Axiocentrism, whatever that is

Browsing the articles at the excellent Religion Online Web site, I came across a 1979 article about Unitarian Universalism by Robert Tapp. It’s fascinating to read an outsider scholar’s view of our denomination, written at the moment when we were about to start growing (very slowly, but growing at last instead of declining). I found the second-to-last paragraph especially interesting. While we haven’t seen that theological convergence with humanism, the emergence of liturgical innovations in the 1980’s (flaming chalice, joys and concerns, etc.) makes the comment about feeling and acting like a minority group seem prescient. And the idea of “axiocentrism” just might be useful in our ongoing attempts at defining ourselves:

What of the future [of Unitarian Universalism] — if we assume that membership shrinkage has stabilized, that fiscal stringencies have been effected, and that a theological convergence toward a religious humanism has not only occurred but has at last received official recognition? A possible pattern is that of the Quakers — smallness, integrity and influence. But the Friends’ ethos and ways are difficult and must be learned — a kind of orthopraxy. A pattern of orthodoxy — precise beliefs, precisely enforced — seems even less likely. A third communal pattern could be based on shared values, both explicitly and implicitly religious — an “axiocentrism.” This model seems to characterize today’s UUs. Many of these shared beliefs and values are by-products of modernity and higher education. To the extent that U.S. culture is now tilting toward conservatism, those who hold such values may come to feel and act like a minority group — which seeks mutual support, recognizable in-group styles, viable defense patterns.

Full article: Link.

6 thoughts on “Axiocentrism, whatever that is

  1. Jaume

    A prophetic statement. But religious identity may be in danger if we become an interfaith church based upon subgroups who develop their own specific ways and identity traits, both self-affirming but also ignoring or marginalizing others as part of their self-affirmation. I hope for a post-denominational, rather than post-Christian UUism, in which persons are more important than theological labels.

  2. Administrator

    Jaume — I’m not sure being post-denominational is possible without being post-Christian, since denominationalism is so much a part of Protestant Christianity. But really, I think Tapp is heading in yet another direction. He’s basically predicting that Unitarian Universalists will start seeing themselves as increasingly differentiated from the mainstream — not orthopraxy, not orthodoxy, but shared values across the entire group.

    (By the way, I don’t see “post-Christian” as a theological position so much as a denominational location we’ve been forced into. And I’m coming to feel that the term “post-Christian” is most useful when applied to groups, but not so useful for describing individuals.)

  3. Jaume

    Dan, I agree with your reply. I found myself using the term “post-denominational” because I thought that the term “post-religious” would be understood as a kind of new Humanist manifesto, which was far from my intention. Inadvertently I generated more misunderstandings with my word choice. What I mean is that we need to overcome what I see as a growing dependence on other religions as constituents of our covenanted communities. Therefore I agree with your use of “post-Christian” but, as I remarked in my blog not long ago, if we can cope with being “post-Humanist”, “post-Pagan”, and “post-Buddhist” (to name just a few post-religion alternatives) as well.

  4. Administrator

    Jaume — I like those terms:– “post-Humanist”, “post-Pagan”, and “post-Buddhist.” –And based on actual Unitarian Universalists I know, let’s add “post-Jewish,” “post-Muslim,” and “post-Hindu.”

    But yeah, “post-religious” is subject to misinterpretation — and frankly I think Unitarian Universalism counts as a religion by any definition that can include both Confucianism, Hinduism, and Christianity. So we can’t be “post-religious” by definition, although we can be “post-one-specific-religion.”

    Nor do I want to imply in any way, shape, or form that I think Unitarian Universalism is somehow better than any given religious tradition X, where a Unitarian Universalist happens to be “post-X.” “Post-” merely implies something that comes chronologically later, but which may be heading in a different direction now, such that it is impossible to make accurate comparisons of value (better, worse) between X and post-X.

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