Living Alone

If you want to understand the direction our culture is headed, there's a group of authors whose work must be included on your reading list: the folks at the Census Bureau. Hidden -- often in plain sight -- among the numbers in their reports are valuable insights as to why Americans live and believe as they do. An example is a recent report with the insomnia-curing title, "Examining American Household Composition: 1990 and 2000." As the title implies, the report examined changes in American households during the 1990s. It shouldn't come as a surprise that married couples with children constitute a decreasing percentage of American households. This trend has been in place for several decades, but what is a surprise is that married couples with children are no longer the most common type of household -- they're number two now, followed by married couples without children. The most common type of American household today is a single adult living alone: no roommates, no parents, no kids, and no friends. More than 26 percent of all American households meet this description with much of the increase the result of postponing marriage. Apart from the report's comment that the numbers reflect "the growing complexity of American households," what conclusion can we draw from a Christian perspective? To begin with, we need to remember that in demographics, as in the rest of life, "complexity" comes at a cost -- both personal and cultural. And this trend is costly indeed. The Wall Street Journal, commenting on the study, was right when it said that many of those 27 million singles are "probably missing something." "Something" includes the physical and emotional benefits associated with "marriage and other forms of intimate living," according to the Journal. In the words of the Institute for American Values -- in a study cited in Chuck Colson's recent book The Good Life -- people are "hardwired to connect"; we seem to be neurologically predisposed to need other people. Through what are known as "authoritative communities" like marriage and family, we fulfill our need for "moral meaning and openness to the transcendent." "Meeting these basic needs for connection," they write, "is essential to health and to human flourishing." A culture in which living alone is increasingly the norm is one in which these "basic needs" go unmet. And yet to many people loneliness -- a high personal cost -- is an acceptable price to pay for the freedom to come and go as they please. Culturally, part of the attraction of living alone is the avoidance of "authoritative communities." Instead of seeing marriage and family as authoritative institutions that define us, we see them as domestic arrangements that we define to suit our own likes and dislikes. Thus, it's not a coincidence that there is support for innovations like same-sex "marriage." That is what you should expect among people who have been raised to see human connection as something you do entirely on your terms. One way people can connect is in church, and churches must become increasingly friendly to singles. Most Christians know that, and now we can point to some hard evidence that supports it.


Chuck Colson


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