[Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series. The next installment will appear in this space next Thursday.]
Perhaps the most dramatic shift ever to take place in Western society has been the very recent shift from family life to single life.
• In 1950, singles comprised 20% of the households in America. But soon perhaps this year, singles will comprise a majority of all households.
• Between 1970 and 2000 the number of Americans between 25 and 34 who were unmarried tripled. (All statistics from www.census.gov).
The future of our society and of our Church depends upon reaching this exploding demographic for two simple reasons:
1) Singles are the only source of families — all marriages, and all consecrated vocations as well, can only come from single people. The current crisis in both married and consecrated vocations cannot be remedied without providing formation to single people who are the sole source of all of those vocations.
2) The interests of our society are racing at a breakneck pace away from the values and issues of family life and toward the values and issues of single life. In recognizing how to reach and respond to singles, we are recognizing how to reach our entire society.
From the beginning of history until very recently the norm was to live from family to family — to live most of one's life in a nuclear family and practically all of one's life in an extended family. Scripture calls for a man to “leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife” (Gen 2:24), without mention of any protracted period of singleness. Life, throughout our history, has always been family life. There have certainly been exceptions, but they were understood to be exceptions.
Until very recently, the ascendant value in our culture had always been the notion of the “common good,” a natural extension of the concepts of family and extended family. In the turbulence of social change in the last half century, most of us failed to notice that this notion of common good has largely been replaced by the notion of individual rights, or personal freedom.
Perhaps the person who pointed this out most prophetically, and in the clearest terms, was Justice Blackmun, in the majority opinion he authored for Roe V. Wade. Justice Blackmun observed that the ideal of privacy has become the one upon which we as a society make our most crucial, life and death decisions. Justice Blackmun was wrong in the conclusions he derived from this, but profoundly and powerfully accurate in his assessment of what we as a society have come to treasure most highly: absolute autonomy—radical privacy.
Roe V. Wade was authored in 1973. Between 1970 and 2000:
• The percentage of Americans living alone increased 2.5 times.
• The percentage of people living alone compared to couples living with children increased over 5.5 times.
This astounding shift toward aloneness and isolation is rapid and ongoing and gives no sign of abating.
The ascendant value of radical privacy is given expression in our culture in so many ways today that we hardly even notice it. We have reality TV programs premised not upon shared experience but upon systematically excluding others until the winner achieves the modern ideal, the coveted status of isolation as the sole survivor. We have conservative thinkers espousing rugged individualism, self-reliance, and personal responsibility for one’s self as the supreme values. At the same time we have liberal thinkers rejecting any notion of absolute truth in favor of the individual’s right to choose his own truth, even his own reality.
Dave Sloan writes and speaks across the country on GOD OF DESIRE: From Dating to Courtship to Paradise Dave has appeared on many radio and television programs, including CNN News and EWTN's Life on the Rock. His Twelve Principles Program shows how to begin every relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ, who can discover the wonder of one another without fear while growing ever closer to the God of Desire.
This article, and the Dating and Friendships Channel, are sponsored by Catholicsingles.com, the largest Internet dating site for Catholics.