Thursday, April 16, 2009

more mug designs!

New mug designs now available at the Kevin's Walk section of my CafePress shop. One is my "Ten Religious Questions" (see link on sidebar, under my photo); the others are "teaching" mugs, if you will, each explaining a particular religious attitude. I've covered four: exclusivism, inclusivism, convergent pluralism, and divergent pluralism. Each mug shows a little graphic that will, I hope, aid the consumer's understanding of that worldview.

Collect all five!

Here are the designs, unwarped by CafePress graphics rendering software:

If I have time, I'll be turning these into tee shirt designs as well. I debated over whether to add the Kevin's Walk URL to the "teaching" mugs, and ultimately decided against doing so, because this blog will most likely go inactive or be deleted once the walk is finished. Meanwhile, the information on those mugs will remain fresh. The "10 questions" mug, however, is tied specifically to my personal mission on the walk. I will probably alter or delete that particular design once the walk is over.

I should note a few things: the typology you see on the mugs is not something I invented. The original 3-fold typology of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism comes from religious scholars Alan Race and John Hick. Whether the typology actually works as an analytical tool for sorting religious attitudes is a matter of debate, but from what I've seen of scholarship over the past three decades, the basic template still seems to function. Thinkers like Paul Knitter have riffed off the typology; when you look at Knitter's work, you see he's providing variations on a basic theme.

My division of pluralism into the two large categories of "divergent" and "convergent" comes from the scholarship of Kate McCarthy, specifically from her chapter titled "Reckoning with Religious Difference" from the book Explorations in Global Ethics, a collection of scholarly papers on comparative religious ethics. McCarthy's chapter is one I highly recommend to anyone interested in a quick and dirty overview of the fact-- and problematic-- of religious diversity.

If I thought I'd had the space to do it, I would have provided the above explanation on each mug.



Alan C said...


In a way I hate to post this right now, in view of what you and your family are going through. But I decided to go ahead and post it now, before these links to Walk paraphernalia get too deeply buried in the back pages of your blog. Perhaps at some point in the coming days you'll find it a welcome diversion to turn your attention to purely speculative matters for a little while, but there's no hurry. And maybe other people who stumble across this post will find this of some interest.

Anyway, what I have to say has to do with the inclusivist/exclusivist/pluralist trichotomy. This set of distinctions were first formulated by Alan Race in the 1983 Christians and Religious Pluralism, and picked up by Hick in the 1995 A Christian Theology of Religions. But in An Interpretation of Religion (1989) Hick uses a more different and more fundamental typology, in which the options are naturalism, nonrealism, absolutism and pluralism. Here's a description:

"Naturalism asserts that all religious propositions about an ultimate reality are false. Nature is all that exists. Though Hick acknowledges that the universe can be interpreted from a naturalistic perspective, he does not find plausible the claim that all religious beliefs are delusionary.

"Hick rejects not only naturalism, but also a close cousin of naturalism, religious non-realism. Non-realists claim that although religious beliefs may be helpful, they do not denote objects which exist independent of one's perception. In other words, when Muslims prays five times a day to Allah, they are not praying to something or someone which actually exists independent of their perception.

"In contrast, realists claim that, 'material objects exist outside us and independently of what we take to be our perceptions of them.' Hick holds a critical realist view of religious phenomena. He believes that the objects of religious belief, with a number of qualifications, do exist independent of one's perception."

Here's the source: (And yes, I know what this writer's own agenda is, but that doesn't change the fact that his criticisms of Hick are right on the money.)

Why bring this up?

Because I don't think you're a pluralist at all. I think you're a nonrealist.

That seems evident to me from the views you hold concerning science, the philosophy of mind, and various other topics. In particular, I would call your attention to pp. 204-5 of An Interpretation of Religion, where Hick characterizes the nonrealist as holding the following 3 beliefs:

(1)The physical universe (including the consciousness generated by physical brains) it itself the only reality.
(2)The human species is a form of animal existence, part of the evolution of life on earth.
(3)The supernatural beings and states of which the religious traditions speak exist only as ideas in our minds.

Sure sounds like Kimianism to me.

I think this is a problem for pluralism as Hick presents it. Although he attempts to distinguish his own position from nonrealism, I don't think that attempt is successful, for the reasons that Keith Johnson points out in the article I quoted above. In particular, I think Hick's appeal to Kant fails. But Hick at least addresses the issue, whereas I haven't seen any mention of the nonrealist option in the stuff of yours I've read. From my limited browsing on the internet, this seems to me to be a pervasive problem among writers making use of the inclusivist/exclusivist/pluralist typology. IMO, those distinctions only make sense on firmly realist grounds.

Anyway, don't worry about any of this if it's not what you need to be thinking about right now. Stay strong.


Kevin said...


Yes, the timing is pretty awful; you'll have to practice cultivating your "nunchi." But sure, I'll take this for the divertissement it is.

Hick seems to have narrowed his focus to the categories of exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism, and naturalism by the 1990s, when his A Christian Theology of Religions came out. I don't recall much discussion in that book of nonrealism, etc.; I'd need to go back and review.

I'm not sure I get the difference between nonrealism and naturalism. Perhaps naturalism is a subset of nonrealism. I wouldn't call myself a nonrealist, though I admit I'm close. My own scientific skepticism prevents me from buying in to many of the things that most religious folks find important: the existence of a personalistic deity, the power of prayer, the idea that a martial artist can summon ki and "punch out" a candle flame in the next room, Buddhist notions of "transfer of merit" (and other superstitiously mathematical notions of karma as something that is built up, stored, etc.-- a notion I've found among more folkloric Buddhists), Jesus' bodily resurrection (and other miracles), etc.

But it seems to me that the nonrealist is pretty definite, in a distastefully dualistic way, about the nonexistence of God or other religious notions of ultimate reality. My own sympathies lie with the Zennist's nondualistic way of answering the question of whether God (or whatever) exists by saying "Don't know!" in the mu kong-an sense. Hick, in my opinion, comes close to this in his 1995 book when he emphasizes the ineffability of the Real, but because he insists on his Kantian distinctions between the noumenal and phenomenal Real, I'll never be totally on board with him and his pluralism.

What keeps me partly in the convergent pluralist camp, however, is the messiness inherent in its alternative, divergent pluralism: just how many universes does a basketball pass through when it travels from a Muslim basketball player's hands to those of his Buddhist teammate? The simplest answer seems to be "one," if we rely on Occam's Razor, which is about where Hick stands. Critics like S. Mark Heim and thinkers like Stephen Kaplan (well, Kaplan's actually a crypto-convergent pluralist, in my opinion) seem to be offering up a far messier ontology, one in which all the different gods and ultimates exist. This strikes me as metaphysically impossible and theoretically unworkable.

So: you're right to see some tension in my viewpoint, but I'm neither an out-and-out naturalist, nor (if I understand the term correctly) a nonrealist. Perhaps there's no proper label for where I stand, but for the moment, "pluralist" seems to cover the most bases, and I'm comfortable calling myself that.


PS: regarding this quote:

"He believes that the objects of religious belief, with a number of qualifications, do exist independent of one's perception."I think this is a severe misreading of Hick, but it's not the first time such a misreading has occurred. An entertaining chapter in The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity is devoted to the question of whether John Hick is really a polytheist in disguise. The argument made in that chapter is a good one, but it relies on reading Hick rather narrowly, in a way that Hick himself would likely see as a misconstrual. Hick doesn't help matters by being inconsistent in his thinking (another chapter in the same book provides an excellent critique of Hick's possibly incoherent Kantianism), but show me a thinker whose corpus of thought can stand the test of absolute consistency, especially over time.