The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Thursday, April 10, 2008
POPERAH: A lot of Christians are angry at Oprah about her latest book club selection, Eckhart Tolle's New Age tome
A New Earth. Here is one of many YouTube videos attacking her:



That clip is called The Church of Oprah Exposed; it is, among other things, a promo for Carrington Steele's book and DVD Don't Drink the Kool-Aid: Oprah, Obama, and the Occult. (Yes, of course there's an Obama angle. Apparently Jeremiah Wright isn't the only controversial preacher in his life.)

It isn't just fringy Christians who talk about a Church of Oprah. In 2002 the deeply mainstream Christianity Today published a famous article, "The Church of O," that makes a more respectful, less paranoid argument that Oprah is a spiritual leader. The best quote in it comes from a Bible teacher in Chicago: "I like Oprah. I'm a closet groupie, though, because her theology's a little off." Another Chicago Christian -- the infamous Rev. Wright -- has a good line as well: "Somebody who makes $100 a week has no problem tithing. But start making $35 million a year, and you'll want to renegotiate the contract. You don't want to be a part of 'organized religion' at that point."

Over in the ivory tower, Prof. Kathryn Lofton of Indiana University has taken a slightly different approach, arguing that "Oprah does things in a religious manner, but she is not a religion." She goes on:
"She endorses some modes of theological existence, but dislikes many more. For her, religion implies control and oppression and the inability to catalog shop. The only way religion or religious belief works for Oprah is if it is carefully coordinated with capitalist pleasure. Thus, the turn to 'spirituality' -- the non-dogmatic dogma that encourages an ambiguous theism alongside an exuberant consumerism," Lofton said.

In Winfrey's view, Buddhism isn't about meditation and renunciation, it's about beaded bracelets and fragrant incense. "Christianity isn't about Christ's apocalyptic visions or the memorization of creeds, it's about a friendly guy named Jesus and his egalitarian message. As long as you can spend, feel good about yourself and look good, your religious belief will be tolerated on Planet O. The religion of Oprah is the incorporated faith of late-capitalist America," Lofton said.
Sort of a mellower, bourgier version of the spiritual jacuzzi I described in Reason in May 2003. That article concluded with a look at Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, and other "joke religions" -- I wrote it too early to include the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- so I shouldn't end this post without mentioning that Oprahism has manifested itself in that sphere as well. Here's one more YouTube clip:



For extra credit, read the comment thread on that film's YouTube page. The Carrington Steele crowd has discovered the video and seems to be taking it literally. God bless the Internet: bringing mutually incomprehending tribes together since 1969.

(cross-posted at Hit & Run)


posted by Jesse 12:40 PM
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