On New Years day Oprah Winfrey launched her very own television network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and I cringe, more than I would if someone took a piece of blunt chalk and scraped it on a board for 10 hours.
In numerous interviews and articles I’ve seen Oprah define her goal for the network to revolve around people being ‘all that they can be.’ Finding the potential inside of you. Becoming everything you are.
I cringe at all of this because I find it incredibly shallow and fluffy. That’s not because I’m a man. My wife agrees with me. It’s not the crying or the so-called straight-talk that bugs me, it’s all this you, you, you stuff that’s mixed with a thorough ‘works’ and ‘formulas’ view to a better life and even salvation, with the latter end promoted by a shallow mystical spirituality that Oprah tends to really believe in, evidenced by her quote where she says she has asked God to “Use me… use me until you use me up.”
Oprah finds support because she appeals to something that is hardly new and has been around with us and has been the cause of many (or perhaps all) of our problems: this idea of ours to be the master of our own destinies, to be the gods of our own lives, where God’s main purpose in all of this is to bring us a better life, and our way of attaining God’s favour is doing all the right things.
Oprah’s many shows on her network represent all the formulas. We’ve got some phsycoanalysis with Doctor Phil, who might be a straight-talker and I can sometimes appreciate his way of dealing with things, but the whole vibe glorifies the West’s therapeutic culture where we are, in some way, a victim and ALL things are easy for us to overcome, if we just do it right. We needn’t worry about God’s grace or His Spirit (even though there might be talk of His Spirit in Oprah-land, but more in a way where its all about us and not about the Spirit), we just need to follow the formulas. The same idea even comes out in Oprah’s sex show. Good sex boils down to right formulas, even formulas for relationships, and formulas save us — not God.
You might say I’m taking a narrow and very conservative, gun-ho Christian fundamentalist attitude, but let me show you why I don’t believe I am. Oprah’s message resonates with many Western Christians and churches, liberal or conservative, precisely because it’s so formula driven. Even conservatives, who may say in one corner of their mouth that Oprah is some form of false prophet and New Age and whatever else, will go around saying that if we do thing’s “God’s Way” then we will find ourselves living in freedom. We need to raise our children “God’s Way”, or run our businesses “God’s Way” to enjoy a better life. In principle I might agree, but in experience even doing thing’s “God’s Way” doesn’t provide a ‘better life’. The problem is that the goal of a ‘better life’ may not be what God wants for us after all.
Both of these views rely on formulas to get what we want — a better life. But there are two problems here. Firstly, why do we think the point of living is to get a ‘better life’? And secondly, why is it that there are so many formula’s out there?
Christian teaching talks about grace, how we need God’s grace to have eternal life. The difference here is joy within circumstances, not joy because our circumstances have changed. The difference is also trusting God for salvation, salvation in this life and in the next age; not trusting formulas. So both Oprah and high conservatives I view on the same side — they’re both just selling different formulas that will get us to the same old myth; the same mirage; of a ‘better life’. Neither of them can promise joy in our circumstances, because that’s not really what we think we want. The goal is a better life now. And whoever can sell their formula the best, wins.
But joy in our circumstances — rather than our circumstances taken away — may just be what we really want, because it seems that these formulas work for some, but not for others, and I for one refuse to live my life going from one answer to the next trying to make it work. I’ve been there, done that. None of the formulas I was taught worked for me, and none of those I taught myself have consistently worked. Rather, I’ll rely on God’s grace, not to make life work, but to sustain me with his joy, peace, and love through the hard times — which can’t be avoided and <i>will</i> come.