Obama, Oprah, Postmodernism and Suffering
One day during 2006 I was flipping through the television channels and happened upon the Oprah Winfrey show. Her guest was (then) Senator Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. Oprah was the most powerful woman in the world back then but as a result of taking her show off prime time television and starting her own network her influence has slumped dramatically. However, it wasn’t just her business decisions that were her undoing. I would dare to argue that her delving into politics and becoming a defacto spiritual guru prior to her doing so contributed to her iconic demise.
A 2002 article published by Christianity Today rightly described Oprah’s influence as a spiritual figurehead:
Oprah’s most significant role has become that of spiritual leader. To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a post-modern priestess—an icon of church-free spirituality.
The article also points out that Oprah was able to borrow from the televangelists of the 1980’s, yet her appeal was a masterfully repackaged version of accessible religious liberalism. In a profile of her spiritual appeal The New York Times published an article in 2011 giving an overview of her work. One sociologist interviewed observed that Winfrey borrowed from the thought of Christian evangelist Charles Grandison Finney who included elements of emotionality and focus on justice in his firey sermons from the pulpit.
Futhermore, Winfrey’s rhetoric and spiritual focus looked to relieve suffering making articulate cases that such experiences were desirable and necessary similar to how many evangelical preachers would deliver their sermons. Prior to her change of focus from television talk show host to up-and-coming televised New Age spiritual mentor she had attended Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church in which Oprah later left his congregation stating she was not comfortable with the tone of his sermons. Yet if one pays close attention her speaking style is similar in many ways to Wright’s minus his anger-filled rants.
The start of her decline as a New Age figurehead began with the tragic deaths of six people who attended a session hosted by Sweat Lodge Guru James Arthur Ray whom she promoted. Ray was indicted in 2009 for the deaths of six attendees to his spiritual warrior weekend that involved participants who paid $10,000 a piece for a weekend get-a-way in Sedona, Arizona. The event concluded with attendees housing themselves in a enclosed tent heated with an open fire in order to achieve a sweating effect that was alleged to help cleanse a person’s body. Ray often childed those who wanted to leave and upon completion of his events, he would usually convince people to attend more expensive functions.
I was struck by the observations of The New York Times article I mentioned earlier which states:
While respecting Ms. Winfrey’s use of her Christian heritage, Dr. Illouz ultimately concluded that the talk-show host might be something of a false prophet. That is because, she said, Ms. Winfrey and her cadre of self-help experts treated suffering as something beneficial. Ms. Winfrey turned the black church’s ethos of self-reliance in the face of suffering into an exaltation of suffering itself.
Taking this paragraph into account, Oprah’s endorsement of not only New Age religionists makes sense but even her embracing Barack Obama. Since the United States is experiencing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the stagnation of our economy and joblessness is an extension of the suffering Ms. Winfrey embraces. I doubt very highly that Oprah will distance herself from Obama similar in many ways to how she did not distance herself from people like James Arthur Ray.
Winfrey came out in favor of Obama in 2006 before he even announced his intention to run for President. Small wonder after doing so more openly in 2007 that her ratings started going down. Now, upon becoming President, not only have Obama’s policies largely contributed to the economic slump we are experiencing, but the joblessness and other hardships people are going through are an extension of her view that it is a way to spiritually redeem ourselves.
Obama’s continuous attempts to dodge reality or even take accountability for his actions is observed not just with his lies about Mitt Romney but even Obama’s policies. During an interview on the David Letterman Show, Obama asserted that there is no need to worry about the massive amounts of debt incurred by the United States. His mishaps with the Benghazi terrorist attack on a U.S. Consulate office are indicative of Obama’s refusal to take accountability too. At first the President stated that the attacks were backlash from a movie that parodied the Islamic prophet Mohammed and then blamed intelligence agencies for faulty information. Now it’s looking more like the administration had knowledge that the attacks were occurring but chose to not defend the consulate or even turn back the terrorist assault.
The President likes to avoid the truth as much as Oprah Winfrey. Consequently, since faith is the basis for their logic both Obama and Winfrey refuse to take any accountability for their actions or decisions. The Wall Street Journal published an excellent editorial outlining how Barack Obama’s actions are grounded in postmodernism. As the editorial points out, he is obviously familiar with the philosophy in light of the fact that he taught in collegiate academia for many years. Postmodernism is a variant of skepticism that rejects objective reality in favor of a view that insists that everything is a matter of interpretation, that truth is relative and there are no absolutes.
How Oprah conducted herself is similar in many ways to how Ayn Rand describes the role of the Witch Doctor in her essay Atilla and the Witch Doctor in her book For the New Intellectual. According to Rand, the Witch Doctor rebels against reason by attempting to ally with those who seek to conquer the Producers. The Witch Doctor subverts reason by purporting that one’s feelings rather than their senses can provide infallible knowledge of the universe. If reality clashes with what the Witch Doctor preaches, then the he/she ignores it. The Witch Doctor sets him/herself up as the authority on truth and subsequently convinces their followers to deny their own thoughts and ideas and blindly accept faith. The Witch Doctor presents themselves as the authority on right and wrong.
The widespread acceptance of altruism coupled with postmodernism leads to the acceptance of collectivism which results in constant suffering and even death. Despite the increased amount of people who identify themselves as having no religion or even atheists, people still embrace the false alternatives to reason and logic: skepticism and religion. Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey both rode waves of positive feelings and whim-worship in order to attain the prominent public positions they hold or once held. As a result of people looking to emotion rather than thought the result is the existence of suffering and death that both high profile individuals embrace. Barack Obama subscribes not only a postmodern but even egalitarian sense of life which means mediocrity and denying reality is the norm. Oprah Winfrey who played the role of Witch Doctor preached a New Age theology and then sanctioned Barack Obama’s Presidential candidacy as well as his ideas both of which are ultimately geared to enslave the productive in the name of altruistic sacrifice.
It is only fitting that both Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey have had their prominence diminished since both individuals believe it is through suffering and sacrifice that one attains salvation. It is abundantly clear people are rejecting the morally bankrupt messages of Obama and Winfrey espouse as evidenced by the demise of Oprah’s cable TV show and her media empire along with the decline of the popularity of the President. People have not, however, rejected the ethics of altruism. The one central thing that people must ultimately reject is not only the anti-life ethics of faith and religious belief but also altruism which is the morality of self-sacrifice that Witch Doctors (like Oprah) transmit.
While I am glad that the prominence of both Oprah and Obama is in decline, ultimately Oprah Winfrey is the one who deserves the most jeers. It is her doctrine of suffering grounded in religious belief that has been thrust on the country in which the Presidency of President Obama and the miserable results of his policies is an extension of Winfrey’s thought.