The Post-Consumer Society: An All Consuming Hunger

Wednesday, 12. February 2003

Bishop Michael Marshall (Photo: Simon Futcher)"They had everything to live with, and nothing to live for." Bishop Michael Marshall, Assistant Bishop of London and Bishop-in-Residence at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, opened the Greencoat Forum on 11 February with that suggestion of an epitaph for modern society. What have we missed? How is it that no amount of wealth can answer – or supersede – the enduring question, "What was I made for?" Materialism, science and technology may appear to have dispensed with the need of any spiritual dimension in defining what it is to be human; yet there is an increasing disillusionment with the global divide between rich and poor, and a spiritual hunger and searching expressed in varied ways.

Bishop Marshall described some of the dehumanising forces of a technological society: artificial intelligence; the availability of information at the expense of communication; the breakdown of community and family life, denying the crucial interrelationship of communication, community and communion. The resulting spiritual hunger and cultural poverty have created a society of addictions and of disposable relationships.

The later part of Bishop Marshall’s address looked ahead to a possible "materialistic spirituality", where materialism might be redeemed and brought to a new significance. We are not called to reject the tyrants of money, sex and power, but to the more difficult task of turning them to a larger purpose than themselves and ourselves. Our hunger for freedom finds its proper expression not in glorifying choice and self, but rather in relationship, commitment and, ultimately, worship. It is worship that we were created for, and the essential question is which are the gods worthy of our worship: the false gods which return us to servility and bondage, or the true God who restores our freedom.

So in the end, Bishop Marshall concluded, when we have seen through everything there are only two alternatives: cynicism or contemplation. This is not an escapist contemplation, but rather a contemplation which sees God in everything. Initiatives of Change, he challenged us, is well placed to respond by being "the right people in the right place at the right time doing and saying the right things", for this has always been what makes a difference: "the many are influenced by the few as the few are influenced by the One."