Dominican Sisters on Oprah

Novices in chapel, observed by Oprah’s crew

The Dominican Sisters of Mary will be featured on Oprah Winfrey’s show tomorrow, and the gals were kind enough to send along an exclusive picture from the crew’s visit to their Ann Arbor Motherhouse. They have more pictures here.

A peek at her teaser for the Tuesday show (H/T the Deac) indicates that the Sisters will share the hour with a look at the “the word’s only Western Geisha.” One serves God and thereby all of humanity, one serves a single man and makes him feel like a god. I don’t think that Ms. Winfrey meant to make it sound like a carnival barker selling a “freak” show.

I guess Oprah’s “theme” here is that two rather “secret” lives are being looked into, but I do wonder at the mindset that puts Consecrated religious and Geisha on the same footing. Either one of these subjects could easily fill an hour’s worth of television, and by reducing them to 23 minute overviews, both features promise to be as penetrating as prop knives; superficial, shallow and sensationalistic.

But then again, I’m not an Oprah (or daytime tv) viewer, so perhaps that is par for the course?

What disappoints about the teaser is something that consistently disappoints on those rare occasion when news people talk with Christian religious: the interviewers are so hung up on sex, and so lacking in imagination or depth of thought, that it is the first thing they talk about, and an issue the cannot seem to get past: “you give up sex? How do you not have sex? What about sex?” It is literally the first thing Oprah brings up in her teaser: “they’re young, and gave up sex! careers! and children!” Note the emphasis. And the priority.

They never harangue Buddhist monks and nuns about celibacy, or call the Dalai Lama “hung up” about it. But when talking to Christian religious, it’s all they’ve got. I recall an “insider” visit Diane Sawyer made to the Poor Clare Nuns of Roswell, New Mexico, where she confronted 700 years of mystery and monasticism, tradition, sacrifice and silence, and all she seemed capable of talking about was “no sex? How can you not have sex?”

The inability of these people to get beyond the corporeal and into the spiritual bespeaks a discomfort with depth, an unwillingness to consider all they do not know as anything but “oddball.” That is ironic, when they purport to be broad-minded sorts. Their opportunism sees an interesting topic to exploit for “sweeps” week, but their imagination has perhaps been stunted by forty years of hearing that sex is the be-all-and-end-all-of human reality and happiness, and their curiosity extends only far enough to get a few pictures and soundbites (and a “gotcha” if you can manage it), because in their conflicted worldview, religion is both too boring and too provocative for their viewing audience to endure.

It’s sad, isn’t it? The reason I don’t watch daytime television is because it is generally insipid and brain-killing. The cheap emphasis on trends, “instant” solutions to real problems and the over-reliance on sex as a subject and selling point can only serve to delude people into thinking that “the world” has all of the answers -that as long as they are reading a particular book, using a particular product, watching a particular show or espousing a particular mindset, they are progressing toward their happy-place. But they can never get there because every week the happy-place is redefined; the paths are changed, the next enlightened counselor, psychic or charlatan is the guy or gal who can tell you how to make your life perfect and achieve “inner peace” and ten-minute orgasms, by simply taking their vague advice.

You never hear one of these daytime-answer folk say that life is hard, and often unfair, and that sometimes the best way to deal with it all is to just buck up, stop whining, stop thinking about yourself, and go do something productive for someone else; find something greater than yourself in which to expend some energy, and much of your real or imagined grievances will fade away.

Take away the complaint, ‘I have been harmed,’ and the harm is taken away.
– Marcus Aurelius

We have have had four decades of incessant sex-chat, sex-counseling and sex-advice, particularly in daytime television, and -if the constant arrival of new (or newly discovered “ancient”) sex theories being foisted on the public is any indication- people are still grasping in the dark, and coming up empty. This indicates to me that all this talk has meant less-than-nothing, and that most people are still not having great sex.

The truth is, if your sex life is great, then you don’t need to talk about it all the time. Just as a bride who is insecure about the strength of her marriage may overdo the gushing and “protest too much” that she and her husband are “solid,” the person (or the society) needing to go on and on about sex is the person (or the society) that is insecure and unsettled about it.

I suspect much of that comes from our losing sight of sex as something more than a recreational entitlement, wholly detached from meaning beyond the moment. Lovemaking is sacred. The co-creative function that drives it so powerfully is Holy, and because it is Holy, it is wrapped in mystery, as well. Society has lost touch with that notion because it has so fully detached sex from procreation, and the politico-socio zeitgeist has demanded that all sex be “freed” from the religious perspective, which can only be “restrictive” and “limiting.” And here we are.

We have a very odd notion, really, of what makes us free, anymore. Sex that lives in fear of life, that must be protected from disease, that exposes the human body to degradation, the human heart to constant shielding and the human spirit to constant uncertainty, is not sex that makes us free. It is sex that entraps us, distracts us and ultimately makes us strangers to ourselves.

I believe that the Holy Spirit uses the most surprising people and circumstances to work toward God’s purpose, and that most of the time the purpose goes far beyond our imaginings. So, I am very hopeful that the net result of Oprah’s look at apostolic women religious will be a positive in the obvious way -that women who have had little exposure to this option might find themselves attracted enough to be open to the workings of grace.

But I am also hopeful
that there will be a less-obvious benefit as well: that the show may get some people to wondering what else they might be missing while they’re obsessing on the trendy, the sensational, the sexually-titillating; that they may find themselves inspired to turn away from the superficial, and go deeper.

Margaret Cabaniss links and adds the hopes of the sisters.

John Paul II’s Theology of the Body
Fr. Dwight Longenecker: Some thoughts on moral theology

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • KS

    I remember another Diane Sawyer interview, with a priest who was going to marry a former nun, or had already done so. Same kinds of questions: “Do you really think that God cares about sex?” Etc.

  • HeatherRadish

    “they’re young, and gave up sex! careers! and children!”

    Huh? Isn’t their vocation the ultimate career? And how many children did Oprah have…?

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention The Anchoress | A First Things Blog --

  • Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  • Ellen

    I heard a talk by a priest who said he met Mother Teresa when he was a young man who owned his own business. She told him he would be a father. Of many children. And so he is.

    I don’t think Oprah would understand that.

  • Pingback: » Links to Visit – 02/08/10 Where liberty dwells, there is my country…

  • Noel

    Odd, the aversions to God’s creation and blessings and purpose. Odd, the rejection to embrace the oneness that God deigned to share with his created family. That oneness of trinity between two.

    It’s no wonder the Oprah’s of God’ creation cannot resist comment.

    It’ no wonder God cries the tears of loneliness in cells of solitude.

    Abortion of God’s promises and purposes takes many forms.

  • TomG

    Ma’am, you outdone yourself with that post. Wonderful.

  • Gabriel C

    I can quite agree with the sentiment of this article, that the obsession with sex is extremely superficial. But religious people often have an obsession with sex just as strong as that of the secular people whom you quote reacting to nuns and monks. – Consider, for example, the extraordinary amount of space that is dedicated to the issue of homosexuality – and the admission or not of gay people into the clergy – on blogs such as ‘On the Square’ (I pick that as an example, simply because I happen to read it). I find this just as troubling a sign of the all-pervasiveness of this obsession.

  • Jennifer

    You are truly insightful and articulate, Anchoress. This post is outstanding. Oprah better do right by the Sisters tomorrow! I’ll be watching.

  • Hilary

    Thank you…many times over.
    My daughter is one of the sisters, in her fifth year of religion. She is just 22 years old and was the “baby” at the convent for her first year. It is not a mystery to us why this life attracts beautiful young women. I had two children “naturally” and now I have many and my heart is so full! My poor stomach did a flop when I heard about this broadcast but when I heard who was going I began to hope (in the true meaning) that perhaps God would be about to rescue both Oprah and her followers from their path of damnation. In case you mistakenly think I’m a saint I just want to tell you that my first thought was to ask my daughter if any of them managed to splash Oprah with holy water…and did she sizzle?

  • Pingback: Bookworm Room » Four things that are interesting *UPDATED*

  • James Stephens

    Years ago A&E ran a series on “The Fifties.” In one segment Mike Wallace interviewed Hugh Hefner, and he didn’t like him. Hefner elucidated on his philosophy, and it was obvious–or so it seemed–that Wallace thought Hefner’s view of the role sex played in life was bizarre. A generation (or so) later it’s hard to imagine anyone in the media thinking the “Playboy philosophy” is anything but normal, and so we have Oprah’s audience seeing these sisters portrayed as odd. In the fifties people would have understood that religious celibacy was a sacrifice that had its rewards, and would have understood that chastity outside of marriage was at least an ideal. I think these sisters will be addressing an audience that need to see and hear them.

  • Klaire

    I agree Elizabeth; great post, reaching on much deep in my heart.

    I recently re-listened to a Bishop Sheen tape on marriage. He said marriage/romantic love/sex is the “bait” for God. Truly, that is what it is, so it makes total sense, that in this “feel good don’t you dare ask me to sacrifice” culture, sex will never “fill us up” until we get that God is meant to be in the middle of it.

    Thanks to JPII and the Theology of the Body, we now have the materials to understand this in its fullness.

    As for Oprah, I posted over at Dcn. Greg’s that Oprah backed Sarah Palin with porn queen J Jamison so no suprise that she has to mix the “Dark” with the “light” of the Eucharistic Sisters.

    If even one person in her mega audience wakes up from luke warmness, especially to the Eucharist, it will all have been worth it.

  • brian

    I was disappointed in the juxtaposing of Geishas and nuns, but perhaps it will work to good effect in further accentuating the lives of the Dominicans. Hopefully the Dominicans will be allowed to speak freely of their life without being interrupted or having their conversation steered this and that way by the show.

  • T Migratorious

    Thanks as usual for a thought-provoking comment that goes in a different and deeper direction than most commentary on the internet.

    I wanted to chime in on the daytime TV theme. I work for most of the year–okay, I teach–so I’m usually gone during the View/Oprah/Dr. Phil hours. And I’m also estranged from those shows by temperament.

    My 87-year-old mother, however, likes “The View” so it’s often on when I am at her house doing things for her. She’s very shy about sexual topics–I don’t think we ever had “the talk” when I was a girl because of her shyness–so I am amazed that she can sit still during this show. I’m much less prudish than she is, but I am horrified by what I just overhear by happenstance when I’m there. I have to put on my MP3 player just to be able to be around when this show is on. (All right, she’s almost 90 so maybe she can’t hear and just likes the pictures. Sigh.)

    The Anchoress helped me see that what bothers me so much about these occasions is not the content so much as the cynical manipulation of the idea of sex as some kind of feminist talisman of power.

    If that’s all you’ve got going, I feel really sorry for you.

  • nan

    “The truth is, if your sex life is great, then you don’t need to talk about it all the time.” Absolutely correct.

  • Christian

    “[T]he extraordinary amount of space that is dedicated to the issue of homosexuality” at On the Square is proportionate to the amount of space obsessively dedicated to the propagation & approbation of homosexuality elsewhere.

  • manateespirit

    Nice post. I have not watched Oprah for over 6 years now. I find her disingenuous and not truthful. Her agendas are generally nothing I agree with, nor care to see.

    I would love to see the segment on the sisters tomorrow…on your blog! Thanks for the insight you provided.

  • Kamilla

    I don’t know why anyone would be surprised at Oprah’s juxtapostiong of women religious and a “Western Geisha” – it’s what she does. She occasionally appears to take Christianity seriously, but it’s always with a sneer.

    Don’t forget, this is the woman who thinks India’s womb rental business is a great way for the poor women of India to “get ahead”.


  • Kamilla

    uhm, juxtapositioning? juxtaposing?

  • LittleMissPerfect

    It’s interesting, too, that “progressive” feminist types consider themselves so enlightened and evolved, but cannot fathom that some people would choose to give up sex for a higher spiritual purpose.

    I had a “progressive” friend tell me that “People are more evolved than they used to be, so they don’t need to believe in God any more; they have themselves.” I guess this is the reason for the disconnect in their thinking. If they don’t believe in God, they don’t have any reason to abstain from their sexual urges to serve His purpose. This would also relieve them from any responsibility of participating in sex primarily to serve God’s purpose of procreation.

    BTW, I used to be a huge fan of Oprah, but over the last few years I noticed her becoming enamored of the Hollywood crowd, which was troubling to me. When she refused to interview Sarah Palin last year I was very disappointed. The continous gushing over Obama by her and her guests was the nail in the coffin for me. I don’t watch her anymore, but will tune in tomorrow to see the sisters.

  • Jeff

    I think it was Fulton Sheen who said once that when a consciousness of sin and nudity of the soul, i.e., encountering Christ in confession, disappears, an obsession with nudity of the body emerges. We’ve been witnessing this phenomenon for about 40 years now.

    Oprah represents all that is wrong with contemporary American culture, and the juxtaposition of the sisters’ life of service to God and man with geishas is so typical of her, it’s just an indirect attempt to sexualize what they are doing.

  • dry valleys

    “You never hear one of these daytime-answer folk say that life is hard, and often unfair, and that sometimes the best way to deal with it all is to just buck up, stop whining”

    Well, I am told that this view is actually quite widely expressed in the media, in contexts where it really shouldn’t. Such as cancer sufferers, schools of “theology”, & I’d say it was a fairly lousy approach to unemployment in a recession.

    I know that isn’t quite what you meant but I wouldn’t just say the world is full of bedwetters :)

    We need no telling that life is hard in this city. Now, I have quite strong anti-TV views & University Challenge is the only thing I watch unless I am in a rough mood & want to vegetate (rare).

    But when you think about this culture of frayed attention spans, instant gratification & what have you, it may be sexually loose but I don’t blame the culprits usually fingered in these parts. Unless you want to call Rupert Murdoch, who in Britain is arguably the single biggest agent of dumbing down, part of a left-wing conspiracy. It’s a funny kind of left-wing conspiracy that has conspirators like that is all I can say.

    As a result of not watching TV, I know little & care even less about Oprah Winfrey’s doings. Though I probably should care, given that people like that have such influence over the “culture”. (Which is why you’ll often see discussions of soap operas in serious newspapers, but they don’t persuade me to watch them).

    I don’t think much of wanton sleeping around as a lifestyle. But most people who are secular, atheists & of whatever political inclination can figure out that it isn’t a life for them after a few meaningless encounters. People do just give up living that way after a while. I’m not much of a seducer but I have had a few encounters, if I’d been more promiscuous I would probably have given up in the exact same way that I don’t drink half as much as I used to 5 years ago.

    People would rather have enjoyable, meaningful sex. But I would say that it isn’t necessary to be in a nuclear family to do that. Be it two gays, or people who are friends & affectionate towards each other who think they will add some “benefits” to their friendship because they are going through a barren spell. Then you have just got some people who are glad of whatever is offered :)

    I would also say that if they use contraception that is an exercise of personal responsibility, because some people (& I would call myself one of them) are not going to be good parents, at least not yet, & I can’t see most of them leading lives of celibacy. If people want to do that, it’s not my idea of a night out but I won’t be sneering. Yet I wouldn’t ask it of anyone else.

    But of course I do not believe in the theological underpinnings of this, so my comment will be judged accordingly by readers.

  • dry valleys

    “If people want to do that” as in become nuns.

    It was never a lifestyle for most people, even when monasticism was at its height, & I am led to believe that many people were put there for social reasons without any particular sense of vocation & didn’t like it. In this day & age we accept that it is a choice. But not most people’s preferred way of doing things.

    Imagine me having to listen to someone else & stop thinking I was clever? It is unheard of :)

  • Hantchu

    There is a fundamental disconnect in contemporary society regarding sex and sexuality. Sex is part of a scale of physical actions, sexuality is the full expression ind integration of the physical with the spiritual and personal. Just as one can have sex without expressing one’s sexuality, so one can have an integrated sexuality without having sex. Why is this SO DIFFICULT for Oprah and others to understand? It’s not about the calisthenics.

    We understand, or think we understand about “having”, and have lost the subtleties of “not having”.

    “The truth is, if your sex life is great, then you don’t need to talk about it all the time.”

    Once again, dear Anchoress, you have stated the obvious which is so frequently obscured.

  • Jim

    This article is a home run ! The incessant talk of sex can all be traced back to the 60′s and the mass marketing of the birth control pill when the procreative aspect was removed from the act. As Paul VI predicted it has led to a lowering of morality, an increase in violence, and objectification of women.

    I can’t help but think that even as these secular shows denigrate these wonderful nuns for their “lifestyle” choice – in the deepest recesses of their hearts they are envious of their inner beauty and joy expressed in the outward giving way in which they live their lives. Because they are unable to celebrate the nuns joy they must bring them down to their level to justify themselves. In a way it’s the same response as the Tebow Superbowl Ad.

  • Ben

    Oh Dear, The Dish network program guide description says “Lisa Ling goes inside a real life nunnery” …

  • Jennie

    My immediate reaction for these nuns is “What are they thinking” because knowing Oprah and distrusting anything she does because of motives and hidden agendas, the nuns should have refused – this will not be an opportunity for doing good whatsever but rather an opportunity for Oprah to put them down in any way she can. Oprah respects NOTHING and NO ONE!

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Actually, Valleys, I’ve met quite a few atheists, seculars, feminists, Wiccans, etc., who do not give up promiscuity after their first few tries, but keep at it, and at it, continually hoping that it will eventually work out right. Or, they decide it’s somehow all the fault of society, or the opposite sex, and retreat into a shell.

    Since you don’t believe in the theological underpinnings—which really are key, here—then it’s hard to describe. But I don’t see much happiness, or hope, with our society’s current sexual obsession.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    An excellent article, Anchoress!

  • Pingback: The Anchoress | A First Things Blog

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I don’t think the Anchoress was saying that everyone who suffers in life is a “bedwetter”, Valleys. She was criticizing talk show hosts, who offer up psycho-babble, and the latest nostrums, as solutions for all life’s woes.

  • Patricia

    Oh, my, what a real find your website is!!! I appreciate the insight and clarity of your article.

    I don’t watch Oprah but would like to just to boost the ratings (if it worked that way) of the Dominican nuns and then turn it off!

    Unfortunately I won’t be able to watch it at all; hope it’s posted some where. Thanks!!

  • Doc

    Thoughtful commentary, Anchoress. Thank you. This sexualization of the culture on the part of the secular Left is just another wedge between Man and God. If Man can no more control his instincts and impulses than can a dog, then how can Man be created specifically in God’s image, and be given charge of all other creatures of the Earth? If Man is just another animal, slave to his urgings, then PETA wins. Abortion is no different than killing chickens. Nothing seperates the species in Darwin’s eyes, I guess.

    I see the same foundation in the Global Warming scam. If Man can control the Earth’s atmosphere and weather, then God is diminished.

    That is the intellectual core of so many arguments of the secular Left, as passed down by Uncle Karl and the rest of his posse. God is a threat to their agenda and must be diminished.

  • Christine the Soccer Mom

    Great post! Thanks for reminding me that it’s on. Unfortunately, after watching the teaser, I have to record it and preview it to see if my girls (11 and 8) can watch it. They love this order of nuns, who are seen regularly on EWTN’s “Faith in the Heart” program.

    We don’t need to say “perhaps” when we say good might come out of this. God can write straight with all those crooked lines, even the ones that manage to try to make these dear sisters on equal footing with a Geisha.

    @Hilary, congrats on your daughter being in that community! You must be so proud!! :)

  • Christine the Soccer Mom

    Um, that should not be a 8), but the number 8 followed by a close parenthesis. LOL!

  • Pingback: Oprah, Easy Answers, and Whiny Adult-Children « Peregrinations

  • dry valleys

    I understand that, Rhinestone Suderman. But I was just saying that the psychobabble is not all pointing in one direction. You’ve got the “positive thinking” sorts that this Barbara Ehrenreich skewers. I also remember “The Secret” making remarkably similar points. This is a nice attack on it, I thought.

    Well, my awareness is limited as I never watch TV. So I don’t care much what talk show hosts say. But I suppose that for as long as they continue to influence other people they will enjoy importance they shouldn’t.

  • Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D.

    Amazing. Here is an opportunity to expose millions that watch day time TV with truth and all you can do is criticize day time TV for doing so. And then you say “…I don’t watch daytime television…” Duh! Followed quickly by: “You never hear one of these daytime-answer folk say …” How would you know? You don’t watch daytime TV. Just the exposure this beautiful order will get is NOT superficial… even if the only thing they talk about is sex (which it won’t be… but hello, that is a relevant topic BECAUSE so much of media is focused on it.) So, I hope they do bring sex up, because it’s totally relevant to the audience that will be watching. Regardless, whatever they mention will get people to watch and think. Please stop demanding that everyone from the get go, or from their lowly, sad superficial lives, kiss the elitist ring of “deep contemplation and holiness.”

  • Sarah

    Very, very well said. Thank you for your thoughtful and truthful post.

  • Rae

    As a teenager who has considered religious life (although I’m not sure it’s for me) this hits me rather hard. Our culture’s sexual obsession is insane. I am a virgin and wear a chastity ring, and whenever it comes up in conversation, even some religious adults are surprised. “Really? A not-hideous teenage girl who ISN’T sexually active? What’s wrong with you?”

    Believe it or not, Western culture, sex is not essential to every person’s life from the age of fourteen onward. It IS possible to survive without it.

  • Fatima Colorful Cans

    I’m not a Ophrah show watcher but I’ll be watching this particular show in five minutes with the Dominican Sisters. I appreciate the opportunity to listen to them, both the message and how they convey it. I’m thankful to the Sisters and to Ophra as well for the opportunity for millions of people to draw their own conclusions and to sparkle a much needed dialogue on God and His wondrous deeds.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    The secret is an incredibly silly book. As for American daytime T.V., however, which is what the Anchoress was talking about, the psychobabble does, definitely, go in one direction. And, Dr. Stanley—I have watched daytime T.V., and it is, uniformly, awful. People might watch; they won’t think, and its treatment of everything, not just religious orders, is superficial. Better you should read a book, or search the internet, or just take a walk. Elitist, but true.

    (This also is elitist—but should Ph.D’s use expressions like “Duh”, “but hello” and TYPE IN CAPS?)

  • Churchmouse

    Re Dr Williams’ comment above, he appears to deal with this media juxtaposition for a living. If you click on his name, you can visit his website, which includes several topics, including items under the heading ‘The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success’.

    I have no connections with him and am just passing through as an occasional Anchoress and First Things reader.

    Re Oprah, I read the transcript of the show and — at least — the audience and viewers know that the sisters come from a variety of social and professional backgrounds. I share your sentiments about sex (above), but if the idea that anyone who is serious about the Lord and about her vocation to Him has a chance to make that a reality, then, that’s all that matters. I visited the Sisters’ website today and they had nearly 1200 people viewing, so let’s hope the show was a success for them.

  • Kurt

    Your comments about the sex obsession with regard to nuns and priests reminds me a bit of a scene in the film “Dead Man Walking.” Now aside from the fact that the film was somewhat agenda driven, I thought in many ways it was a balanced presentation of the complexities of the death penalty. But the scene I had in mind is when the convict played by Sean Penn speaks to Sister Prejean, played by Susan Sarandon, and questions her about not having sex. Sarandon’s character makes a remark about being open to a different sort of wisdom as a result.

  • Soutenus

    Wonderful post! I am sharing on FB and saving for my Confirmation Class.

    As to, “Either one of these subjects could easily fill an hour’s worth of television . . . . ”

    It was simply marketing. The audiences for both would tune in making it a much bigger event.
    All about dollars and cents . . . . (not “sense”)

  • Christina

    Great post, Anchoress. Knowing something about geisha culture, I have a feeling Oprah will do justice to neither the geisha or the nuns. It’s unfortunate that the term “geisha” has such a sexualized connotation for Westerners, even some of the commenters here who seem insulted that the nuns would share airtime with these women. Today’s geisha are most certainly not prostitutes, but artists and guardians of tradition.

    From what I’ve seen in the clip, the prurient fascination with these women’s sexuality will permeate both interviews. Really unfortunate as these are both ways of life that go far, far beyond having sex or the lack thereof.

  • Barbara

    On these pages, there was an article about sexual morality being the crux of the modern splits between Protestant Churches and the trajectories of Roman Catholicism v. Anglicanism. By focusing on the celibacy of nuns, the secular types miss a larger message: sex in marriage, marriage between one man and one woman, and no divorce. Christian sexual morality is very constrained by secular/pagan standards, but it is a radical social welfare system that not only requires individual commitment, but the partnership of two individuals and their dedication to a single, common ideal. Frankly, for the next big expose’, Oprah ought to interview some couples who have vowed to stay together and be faithful to one another before God. Now *that’s* radical.