What is happening in the Australian soul? One of my lecturers at Moore Theological College would ask this question of many of those he met in the local community in order to understand our culture.
A common response that he heard from those in the medical profession concerned the alarming loneliness epidemic that has been sweeping through the fabric of our society and fracturing the Australian soul. This year the pandemic has only heightened the intensity of this reality.
One of the contributing factors to this loneliness epidemic is the disintegration of the local community. A local community can be understood as a group of people who are committed to cherish and relationally enrich one another with their time, energy, and resources. However, community is difficult to foster and maintain especially when individualism, consumerism and convenience is king. In a recent interview, philosopher James K.A. Smith identifies this issue, saying, “There is a not accidental correlation between our narrow view of freedom as autonomy and independence and our increased social isolation and loneliness… we get sealed into these cubicles of self-concern and we are walled off from community.” The Western individualist mindset grates against what is needed to build community. Consequently, densely close-knit local community groups have been replaced by multiple, partial, and far-flung social networks. Schools, sporting clubs and churches are perhaps the only places where the relic of a sense of community is preserved.
The loss of community
The effects of the loss of community are profound and varied. With the demise of community there is a decline in honest conversation and meaningful in-person contact. Social media is touted as an ‘online community’ and an effective solution to connect with the hundreds of ‘friends’ one may have. Conveniently, the power rests in the individual who can dictate the level of relationship involvement and commitment on their own superficial terms. It gives a façade of friendship and community, yet only at arms-length. A simple like or a comment acknowledges one’s brief ‘commitment’ to the relationship. This has flow-on effects with the way that we as a society interact with people who share different worldviews. We simply ignore or shun the voices that put forward views that are in opposition to our own camp.
The loss of community also brings with it the loss of shared spaces where personal and meaningful interaction can be experienced. This has created a problem for those who wish to find a suitable partner in the dating space. Hence, the rise in superficial dating apps such as Tinder where potential partners come up on a screen with their curated profiles. One can examine the possibilities and express an interest by a simple swipe of the finger across the screen.
With the disintegration of community, boredom quickly sets in. Our thirst for entertainment flowing out of our consumerist mindset is an attempt to fill this void. Bingeing on the latest television shows from streaming services for hours on end and reclining in the comfort of our own four walls to shield ourselves from any sort of deep-rooted commitment to the lives of those in the community is the new norm. Furthermore, the loss of community has coincided with the breakdown and dysfunction of the family unit. The final battle lines against the onslaught of individualism was the family unit but this is being quickly eroded away. Christmas can often be the most painful season for people as they find themselves alone or are forced to ignore each other from across the room. The dinner table used to be the sacred space where a family is united from the labours of the day as they share in their highs and lows. Now the lounge room is where family members are entertained as they are glued to their screens in silence.
The loss of community is a dehumanising reality. It warps and disorders the way that we were designed to relate to one another and ultimately to God.
It stems from our sinful nature which seeks to alienate ourselves further from one another and from the life of God. Ephesians 4:18-19 puts it starkly: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” These individualistic indulgences of impurity and greed drive a wedge between relationships as people are objectified and commodified.
The Christian community
Community is not a word that you will find in your Bible and it can often be an overused buzz word. But Scripture does envisage the notion of a community. This can be seen in both the local church and the wider fellowship that Christians share because of who they belong to (1 John 1:3). We may try and liken it to a community group like Scouts, a Bowling club or the Country Women’s Association. However, it is a community that is unlike any other because it is formed and established by God as he saves people by his grace (Eph 2:4ff). In the book of Acts, Christians are living in close proximity, such that they are regularly, prayerfully interacting with each other, and the word of God is being taught, believed, and obeyed (Acts 2:42- 47). The Christian community is not only inwardly looking but it is also outwardly looking as it brings the message
of the gospel out into the world. There is a profound unity among Christians as they are brought near to each other by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13). They no longer remain foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of his household built upon the foundation of the preaching of Christ (Eph 2:19-20). The implications for the Christian life is that it is lived in a transformed community of love and other-person centredness united in Christ (4:1-5:20). This reality should be reflected in the church (that is, the local assembly of God’s people), as well as the community of relationships between God’s people that can persist outside the regular assembly.
The Australian soul may descend further into loneliness, as
it abandons the value of community. For Christians, the temptation is to follow
suit and neglect meeting together (Heb 10:25). The comforting lures of
individualism, consumerism and convenience are enticing, but Christians must no
longer live in this way (Eph 4:17). Instead Christians are to foster a
community of love centred on Christ as they bear with one another, forgive one
another, carry one another’s burdens, pray for each other and encourage one
another until the Lord returns (Col 3:13-14; Gal 6:2; Jas 5:16; Heb 10:25).
 www.publicchristianity.org/the-freedom- paradox/