One need not dine out much to observe a current social phenomenon: couples sitting at a table, each immersed in one's own cell phone. Busy thumbs fly over the keyboard, no conversation, no eye contact.
There is a current TV commercial showing four young men, sitting in immediate proximity, texting (without a word spoken) about their choice of fast food, at the conclusion of which they "high five" and go off to claim their culinary prize. Seriously? No conversation?
Apparently not as weird as I might have thought.
Almost 20 years ago, Robert Putnam penned his book "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community." Drawing on nearly 500,000 interviews, Putnam concluded that we North Americans have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures.
He warned that "our stock of social capital - the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities."
Americans have become more isolated, he asserts: "We sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We're even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues."
The implications are enormous. Was Putnam too superficial in his assessment?
The Barna Group, a foremost religion-cultural polling organization, made this October 2019 report: "Just one in three 18- to 35-year-old respondents tells Barna they often feel deeply cared for by those around them (33%) or that someone believes in them (32%). Meanwhile, nearly one in four (23%) acknowledges encountering feelings of loneliness and isolation. Why do so few young adults feel cared for? Can you grasp what it means to believe that no one cares for you?
Does anyone care? Why should we care? The answer lies well outside sociology and politics.
At the core is the way in which we value human life - not merely "biological life," but the assertion that the life of each person has intrinsic value - before birth, at birth, after birth, and throughout life. Here, the Judeo-Christian ethic becomes visible.
The Psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) proclaim that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14b). We hold that human life is sacred, made in the "image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1:27).
In our New Testament, Jesus quotes the Hebrew Scriptures in saying that the greatest commandments are to love God completely and to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18b; Mark 12:31).
Whatever your faith (or even if you reject "faith"), how would you reach out to care for the unloved, for those who believe that no one cares deeply for them, for those in our community who have no connection, no one to care for them?
The most important response is personal. Your actions and your prayers - together - will be the answer. People of faith must show others that they are not alone, that they are not unloved. This is faith in action.
Joe Crowley is director of adult discipleship at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton. firstname.lastname@example.org