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The Church of Oprah

June 3, 2011

I read this recently on the Focus on the Family’s site,

The Church of Oprah

Posted by Jim_Daly on 2-Jun-2011 1:44:40 PM

Are you a fan of Oprah Winfrey or did you ever watch her popular television program over the last twenty-five years?

In a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal to mark the end of her award-winning show, writer Joanne Kaufman offered an interesting observation:

To watch Oprah, who just wrapped up 25 years of syndicated pastoral work – her last hour of power, number 4,561, aired Wednesday – was to be part of a congregation of true believers.

She continued:

Oprah was nothing if not a secular chapel. Countless celebs and civilians came on to confess their sins, to push their mea-culpa memoirs, and to seek absolution or redemption (good for the soul and for ratings). Some of the acolytes, that is to say guests, like psychologist Phil McGraw, heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, Food Network star Rachel Ray, and interior designer Nate Berkus, became the anointed.

From press reports and word of mouth, I’ve concluded that millions of people were drawn to the Oprah Winfrey Show not just because of a hunger for gossip or celebrity gawking or even her charisma. They also came and stayed because they were drawn to the host’s seeming spirit of compassion, emotional sensitivity, grace and generous inclinations (she gave a car to everyone in her studio audience several times).

At the same time, Oprah’s show regularly promoted a generic form of “spirituality,” tapping into the rising tide of American agnosticism. A viewer could watch and listen to Oprah and her many guests talk about God and get the impression that just being good is good enough. They were also regularly encouraged to understand that true spiritual liberation comes not from embracing specific doctrine but from shedding its cumbersome shackles.

It would be easy to critique Ms. Winfrey’s performance, point out the contradictions and examine the consequences of the sometimes dangerous and erroneous theology that’s been discussed over the past twenty-five years on her program. And while her personal rags-to-riches story can inspire, Ms. Winfrey has been her own harshest critic when it comes to the challenges surrounding her own life.  She’s talked openly and tearfully about her abusive relationships, flirtations with suicide, drug use and roller-coaster common-law marriage with her long-time live-in boyfriend.

But the reality of the Oprah phenomenon is this: the reason she was so successful and that so many flocked to her for so long was that she tapped, however unknowingly, into the great longing of mankind. God has wired every human person with a desire to love and be loved – and to be understood. Oprah provided this forum, however muddled and mixed up it may have been. Instead of going to church and joining a Bible study, many got their “fix” from Oprah Winfrey.

This longing is what St. Augustine was getting at when he wrote of God, “…you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

Indeed, there is a deep and wide spiritual appetite in the world today. It has always been so. And one way or another, every person will fill it. But with what? Pseudo-spirituality or the true Gospel of Jesus Christ? Mom and Dad, your kids are hungry and looking for answers – I pray that you will invest the time and effort in introducing them early to the person and truth of Jesus Christ

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