The Loneliness Epidemic: The Call of Christian Communities to Create Meaningful Connection and Transform Loneliness into Belonging

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2023

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Abstract

Loneliness is a common and near-universal experience that causes us to feel isolated and disconnected from others. More and more Americans experience it most or all the time. With at least 30% of the US population experiencing loneliness and 10% of lonely people suffering deeply, even before the Covid-19 pandemic set upon us in 2020, the loneliness epidemic is an issue that the whole society, including Christian communities, needs to combat. In a capitalist society that emphasizes individual freedom, autonomy, and productivity, we continue to experience economic prosperity and advancements in fields like healthcare and communication technology. At the same time, we have become more self-focused and mistrusting, while polarizing political divisions are growing ever wider. Fewer people join in social communities like church groups and sports teams, and an average person’s social network is declining. As a result, Americans are increasingly disconnected from friends, family, and neighbors. Loneliness tends to happen due to transitions such as aging, singleness, bereavements, disconnections, and a lack of connectedness, of community, and of belonging. There is a myth that elderly people are the loneliest group; the truth, however, is that young adults are the loneliest. This ongoing public crisis is not only causing people to suffer silently but also killing them literally, and the general public is not aware of it. Members of the lonely society are longing for acceptance, purpose, and love, and what they need are meaningful interpersonal relationships. Although Christ has called Christians to share the gospel and participate in his ministry of caring those who suffer and are in need, Christian communities in America are not ready to tackle the issue of loneliness. In order for them to tackle it, they must change their lens on loneliness, because it is often considered bad or undesirable by Christians. How can Christian communities create meaningful connections and transform loneliness into belonging? At the heart of the loneliness epidemic is the lack of meaningful relationships. The loneliness epidemic is a reminder that living a self-centered life is not life-giving nor sustaining. The fact that we have the loneliness epidemic despite the many opportunities to connect with one another is a reminder that we not only need stronger connections with one another, but also a deeper connection with our Creator. The loneliness epidemic is also a reminder that members of Christian communities cannot be complacent but must follow Jesus in their neighborhoods and reach out to those who are in need, including the lonely. I research loneliness from three perspectives: philosophy/theology, mental/emotional/physical/spiritual health, and the intersection of religion and health. In doing so, I explore the issues that can be beneficial to Christian communities in responding to the loneliness epidemic. I focus my research on such issues as how loneliness has an impact on individuals mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually; how loneliness affects demographics like young adults, the elderly, and Christian leaders; the role of psychotherapy and other interventions and approaches for reducing loneliness; and the necessary actions members of Christian communities and leaders can take part in against the loneliness epidemic. I explore the nature and dangers of loneliness from the perspectives of contemporary researchers on loneliness and theologians like Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Thomas Aquinas (1224 – 1274), and John of the Cross (1542-1591).

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Rodawla, Laldinpuia (2023). The Loneliness Epidemic: The Call of Christian Communities to Create Meaningful Connection and Transform Loneliness into Belonging. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27561.

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