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The feel-good [ego-centric] spirituality of Oprah
OSV via ^ | 1-13-2002 | Amy Wellborn

Posted on 01/28/2002 4:35:20 PM PST by Notwithstanding

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The feel-good spirituality of Oprah

Through success and celebrity, Oprah Winfrey has become a kind of spiritual guru for many of her fans. But there’s something missing from what she preaches

By Amy Welborn


It’s tough to argue with Oprah.

It’s not only hard, it almost seems downright rude.

After all, Oprah Winfrey is a woman who has overcome difficult obstacles and achieved great success, mostly by offering her amiable, warm self up as an encouragement for others to lead meaningful lives and do good.

Hard to argue, indeed, especially when you put Oprah in context — the context of early 21st-century American society — and compare the grounding of her success with how others at her level of celebrity and wealth have reached their own personal pinnacles.

She’s not Madonna, another super-wealthy American woman, enriched by exploiting sexuality. Her companies aren’t Wal-Mart or Nike, coffers stuffed by the fruit of destructive business practices and underpaid workers. Her entertainment products, from the magazine, O, to the made-for-television films to Oprah’s Book Club reflect a solid, albeit unchallenging, middlebrow quality that, unlike so much of what passes for entertainment out there today, doesn’t exploit the pull of our basest instincts just to turn a profit.

Oprah moves forward in her life with energy and humor, refusing to give voice to any cant about oppression, discrimination or victimhood. As she frequently says, quoting words she heard Jesse Jackson say in a speech when she was a teenager: "Excellence is the best deterrent to racism. . . . Be excellent."

Sure, it’s hard to argue with Oprah. But someone’s got to do it. So here goes.

The argument isn’t with Oprah the talk-show host, Oprah the businesswoman, Oprah the philanthropist, Oprah the role model or Oprah the bookseller.

It’s with Oprah the spiritual guru.

‘I am spirit’

Over the past decade, Oprah’s interest in issues like personal growth, healing and wholeness has taken on a decidedly "spiritual" gloss — which essentially means sprinkling words like "spirit" and "soul" into the self-help soup and working a segment called "Remembering your Spirit" into the television program.

It also means featuring a succession of "spiritual counselors" on her program, most notably Marianne Williamson of "A Course in Miracles" fame, and at present, Gary Zukav, author of "Seat of the Soul" and "Soul Stories."

Zukav is regularly featured on Oprah’s talk show and has a prominent spot on her website (, where he offers obvious answers to reader questions in less-than-stirring prose: "The universe does not burden you with a destiny. It provides you with potential. How much of that potential you realize depends upon the choices that you make."

Oprah articulated her personal beliefs in an interview with Zukav. Here’s what she has to say about herself:

"My heart’s deepest desire is to live the truth of the life I came to live, and to live it to the fullest. To work with the Creator to do that. My heart’s deepest desire is to align the energy of my personality with that of my soul and become a whole, complete, glorious human here on earth. I think that I have done that, and I continue to do it as well as I know how."

And, of course, Oprah wants to share her learned wisdom with the world as part of a forthcoming spiritual revolution:

"I am talking about each individual having her or his own inner revolution. I am talking about each individual coming to the awareness that, ‘I am Creation’s son. I am Creation’s daughter. I am more than my physical self. I am more than this job that I do. I am more than the external definitions that I have given myself. . . . Those roles are all extensions of who I define myself to be, but ultimately I am Spirit come from the greatest Spirit. I am Spirit.’ "

Perhaps nothing illuminated Oprah’s evolution into a spiritual leader more than her role presiding over the "Prayer for America" service on Sept. 23 at Yankee Stadium. There, Oprah said, among other words about healing:

"I believe that when you lose a loved one you gain an angel whose name you know. Over 6,000, and counting, angels were added to the spiritual roster these past two weeks. It is my prayer that they will keep us in their sight with a direct line to our hearts. May we all leave this place and not let one single life have passed in vain. May we leave this place determined to now use every moment that we yet live to turn up the volume in our own lives, to create deeper meaning, to know what really matters. What really matters is who you love and how you love."

Try to get from the first part of that paragraph to the last in a straight line of logic. Try to figure out where Oprah’s theology of angels come from. Try to see how any of it really relates to the hatred that fueled the Sept. 11 attacks.

New Age hodgepodge

So, in short, here’s what Oprah’s spirituality is about: a higher power, spirit, soul, "authentic power," meaning, healing, affirmation, helping, miracles, mediation, journaling and angels. An unremarkable New Age hodgepodge.

Here’s what Oprah’s spirituality is not about: sin, redemption, sacrifice, conversion, humility, worship, holiness and Jesus Christ.

Oprah’s spirituality is really little more than an expression, like everything else in the Oprah universe, of the Gestalt of Being Oprah: feeling good in the midst of a pleasant, yet conscience-tweaking materially successful life.

Sure, the trappings of more traditional spirituality are draped over Oprah’s Way, and some of the language is even the same, but the more you look and listen to what’s being said, you see that the words don’t mean the same thing, and the practices aren’t for the same purposes.

As you might expect, for example, Oprah’s Way encourages self-examination. But why? To root out sin? To bring one closer to God and more in God’s image? To grow in holiness?

To find the answers to these questions, the most efficient point of inquiry is O, Oprah’s monthly magazine, launched in the spring of 2000 and startling all observers with its phenomenal instant success — perhaps the most successful magazine launch ever.

Oprah graces every single cover of her magazine. Her words welcome the reader in an opening editorial and bade them farewell in a closing piece called "What I Know For Sure." Oprah conducts the featured interview with a fellow celebrity — this month Tom Hanks, next time the Dalai Lama. Every issue contains the "O List" — a collection of products that "Oprah really likes," things like $1,100 handbags and $1,500 watches: "When Quincy Jones gave this wild sunburst-orange watch to Oprah, she fell madly in love with it."

And, of course, there’s the "spirituality." Each issue of O is organized around a "mission": truth, journey, friendship and so on. There’s a tear-out calendar with daily inspirational suggestions for following along the O mission. A reader can also tear out cards bearing inspirational sayings in various forms: This month, they’re printed on bookmarks; in November, they’re printed on place cards for a Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a photograph of a nature scene on a two-page spread, accompanied by a suggestion for an imaginative guided meditation on the scene. And sprinkled throughout the issues of O, you’ll find Oprah herself, once again, meditating here, doing yoga there, and enjoying a weekend "silent retreat" on her Indiana farm with a few friends and meals prepared by her personal chef.

Celebrity spirituality

So it seems that Oprah’s Way of spirituality and self-examination, whether it be via meditation or journaling, is about none of the pesky "negative" themes of traditional Christian spirituality. It’s all about rooting out obstacles to empowerment and success and feeling good about it. Not quite "The Story of Soul." Not quite.

But, you see, that’s what happens when a wealthy celebrity crafts a spirituality. The purpose of the spiritual practices becomes completely different than those of a young cloistered nun in a Carmelite convent in France. The sister is intent on God, because there is really nothing else at stake.

The wealthy celebrity has much at stake. She has her popularity, which might be threatened if she embraced anything but the broadest, most inclusive spiritual program imaginable. She has her wealth, which must be justified and perpetuated. She has her cultivated audience, which will accept nothing but positive vibes and empowerment. She has a staff and servants, so growth toward God via sacrifice and humility will not be on her Daytimer.

Oprah’s Way, like all New Age paradigms, may work for a while, but it ultimately fails, because it only takes in a small part of the reality of human experience, and completely ignores that most unpleasant, yet persistent reality called sin — which is something more than an impediment to personal empowerment.

— Welborn ( writes from Indiana

What can the Church learn from Oprah?

Might there be a lesson to be learned from Oprah’s Way? A lesson for our own Church and its leaders?

During the summer of 2001, Oprah led workshops in several cities called "Live Your Best Life," charging participants $185 for a day of listening to her motivational speaking and then doing some journaling exercises and guided meditation with her and self-help writer Cheryl Richardson. Most of the workshops sold out within an hour.

What Catholic spiritual leader, short of the pope himself, could sell out auditoriums at $185 a pop? What Catholic spiritual leader could fill an auditorium with women seeking inspiration and leadership for free?

The enthusiasm that Oprah inspires is worth pondering. Some of it’s obviously tied to materialist values: At some level, many look at Oprah and want to be like her, not because she professes happiness or gives loads of money to charity, but because she’s rich and has a bunch of houses and can get anything she wants.

But there is, we must admit, something else as well. Lots of people do, indeed, feel terrible about themselves and are deeply unhappy. They’re burdened by guilt; they’re carrying the weight of past hurts. They feel estranged from others, from God, from themselves. As inadequate as the solutions she proposes are, Oprah is enormously influential because she is committed to helping people deal with those kind of problems.

Listen to a typical Catholic homily. Study a typical adult religious-education program. Do they address any of these practical concerns that hit people where they live and love? Perhaps they do, but maybe not nearly enough.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt us to take a page from Oprah’s book — not the page that misdefines "spirit" and toys with reincarnation, but rather the page that’s warm, helpful and intent on helping others "live your best life," and then rewrite that page — with Christ, not Oprah, as the light for living that very best life. » A.W.

Treasuring the ‘inner me’

In a recent interview with "spiritual counselor" Gary Zukav, Oprah Winfrey offered a self-evaluation:

Zukav: Do you like yourself?

Oprah: I don’t just like me. I adore me.

Zukav: What do you adore the most?

Oprah: I adore my groundedness. I adore my ability to listen to other people. I adore particularly my ability to listen to what I call my intuition, my Voice. My life is bigger than me. I have just gotten to the point where I can look at my body and my face and appreciate them and say, "Yes, I like these little lines in my face, and I like the fact that my nose is as flat as it is. I don’t want anybody else’s face."

But the inner me, I treasure.

I also adore that I feel a connection to other people that really makes me feel like a part of something that is bigger than myself. I feel a connection and a oneness with other people. That is why I cannot stop myself from crying on the show sometimes, because I am there, I am in there, I am feeling it, feeling everything they are feeling. And I adore that I have a great generous spirit.

That’s the best thing about me. Everything that I get, gets better when I share it and I know it does. The moon over the water the other night was glorious. It lit the whole ocean. I called everybody. "You gotta see the moon. Have you seen the moon? Go out right now and look at it." Last week I found some slippers that felt wonderful, so I bought them for all the women in the control room at the studio. » A.W.

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1 posted on 01/28/2002 4:35:21 PM PST by Notwithstanding
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To: Notwithstanding
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2 posted on 01/28/2002 4:37:06 PM PST by Notwithstanding
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To: Notwithstanding
Zukav: Do you like yourself?

Oprah: I don’t just like me. I adore me.

Zukav: What do you adore the most?

Oprah: I adore my groundedness. I adore my ability to listen to other people. I adore particularly my ability to listen to what I call my intuition, my Voice.

3 posted on 01/28/2002 4:39:09 PM PST by Notwithstanding
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To: Notwithstanding
Wow. This author really nailed it. I'm not the most religious person myself, but I sensed something hazy in all her "spirituality" talk.
4 posted on 01/28/2002 4:42:23 PM PST by bleudevil
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To: Notwithstanding
Of course she adores herself. No celebrity is missing self-love. BTW-you forgot the barf alert.
5 posted on 01/28/2002 4:43:44 PM PST by GWfan
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To: Notwithstanding
Messiah complex. Bookmarked! Thanks for posting.
6 posted on 01/28/2002 4:45:02 PM PST by oprahstheantichrist
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To: Notwithstanding


Sorry, couldn't help it...

7 posted on 01/28/2002 4:50:00 PM PST by coydog
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To: Notwithstanding
An excellent piece. I started out liking it, then was thinking well, what is wrong with that(Oprah's thinking) and then ended up thinking that the writer is right on target.

Where is God in Oprah's "spirituality"? Hmmm? Nowhere. It's all about self. New age BS. But popular. And that is what it really is all about. Ain't it Oprah?

8 posted on 01/28/2002 4:56:24 PM PST by mc5cents
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To: Notwithstanding
Oprah and her Cult of Self give me the spiritual creeps. Amy finally put it all into words for me – she’s right on. I agree that some churches need to reach out to the broken souls in a positive way, but it needs to be balanced with the reminder that we are NOT basically good and we cannot redeem ourselves. As my husband put it when we were looking for a new church, “I want to be reminded of what a rotten sinner I am and how much I need God.”

Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips (Prov 27:2)
9 posted on 01/28/2002 5:11:23 PM PST by meowmeow
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To: Notwithstanding
Nothing in this article surprises me. I talk with neighbors who are so enthralled with Oprah that I have to fight to keep a straight face. They all love Oprah but not a one of them can speak intelligently on any political issue. The Oprah fans are typically the soccer moms who watch sitcoms nightly and vote on emotion and sound bites. Scary....
10 posted on 01/28/2002 5:16:52 PM PST by Faithfull
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To: Notwithstanding
Well, I believe Oprah has a right to her own religious beliefs even if they vary from mine. I do not think she prostelytizes a new age religion, but she does prostelytize a self reflecting outlook. In this "zero personal responsibility" era that isn't all that bad.
11 posted on 01/28/2002 5:19:10 PM PST by RAT Patrol
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To: Notwithstanding
Have I ever told you guys that I was on the Oprah show?
12 posted on 01/28/2002 5:22:26 PM PST by Hildy
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To: Howlin,GOP Lady, Muggs,badjoe
Did I ever tell you guys that I was on the Oprah show?
13 posted on 01/28/2002 5:23:25 PM PST by Hildy
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To: Notwithstanding
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

-2 Timothy 4:3-4

14 posted on 01/28/2002 5:24:45 PM PST by kezekiel
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To: Notwithstanding
I can't see Oprah's face without remembering her "look how much weight I lost" show wherein she pulled out a little red kiddie's wagon loaded up with fat.

That said, I place her "spirituality" in the same basket as the Unitarian types, where it's feel-good stuff and little effort required. You know, where you get the benefits of God without having to pay a price.

15 posted on 01/28/2002 5:40:12 PM PST by Lizavetta
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To: Notwithstanding
Ok I have to admit, although I completley agree with this article, ...I'm totally hooked on Dr. Phil! If it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't watch at all.
16 posted on 01/28/2002 6:04:14 PM PST by Larightgirl
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To: Notwithstanding
I am SOOOOOOO happy someone finally wrote this. Oprah makes my skin crawl every time I see that durn magazine with her on the cover telling America's women how they can be more like her.

That more people don't see through her fog of borrowed touchy-feely therapy and soul-free mysticism amazes me. How could anyone buy a December holiday magazine dedicated to the importance of family ties when the cover featured a single and childless woman posing with her dogs???

17 posted on 01/28/2002 6:16:53 PM PST by L.N. Smithee
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To: Notwithstanding
Oprah goes on this journey of self discovery and discovers New Age philosophy. She thinks her journey is unique, she's just another dunderheaded participant of the Church of Hollywood. How trite....
18 posted on 01/28/2002 6:38:37 PM PST by Brett66
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To: kezekiel
Brainless, soccermom, minivanned, domineering feminists make me nuts, but one time in 1999, just as election 2000 talk was heating up, we were at a family gathering and something about Oprah came up. I'd known my older sister was an Oprah fan, but suddenly she got very quiet, lowered her eyes, looked up meekly, and in the most lowly, reverant, worshipful tone of voice said:

"I think she should run for president...."

It wasn't so much what she said, as how she said it, and the expression on her face. Genuine prostration, like for that moment she was on holy ground or something. Scary. I was stunned. All I could think of then, was that I doubted she would be that reverant toward God Himself. Not to mention this feminist pied piper really could rise to world power.

So then a few weeks later I was flipping the channels about 9:30ish, and came across the show, and it surprised me how different it was, as I hadn't watched her since the eighties. Ever sit down and watch just an average Oprah show lately? Her "spin" is very subtle, all cocooned in sugary caring-about-people-do-good-for-others feelings, but it's very strong and very leftist. You don't have to fear and love God, as long as you're "spiritual."

"SPIRITUAL?" What does that mean? Really big on angels, but not on God Himself.

What truly frightens me is the people in the audience, and again, the expressions on their faces. Complete adulation. Worshipers. It occurred to me that most of these chicks would hardly give the Lord himself the time of day.

"Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions."

Coll. 2: 18

19 posted on 01/28/2002 6:39:05 PM PST by oprahstheantichrist
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To: Larightgirl
You're not the first person I've heard this from, and never having seen this Dr. Phil guy, I must therefore ask:

How does he compare to Dr. Laura? Having heard conservatives say they like him, they must be similar, in terms of the "take responsibility for your life...." perspective on personal issues.

20 posted on 01/28/2002 6:46:35 PM PST by oprahstheantichrist
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