The meal is an important part of the Christian community's worshiping life. So why are Christians eating alone?
BY: Richard Mouw
Civil society is in big trouble. At least that is what social commentators having been telling us lately.
Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor who studies the role of voluntary associations in promoting healthy society, is one scholar who worries about our loss of service clubs, churches, PTAs, and veterans' organizations. We are living off inherited "social capital," a fund from the past of community values and social reinforcements that is now in danger of being depleted, Putnam argues. In his recent book, "Bowling Alone,"Putnam offers evidence
that people are not getting together in the ways that once flourished. Membership in bowling leagues, for instance, has been in a serious decline in recent years. At the same time, though, more people are bowling than ever before. The result is the "bowling alone" syndrome.
He makes another a point, however, almost in passing. The decline in bowling leagues, he observes, has caused problems for bowling alleys. When people bowl in teams they tend to sit around and eat together. But people who don't socialize when they bowl also don't buy much food at bowling alleys. Bowling alone means eating alone.
However else we might want to evaluate the debates about civil society, I am convinced of this much: Eating alone is a big problem. We ought to be especially worried about the virtual disappearance of the daily family meal. The companies that operate college cafeterias tell us that present-day students don't dine--they "graze." They seldom relax for a whole meal eaten in the presence of a group of friends. They grab a sandwich here, a salad there, a yogurt cone there, with a minimum of socializing.
And this in turn is a pattern they learned at home. Individual family members eat at different times. Some do most of their eating standing up. And even when people do happen to eat in the same room, they often are watching television or chewing their food while listening to music on their headphones.