Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oprah and the Big Questions of Life

Why the big fuss over her? She seems perfect for our time. She talks about things that are real and important. Quite often she makes you feel like you have learned something true about humanity. But after 25 years what has she learned? I read a number of reflections on Oprah's ideas and nobody seems to have arrived at anything. Everyone seems sure they are richer for having encountered her but nobody can say exactly what gem of spiritual truth she has left them with. Something we didn't already know or know as well without her.

This is why she is so perfect for our time. Modern society is marked by fear of the big questions in life. What is the meaning of life? Where did we come from and where are we going? How do we know what is really good and true and noble and praiseworthy? These are scary questions because the answers can change your life a lot. Modern man loves to play the skeptic with anyone trying to answer the questions. This is good. You don't want to order your life around an answer without scrutinizing it. But there is such a fear of making a mistake that the analyzing and scrutinizing never stops. Oprah is good at that. After 25 years she has taken us exactly nowhere. She has investigated every possible answer but settled on none.

It is like a man who moves from woman to woman. Dates a few times but never gets serious with anyone. At a superficial level such a man seems enviable. Especially if the women are beautiful. Our imaginations can make us sure he is having the most amazing life. It could certainly make for a popular TV show. But is that happiness? If after 25 years he still has not developed any sort of emotional intimacy with any woman should we really be jealous? Isn't the adventure of sharing a life together better than 1000 first dates? It is too personal to put on TV but the best things in life are.

Oprah is like that for spirituality. She can't be compared to the great spiritual thinkers because they all taught something. They settled on one answer to life's big questions and developed a deep intimacy with it. That has blessed the world with great wisdom. Oprah has done nothing of the sort. We would not pay much attention to her if she did. She has been on 1000 first dates with interesting world and life views. They make for good TV. We imagine that she was touched deeply and positively. But mostly she just went on the the next one.

Oprah's modus operandi is the very opposite of the liar, lord, lunatic argument of CS Lewis. She was about damning things with faint praise. Saying nice things about Jesus but refusing to bow down to Him as Lord. Then moving on the Buddha and doing the same. Not really taking seriously the claims of Christ and His church. Atheists are a bit more honest in saying that if Christianity is wrong about Jesus and the bible it is a huge error. Conversely if Christianity is right then atheism is a huge error. But Oprah's position and modern society's position is the one that makes no sense. To pretend neither is really right or wrong. That we can embrace both whenever we like and it is all good.


  1. I only saw Oprah a few times, but your analysis captures my thoughts and then some. Several faithful Catholic women I know really like her, because she comes across genuinely and as you said tried to talk about important things. But when Eckhart Tolle is featured so much and his books are promoted, etc., something is very wrong.

  2. I don't watch her that much either but so many do. Something must be touching people. Especially the way they talk about her. I wonder of there isn't some combination of spirituality and pornography. It seems like Oprah's favorite themes are sex and self empowerment. I even wonder of her show really makes people feel better about themselves. They claim they do. It is a constant theme from her fans. But is it a short term boost and a long term drag on a person's self esteem?