Oprah's New Spirituality Not Really New
by Anna Kitko, Ratio Christi Regional Director for Tennessee and South Carolina
Oprah Winfrey once provided a candid interview at the headquarters of her Hollywood studios television network (OWN). The topic: Oprah’s spiritual beliefs. We take notice because these beliefs are representative of the so-called “New Spirituality.” People listen to Oprah. She was arguably America’s most watched television talk show host as well as an Oscar-nominated actress. It isn’t surprising that people listen to what Oprah says about her spiritual beliefs. What is surprising is how far her spiritual beliefs are from Christianity.
Let me back up and give you some context to help you to understand why I am saying this. Western Civilization, in particular here in the U.S., went through what I can only refer to as a spiritual blender during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. It is extremely difficult for we in academia to put our finger on precisely why 18th century occultism enjoyed a resurgence in these decades. It may have something to do with the combination of the Cold War and the counterculture revolution’s heavy reliance on substance abuse; but I digress. These are the decades of UFO religions combined with holistic channeling, theosophy, and mind-body spiritualism. They had emerged into popular culture for the first time since Emanuel Swedenborg wrote in 1758 that he could channel angels and demons at the drop of a hat as well as regularly visit heaven and hell by releasing his mind.1 So by the time we get to George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Star’s chanting of “Hare Krishna” consciousness on the 1967 track of “I am the Walrus,” we have the entirety of popular culture worshipping at the altar of eclectic spirituality. You might more easily recognize this as the “The New Age Movement.”
Fast forward to now. Oprah Winfrey: an American media mogul who, now aged 64, lived through the height of the New Age Movement. She combining her cultural experience with her philanthropic ventures, warm personality, and articulate hospitality toward her audiences. It is no surprise that her spiritual life has garnered its own following. In 2002, Christianity Today published the article “The Church of O” and labelled her as a “postmodern priestess--an icon of church-free spirituality.”2 Books like The Gospel according to Oprah, The Secret, and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose regularly employ postmodern social theory to Spirituality in general. And in our Post-Christian culture here in America, that means combining Christianese and Judeo-Christian concepts with the notion that there is no absolute or exclusive truth. Truth resides in the individual. It is #speakyourtruth instead of #speakthetruth. Which means that anyone anywhere can wear the label “Christian,” and define their label however they see fit and without any coherence with historical Christianity, the Bible, the teachings of Jesus Christ, or the exclusivity of his Messiahship. And we see this quite clearly in Oprah’s commentaries on how to understand God,
“God is a feeling experience and not a believing experience. If your religion is a believing experience […] then that’s not truly God.”3
But is she correct in her assessment? Can someone who has embraced a Southern Baptist Convention-style childhood also make statements like, “I have church with myself: I have church walking down the street. I believe in the God force that lives inside all of us, and once you tap into that, you can do anything.”?4 Does this find coherence within the corpus of Christian orthodoxy? Unfortunately for Oprah and her 22 million followers, the answer is a resounding, “No.”
As is regularly the case when postmodernism meets Christianity, the exclusivity of Christ’s message, his Lordship over creation, his power, and his sovereignty is ignored. This is done in an attempt to replace it with society’s worship of feeling good, the rejection of moral standards and accountability outside of ourselves, and the replacement of oughtness for embracing sin under the guise of authenticity. It is a tale as old as time. Whenever secularism comes face-to-face with Jesus Christ, one of two things happens: either there is an attempt to bring God down to the level of mankind, or to raise mankind up to the level of God.
Oprah Winfrey’s New Spirituality does not escape this conclusion. The readiness with which our culture embraces a faith that is based in the deification of self is no surprise. But we few, we Church folk, are not to despair. For when we consider what precisely makes us our most authentic self, we also know the words of our Savior when he reminds us that,
“Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.”5
And like Screwtape reminds his nephew, “When God talks of losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” Let us pray that the incredible influence Oprah has upon our culture points toward Calvary, and no longer at ourselves.
1 | Swendenborg, Emanuel. Heavenly Doctrines, 1758.
2 | Taylor, Latonya. “The Church of O.” Christianity Today 46, no. 4 (April 1, 2002): 38, accessed October 20, 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/april1/church-oprah-winfrey.html
3 | Garcia, Elena. “Oprah’s Church Video draws over 5 Million to Youtube.” The Christian Post, April 23, 2008, access October 20, 2018, https://www.christianpost.com/news/oprah-s-church-video-draws-over-5-million-to-youtube-32068/
4 | Lowe, Janet. Oprah Winfrey Speaks: Insights from the World’s Most Influential Voice. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1998, 122.
5 | Matthew 10:39 (GNT)
6 | Lewis, C.S. Screwtape Letters. 1943.
Anna Kitko is a Christian Apologist who specializes in Cults and New Religions. Her writing ranges from solving biblical difficulties to training people how to avoid coercive persuasion from aberrant Bible-based groups. She is an avid reader of Christian history and loves to point out ancient heresies being re-packaged and re-distributed in our culture. In addition to being a Regional Director for RC, she personally directs the chapter at University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Anna can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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