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Too much emphasis on physical perfection: bishop

By Sarah Mac Donald - 09 March, 2016

Church needs to challenge the consumer society which benefits from selling 'things' offering ‘salvation’ on the surface but neglect the inner reality of people’s lives.

Bishop Donal McKeown (2)

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry has said the Church has an opportunity today to be a prophetic voice towards the consumer society which is pushing people to live on the surface and leaves little recognition of the need for an inner journey in order to be true to oneself.

Speaking to CatholicIreland.net about the cult of physical perfection which is pervasive in the media and social media, Bishop McKeown said in this reality it is the market which offers salvation.

And this salvation is promoted through a huge emphasis on external beauty – shiner looking hair, softer looking hair, whiter looking teeth.

“All of which is wonderful in its own way but not if it leads to a neglect of the inner reality of people’s lives,” he said.

Referring to Lacoste’s slogan ‘Life is a beautiful sport’ or a travel company’s slogan, ‘Life is too short to say no’ or ‘obey your thirst’ or ‘Let’s feel good’, the Bishop of Derry said it was symptomatic of a culture that suggests that everything is transitory and ultimately nothing is terribly important and so make the most of what you have.

This calling people to live on the surface, he said, was “anti-human”.

“The Marxist phrase says the ideology of any society is the ideology of the ruling class. The consumer society benefits from selling us things that will offer ‘salvation’, whether it is a headache pill or a car or whatever else – they benefit from that. But I think it is inherently anti-human and as a Church we have the opportunity to be the prophetic voice to that reality,” he suggested.

He spoke to CatholicIreland.net on Saturday at the one day conference in Dublin themed ‘Opening the Door of Mercy’, which was organised by the Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

Dr McKeown said something that movements and consecrated life have is the commitment to be in a community that is journeying together.

“It is the loneliness that so often gets people down – the serial monogamy in the sense that relationships can’t really last – that they are essentially on the surface. That it is really all about me and how I can use somebody else for my temporary pleasure and then move on.”

The Bishop commented that even in terms of intimacy, “whereas physical intimacy is really what seals a growing self-awareness, we have the assumption that you can begin with the physical intimacy and that actually leads to a situation where for example in Great Britain an average 16 year old is more likely to have an iphone at home than their dad.”

“That is an inherently anti-human thing that they have never seen long-term committed relationships.”

He said he believed religious communities and groups could all build the sense of relationship and the possibility of journeying together and being accountable to one another.

He paid tribute to the representatives of the many new movements and catholic organisations who attended Saturday’s conference.

“There are so many of them working away across the country – it is great that we have them here today so that we can share from the community perspective, rather than the clergy perspective, how mercy is incarnated in the reality of their lives and their journey.”

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