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It's Inevitable: We're Human, We're Christian, and We're Lonely


Sep 20 2013
How an over-connected, over-independent culture keeps us from the intimacy we all crave.

Earlier this summer in The New Republic, Judith Shulevitz opened up an ugly can of worms, writing that "loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world."

She explores the fascinating history of loneliness and mental health and how it slowly became an area for scientific research. Going by Shulevitz's definition of loneliness—"the want of intimacy"— we're all suffering. Most of us aren't mentally ill or chronically depressed; we're just human. We can't help but feel this pervasive sense of disconnectedness.

In the Christian tradition, we have a certain understanding that loneliness is inevitable and part of the human condition. We're created for complete union with God, but unable to fully consummate that union this side of God's Kingdom. There is an Augustinian element of truth from which we cannot escape no matter how much intimacy we do cultivate. Still, that doesn't seem like a sufficient response for our loneliness predicament. If anything, it's an invitation for Christians to communicate more openly about the challenges of the loneliness we are all bound to experience at various seasons of our lives.

In our age of social media, when new "friends" are a click away on Facebook and Twitter users actively form real-time communities around everything from favorite TV shows to breaking political news, we can easily be led to think that loneliness is an outdated phenomenon. But it is not.

An animation on Vimeo called "The Innovation of Loneliness" illustrated how these social networks can perpetuate our feelings of being alone. Our modern society largely measures individual success by personal achievements that have little to do with maintaining healthy social communities. "Many people lose their social and familial communities in favor of a self-actualization ideal," said Shimi Cohen, the video's creator. He plays off the research of Sherry Turkel, an MIT professor and author of Alone Together, who suggests that the false sense of intimacy created in the virtual world fails to satisfy people's real needs for knowing others and being known by others.

After all, being lonely is not necessarily about a-lone-ness, but about lack of intimate, meaningful connection. Intimacy comes from recognizing the value of vulnerability, that needing other people is not a sign of weakness but a mere fact of human existence. This necessary criteria for intimacy goes against our cultural conditioning to laud the self-made, self-sufficient person.

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It's Inevitable: We're Human, We're Christian, and We're Lonely