I grew up in a society where our values – the principles which influence and shape our relationships – were determined in general by education. For my generation, the learning which took place at home, school, or in church and college, for example, was formative in developing who we have become as human beings. In this environment, we learned that personal bonds and friendships offered us boundaries in which we could give and take. Furthermore, we were aware that who we were also partly determined who other people were too, whether in nearby communities or distant countries. We appreciated our interconnectedness expressed in words such as ‘common good’, ‘common-wealth’ or ‘common home’.
Today, I sense values are shaped less by education and much more by entertainment. We are embedded in a world of media images and messages which prompt us to learn less about the quality of our relationships and much more the quantity of our consumption. We pick up cues for behaving from celebrities, ‘reality’ TV, on-line games and films, instant Posts and Apps, and all often fuelled by the intrigue of novelty. The drive to always upgrade is mirrored by the desire to find new sensations or flavours or extremes. Little surprise we are seldom satisfied or fulfilled. There is forever new products around the corner encouraging us to discard the present ones.
And so we are pushed not to value the present moment, what we already have or where we are. Fantastic entertainments cajole us consciously and unconsciously into a world where values or ethical principles are confined to that which suits our more immediate needs – and, disturbingly, to ignore the effects our lifestyles are having on others in other places or in the longer term.
‘I, me, now’ becomes the unspoken strapline of advertising. It is in the constant noise of moving pictures, headlines and muzak that our humanity is shaped. Nothing common or public in all this. Everything is privatised in a world surrounded by soundbites and strobe lights.
Not surprising therefore that predominant attitudes to both faith and politics are either apathy or antipathy, or they are points of engagement for yet more individualised consumerism. The visit to church is an add-on to the visit to the shopping mall or supermarket. There we are served by different acolytes but with the same goal of being sold a product to fill our immediate desires.
Political parties become crammed with career politicians who also sell us goals to further our own pockets (tax cuts) or promote our own security (prompted by stranger phobias). Politics has less to do with developing the common good and more to do with promoting private well-being. We are told we do not need relationships in a culture where there are only individuals. We are sold personal happiness as an ultimate aspiration and achievement.
But in the face of all this there are plenty of signs of hope – countercultural forces that re-emphasise the community, struggles to rediscover solidarity and connectivity with the marginalised, opportunities to re-earth ourselves in the deeper rhythms of nature and nurture.
Witness the huge national engagement with BBC’s Springwatch; or the way complementary currencies are capturing the imagination of local communities; or the rediscovery of social pride through festivals. Look at the anti-austerity movements across Europe or those who speak out against fortress mentalities as environmental refugees flee from unsustainable lands. The Pope calls for ‘ecological conversion’, President Obama for ‘a clean energy age’.
That is always the central message of faith – that another way is always possible. That is a key value for us to affirm, and the route to achieve it is in cooperating to care deeply and share resources especially at a time of disdain and despair.
Life can be different because we can live differently.
All best wishes – Martyn