Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 264-272
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Theistic Humanism and the Hermeneutic Appraisal
of the Doctrine of Salvation
Chiedozie Okoro
Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos Akoka, Yaba, Nigeria
Received September 22nd, 2012; revised October 20 th, 2012; accepted November 7th, 2012
This essay uses theistic humanism as a super structure to do a hermeneutic appraisal of the doctrine of
salvation in a pluralistic world. It operates on the assumption that reality is multidimensional, just as hu-
man belief systems and cultural perspectives are diverse. More importantly, is the point that most coun-
tries on the African continent house a potpourri of belief systems, prominent among which are Christian-
ity, Islam and Traditional African Religion (ATR). Thus, theistic humanism offers us the opportunity to
do a pluralistic assessment of salvation, thereby making myriad interpretations of the notion of salvation
possible. Again, the essay neither intends to examine the meaning of God nor is it interested in analyzing
how God gets manifested in human existence. Rather, the basic objective is to consider the various ways
in which salvation has been conceived in relation to the human condition. In the process of our delinea-
tion, it shall be shown that salvation as a doctrine can be conceived from two principal angles which are:
1) the perspective of religion and 2) the non-religious or secularist perspective. Whereas the first presents
other-worldly account of salvation, the second presents a this-worldly account of salvation. The import
here is that since in the most ordinary sense, God is all about perfection and human goodness, it implies
that the quest for salvation in whatever dimension, deliberately or inadvertently, amounts to the search for
the ultimate essence or the most perfect state of reality which religions call God. Consequently, the bur-
den of this essay is to show that salvation is an ideal state of reality which humankind is striving to attain.
Bearing in mind that humans as free beings that have the capacity to interpret salvation either anthropo-
centrically or theocentrically, thereby, making the myriad presentations of salvation possible; one is of the
view that metaphysical notions of reality are also contagious of salvation. Hence, for monists and reduc-
tionists the way to salvation is narrow and single, while for the pluralists the way to salvation may be
narrow but diverse. Thus, since the hermeneutic appraisal of salvation is hinged on the assumption that
belief systems are diverse and multi-faceted, the essay privileges the pluralistic presentation of salvation
over and above the monistic presentation of salvation.
Keywords: Theistic Humanism; Hermeneutics and Salvation
Hermeneutic delineation of any issue is meant to yield inter-
pretations which are intended to reveal or bring to light facts
which hitherto appear hidden. The hermeneutic procedure is
sometimes referred as the dialectics of concentric circles be-
cause, the hermeneutic method is usually cyclical in projection,
propped up by the principle of duality, which in turn, mutates
on a trilogy. The trilogy in the hermeneutic procedure com-
prises analysis, revelation and synthesis. This makes the her-
meneutic discourse to proceed in circles or simply cycl ical. Th e
cyclic nature of hermeneutic discourse shows that things in the
universe are interconnected, that is to say, the conflict in the
universe notwithstanding. In essence, the hermeneutic method
does not see the conflict of opposites as antagonistic. Herme-
neutic appraisal of events or arguments sees the conflict of
opposites as natural and therefore, complementary. The com-
plementarity of opposites in this instance, defines what we have
designated as the concept of duality in hermeneutic discourse.
Due to the peculiar nature of the hermeneutic procedure,
Martin Heidegger makes strict distinction between “logos as
logic” and “logos as discourse”. The former depicts logos as
ratio, logical deliberation or ratiocination, while the latter por-
trays logos as understanding, intelligibility, that which reveals
or brings a thing into light. This act of revealing things in a new
light is designated by Heidegger as the “hermeneutic situation”
(1962: p. 275). Accordingly, he explains that: “The function of
“logos as discourse” is to make clear that which is talked
about” (p. 59). The distinction made between “logos as logic”
and “logos as discourse” marks the difference between tradi-
tional logic and hermeneutics. Whereas the former delights in
critical discussion of issues, the latter moves from critical dis-
cussion of issues to interpreting issues in a new light in such a
way that vistas of images are opened up, which should crystal-
lize into new concepts.
Expectedly, the hermeneutic appraisal of salvation is bound
to proceed cyclically and in this concentric cyclical delineation,
new interpretations shall be created which would seem to de-
flate existing platitudes. Nevertheless, the intent is not to foist
meanings upon existing theories, but to review them in a new
light. Besides, the subjection of the doctrine of salvation to the
hermeneutic crucible, privileges the juxtaposition of views,
thereby, making the procedure of our discourse rigorous and the
language terse. The rigour of discourse and the terseness of
language here posited, derive from the fact that our act of theo-
rizing intersperses three principle areas namely philosophy,
religion and politics. The objective is to examine how philoso-
phical discourse can assist in fashioning out a way of mitigating
religious conflict, which in turn generates political unrest,
thereby, making our discourse to be speculative, comprehensive
and technical.
Furthermore, the hermeneutic appraisal of salvation is meant
to be existential, it is neither existentialist nor is it about exis-
tentialism. The word existential is an adjective which describes
or qualifies the noun existence or human existence in general.
The word existentialist can either be a noun or an adjective. As
a noun it refers to a philosopher who belongs in the school of
existentialism, in which case its plural form will be existential-
ists. As an adjective it refers not to the philosopher but to the
school existentialism itself. The term existentialism, on the
other hand, is “a philosophical movement which begun in the
19th century centered on individual existence that denies that
the universe has any intrinsic meaning or purpose, it requires
people to take responsibility for their own actions and shape
their own destinies” (Microsoft Encarta Premium, 2009). This
means that whereas the word existential refers to the totality of
human existence or human existence in general, existentialism
would refer to a thought process for speculating about human
existence, while existentialist describes the person who specu-
lates about human existence as well as this act of speculating
about human existence.
From the hermeneutic point of view therefore, we regard
salvation as the soul or mind of humankind striving to attain an
ideal state of reality. It is a transition and a transformation to
perfection. In religious terms, perfection would mean a state of
total freedom, emancipation and finality, beyond which there is
no further change. But from the secular point of view, perfec-
tion is ongoing activity to which there is no end. In phenome-
nological terms, we speak of the theory of self-reflexivity as
that way of cultivating the attitude of watch over self, otherwise
described as the attitude of eternal vigilance. Again, in religion,
humans as finite, sentient and imperfect, yet free beings, strive
ceaselessly towards the attainment of perfection by way of
letting their souls harmonize with an ideal state of infinite, per-
fect and absolute reality called God. Religion assumes that man
is finite and imperfect, this accounts for the reason why man
strives to attain a state that is infinite and perfect. Religious
notion of salvation as such is the struggle of the finite to be-
come infinite, the imperfect to become perfect and the trans-
formation of the mortal into the immortal, the immanent into
the transcendent etc. Religiously, man conjectures that there are
“this world” and “the other world”, “the world of here” and
“the world of there”. In this sense, salvation becomes the strug-
gle by man to attain the status of the God reality. Hence, the
bases for religious notion of salvation include factors such as
evil, sin, judgment and after life. Because there is afterlife,
there is death (i.e. a transition from mortal to immortal). Be-
sides, concepts such as hope and faith (in the unknown) make
sense because there is eternal life. Perhaps it is in this sense that
Norris Clarke states as follows:
In some real and genuine way God is affected positively
by what we do, that he receives love from us and experi-
ences joy precisely because of our responses; in a word,
that his consciousness is contingently and qualitatively
different because of what we do … it is that God is con-
stantly working in and through us with his supportive and
collaborative power, supporting both being and action of
every creature. But he allows this power to be determi-
nately channeled by the respective natures, especially the
free-will decisions of creatures. God lets us be according
to our own free initiatives (1 977: pp. 92,96).
In religion, God as infinite spirit supposedly stands detached
from, yet directs the affairs of mortals who are expected to call
upon their free-will and use their initiatives to bring into reality
God’s plan. This sounds paradoxical if not contradictory. To
overcome this anomaly in religious notion of salvation, secu-
larism makes the quest for salvation an entirely human affair.
Hence, in the Kantian sense, we say, the quest for salvation is a
self-imposed obligation.
Secularism treats salvation as the struggle by humans to-
wards self-realization, self-actualization and self-emancipation,
which should result into the improvement of the human condi-
tion. This may be the reason why contrary to Sartre, Heidegger
appraises death in a positive light. From the Heideggerian per-
spective, death is regarded as a natural process of ensuring
balance or order on earth. The fact is that without death the
earth will become impossible and uncomfortable to live in.
Death inspires our hopes, it makes us to be resolute and focused,
it rekindles our ambitions to strive and fortifies our plans to
achieve and to conquer. This view of Heidegger seems to con-
firm the secularist position that salvation is entirely a this-
worldly affair. Perhaps, it is along this line of thought that Sar-
tre completely rejects the idea of a cosmic policeman who
oversees human affairs. Sartre and most existentialists see the
cosmos and the things therein as utensils for the use of humans.
Faith then becomes ambition, while hope is propelled by aspi-
Nevertheless, religion and secularism hold issues as void or
nothingness, culture and morality, and judgment and punish-
ment as germane to the doctrine of salvation, though with some
degree of differences. The void or nothingness we talk about
here simply refers to a primeval state or point from which for-
mation begun, which is regarded to be boundless and limitless.
For instance, in the Egyptian and Christian cosmogonies, the
cosmology of Thales of Miletus and Darwin’s evolution theory,
water remains a primary stuff from which all things evolved.
And whereas Thales identified water as the elementary sub-
stance from which every other thing derives, the Egyptian cos-
mogony states that life began from “primordial abyss, Nun”
(Onyewuenyi, 1994: p. 179) also variously addressed as pri-
meval waters Nun, chaos, the formless, the boundless and the
hidden, while Tefnut (air) hovered over the face of the void.
Again, the Christian cosmogony states that in the beginning
“the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon
the face of the deep, and the spirit of God moved upon the face
of the waters” (Genesis 1: p. 2). Following Darwin’s evolution
theory, “extensive geological investigation shows that in the
early geosynclinals period, the water that permeated the earth’s
surface continually transported dissolved substances from their
places of formation to their places of accumulation and concen-
tration” (Ogundowole, 2002: p. 6). Beyond the biological stage
of evolution, the physical perspective states thus: “In the begin-
ning it was dark and cold. There was no sun, no light, no earth,
and no solar system. There was nothing, just the empty void of
space” (Williams, 1999: p. 1). The foregoing simply shows that
both secularism and religion accept void, emptiness or noth-
ingness, as primordial, implying that the quest for salvation is
in actual fact, the search for the ultimate beginnings, and in that
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 265
line of thought, also signifies the quest for the ultimate end.
Besides, whereas both secularism and religion agree that tol-
erance and discipline are required for peaceful-co-existence,
social harmony, social stability, societal progress and good
neighbourliness; religion, on its part goes a step further to state
that the aforementioned merely helps to prepare us for salvation
in the hereafter. For this reason, religion advocates that living a
pious or holy life is a basic criterion for overcoming sin, mean-
ing that once anyone is capable of leading a sinless life; such
individual is qualified to enter into heaven. Secularism, on its
part, may not bother so much about after life, its basic concern
therefore, would center on living a fulfilled life guided by rea-
son here on earth.
Furthermore, whereas secularism and religion regard pun-
ishment and judgment as measures for controlling human con-
duct for the purpose of societal cohesion; religion, however,
further assumes that there is judgment in the hereafter (i.e. the
last day) and eternal punishment for sinners. In line with this
eschatological discourse, Christianity speaks of the Second
Coming of Christ, while Islam speaks of the coming of the
The eschatological discourse is taken to a different dimen-
sion by Marxism. According to Chinweizu (2005), Marxism
presents a secularist perspective to the issues of God, prophet,
priesthood and heaven. “For though it is officially atheistic or
Even anti-theistic, Marxism has history as its God, Marx as its
Prophet, Leninists as its Priesthood, the Kremlin as its Holy of
Holies, Red square as its Mecca and Communism as its
Heaven” (the italicized are mine; p. 145).
Marxism opines that the contradictions characteristic of hu-
man history will be overcome with the emergence of the com-
munist state. But it appears that there is controversy about what
Marx really meant by the communist state. E. K. Ogundowole
(1988) explains that the Moscow institute of Marxism-Lenin-
ism and Martin Milligan hold that by communism Marx meant
“crude equalitarian communism” (p. 88). Dirk J. Struck and
Donald Hodges, on their part, hold a contrary view. In the view
of these two “since Marx speaks of communism as the neces-
sary state of the next future, as the negation of negation, com-
munism for Marx may well mean human emancipation beyond
the abolition of private property, after alienation has been con-
quered” (p. 89). The latter assertion of Dirk Struck and Donald
Hodges about communism, made available by Ogundowole,
seems to capture more appropriately Marx’s view. As Marx
(1969) states in the 1844 Paris Manuscript: “Communism is
the necessary pattern and the Dynamic principle of the immedi-
ate future, but communism as such is not the goal of Human
development—the structure of human society” (p. 106).
It can only then be inferred that for Marxism, communism in
a way, represents an ideal state of affairs called heaven. This
teleological view of Marx which states that the dialectics of
matter and history will culminate at the evolution of commu-
nism has come under serious criticisms. Some like Chinweizu
describe Marxism as a secularist religion. And by this statement,
Chinweizu means that Marxism is merely an atheistic and
secularist representation of Judaism and Christianity. Just as
Judaism and Christianity speak of the end of the world, so too
does Marxism.
It would seem then that Marxism presents a more consistent
secularist account of the doctrine of salvation. However, it is
interesting to note that existentialists, particularly Sartre and
Heidegger, disagree with this Marxian description of human
existence. For existentialists, human existence precedes human
essence. Besides, existence is ongoing activity which cannot be
achieved outside human history. From the existentialist per-
spective therefore, salvation is not just a self imposed obliga-
tion, rather, as Sartre posits, the non-existence of God puts on
humans the heavy burden of an endless quest for freedom. The
quest for freedom is endless because every new stage of exis-
tence that humans attain presents higher levels of challenges.
Theistic Humanism and Religious
Interpretations of Salvation
This segment of this essay is premised on the principle of
polymonotheism (2010: p. 190) propounded by Maduabuchi
Dukor, which forms a cardinal part of the theory of theistic
humanism. Central to the principle of polymonotheism are the
concepts of pantheism and panpsychism, both of which buttress
the point that God manifests to different peoples differently,
thereby making a case for the myriad interpretations of salva-
tion, even within religion.
Consequently, in this segment, we make evaluation of the
doctrine of salvation within some world religions from two
principal perspectives namely 1) monistic or monotheistic re-
ligions to which belong Judaism, Christianity and Islam 2) non-
monistic or non-monotheistic religions to which belong Confu-
cianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Traditional African
Religion (ATR). The term non-monistic or non-monotheistic is
used instead of the term polytheism because; it is sometimes
argued that Confucianism, Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism
are not religions in the strict sense, let alone being polytheistic.
Besides, it can also be argued that Traditional African Religion
is not polytheistic, but pluralistic and humanistic. This point has
been aptly made in another paper titled “Theistic Humanism
and the Critique of Monotheism as the most evolved Religion”.
For now, our focus is on the object of the segment of this paper
which is intended to examine the religious perspectives to sal-
vation. Another point to note is that monistic/monotheistic re-
ligions create a dichotomy between here (i.e. earth) and the
hereafter (i.e. heaven), in which case, for these religions the
universe progresses upon a linear dialectical scale. Non-monis-
tic/non-monotheistic religions, on the other hand, do not create
a polarity between this-world and the other-world, in which
case, they assume that the universe progresses cyclically.
However, in both monistic/monotheistic and non-monistic/non-
monotheistic religions, belief systems or thought processes are
built around some personalities who are regarded as saviours,
prophets, sages or divinities. We now proceed to the treatment
of the object of this segment, which is about the religious
evaluation of salvation.
Finitude makes humans seek for eternity. But finite humans
have infinite essences, often described as either metaphysical or
spiritual. To realize their infinite essences in concrete terms,
humans project their metaphysical essence into the supervoid.
Perhaps, it is based on the foregoing that J. I. Unah states as
thus: “There is a divine essence in man which he tries to actu-
alize in his daily commerce with the world and the universally
recognized institution for the actualization of such divine es-
sence is religion” (1995: p. 74). Based on the foregoing,
Ludwig Feuerbach asserts that God is nothing but the alienation
of our metaphysical qualities. In the same vein, Sigmund Freud
argues that humans conjecture of a fatherly figure in whom they
trust and depend. Perhaps, it is in this sense that religion speaks
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
of a heavenly father who oversees human activities. The latter
point is succinctly captured by John B. Noss (1990) in the fol-
lowing words:
All religions say in one way or another that man does not,
and cannot, stand alone. He is vitally related with and
even dependent on powers in Nature and Society external
to himself. Dimly or clearly, he knows that he is not an
independent center of force capable of standing apart from
the world (p. 14).
Almost all religions talk about man’s mythological fall from
glory. For this reason, piety or righteousness is set as a criterion
for re-attaining the lost state of glory. This means that religion
as a social institution has an earthly purpose. The aforemen-
tioned point is amplified by Nurudeen Alao who states thus:
There is a common grape that is after the heart of every
religionist. That grape is often buried under a heap of
procedural verbiage. The grape that is common to all re-
ligions is not in their rituals; the grape is in their common
object of helping man to actualize the divine in him, of
assisting man to ascend to the pedestal of goodness. It lies
in the objective of making each man his brother’s keeper
and of eradicating all evils in the society (1988: p. 2).
From a socio-philosophical perspective therefore, religions
the world over have a common objective as follows: “1) that of
enabling man to rise to the pedestal of goodness and eradicating
all evils in society, 2) that of assisting in moulding social be-
havior and 3) that of ensuring a dialogical and meaningful hu-
man relationship” (Unah, 1995: p. 74, the itemizing is done by
me). Along this line of thought, T. D. P. Bah lists five points
that are characteristics of all religions thus:
1) The conceptions of God the gods.
2) The conceptions of man in relation to the cosmic order
(stressing more the spi ritual than the corporeal nature of man).
3) Human behavior founded either on human or non-human
4) The aim of a particular religion in relation to man’s
earthly life.
5) The destiny of man, that is, as it pertains to individual and
collective goals for our earthly existence (1997: p p. 157-158).
The fact that religious notion of salvation is basically other-
worldly notwithstanding, elevation into the ideal state of glory
is not possible without some earthly conditions. Perhaps, this
explains why in Christianity, the personality of Jesus Christ is
exemplary to the attainment of salvation. Expressing believe in
and patterning one’s life after Christ, bestows on one right-
eousness and grants one the grace to heaven. This happens to be
the central theme of the Pauline epistles. In his epistle to the
Romans Paul says: “No one is righteous—all have sinned and
come short of the glory of God. But by the free gift of God’s
grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets
them free” (Romans 3: pp. 4,23). The way to be righteous in
God through Jesus Christ is to be “born again” (John 3: p. 3).
This makes Jesus Christ the symbol of redemption.
But within Christendom a debate ensues between Catholi-
cism, Protestantism and Pentecostalism as to the correct inter-
pretation of salvation. This point is aptly made by Francis
Schaeffer in his work Escaped from Reason. In what he calls
the struggle between the Upper and Lower chambers, which
depicts the struggle between nature and grace, faith and reason,
Schaeffer explains the difference in perspectives between
Catholic Humanism and what he calls the “autonomous” of
Protestantism. Within Catholic Humanism, Thomas Aquinas
represents the point at which Platonism and Aristotelianism
converge. In Aquinas, says Schaeffer, though there is a unity
between nature and grace, but grace is placed over nature. This
means that God is over and above man. In spite of the fall of
man, he (man) still has the intelligence (i.e. portraying inde-
pendence or autonomy) to rationalize about the grace of God,
which in Schaeffer’s view, portrays Aquinas as one who truly
represents “the real birth of humanistic Renaissance” (1968: p.
10). But with John Calvin and Calvinism, emerged the Refor-
mation’s view of salvation which is opposed to the Renaissance.
The Reformation repudiated both the Aristotelian and
Neo-Platonic presentation … It said that the root of the
trouble sprang from the old and growing Humanism in the
Roman Catholic Church, and the incomplete theory of the
fall in Aquinas’s theology which set loose an autonomous
man. The Reformation accepted the biblical picture of a
total fall. The whole man had been made by God, but now
the whole man is fallen, including his intellect and will…
only God was autonomous (p. 19).
Contrary to the Catholic and Aquinas’s notions of humanism,
which set us free, the Reformation holds the view that there was
no autonomous person. By the expression autonomous freedom
is meant “a freedom in which the individual is the centre of the
universe, it is freedom without restraint” (p. 34). The line was
thus drawn between Catholic “orthodoxy” and the “religious
existentialism” or “the modernism” of Protestantism and Pen-
tecostalism. “Aquinas opened the door to an independent man
downstairs, a natural theology and philosophy which were both
autonomous from the scriptures” (p. 51), but the Reformation
denies knowledge of such a theology and philosophy. With this
emergent dichotomy says Schaeffer: “Religious truth is sepa-
rated from the historical truth of the Scriptures. Thus there is no
place for reason and there is no point of verification. This con-
stitutes the leap in religious terms (Ibid.).
Whereas for Catholicism, salvation is won through “the
Revelation of God in Christ alone—Christ died for our salva-
tion, but man had to merit the merit of Christ” (p. 20). This
involves a divided work of salvation in which the humanistic
element is very important. The Reformation, on the other hand,
tries to overcome the dualism in the Renaissance, a process in
which Humanism becomes the modern man’s sorrow. For the
Reformation, “God made the whole man and the whole man is
important—he is interested in the whole man, and the result is
unity” (pp. 28,29). The Reformers held a contrary view about
man’s redemption. For them, salvation is a finished work, man
has no part in it other than to accept and believe in the finished
work of Christ. Opposed to Catholicism, the emphasis for the
Reformers is “Scripture Alone and Faith Alone” (p. 20). In this
new scheme of things, comments Schaeffer:
No autonomous or humanistic, religious or moral effort of
man can help, one is saved on the basis of the finished
work of Christ as he died in space and time in history, and
the only way to be saved is to raise the empty hands of
faith and, by God’s grace, to accept God’s free gift—Faith
Alone (Ibid.).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 267
Schaeffer further asserts that the campaign for faith as the
criterion for wining salvation attained its climax in the phi-
losophy of Soren Kierkegaard who placed Fith over and above
Reason. According to Schaeffer, Kierkegaard was concerned
with the fact that reason had overshot its bounds, he therefore,
refuted the absolutism and obscurantism that characterized
Catholicism and Hegelianism. Again, within the arena of relig-
ion, Kierkegaard was concerned with the meddlesomeness of
sacrament, church and the clergy in the relationship between
believers and their God. Thus for Kierkegaard, organized or
centralized religion is a fraud. Thus, “The gist of Kierkegaard’s
polemics against organized Christianity is that it puts emphasis
on numerical strength and that such emphasis on number is a
counterfeiting of Christianity and distancing of God” (Unah,
1995: p. 55).
With the advent of Christian modernism (religious existen-
tialism), the era of Christian “born again” religion emerged,
which is more pronounced in Pentecostalism than in Protes-
tantism. Christian Pentecostalism is known for the dictum—is it
in the bible? The assumption is that all that we need to know
are already contained in the Bible, therefore, all that we require
is to confess that Jesus Christ is lord and saviour. This was how
absolute faith entered into the Christianity. As time wore on,
Absolute Faith became Blind Faith. Little wonder existentialists
describe Christian religious faith as—a blind leap into a dark
hole. In this wise, there is no much difference between Chris-
tian notion of salvation and that of Judaism and Islam which
see salvation as deriving from total surrender to the will of
Yahweh or the will of Allah. One cannot even think of believ-
ing or not believing in God, because, humans as part of God’s
creation, remain significant, insofar as they surrender to the will
of God. By implication, our quest for salvation is merely part of
God’s plan.
Consequently, when Feuerbach in The Essence of Christian-
ity compares Christianity with Judaism, and goes ahead to de-
scribe Christianity as the religion of “a free-thinker, of criticism
and of freedom which distinguishes inward moral purity from
external physical purity” (1989: p. 32), one understands this
assertion to be indicative of Christian orthodoxy, not Christian
existentialism. Feuerbach describes Judaist notion of salvation
thus: “The Israelite trusted himself to do nothing except what
was commanded by God; he was without will even in external
things; the authority of religion extended even to his food”
(Ibid.). Needless to say, this assertion is likewise true of Islam
and Christian Pentecostalism. For these two, God controls the
totality of our lives, He (God) knows about every minute details
of our lives.
The religions of the Far East and Traditional African Relig-
ion seem to hold views that differ from those of Christianity,
Judaism and Islam. Unlike the Semitic and Hellenistic religions,
the African and Asian religions do not believe in the termina-
tion of the physical universe. Rather than speak of the final
termination of the physical world and the evolution of a purely
spiritual world, African and Asian religions hold that the
physical universe is in constant evolution, such that it keeps
augmenting the spiritual world. Again, for African and Asian
religions, prophets and messiahs are not of much importance to
the discourse on salvation. Salvation is won individually
through self-discipline, not by believe in any prophet or mes-
siah or God for that matter. This is so because God—the great
essence is already in every individual person as a little or small
essence. All that one needs to do is to live a disciplined and
accomplished life to win salvation. Further, unlike the Semitic
and Hellenistic religions, African and Asian religions do not
speak of an appointed date for final judgment, nor do they dis-
tinguish between eternal salvation and eternal damnation or
perdition. There is no eternal punishment anywhere either here
or in the hereafter. Punishment is here and now. By the law of
retributive justice or karma, each soul keeps reincarnating until
it attains perfection or salvation. It is in this sense that Hindu-
ism speaks of samsara, Buddhism of anata and Traditional
African Religion of the ancestral world.
Within the confine of Traditional African Religion for in-
stance, God is a “Wholly Other” (Eboh, 1993: p. 3) who is both
transcendent and immanent. To buttress this point, Eboh makes
reference to the Igbo ontological world view thus:
Chi is seen as “a small big-life”. Chukwu is the Big-Life,
Life Per se, Life Par Excellence. Every other thing that
exists has a life in so far as God “portions out” or allows it
a share of the big-life … So, chi is the life principle which
is given to everything that exists by the Big-Life Principle
Par Excellence, or chi is a Portioned out life” in every-
thing, “a small Big-Life in everything (Ibid. 4).
The above aptly captures the African thought process which
regards the world to be organic or alive. This makes African
religious world view to be pantheistic, whereby, the visible and
the invisible are intertwined. Salvation is thus a process of cy-
clical progression in which a soul evolves through a centrifugal
and centripetal movement (i.e. reincarnation) until it attains
perfection. An accomplished soul passes on to the ancestral
world as the past, souls awaiting rebirth belong to the spirit
world as the future, while living mortals represent the present.
For Hinduism, salvation is a matter of relationship between
Brahman and Atman, technically rendered as Brahman-Atman.
Brahman-Atman is the “the doctrine in the Upanishads of the
connection between the universe and humanity, the ultimate
and the individual God and man—Atman is the true inner self
of all” (St. Elmo, 1979: p. 21). St. Elmo explains that “Brah-
man is God, the ultimate, without attributes or any quality rep-
resenting the image of man, or described by any human words
or categories of thought” (pp. 20-21). Atman, on the other hand,
represents the ultimate principle translated as self or soul. What
St. Elmo means to say here is that atman defines the identity
and individuality of things. But this does not mean that atman is
more ultimate than Brahman because, “every atman whether in
man, beast, fish, insect or plant, is one with the infinite” (p. 7),
that is, Brahman. Since atman as the identity and individuality
of things derives its source from Brahman, it means that the
totality of existence is represented by Brahman-Atman. By
logical entailment, it also means that Brahman-Atman alone
exists and “if Brahman-Atman alone exists, the universe can be
said to be one with unity of purpose” (pp. 7-8). In Hinduism
therefore, salvation is attained when atman becomes one with
Brahman or attains a state of unity with Brahman. To buttress
this point St. Elmo makes reference to Martin Luther King Jr.
who in one of his sermons described Hindu notion of salvation
thus: “On the Hindu view, truth lies within. Self-realization is
the supreme good. One reaches ultimate reality by an inward
journey. This inward ascent is marked by discipline and persis-
tence” (p. 8).
Confucianism is mostly regarded as an ethical than spiritual
religion. It is rather concerned with realizing ones purpose on
earth and about how societal existence can be organized for the
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
good of all. Confucius describes human self-actualization in the
following words;
If you have become one with the infinite, you have no
personal likes and dislikes. If you have become one with
the great Evolution (of the Universe), you are one who
merely follow its changes (cited by St. Elmo, 1979: p. 81).
Confucianism as such is more concerned with the search for
useful knowledge to “self” and to “others”. About this matter St
Elmo makes Chu Hsi’s view about Confucian conception of
salvation assessable as follows: “Great Ultimate involves both
matter and form … it is the principle of things to be actualized,
than to remain purely a potential. Actualization then requires
both principles (i.e. matter and form or the mind of Heaven and
Earth) as its actuality” (p. 80). Chu Hsi goes ahead to accuse
other Asian religions of having anti-social tendencies. Accord-
ing to him, Buddhism for instance, “held nature to be empty
whereas Confucianism held it to be active and full of potentiali-
ties” (Ibid.).
The point is that Buddhism portrays more of an idealistic
philosophy than a religion. Perhaps, it is for this reason that
Buddhism is fondly referred to as an atheistic religion. It does
not hold in gods or God, it has no notion of messiah or prophet
who acts as intermediary between humans and their creator or
through whom humans come to gain salvation. Buddhism is
entirely about self-development, it is about self-reliance, and its
aim is to train humans on the act of self-mastery. To attain the
state of perfection which in Buddhist terms is called nirvana,
individual souls must rely on “self” or the “overself”. For this
reason, Buddhism pays homage to man’s overself. This can be
seen in the Buddhist chant—Om! Mani Pad-me Hum-meaning
“Hail to man’s overself” (Rampa, 1956: p. 10). For Buddhism,
therefore, our souls keep going through a circle of rebirth until
it attains the state of nirvana. The way to attain nirvana is
through internal self discipline or “integral yoga” (St. Elmo,
1979: p. 9).
In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Emile Durk-
heim sheds further light on the Buddhist notion of salvation. He
explains that though Buddhists recognize the importance of
figures such as Buddha, Indra, Agni and Varuna but not as
prophets or messiahs. For Buddhists, these figures are impor-
tant only as they show the way to self-mastery. Buddhists be-
lieve that though Buddha founded Buddhism, but he wasn’t one
perfect, he became perfect, he wasn’t eternal, he became im-
mortal. This means that for Buddhists, salvation is gained
through self-development, self-actualization and self-realization.
The focus for the Buddhists is not Buddha, but the attainment
of the state of nirvana realized through the observance of the
tenets of Buddhism. It is in the light of this that Durkheim
Buddhism consists primarily in the idea of salvation, and
salvation supposes only that one know the good doctrine
and praise it. To be sure, this could never have been
known if Buddha had not come to reveal it; but when this
revelation had once been made the work of Buddha was
accomplished. From that moment he ceased to be a factor
necessary to the religious life. The practice of the four
holly truths would be possible, even if the me mory of him
who revealed them were completely obliterated (1968: p.
In Buddhism, nirvana as a state of perfection is not repre-
sented in any image, either of God or of man. It rather repre-
sents an ideal state of perfection comparable to Plato’s eidos. A
typical Buddhist sees the world as a place of suffering and all
he/she intends to do is to escape from this hellish world to a
state that bears no resemblance whatever to this world. But in
this giant stride towards perfection, the individual alone is ca-
pable of winning his/her salvation. All one needs to do is to
practice the four car di nal truths which in c lu de the following:
1) That suffering is an accompaniment to the perpetual
change of things,
2) That human desire is the cause of suffering,
3) That the suppression of desires is the only means to sup-
pressing sorrows, and
4) The three stages once traversed, one arrives at the end of
the road, at the deliverance, at salvation by nirvana (Durkheim,
1968: p. 45).
Another Asian religion which has similar conception of the
world, of life and of salvation as Buddhism is Jainism. Jainism
is one of the great Indian religions. The striking thing here is
that Jainas behave like Buddhists. Durkheim makes Barth’s
view on this matter asses sable as follows:
Like the Buddhists, the Jainas are atheists. They admit of
no creators; the world is eternal; they explicitly deny the
possibility of a perfect being from the beginning. The
Jaina became perfect; he was not always so (p. 48).
According to Durkheim, Barth further explains that the atti-
tudes and beliefs of Buddhists and Jainas are quite contrary to
that of Christians. The point here is that Christianity is “incon-
ceivable without the ever present idea of Christ and his
ever-practiced cult; for it is by the ever-living Christ, sacrificed
each day, that the community of believers continue to commu-
nicate with the supreme source of spiritual life” (pp. 47-48).
From our evaluation of religious notions of salvation it can
be seen that every religion has its own conception of salvation.
The same can be said of secularist notion of salvation to which
we now turn.
Theistic Humanism and Secularist
Interpretations of Salvation
Theistic humanism offers the opportunity for diverse inter-
pretations of salvation from a secularist point of view. Secular-
ism as a philosophical tenet can be regarded as those theories
concerned with the analysis of our perpetual struggle towards
freedom and perfection from a non-religious point of view. In
secularist delineation of salvation, the question of freedom
cannot be separated from the question of perfection. Perfection
in this instance is a never ending quest towards the actualization
of human freedom. In secularist terms, therefore, and especially
from the Sartrean perspective, what religion classifies as the
attainment of absolute freedom in the here-after, turns out to be
prison life from which man must liberate himself, making the
quest for salvation a never ending endeavour.
Hegel’s philosophy and Kierkegaard’s existentialism provide
grounds from which both religious and secularist notions of
salvation emerged. Hegel’s theory of Absolute reason gave rise
to the doctrine of “process or suffering God”, which was further
developed by Alfred North Whitehead. But the process or suf-
fering God, though a companion, is unable to disentangle itself
from human history. Applied to the doctrine of salvation, it
would imply that the quest for salvation has no end in sight.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 269
Salvation thus becomes like a walking limbo. This is quite
delicate for humans who mostly would prefer to seek for eternal
salvation in the hereafter. Karl Marx rejects this religious inter-
pretation and in its place substituted a purely secularist nation
of salvation that is this-worldly. Marx’s thesis has earlier been
discussed in the introduction of this essay.
Reflecting on the influence of Kierkegaard’s existentialism
on both religion and secularism, Francis Schaeffer states thus:
“From Kierkegaard, there are two extensions-secular existen-
tialism and religious existentialism” (1968: p. 48). The main
ethos of Kierkegaard’s religious existentialism has already been
discussed, leaving us with the delineation of his secular exis-
tentialism. Concerning Kierkegaard’s secular existentialism, J. I.
Unah states that “it is the bastardization of religion by over
systematization and centralization that provoked Kierkegaard’s
orchestral blast upon Christendom” (1995: p. 55). In Unah’s
view therefore: “The paradox of faith is such that we cannot
even say of others that they are Christians or Muslims let alone
speak of a Christian nation or Muslim state. To speak thus is to
rationalize religion. Yet a rationalized or organized religion is a
fraud, a distraction and a delusion which robs the individual of
his religious inwardness” (Ibid.).
For Kierkegaard, salvation is a personal or individual thing.
But organized religion denies the individual of the franchise to
freely relate with God, thereby infringing upon the capacity of
the individual to attain salvation. Kierkegaard’s criticism of
absolutism (be it in philosophy or in religion) and his analysis
of themes such as fear and dread, paved the way for the emer-
gence of secular existentialism. In contemporary times, secular
existentialism and Marxism have been described as atheistic
philosophies. The reason for this is that most existentialists
engage themselves strictly with the analysis of the human con-
dition. Some like Heidegger make Being the ground of God,
while others as Nietzsche and Sartre either declare the death of
God or deny outrightly the existence of God. Marx on his part
totally debunks the idea of spirit and by implication, the idea of
God. Besides, his description of religion as opium of the people
seems to suggest that religion is the deliberate manipulation of
humans, which must be combated.
This secular atheistic opposition to religion is much expected,
if not, mankind will forever remain under religious tutelage
without hope of liberation in sight. In this wise, atheism is not
just an opposing view to theism, it is rather a clarion call for
humankind to imbibe the attitude of self-reliance. In which case,
the goal of atheism, it would seem, is to liberate fettered hu-
mans from the grip of religion. In which case, the intention of
the atheist is to assert his/her freewill without fear or favour of
the intimidating views of theism which hangs the guilt of God
and the world on the frail neck of man. Thus, like T. D. P. Bah
The atheist is a religious man and moreover, he is a fa-
natic believer. He believes that he has found the truth
which other men cannot discover. His truth, however, is
different from that of Jesus or Mohammed. The atheist is
one who has come with another message about man,
about science, about technology … Unfortunately the
atheist’s criterion of truth is not any better than the reli-
gious leader (1997: p. 159).
Salvation for the existentialists involves living an authentic
life as opposed to a life of forfeiture. To lead an authentic life is
to be free and to be free means to be responsible. Humankind
has to strive to square up with life’s challenges; to do otherwise
is simply an act of bad fate. In the views of Sartre and Heideg-
ger, because human existence is characterized by nothingness,
the march towards freedom is unending. Jean-Paul Sartre says
that “man is a being who is not what he is and who is what he is
not” (1969: p. 23). For Martin Heidegger, man is a being—who
is more than what he is at any given time. Since nothingness
constitutes the foundation of human existence, it means that
human life is futuristic and open ended, making us beings of
transcendence. This ontological endowment makes us beings of
possibilities with insatiable desires. This way, the quest for
salvation becomes a continuum.
From the philosophies of Heidegger and Nietzsche devel-
oped what can be described as “New Theologies”. Following
Heidegger’s theory of Sein (i.e. Being), Paul Tillich developed
a new concept of God in which he describes God as the being
of beings or the ground of beings. Tillich as such, speaks of the
“God behind God—with the first God totally undefined”
(Schaeffer, 52). By this Tillich’s doctrine, says Schaeffer, sal-
vation faces a comatose. The search for salvation becomes like
a hopeless quest or a hovering in the dark. In the same vein,
Nietzsche’s declaration of the death of God became a hangover
for some Christian theologians such as Thomas Altizer and
William Hamilton who developed “The Death of God Theol-
ogy” also variously known as Radical Theology, Atheistic
Theology, or Christian Atheism. The central message of this
movement is that God ceased to be transcendent from the mo-
ment he incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth
who finally died on the cross. From that moment humans won
their total freedom. According to Christian Atheism, the death
of God is “good news” to humans. Consequently, what Chris-
tians should do is to announce to the world the historic death of
God, which signals our freedom, our salvation. In the words of
Altizer: “True, every man today who is open to experience
knows that God is dead, that the Christian knows that God is
dead, that the death of God is a final and irrevocable event, and
that God’s death has actualized in our history a new and liber-
ated humanity” (1955: p. 15).
Another angle to secularist notion of salvation is liberation
theology which combines the tenets of Marxism, Existentialism
and Christianity. Liberation theology locates God and humans
in the daily existential, historical and economic activities of the
society. According to Bonino, liberation theology “was born in
the context of the struggle for the liberation of man, it very
much emphasizes a concrete man in a concrete historical situa-
tion for only such a man needs liberation, not an abstract nor an
invisible man” (cited by Uzukwu, 1988: p. 175). In this context,
liberation refers to the struggle by humans to emancipate them-
selves from the shackles of oppression. The apostles of Libera-
tion theology include such names as Ruben Alves and Jose
Miguez Bonino, with Paulo Freire providing the educational
foundation for the movement or what can be called pedagogy
for the liberation of the oppressed.
The beauty of liberation theology is that it is concerned with
the liberation of all humans. For total liberation to be achieved,
both the oppressed and the oppressor must be emancipated. In
the first place, there can be no oppressed without the oppressor
and vice versa, and both suffer from the psychology of fear and
domination. Complete freedom, and by implication complete
salvation can only be achieved when the oppressed and op-
pressor have been emancipated. Paulo Freire describes this
constant strive towards freedom (i.e. salvation) as “mans onto-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
logical vocation” (p. 177). Alves on his part, sees human exis-
tence as a “creation of history and this is made possible through
man’s historical exercise of power to overcome the contradic-
tion (negation) of man’s inhumanity—towards freedom and
transcendence” (p. 178). It is by constantly striving to negate
human inhumanity that harmony can be achieved on earth and
by so doing actualize the dream of a kingdom of God for hu-
mans. This point is aptly captured by Bonino thus:
God builds his kingdom from and within human history in
its entirety; his action is a constant call and challenge to
man. Man’s response is realized in the concrete arena of
history with its economic, political, ideological options.
Faith is not a different history but a dynamic motivation,
and in its eschatological horizon, a transforming invitation
Thus far it can be seen that secularism like religion presents
different conceptions of salvation. These various conceptions of
salvation show that reality is multidimensional, multifaceted
and diverse and so is salvation. Since salvation cannot be pi-
geonholed, it is then left for everyone to choose a perspective
out of the so many existing theories of salvation.
Evaluation and Conclusion
The whole talk about salvation centers on the question of
human freedom. Are humans truly free to make their own
choices from the notions of salvation catalogued above or not?
The answer(s) to the foregoing question will go a long way to
further enhance our understanding of the issue at hand. If really
humans are determined, then there may be some reason to fight
for liberation. And if humans are totally free, would there still
be any need to strive for salvation or for emancipation? Sartre
offers us a clue to this puzzle. The fact that man is not in any
way determined does not mean that he is free from challenges
and responsibilities. Whichever way we look at it, without
some hurdles to scale and some goals to achieve, human life
would be completely worthless. This particular fact, makes the
debate on salvation worthwhile. The greater trouble however,
concerns the point that monistic notions of salvation, whether
religious or secular, have the tendency to limit our freedom to
decide on our perspectives of salvation. This is why this essay
privileges non-monistic/non-monotheistic notions of salvation
over and above the monistic/monotheistic notions of salvation.
This position is meant to avoid absolutism and intolerance and
to inculcate the attitude of live and let live or the win win ori-
entation, which happens to be the hallmark of theistic human-
ism, towards the salvation talk.
As earlier mentioned, theistic humanism with its doctrine of
polymonotheism, which is further embellished by the concepts
of pantheism and panpsychism, demonstrates the fact that the
debate over salvation is better approached from the pluralistic
outlook. This inspiration gathered from Maduabuchi Dukor is
further reiterated by J. I. Unah and Chinweizu. In Essays in
Philosophy and “Gender and Monotheism: The Assault by
Monotheism on African Gender Diarchy” J. I. Unah and Chin-
weizu respectively, attempt an analysis of the sources of abso-
lutism in philosophy and religion. Unah for instance, holds the
view that—the seeds of intolerance and fanaticism were sown
by the Greek search for certainty which has fossilized into
vengeful metaphysical systems. This sort of metaphysical
thinking manifests itself in two main forms. Either that it re-
duces all reality to some common substance or that it focuses
attention on an ultimate divine Being. The result is that it nar-
rows down the telescope with which the whole of reality is
viewed. The narrower a metaphysician’s position becomes, the
sharper his/her perspective, but the shaper his/her perspective,
the greater the scandal such perspective perpetrates against
other aspects of reality not accommodated by his/her system.
This lack of courage to accept opposing views says Unah is
injurious to human progress because “By insisting that his per-
spective encompasses the totality of being, the metaphysician
creates an orthodoxy—a total system of norms and values—
from which every other mortal must not deviate, thereby extol-
ling an attitude of fixism, fanaticism and intolerance” (1995: p.
67). Chinweizu on his part traces the source of absolutism to
Akhenatonism or Atenism, which happened to be the oldest
form of monotheism founded by Akhenaton of ancient Egypt,
which at that period lasted for only thirty years. But in its brief
existence, Atenism had introduced the orientations of monism
and monotheism and their propensities to abhor duality and
pluralism. According to Chinweizu, “though it (Atenism) van-
ished, its brief life brought into the world the great evils of
monotheism and its propensities for monomania, monolatry and
zealotry” (2005: p. 139).
From Atenist monotheism evolved patriarchal monotheism
namely Judaism or Yahwehism, Christianity and Islam, which
are regarded as West Eurasian heirs to Atenism, and along with
Atenism propagate “the monistic attribute to deity, the masscu-
linization of the sole deity and the rise of cultural monolatry”
(pp. 140-141). In logical and natural order, patriarchal mono-
theism gave rise to monistic and absolutist trends of thought
(such as Liberalism, Marxism and Feminism) in Western
scholarship. The trauma liberalism (capitalism per se) and
Marxism caused the world in the 20th century cannot be easily
forgotten. The world lived in constant fear of the outbreak of
nuclear war. Needless to say, such fear of outbreak of nuclear
war has been rekindled in the 21st century by the rift between
Israel, Europe and the United States on one side, and Russia,
China, North Korea and Iran on the other side. Besides: “In the
Feminism of the late 20th century, liberalism and Marxism
have jointly spawned a movement for the propagation of their
gender ideologies. Through its liberal and Marxist wings, femi-
nism seeks to carry out the agendas of liberalism and Marxism.
Thus, like liberalism and Marxism, feminism attacks gender
dualism” (p. 142).
Since both religion and secularism espouse temperaments
that promote dogmatism, absolutism and intolerance, it means
that there is a need to make evaluations of both perspectives
with a view to ameliorating the anomalies inherent in them.
This might be the reason why Ludwig Feuerbach merciless
lashed at religious anthropomorphism. He accused anthropo-
morphic religions of alienating humans from their essential
attributes and of investing such qualities on an intangible God-
Head, who contributes nothing of substance to human devel-
opment. Feuerbach goes ahead to argue that God is but man’s
self-projection. “Consciousness of God is self-consciousness,
knowledge of God is self-knowledge. By his God thou knowest
the man, and by the man his God; the two are identical. What-
ever is God to a man, that is his heart and soul, God is the
manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man” (1989: p.
By enriching God, humans impoverish themselves. Worst of
all, the God they end up creating is a self-centered being who
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cares little about their plight.
To enrich God, man must become poor; that God may be
all; man must be nothing … God, the Almighty, infinite
unlimited being, is a person, he denies human dignity, the
human ego; he is a selfish, egoistical being, who seeks
himself alone, his own honour, his own ends … God is
the very luxury of human egoism (pp. 26-27).
Feuerbach sees religion as the source of human disunity and
unhappiness. The way out of this human disharmony, sorrow
and alienation, is for humans to reclaim what they have in-
vested upon God so that they can re-attain the God’s status. In
the light of this, Feuerbach embarked on the secularization
religion, with the intention of crafting a platform that would
make humans ascend the pedestal of goodness. To ascend the
pedestal of goodness is to make love the central theme of our
existence. “Love happens to be the supreme law of human life;
it is the most profound essence of man. Love assumed fantastic
forms in all religions. But in reality, it is itself a true religion.
Love is God himself, and outside love there is no God
(Kuznetsov, 1987: p. 55). Needless to say, this Feuerbachian
position was hinted at by Immanuel Kant whose critical ontol-
ogy made human reason the ultimate organizer of all human
affairs, including law, morality, religion and society in general.
By implication, the question of salvation is entirely a human
affair, it is a self imposed duty, and the realization this should
spur us into adopting a pluralistic a approach toward resolving
the debate on salvation
Fortunately, theistic humanism, which forms the essence Af-
rican thought system, affords us the opportunity of a pluralistic
outlook. This can be seen in the Igbo (of South-East Nigeria)
proverb egbe bere ugo bere; nke si ibeya ebela nku kwaya,
meaning—let the hawk perch, let the eagle perch, whichever
says the other should not perch, let its wings be broken. And
the Yoruba South-West of Nigeria say oju orun to gbogbo eye
lato fo lai kan ara won, meaning—the sky is big enough for all
birds to fly without touching each other. The point here is that
African thought system, like the phenomenological tempera-
ment, acknowledges the fact that conflict and contraries are
parts and parcels of the universe, and of course, human exis-
tence. But if we adopt the “win win” attitude or the “live and let
live” orientation, there would be greater harmony in the world,
making it a better place to live in. This happens to be the high-
point of the hermeneutic appraisal of salvation from the per-
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