The Divine Miss O

  Everywhere you turn nowadays, some celebrity is telling the media about the importance they place on their spiritual life. What's troubling isn't that performers have spiritual lives -- we all do -- or that they feel the need to expose them in public. It's the public's response to what these people are saying that concerns us. And no artist is more vocal about "spirituality" than the diva of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah has made an entire industry out of catering to the inner lives of American women. One segment of her show is called "Remembering Your Spirit," the principal purpose of which seems to be helping the viewer feel better about herself. Then there's her new magazine, "O," the express purpose of which is to "empower women" and "bring meaning to their lives." The initial press run of a million copies sold out within days. And, if that's not enough, there's "Oxygen," Oprah's new cable channel. Yes, twenty hours a day, seven days a week -- all Oprah, all the time -- talking about the inner lives of women. For Oprah, all of this is about more than money: It's a life mission. She is quoted in the Utne Reader saying, "the forum I've been given is not to acquire attention and possessions...." Being Oprah is about serving "a higher good." She writes about praying to "the force that I call God" that her fame will be used to help people acquire "a greater sense of self-value." As she puts it, "I have a contract with the Universe...." The force? A contract with the universe? This sounds more like something out of a space epic or a science fiction movie. Yet, due to her celebrity status, millions take Oprah's spirituality seriously. But I suspect it may be more than just her celebrity status. It's hard to imagine a Christian testimonial of this type, by Oprah or anyone else, being printed in a publication like the Utne Reader. Oprah's musings pass muster because, as columnist Terry Mattingly says, Oprah's "spirituality" reflects the spirit of our age, and this vague generic spirituality has for many become the principal alternative to the gospel. Americans have long been attracted to what I'd call "do-it-yourself god kits." They see themselves as religious people, but on their own terms. It's religion that doesn't require anything in the way of obedience or self-sacrifice. What makes this new "Oprahism" so attractive is the way her theology incorporates a worldview that sociologist Philip Rieff calls "the therapeutic society." It's the perfect religion for an age obsessed with "self." It raises self-preoccupation to the level of religious duty, and turns self- indulgence into a spiritual discipline. Some of your neighbors have probably bought into this. But what's even worse, many Christians have as well. God has become the guarantor of their self-fulfillment--Oprah's god exists to make you happy. Need I remind you that this is not the message of Christianity. The Christian gospel places Christ at the center of all things, and we exist to serve Him. This may not sit well in the age of Oprah, but unlike today's trendy, sugar-coated "spirituality," the Christian message is life-changing--and it's also true.


Chuck Colson


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