Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Issues On Oprah

There is no question that Oprah is a magnetic personality. Her persona draws people to her. Tickets to her one-woman events sell out days in advance. It is difficult to speak harshly about someone who is so self-sacrificing and philanthropic. She gives away millions yearly in goods and cash to those less fortunate.

Rumblings of Oprah as “America’s Pastor” began several years ago. Now this article seems to make it official. Todd Wilken invited me to speak about this on Issues, etc., today. Dcs. Pam Nielsen was with him in the studio. He asked- among several- two particularly insightful questions.

  1. Oprah isn’t ordained, doesn’t profess herself to be a pastor. Does she have a responsibility to bring Christ into the discussion in her TV show and her magazine if she is a Christian?

  2. Isn’t her spirituality actually similar to that of what we find in many churches?

These two questions are actually dynamically linked. The premise is this: Even though Oprah’s magazine, O, is not a theological publication, even though The Oprah Winfrey Show is not a religious broadcast, Oprah recognizes the moral obligation for both to be a reflection of who she truly is. So her values will be made evident through both just as how a Christian lives out his various vocations will give evidence of his on-going life in Christ.

Now, it would be difficult-if not impossible- for any Christian to admit that in every conversation he has he speaks of Christ. However, if God’s name is kept holy when it is taught in its truth and purity and we as Christians are to lead holy lives according to it, then the Christian’s life is lived by a certain framework. That framework is shaped by the cross. Just as it is our sins which caused Christ to willingly die in our place, a Christian's willing participation in what God calls evil re-crucifies Christ (He 6:6). To call good what God calls evil is a willful participation in sin. Does Oprah do this? Or does she speak clearly to issues of morality as God speaks from His word? Climbing up from poverty into designer suits and fancy shoes won’t change what is most needful.

Let us, therefore, look with admiration at this holy father Abraham, who does not go about in gold and silk but is adorned, surrounded, crowned, and clothed with the divine light, the Word of God. Therefore his story must be preferred to all the accounts of the world. At their best these merely spread some clouds of works, which are pleasant in appearance but without any true fruit, and are generally even sad and full of fear. For they are devoid of the Word of God, which alone is the true light that gladdens and teaches the heart; and God’s judgment and wrath are more noticeable in them than are His mercy and grace. (LW, Vol 2)

So while it may not be that Christ is mentioned in O or on her show, what is noticeable is what Oprah advocates and omits.

This leads directly to the second question. Albert Mohler wrote in another entry on his blog:

Oprah’s newly-packaged positive-thinking spirituality is tailor-made for the empty souls of our postmodern age. She promises meaning without truth, acceptance without judgment, and fulfillment without self-denial.

Oprah's spirituality is a blend of old-fashioned holiness living (you can keep God’s law perfectly), rugged American individualism (as Dcs. Nielsen said, “pull yourself up by the bootstraps”), and New Age oneness (we are all interconnected by one spirit, one nameless, faceless god rules us all). Her methodology is simple: Examine yourself; admit your weakness; determine a course of action; pamper yourself with luxuries and indulgences; achieve your dreams yourself by transforming your life. You deserve it. You are a wonderful person. Be grateful, and bless others so you may be blessed. There is just enough Christian religiosity melded into her message and life to keep her familiar and comfortable.

Oprah’s do-it-yourselfism appeals to and blends well with the Sunday morning schpiel of every preacher of salvation by works, including Mormonism. According to Oprah:

Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility. O magazine.

One of my favorites [Bible verses] was “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I believe that when you stop renewing, and are no longer open to change and the possibilities that continually unfold, you stop being alive and are just getting through the years. …Transformation doesn't happen unless you’re willing: It’s your choice. … This year I’m choosing to live beyond my wildest dreams. I wonder where they’ll take me. Jan 2005

In an especially revealing entry Oprah writes:

I used to fear being alone. I understood why after John Bradshaw, who pioneered the concept of the inner child, appeared on my show 14 years ago. John took my audience and me through a profound exercise. He asked us to close our eyes and go back to the home we grew up in, to visualize the house…. Come closer, look inside the window and find yourself inside. What do you see? And more important, what do you feel? For me it was an overwhelmingly sad yet powerful exercise. What I felt at almost every stage of my development was alone. Not lonely—because there were always people around—but I knew that my soul's survival depended on me. I felt I would have to fend for myself. I now think that the sense of being apart from others is what led me to trust so firmly in something bigger than I could articulate, and feel a connection to God. … So on any given Sunday, you will find me alone. Filling myself up. Cherishing life and loving every solitary moment. July 2005

If Oprah is alone, with whom is she filling herself up? The spirituality Oprah expresses she found for herself is the same many churches promote: God in the raw, an experience of God without means. God becomes an experience. Testimonials are an important part of these worship services, just as they are on the Winfrey Show. Absolution takes a back seat (if ever present), for that requires “a middle man,” the pastor. That would also remove personal choice, individual determinism, and moral transformation as the agents of forgiveness. The confluence between certain Sunday worship morning offerings and the Winfrey Show are as if the one were grafted into the other. Can there be any doubt as to why her message- even though she never mentions Christ- is to easily absorbed by so many as genuinely Christian despite the overwhelming evidence that speaks against it because of what she openly advocates?

Wilken’s questions held a double-whammy! What of those empty souls Mohler wrote about? Oprah is certainly not filling them, for she does not bring Christ to them, rather actively leads souls to further emptiness. Her religion is one that avoids Christ. Oprah professes to act in love for all peoples and to be seeking a world where all people may live in love without judgment. Yet fidelity to Christ is exclusive if it is to be truly loving. It is exclusive because He Himself says that He is the only way to the Father, that is, God the Father Almighty (Jn 14:6).

Fidelity to Christ is exclusive because it is a mistake to think that any of us can approach God without means; that is, we do not have direct access to God now that the Temple curtain has been torn. (Yes, a thousand and one post-Reformation presuppositions are shattering, I suppose.) No one has access to God except in Christ. No one has faith in God the Father except through Christ (Jn 14:1). The prayers of a righteous man avail much. But who is righteous when all his good works are as filthy rags (Is 64:6)? Only those who have first been buried with Christ in Baptism and then raised up in His resurrection are righteous (Ro 6:3-4)- righteous because He declares them to be. Prayer in His name is heard and is powerful because Jesus is our advocate and intercessor before the Father (Jn 14:12).

So here’s the million dollar question: What’s all the Oprah-self-improvement for, what’s all the Oprah-love for, what’s all the Orpah-preaching for, what are all these Oprah-prayers for if Christ is not only not revealed, but instead denied by obesceince to society's demands for diversified, pluralistic pantheism?


Marie N. said...

Excellent reading - thank you! What is all the Oprah-self-improvement for? Building better citizens of an earthly community, I suppose. But beyond that there is utter emptiness. Like the great con game of American Civil Religion.

Orycteropus Afer said...

Hey, Em, if you ever feel like playing dolls, here's another Golden Aardvark for you to dress up. Good show, good post.

Much luv from your Uncle.

Candijo said...

It is unfortunate that Iprah is telling her audince that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. I just heard a man on television compare Oprah to God. She has a responsibility for her celebrety and we must pray for Oprah to return to her true Christian roots. Remember in the bible, King Herid received teh peole's worship and was struk down.Oprah can choose to be a powerhouse of effectiveness of Jesus. I pray she does before it is too late.