The Story: Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at NYU, questions the traditional assumption that living alone inevitably results in loneliness and hinders human flourishing. According to Klinenberg's interpretation of recent data, the opposite is true. Independence from having to accommodate another roommate or spouse is now desired.
The Background: The thought of living alone long term, traditionally, has rarely been appealing. But anxieties over loneliness, according to Klinenberg, are dated. Rather, Klinenberg says, "Living alone comports with modern values." The fear of loneliness isn't supported by the spirit of the age. Living alone "promotes freedom, personal control and self-realization---all prized aspects of contemporary life."
In dynamic markets and flourishing cities, the "nuclear family" is no longer the defining mark of our society. Instead, single living encourages a more active social life, absent from family obligations, and "gives us the capacity . . . to engage with others when and how we want to and on our terms." Five million adults, ages 18-35, live alone---that's 10 times more than 1950; most widows and widowers are slower to remarry; and the elderly are less attracted to the option of living with their children.
Why It Matters: Nowhere in the Bible does it say that singleness is wrong. In fact, the lives of the apostle Paul and Jesus make singleness a legitimate way of life. However, from a biblical worldview, it would be impossible to argue that single living is the ideal for a flourishing society. Rather, from Genesis 1, a flourishing society begins with a fruitful and multiplying family. The only thing that God saw and did not describe as good was Adam being alone. It was, actually, "not good" (Genesis 2:18).
Apart from Klinenberg's data that people want this level of independence, it's hard to imagine that this autonomy, which allows for people "to engage with other when and how we want to and on our terms," would be good for any society. This hardly encourages acts of kindness and hospitality, something one would assume a "flourishing" society needs. Even more, for those of us who believe the Bible and want to see the gospel influence culture, this lone-ranger mentality would mean death. As the author of Hebrews tells us, "Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Why? "For we have come to share in Christ" (Heb. 3:14-15).
John Starke is lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can follow him on Twitter.