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  • Fr. Bryan

Secularization and Loneliness

One of the trends of our rapidly secularizing society is a rapid increase of loneliness. Observers in Great Britain are catching on. Their most famous publication, The Guardian, has been reporting on this problem for months. Researchers have even uncovered the surprising trend that people who are lonely are more likely to experience physical ailments like heart disease.

The fact that people are becoming lonelier should not surprise us, although it might seem counter-intuitive at first. After all, influences like technology have expanded our social circles to be quite a bit larger than previous generations. These larger and more expansive social circles have not, however, led to deeper and more fulfilling friendships.

Many people mistake their friends for people they enjoy, but friends are more than that. I’ve learned who my true friends are based on the way we interact after significant time apart. Some of the people I spent a lot of time with in high school and college were fun people to be around and I thought that they were friends, but they really weren’t. The reason I know this is because when we get together we spend about 15 minutes catching up and then are completely out of things to talk about, so we talk about the Seahawks.

On the other hand, there are also people I spent a lot of time with in high school and college who I do consider friends. When we see each other after significant time apart we pick up right from where we left off without skipping a beat and without any awkward silences. I’ve wondered why this is and I believe, quite strongly, that it has everything to do with the depth of our conversations. Watching sports with other people might be a lot of fun, but it does not make for deep friendships. Talking about God, on the other hand, does make for deep friendships.

The people I feel closest to in life are not necessarily people I’ve spent a ton of time with. They are people I’ve done philosophy with. All I mean by that is that we’ve pondered deep subjects together. People I feel closest to in life are people I’ve talked to about God, because there is nothing greater that we can talk about. Even people who do not agree with me, even people who do not necessarily believe in this God we talk about, are people I feel close to. They are the people who I can see after years apart and pick up right where we left off without any awkwardness.

That is just my experience. Maybe yours is different. But if what I experience is widespread, it should not be surprising at all that as God is pushed out of our collective cultural consciousness we experience greater loneliness. When God is not involved in our friendships all we have left to pass time is talking about things like sports and technology. While it might be fun to talk about those things, they don’t build strong friendships that endure prolonged time apart. And trust me, you’ll feel it when the Seahawks are inevitably terrible again and your toys are obsolete.

I believe that the parish is an antidote to the loneliness epidemic. The parish is, after all, where we come together to form friendships and to talk about deeper things. In the coming months, we will be running The Alpha Course, which is designed to have these discussions about God. While it is explicitly Christian The Alpha Course provides an environment for discussion that a wide range of people should feel comfortable with.

You might not make any "friends" at Alpha, but your need for deep conversations might be met. I’m optimistic that it will be a good opportunity for you to have some great discussions about the most important things in life. For more information or if you have any questions about The Alpha Course, please call Joe Buttle 360-423-3650.

The above points are not the only potential causes for the loneliness epidemic. There are thousands of influences shaping the way we interact with others. Here are a few other potential causes of the widespread loneliness people are feeling.

Small Family Size: For better or for worse, we know our family members better than anyone and they know us better than anyone else. They know our strengths, but they also know our weaknesses. Well, truly knowing others and truly being known by others is a vital experience that we must have if we are going to overcome loneliness. The smaller our families are, the fewer people we have who know us so well and that can potentially play into this experience.

Social Media: I know, I know. We blame social media on all the world’s problems, and it’s getting kind of boring. But I think there is good reason to believe that social media is contributing to loneliness in modern society. Aside from the obvious that many of our interpersonal interactions are now being mediated through a computer, social media has done much more to contribute to loneliness.

Social media has increased the pressure to be look and think a certain way. It’s contributed to a culture that is quite phony. We use our social media to make everything in our lives look like it’s going perfectly, when in reality it often isn’t. Our loneliness will not go away when everyone thinks that we are perfect. It goes away when we can show our imperfections to others and have them stand by us. Social media isn’t likely to help us do this.

Furthermore, social media has not enabled us to have important discussions about deep topics. Posting links and status updates about important topics has not lent itself to intelligent dialogue. It’s mostly led to pride, arrogance, and ridiculing others who don’t agree with us. In response to this, many people are less likely to share their thoughts on important subjects out of fear.

We’re too busy: I already alluded to this above and have been trying to drill this into people’s heads for a while, but people are way too busy nowadays. They are constantly on the move. The sheer number of activities is taking away from time together as a family (see point above) and also time to reflect on important things, like God and how he is involved in the world. The number of activities and the number of people we spend time with at these activities give us a sense that we aren’t lonely, but when these activities the feelings of loneliness often set in (Our busy-ness also contributes to loneliness of other people like our family who might benefit from more time spent with us).

There is so much more to say about this. I haven’t even mentioned prayer yet, which I also believe is vital to overcoming loneliness. This short series is not intended to be infallible teaching and you are free to disagree with me. The purpose of writing this has simply been to spark some reflection and to provoke thought. I hope it has done this.

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