Religion, as Karl Marx once claimed, was the opiate of the people.
What he was trying to say is that religion fills a void in people's lives when they become disaffected and disillusioned - unhappy - and creates an "illusion" of happiness.
Of course, Marx, being a revolutionary atheist, didn't understand that what religion - or, specifically, Christianity - actually did was provide the comfort and contentment through which people attain real happiness rather than an illusion of it.
However, in our modern world where Christianity has been all but abolished by secular atheist militancy, it is no surprise that people turned to other things to try and fill the voids in their lives and provide the contentment and comfort which leads to happiness. And, as is the way of the modern world, the people didn't turn to something which requires thought, discipline and time but turned instead for quick fixes.
For a lot of people that means real drugs - hard drugs - but for many millions more they use something else. They use the quick fix of consumerism. Go out and buy something and, for a brief, fleeting moment you will attain happiness. What else explains the reaction to the launch of Apple's iPad - with people queueing up overnight to buy one and describing themselves as "elated"?
It's a quick fix to a problem that won't go away. The "high" induced by buying something new will quickly wash away and the consumer junkie will be compelled to go out and find their next "fix" as they search for that elusive peace and contentment which so many people find is missing from their lives.
Consumerism has become the new opium for the masses - but unlike religion which really can provide comfort and contentment, consumerism creates a truly illusory delusion of happiness and one which requires ever higher dosages to fill the void. It is also certain, ultimately, to fail.
As a nation we've turned to consumerism as a quick fix to the problem of attaining happiness. We build our temples in the form of out of town shopping malls - ever larger, ever more grand - and worship at the altar of our new gods - Ikea, Next, Sony and so on - every Saturday and Sunday. We give generously of our wealth in return for a shiny, new possession which we will display and worship at home.
Welcome to the new secular atheist religion - the new opium for the people. Unlike Christianity, it won't help you achieve happiness and you'll end up deep in debt, but at least you'll be able to be miserable comfortably. For a while, anyway.