Joanne Kaufman—The Church of Oprah

Posted by Kendall Harmon

What has helped make her all the things she is? It's the two things she's not: a wife and mother. A lot of ambitious women will say they had to make a choice: They could be a CEO or get married and have kids but most assuredly not both. With Oprah it seemed a whole other matter entirely. She's like the religious leader who forswears marriage and children to better serve her flock. Perhaps she made a sage choice. Unlike many wives, she tended to get the last word. Unlike many mothers, she had countless followers always willing to take her suggestions—be your best self, find your own power—as commandments.

Oprah's final show made it difficult to avoid ecclesiastical comparisons. "Amazing Grace," she told her rapturous audience, "is the song of my life." "This was what I was called to do," she said at another point. She also referenced the hand of God and the presence of God, offering prayers of gratitude "for the privilege of doing the show," talking about her "yellow-brick-road of blessings," and signing off for the last time with hands raised in benediction and a fervent "God be the Glory." Even the heavenly host might find this host a tough act to follow.

Read it all from the Op-ed page of today's Wall Street Journal.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMovies & TelevisionReligion & CultureWomen* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

8 Comments
Posted May 27, 2011 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Ian+ wrote:

Got to be a subscriber to the WSJ to read the rest. Bummer.

May 27, 9:14 am | [comment link]
2. Cennydd13 wrote:

This lady, God bless her, IS a tough act tofollow.

May 27, 9:26 am | [comment link]
3. drjoan wrote:

Let’s face it: she IS an icon!  And she is loving and warm and seems to genuinely care for those around her and those in her audience—they SURE connect with her!  On her last show she said something that struck me: she said (paraphrasing) “you are amazing and wonderful because you are.”  Sounds good and uplifting.  But I have never been a devotee so I don’t really know her position on abortion.  It sounds to me, though, that she should be against it so that a person could have the opportunity to BE. 
Does anyone have insight into that part of her belief system?

May 27, 12:40 pm | [comment link]
4. FrCarl wrote:

#4.  From what she has said, published, and promoted - her theology can not be said to be orthodox with respect to the main tenents of the Faith.  It is a mish-mash of morality, wishful thinking, psychology, religiousity, and syncreticism wrapped with warm feelings and intentions.
BTW I read the article - in a round-about way it affirms the Scriptural view of the omnipresence of “guilt”, but unfortunately, is somewhat light on the original source.


None of which is to say anything about her person or actions, except that and

May 27, 2:40 pm | [comment link]
5. Teatime2 wrote:

drjoan,
No, but if I had to guess, based on her commitment to the African-American community, I’d say that she’s against it. Most black leaders are because poor black women have the most abortions and tend to be targeted by that industry. Many black leaders bemoan the huge loss of African-American children to abortion; some even consider it a conspiracy against the A-A community.

But back to Oprah in general, she tells people that they are important, special, and loved by God. In an odd way, so does Lady Gaga. And that’s why people are so moved by and flock to these celebrities. I was thinking about that while watching a Gaga performance on TV. When you get past the freaky costumes and performance art, there is compassion and encouragement for the underdogs and, oddly enough, the repeated assurance that they are loved.

It’s struck me that these celebs are doing the first thing that religions should do. Tell people that they are loved.  Yes, yes, I know that we’re in the business of helping people to reform their lives but I think that in the zeal to do that, we forget to do the first thing often and convincingly enough. People have to feel loved and safe first to even consider making changes. And that’s what the Oprahs and Gagas do. They’re filling a void.

May 27, 3:09 pm | [comment link]
6. TACit wrote:

Perhaps the only thing that stopped Oprah living life a poor black woman rather than a successful phenomenon of mass media was that her baby born when she was 14 died, essentially at birth, IIUC.  The details have left my memory but they are in a video-clip from a recent interview, I think with Piers Morgan.
Perhaps I’m thankful for having lived the past 20 years out of the loop of US mass media, which has spared me constant Oprah exposure. What little I’ve seen of her assures me she is as Fr. Carl suggests, and another in a long line of Americans who have cottoned on to the insatiable appetite in their country for substitutes for authentic religious values and practise.  Oprah is partly right about so many things, it is easy to substitute what she offers for an authentic, orthodox Christian path in life, offered so attractively as it is.  It may fill a void, as Teatime 2 says. 
The show I learned of second-hand in which proper elimination was discussed candidly (I gather) was apparently medically accurate - but personally I wouldn’t go looking at TV for that information!  In many respects I think she has pulled lower the level of public or social discourse, same as DeGeneres, rather than lifting it as TV personalities such as, say, Wm. Buckley Jr. strove to do, and as any authentic religious teacher would do.
I don’t know quite how to find out her stance on abortion though I would be very surprised if she is not at some level pro-choice.  But possibly she takes a position like that of MLK Jr.‘s niece.

May 27, 6:38 pm | [comment link]
7. Larry Morse wrote:

FrCarl and Tacit are both on target. Oprah is what middlebrow success looks like: Personable, chatty, not too bright, undemanding, outgoing, mediocrity in high priced clothes. Does she show people they are loved? Sure, as long as you do not require that her approach answer to anything between your ears. (See Jennifer Boylan’s oped piece in today’s NYT). She is a warm bath, requiring nothing from the viewer save that they step into the water. Such people will always be popular on TV. She is harmless except to those who think she is reality. She is in fact a cultural construct; take away the TV and she ceases to exist.
  But Lady Gaga? Please.  Larry

May 28, 9:19 am | [comment link]
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