The Gospel According to Oprah
One of the best-known television celebrities in our time is a woman who has her own show and is presently embarking on a network of her own. I refer, of course, to the greatest of female talk-show hosts, Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah is the consummate American success story. Actually, the name she was supposed to get was Orpah, whom we know from the book of Ruth. Giving biblical names was quite common among her people. But the spelling of the name was entered incorrectly as "Oprah" and she has made this name into a household concept. There's something mystical about the name Oprah.
Oprah is a multi-talented woman with an incredibly powerful stage presence. She is able as interviewer to make people "open up." She has a keen sense for the emotional side of life and seeks out those who have conquered obstacles or distinguished themselves. Actually, the Oprah Winfrey Show is not the worst that television has to offer. Who would not like Oprah? She is sensitive and caring, warm and generous, and an exemplary humanitarian.
Is there a darker side?
Now why would anyone have an eye for the darker side of Oprah's life? Does there really have to be a darker side? Is this, perhaps, another wild goose chase by Klaas who is in a fowl mood? Not really. Why criticise a woman who does so much to help others? Well, I have not criticized Oprah ... yet.
I must admit to my shame that I do get a little irritated sometimes by the fact that Oprah tends to lavish gifts on her unsuspecting audience. It is almost too good to believe. For the final season premiere of the Oprah Winfrey Show she invited all her guests to go to Australia for a grand feast. Three hundred people at $10,000 a pop is not a small sum. But then again, Oprah is the richest woman on earth. Her spontaneous giving does not really make a dent in her immense fortune. This finely-produced woman is all-business. The Australia trip will give Oprah Inc. many grand dividends.
I have more concerns, however, about some spiritual things. First, I read an article in Nederlands Dagblad (July 2, 2010) which reviewed a recent biography of Oprah by Kitty Kelley. Second, I found a rather interesting book by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett, titled "O God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah's Spirituality" (WND Books, Los Angeles, 2009). All this was certainly enough to set me thinking.
Is Oprah deeply religious?
Oprah's real DNA father, a barber, who was a very strict man, is quoted by Kitty Kelley as being quite concerned about Oprah's religion. "She does not believe anymore that Jesus Christ is her Saviour. I did not raise her this way," said her pop.
Well, it happens that our adult children have different views than those of their forbears. Not always easy for parents (or grandparents) to accept. What exactly does Oprah believe? According to McDowell and Sterrett, a feisty evangelical duo, Oprah's faith is a mixture of ideas from various traditions. This is not surprising. We live in an age where religion has become a "smoothie" blended together from all kinds of sources. Smoothies go down easily and leave no bitter taste.
Our feisty duo suggests that Oprah's belief is dominated by pantheism. Now here is where it gets complicated. Pantheism states that "God is everything and everything is God." All things have a divine spark or a godly core. This is especially true of human beings. Practically this means that we can achieve anything we want, overcome all odds, and reach all goals. All you need is the will to succeed and the right circumstances. Oprah herself and her many guests are living proof of the fact that we can overcome. This song is, "We shall overcome someday." The gospel according to Oprah is that if we want it badly enough and try hard enough, we can rise above our pitiful humanity and be an inspiring success.
It is not easy for Les Miserables to achieve this height. But it is possible. Oprah and her guests will not tolerate failure. There may be setbacks in life, but we do not have to fail forever. We must examine ourselves constantly. We must learn to forgive others. Then we can move forward to grasp whatever is ours. Oprah's gospel is a mixture of old positive thinking theories and New Age ideas.
Can I do all things?
Oprah's approach reminds me of that of Robert Schuller, who distinguished himself in the television program The Hour of Power. Schuller's thinking is: if you can imagine it, you can also do it. If you build it, they will come.
Schuller once preached on Philippians 4: 3, "I can do everything..." In this sermon he extolled the virtues of positive thinking. There are no limits to human possibilities. We can do everything. Liberated mankind can achieve whatever height he wants.
Schuller conveniently forgot that the text says much more, something very different, in fact, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Believers can succeed in their endeavours only through the power of God, the grace of Christ, and the help of the Holy Spirit. We look to God and not to ourselves. What Schuller preached was not the gospel of salvation, but the ancient lie of the Serpent: do whatever you want and you will succeed; "you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). At bottom, this is also the gospel according to Oprah.
The glitter and the glamour
Once again, I must say that I am impressed by Oprah's show. The glitter and the glamour that shine throughout her program are quite impressive. I think that many church members like Oprah's style and poise. It's kind of nice to have a dose of Oprah before the kids come home and supper must be cooked. At least we are elevated to a higher plane and have our batteries recharged.
But we should not be fooled. It may all seem very innocent and absolutely positive, but the underlying philosophy is the poison of paradise. I write this not to disparage Oprah, whom most will describe as "cool." I write this only so that we all may discern more clearly what lies under the glitter and the glamour.
When Paul writes to the Philippians, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength," he means that he can tackle difficult times as well as enjoy good times, because the LORD is his refuge and tower. Perhaps we can all learn from this to look beyond the glitter and the glamour of this world to him of whom it is written,
His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.Rev 1:14