ABC’s The Bachelor premiered in 2002. This seasons’s second episode airs tonight. The current Bachelor, a farmer named Chris Soules (dubbed Prince Farming) will presumably choose one of 30 contestants to be his wife. The show sparked controversy when one of the women gave Soules a note when they first met promising that he could come to her for a free hug. She said, “To me what a wife is, is a safe haven. I want to be the one you come give a hug to.” Some think she was sincere; others have accused her of disingenuous manipulation.
The story brings to mind the “tranquility chair,” built in the shape of a larger-than-life fabric doll with long arms that wrap around a user. A spokesman for the manufacturer explains: “It makes you feel safe.” The chair is priced at $419.
Mother Teresa called loneliness “the greatest disease in the West today.” The National Science Foundation reports that unprecedented numbers of Americans are lonely. Researchers document an increase in “social isolation” and “a very significant decrease in social connection to close friends and family.”
In The American Spectator, Janice Shaw Crouse comments perceptively on their report. She cites the Census Bureau classification of people who do not live in a “family group” as “unrelated individuals.” Their percentage of the population has nearly tripled during the last 40 years; 70 percent of them live alone. And she notes sociologist Robert Putnam’s observation that five percent of American households had televisions in 1950, compared with 95 percent in 1970. Now many homes have TVs in every room. According to Putnam, families have 60 percent fewer family picnics and 40 percent fewer family dinners.
Social media can create the appearance of community, but that appearance is illusory. You can use any social media name you invent while hiding behind your cell phone and computer screen. When we need a chair to give us a hug, something’s wrong.
Shows like The Bachelor will be popular so long as people are willing to settle for vicarious community. But the loneliness of our culture is a great opportunity for God’s Kingdom. When believers work together across racial, socio-economic, or denominational lines, our unity models the radical inclusiveness of the gospel. (For one example of such collaboration, I encourage you to consider Movement Day Greater Dallas, an initiative our ministry is excited to endorse.) Our community then invites others into the loving family of God.
What the world needs is not uniformity but unity. And not unity for its own sake, but as a result of engagement with the God who made us all. When you put a chair in the center of a room, the closer people come to the chair, the closer they come to each other. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted in Life Together: “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
How will you create community today?