In Christianity Today, LaTonya Taylor offered the definitive look at “The Church of O” 10 years ago. There are many reasons why I’m not the type of woman to get into Oprah Winfrey, but her religious views always intrigued me.
Earlier this week, Tmatt looked at some of the coverage of Oprah’s goodbye show. He wrote “She led the way in creating what I have long called ‘OprahAmerica,‘ it’s a culture defined by emotion, feelings and stories, not by acts of creeds, doctrines and sacraments that have eternal consequences.” But how many articles got at that issue?
In the New York Times this weekend, Mark Oppenheimer looked at “The Church of Oprah Winfrey and a Theology of Suffering.” And as you might expect of a religion column, it’s all about the unique religion advanced by Oprah, “at once Christian and pantheistic.” The first part of the article talks about some of the Christian strains in her theology, with interesting quotes from Eva Illouz, a sociologist:
While respecting Ms. Winfrey’s use of her Christian heritage, Dr. Illouz ultimately concluded that the talk-show host might be something of a false prophet. That is because, she said, Ms. Winfrey and her cadre of self-help experts treated suffering as something beneficial. Ms. Winfrey turned the black church’s ethos of self-reliance in the face of suffering into an exaltation of suffering itself.
“By making all experiences of suffering into occasions to improve oneself,” Dr. Illouz wrote, “Oprah ends up — absurdly — making suffering into a desirable experience.”
And if, as Ms. Winfrey’s teachings suggest, strong women “can always transcend failure by the alchemy of their own will and of therapy, then people have only themselves to blame for their misery,” Dr. Illouz said.
Very interesting. We then get an intriguing discussion of Charles Grandison Finney and the “anxious bench.”
But I also enjoyed the part of the article that looked at the non-Christian aspects of Oprah’s theology:
Yet the Church of Winfrey is at most partly Christian. Her show featured a wide, if drearily similar, cast of New Age gurus. As Karlyn Crowley writes in her contribution to “Stories of Oprah: The Oprahfication of American Culture,” an essay collection published last year, Ms. Winfrey excelled at offering “spiritual alternatives to the mainstream religions” in which many of her followers grew up. Ms. Winfrey presided over something like a “New Age feminist congregation,” Dr. Crowley writes. …
In her earnest spiritual seeking, Ms. Winfrey gave platforms to some rather questionable types. She hosted the self-help author Louise Hay, who once said Holocaust victims may have been paying for sins in a previous life. She championed the “medical intuitive” Caroline Myss, who claims emotional distress causes cancer. She helped launch Rhonda Byrne, creator of the DVD and book “The Secret,” who teaches that just thinking about wealth can make you rich. She invited the “psychic medium” John Edward to help mourners in her audience talk to their dead relatives.
Oppenheimer’s reported column ends with this type of criticism of Winfrey’s religious exuberance and failure to ask tough questions of “psychics and healers and intuitives.” Whether you agree or disagree with Oppenheimer, this is a thoughtful and well argued analysis of Oprah’s theology and its limitations. It’s nice to read something of this nature in the weekend paper.