Time recently published its 2012 list of 10 ideas that are changing your life. Some of the usual suspects appear: “Computers are destroying our brains,” “Humanity is destroying the earth,” and (hold the front page!) “We’re destroying ourselves with stress.” There’s also the bizarre: new food preservation techniques can keep meat edible for up to seven years (think I’ll give that BBQ a pass). But at least half the entries mask a core idea that’s been causing us problems for 6,000 years—the self-centered desire and demand for independence. Here are its latest disguises.
Living Alone Is the New Norm: In one of the biggest societal changes ever witnessed, the number of Americans living alone has increased from 4 million in 1950 (9 percent of households) to 33 million (28 percent of households) today.
But don’t feel sorry for the “new loners.” NYU sociologist Erik Klinenberg tell us this is the ideal life:
Living alone serves a purpose: it helps us pursue sacred modern values—individual freedom, personal control, and self-realization—that carry us from adolescence to our final days. Living alone allows us to do what we want, when we want, on our own terms. It liberates us from the constraints of a domestic partner’s needs and demands and permits us to focus on ourselves.
The Rise of the Nones: “The fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. (16 percent) is the category of people who say they have no religious affiliation.”
That doesn’t mean “the Nones” don’t want any kind of church; no, they just want to do be free from “rigid dogma” and do it their way. The unofficial chaplain of “Not Church,” a regular gathering of American expats on Mexico’s Baja peninsula, said, “The underlying drive is to distance themselves from organized religion and build a rich if unorthodox spiritual life.”
Black Irony: Touré described for Time how many black Americans are turning their backs on conventional forms of blackness and want to “take a more independent even irreverent look at the subject.”
There’s that “I” word again . . . .and again: “Black irony’s imperative to use blackness inindependent ways responds to the mind-bending complexity of modern blackness . . . Sometimes we simply want to feel free to be independently black rather than worship at the altar.”
Privacy in Public: The drive to be free from others, from their scrutiny, and from accountability, has become so strong that the courts have now enshrined a right to privacy in public.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against law enforcement using GPS signals to track a suspected drug dealer, even though the cops monitored only where the suspect went on public streets. “Thanks to that decision, for the first time in American history there is now a legal right to privacy in public.” Previously, courts agreed that Americans voluntarily gave up their Fourth Amendment protections almost as soon as they left their homes.
Niche Aging: It’s been worrying to watch retired people increasingly withdraw from society into “retirement communities,” often at great loss to themselves and at even greater loss to those from whom they withdraw their knowledge and experience. But now: “the generic retirement model is starting to give way to what developers are calling affinity housing—niche communities where choosy boomers can opt to grow old alongside others who share a specific interest” (e.g. Country Music, Feng Shui, and even LGBT). The idea would appear to be, “If I can’t be completely independent, then at least let me live beside those most like myself.”
Large Capital “I”
I’m not saying all of these ideas are completely wrong; some of them are understandable and even well motivated. But, taken together, do they not frame a picture of a large capital “I”? “Let me be me, let me be separate, having as little relationship with, dependence upon, or accountability to others as possible.”
But that’s not how God designed us to live. In the original creation, God created us dependent, both upon him and upon one another. Adam needed Eve, Eve needed Adam, and both needed God. And all was very, very good. It would never be better. Mutual need and dependence was part of God’s perfect order and part of our happiness.
In fact, what spoiled it all was a sinful desire for independence—the desire for “individual freedom, personal control, and self-realization.” Adam and Eve did not just want independence from God; they wanted to be god themselves. After sin entered, that desire for independence only accelerated as our first parents blamed each other and pushed away from one another.
Mercy of Dependence
In great mercy, God sowed dependence back into humanity with his first gospel promise (Gen. 3:15), calling us to depend upon him to send a Devil-destroyer and humanity-saver. In a judgment full of mercy, he then built sorrow and difficulty into two of our core callings, work and child-bearing (Gen. 3:16-18), again to make us need and depend upon one another and, above all, on God himself.
Of course, in a sinful world where interdependent relationships can be so easily abused, independence is sometimes more moral and ethical than dependence. For example, negative peer pressure or national oppression must be resisted and sometimes even fought. However, self-centered expressions of independence are far more common and reveal our fundamental flaw, rather than how to repair it.
Am I arguing for the return of a dependency culture? Yes, but not the “depend on government” culture envisioned by so many of our politicians, a dependency that only increases our separation and alienation from one another and from God. Rather, I have in mind the original divine order that built dependence on God and on one another into the very fiber of our beings and of our world.
And let’s not only be quick to spot the big capital “I” in the latest fads and fashions of our world. Let’s also keep a close watch upon ourselves. May God help us to weaken our own stubborn streaks of independence, and to strengthen God-glorifying, community-building dependency, his plan from the beginning.
Now there’s an idea that would change our lives, our families, our communities, our churches, and our world.