I’m not going off on a tangent of having this blog being about current events, but this week we get another big event in religion in popular culture. Oprah says “thanks” to Jesus on her final show. Not in a brief off hand way but in a very clear and strong statement. If you seem to remember having heard her say things that seem to contradict that, there is nothing wrong with your memory.
I really don’t care what products or individuals she has supported that go counter to Christian morals or her stand on abortion, gay rights, vegetarianism or whether or not I need a makeover. What I do care is that she has used religious techniques to sell herself. She has been criticized for it, and just like religious leaders throughout history, she has claimed that she helps people and that she is searching for “good” and that her critics should get on board. All that in lieu of responding to the criticism itself. Like any good non-denominational preacher, nailing down just what she means by “good” is hard to define. It has something to do with believing in yourself and buying your T-shirts from an up and coming single mother entrepreneur.
Oprah pot shots are really too easy and I’m sure you will hear a few in the coming weeks. You will no doubt also hear from the Christians who want to distance themselves from her. Her self-help message runs counter to giving up your life to Jesus Christ. She is perfectly positioned to go after the “spiritual but not religious” market that is currently growing. Her ability to wrap a variety of “law of attraction” type messages under one umbrella, without examining any of them too deeply, is likely to be appealing for some time to come. Atheism is currently defined as non-belief in existing deities. For some it includes non-belief in all supernatural phenomena, but for many that is not a problem. Oprah has no problem promoting all types of magic.
If Oprah was merely bringing some modernization to Christianity, saying it is okay to pick the best parts of the teachings and discard the miracles and dogma, I would be okay with that. But she stated that Jesus was with her even when she didn’t know it. This leaves her room to claim anything she has done could be attributed to divine intervention and still say that she thinks for herself when she needs to. The statement she made on her last show indicates some pretty strong belief, and it will be difficult to reconcile it with previous statements she has made about non-belief. Given her ability to sell just about anything, I don’t doubt she’ll manage.
There is more to this than just the evils of marketing and the shamefulness of using Jesus to promote yourself. Whether or not she is doing that consciously doesn’t really matter. I am more troubled by what she is doing unwittingly. By giving G-O-D credit for her accomplishments, she leads many to believe that they only need to do the same to accomplish just as much. She leaves a big question about all of the people who will never come close to what she has done, where is Jesus in their lives? A very strange god that selects one woman, makes her a billionaire, has her promote books and programs that have nothing to do with Him, and leaves a billion others living on less than one dollar per day.
Parts of the final show are available on her website. In one of them, I think it is titled "what Oprah knows for sure" she talks about doing whatever you do with passion and that you will receive in direct porportion to what you give. So, this woman who has spent 25 years listening to stories of tragedy and triumph, hope and despair, knows for sure that life is fair. I guess my teachers, my football coach, my parents and the kid who stole my lunch money were all wrong.
I hope someone in her inner circle has pointed out that her message is only
slightly removed from the “gospel of prosperity” that has been seen on conservative evangelical television for years. It supports perseverance and hard work, but at the same time tells you that if you fail, there is something wrong with you. There must be something that you didn’t follow correctly because there certainly can’t be anything wrong with Oprah’s message. But don’t worry, if you fail, you just need to read the next book in the book club, or get the new updated DVD series, or go to the right seminar. It is a strange and dangerous brew of self-reliance and co-dependence.