Monday, March 05, 2007

Oprah Winfrey, another religious ‘moderate’

Peter Birkenhead writes about our newest religious "moderate" [Salon link], our newest Cargo-Cult guru, Oprah Winfrey.
The promises of Oprah culture can seem irresistible, and its hallmarks are becoming ubiquitous. Believers may be separated into tribes according to what they believe, but they do it in pretty much the same way, relying on a "Secret"-style conception of "intuition" --- which seems to amount to the sneaking suspicion that they're always right -- to arrive at their tenets. Instead of the world as it is, constantly changing and full of contradiction, they see a fixed and fantastical place, where good things come to those who believe, whether it's belief in a diet, a God, or a Habit of Successful People. These believers may believe in the healing power of homeopathy, or Scripture or organizational skills -- in intelligent design, astrology or privatization. They all trust that their devotion will be rewarded with money and boyfriends and job promotions, with hockey championships and apartments. And most of all they believe -- they really, really believe -- in themselves.

For these believers, self-knowledge is much less important than self-"love." But the question they never seem to ask themselves is: If you wouldn't tell another person you loved her before you got to know her, why would you do that to yourself? Skipping the getting-to-know-you part has given us what we deserve: the Oprah culture. It's a culture where superstition is "spirituality," illiteracy is "authenticity," and schoolmarm moralism is "character." It's a culture where people apologize by saying, "I'm sorry you took offense at what I said," and forgive by saying, "I'm not angry at you anymore, I'm grateful to you for teaching me not to trust shitheads like you." And that's the part that should bother us most: the diminishing, even implicit mocking, of genuine goodness, and of authentic spiritual concerns and practices. Engagement, curiosity and active awe are in short supply these days, and it's sickening to see them devalued and misrepresented.
Ordinary unobjectionable spiritualism becomes "religious" when a discussion of happiness and joy transforms into conflating happiness for truth. And what separates Winfrey from traditional religions is only more slightly more sophisticated philosophical bullshit.

2 comments:

  1. BB:"Ordinary unobjectionable spiritualism becomes "religious" when a discussion of happiness and joy transforms into conflating happiness for truth."

    Are there any syndicated or network television talk shows in the U.S. that put truth above pleasing the audience (guaranteed happiness) and sponsors (money)? I don't think so. James Randi has posted details of how Oprah stacks the deck in her favor.

    BB:"And what separates Winfrey from traditional religions is only more slightly more sophisticated philosophical bullshit."

    "The Secret" seems nothing more than a New Age version of the "name-it-claim-it" prosperity gospel I've heard from some Pentecostal churches.

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  2. My comment was imprecise: I meant to say that it is the traditional religions (cough Catholicism cough), by virtue of their longer history, that have the more sophisticated bullshit. Other, newer religions, or new bullshit attached to various religions, retain the almost refreshing rawness of Winfrey's bullshit.

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