As theological thought evolved, specifically after the advent of liberalism in the nineteenth century, a change began to take place in the religious world. Religious attitudes and prioritization seem to begin shifting from Sacro-Clericalism, where authority is given to the church and its representatives, to Sacro-Egoism, where the individual assumes greatest authority. The role of the individual, the self, was elevated more than ever before and self-reliance was glamorized, epitomized, and utilized in society—even until the present.
Liberal theologians like Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Tillich ". . . sought to anchor that faith in common human experience, and interpret it in ways that made sense within the modern worldview." Schleiermacher, known as the Father of Modern Liberal Theology, considered religion and Christianity to be ". . . the distinctly human awareness of something infinite beyond the self on whom the self is dependent for everything."
Though first a subtle and infrequent occurrence, more and more the authority and centrality of the Church began to lose ground to the prominence of the individual. Culturally, the expression of religion and Christianity encountered ". . . a turn towards life lived by reference to one's own subjective experiences (relational as much as individualistic)." Leaning on one's own understanding became an asset, not a detriment, to religious life and approval.
According to Heelas and Woodhead, "The subjectivities of each individual become a, if not the, unique source of significance, meaning and authority." Grasso continues this understanding stating, "Liberalism's movement toward an ever deeper individualism receives signal expression in the ascendancy of the type of liberalism that dominates our intellectual scene, in the ascendancy . . . termed the liberalism of the unencumbered self." Starks and Robinson comment that modernists ". . . see individuals and not a deity as the ultimate arbiters of moral authority and hold to a largely individually directed universe." Religious focus has moved from the institution to the individual.
Currently, this shift can be observed in a variety of ways as mentioned earlier, most visibly in lowered membership and attendance numbers. This situation has been attributed to poor religious offerings, to a modern emphasis on the secular world, to ineffective participation and devotion of believers worldwide, or to the will of God (in some religious circles). While all these may be partially true, the danger is making a synecdoche of the products of decline and overestimating their importance and influence in religion.
Christian society has never operated out of a vacuum. Furseth and Repstad state, "It is simply not true that individuals invent their own world-view in a void." From its earliest beginnings, this religious movement has interacted closely with culture, as did its founder. Thus, this interaction ". . . is two-way: Christianity both influences and is influenced by culture."
Furthermore, the expression of Christian faith has never been static. Sociological studies of Religion such as the Kendal Project and the McMinnville Project aptly demonstrate a religious transformation from older traditional patterns. Sacro-Egoism suggests that at the heart and in the origins of Christianity and modern religion is a personalized, dynamic, individualistic faith. This is Sacro-Egoism.
- Definition created by Dr. John S. Knox, PhD in Theology & Religion (2009), University of Birmingham, UK.
- Alister McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998), 233.
- Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Illinois, IN: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 544.
- Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), 2.
- Heelas and Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution, 3-4.
- Kenneth L. Grasso, ‘Christianity, Enlightenment Liberalism, and the Quest for Freedom,’ Modern Age (Fall 2006): 304.
- Brian Starks and Robert Robinson, ‘Moral Cosmology, Religion, and Adult Values for Children,’ Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46, no. 1 (March 2007): 32.
- Inger Furseth and Pål Repstad, An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 124.
- McGrath, Historical Theology, 9.
- John S. Knox PhD Dissertation Research Project (2006-7).