in the conservation notions of Evangelicalism. In 1948, he attended Oxford, where he received his PhD with a dissertation that became famous as ‘Faith and Knowledge’ upon being published in 1957.

John Hick’s quest for religious understanding was not yet finished, soon he began drifting away from conservative religious ideologies. After receiving his doctorate, he joined Cambridge to train as a priest. He received his ordainment and got married shortly after. He began working as a parish priest in Northumberland, but he left this profession upon accepting a position at Cornell University and moved to America. He left Cornell soon after, and taught for a while at the Princeton Theological Seminary. His religious theories became increasingly liberal and he completely abandoned the Evangelical school of thought. The Americans began accusing him of heresy upon his refusal to acknowledge the virgin birth. Hick found it hard to bear the severe criticism that was directed at his work and decided to return to England upon receiving an offer to teach at Cambridge in 1963. He spent the next three years at Cambridge, during this time he wrote his most influential book ‘Evil and the God of Love’.

In 1967, he accepted the appointment to the H. G. Wood Chair of Philosophy at Birmingham University. At Birmingham University, Hick advocated against the policy that required students to study the doctrines of the Church of England regardless of their religious backgrounds. He is a strong advocate of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue. He later joined as professor of the Philosophy of Religion, Emeritus, at the Claremont Graduate University in Southern California.

Hick made several notable contributions to the field of religious philosophy. His work revolves around the evolution of his religious beliefs and the development of his pluralism. His belief in a loving and endearing God has led to his theory that such a God is highly unlikely to condemn non-Christians to hell. Similarly, Hick questions various fundamental and traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus and God. In 1973, his book ‘God and the Universe’ came out, in which he put forward the notion that all the religions in the world are actually just different interpretations of the same concept of divine reality. In 1977, he edited and published ‘The Myth of God Incarnate’ that questioned the traditional theories of the incarnation. Other influential books by Hick include Death and Eternal Life, An Interpretation of Religion Arguments for the Existence of God, God Has Many Names, The Metaphor of God Incarnate, A Christian Theology of Religions, The New Frontier of Religion and Science, and Philosophy of Religion.

John Hick died, aged 90, on February 9, 2012 in Birmingham, England.

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