So it went with the Secret, that hellish troika of hope, resignation, and naivete that would make Gogol blush through the leeches sucking the demons what out his blood. It's the Secret Keepers' Prayer of Thanks: "Oprah gave me hope for the future, after I resigned myself to the fact that there's nothing I can actually do to change it -- and she didn't make me feel dumb in the process."
So, now there's a campaign to get some balance onto Oprah in the form of a professor who has studied our cultural refusal to deal with harsh realities on the horizon -- like the first year with Tavaris Jackson behind center.
Oprah is an overwhelming cultural force because she has a compelling personal history and she's excellent on television. The politician's bromide that if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made applies in modified form to television. If you can convey sincerity you've got it made. Matters not whether you feel it, though I suspect Oprah is more or less genuine in her belief.
Who, after all, could confess to a belief in angels on national television who didn't believe it? Or could confess her disbelief in something like luck. (Not in the sense that luck itself doesn't exist. Of course there's no "luck factor" hidden in the dark matter of the universe helping shampoo model Andie MacDowell into an "acting" career or screwing me twelve ways from Sunday at the track. There are a limited number of great opportunities in the world. A fortunate few are swept up into confluence of time, place, and opportunity. Millions of others are left just to the side. The accidents of history shape all our lives.)
Seriously, though -- anybody who can love her the angels and deny luck with sincerity and not be laughed off television is doing something right.
Oprah has become America's Socrates, examining her life through critical feeling and leveraging an enormous EQ against a mediocre IQ. She does enormous good, from time to time, and means well -- perhaps always.
At bottom, though, Oprah wields enormous power based on feeling rather than evidence. As a nation we would be better off with a new Fairness Doctrine -- one that tempered Oprah's shows from the heart with shows from the brain.
If only Janeane Garofalo was more huggable...
Well, it's true that you are a confirmed realist and skeptic. And, you and Jambo together do your best to denigrate the role of religion and faith in people's lives. Having said that, I tend to agree with you that Oprah and her "Secret" are leading people down the primrose path that says, "If I wish it it will be so." Heck, Herr Bush must have read the book; that's how he approaches things.
Professor Cerulo in her book cited in the "Slate" article argues that we are individually, institutionally, and societally hellbent on wishful thinking.
Ordinarily, one could make the argument that wishful thinking leads nowhere, that people should take the initiative and change things by action and reason. Watching events over the past few months however, I have just about come to the conclusion that that approach doesn't work either. To support my position, I offer the following:
1. My Republican party has been hijacked by a coalition of theocrats and economic royalists. The concepts of fiscal restraint, sound foreign policy, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for the limits of government and the right of the individual have been trashed in favor of an obtuse Robin Hood mentality that takes from the poor to give to the rich, and which imposes the decider's radical religious viewpoint as law. In reaction thereto, the electorate in November, taking the intiative to change things through reason and action, elected a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. Good move, right? Well, the Democrats have shown themselves to be incapable of doing anything other than the usual Democratic thing of fumbling around and wasting their mandate. Anything substantive on ethics reform? Hah! And, caving in to Herr Bush on funding the war is just criminal.
But, you say, the Federal Government is too big and too far away, and action and reason will work closer to home. Well. . . .
2. My local Republican party in Minnesota has been hijacked by the same cabal. Grover Norquist's puppet governor eliminates economic reality and logic from his program and ignores the mandate of the people who elected a Democratic majority in the House and Senate (and incidentally, only returned him to office by the narrowest of margins because of Mike Hatch's smell factor). So now we in Minnesota will be governed by people who care. Hah! Rather than recognizing that there was a mandate for sound government, and the opportunity to work with a moderate Republican faction in order to make sound legislation veto proof, what did the Democrats do? They went on a bender, pandering to every interest group they could find and offering them all huge sums, all to be paid for by increasing everyone's taxes. Believe it or not, they acted just like the tax and spend liberals they were portrayed as and in the process alienated the moderates they could have worked with. The result? The mullet won!
So, why should we not live our lives in wishful thinking? We had a perfect opportunity to change things in Washington and in St. Paul, but it turns out that the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans.
By 9:57 AM, at
I want to amplify your last point. Wishful thinking might have helped put Dems in charge of Congress, but all the wishful thinking in the world will not produce votes. That will take hard work. I think the ethics bill is a great example of Dems failing to seize the moment.
Enough comments have mentioned how hostile I am to religion. I don't consider myself opposed to religion or belief. Faith can be an enormously beneficial force for people. I try not to criticize faith in a loving creator who helps those who believe in him (but I clearly do engage in that criticism). On the other hand, I will strongly criticize the faith that thinking makes it so.
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I have great respect for people whose religion has helped them lead moral, or even Christ-like lives. Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter spring to mind. Who I do denigrate are literalists and fundamentalists. The people who think dinosaurs lived along side Adam and Eve (see yesterday's NYT). People who think invisible angels are flying around helping them with their daily tasks. Folks that think all the animals in the world were once crammed into an arc for a couple months. The drivers who expect their car to run off the road after they are plucked up in the Rapture. Dirty old men who argue that condoms in AIDS ridden third world countries are evil. "Serious" scholars who dream up elaborate fictions about where unbaptized babies and "unsaved" natives go after death. I have little respect for people whose faith makes them believe demonstrably silly things. If modern Christians confined themselves to the Gospel of Thomas I would probably shut up on the subject and move on to other topics.
All that said, I'm none too pleased with my party's performance of late. On both the state and national level I think they have made some small and beneficial changes but still seem to lack any real courage. Come on guys, play to win for a change, not just to avoid losing.
(By the way, the deleted comment above was some get rich quick blog spam.)
Jambo, I was probably overstating my point about you and Hammer there. In fact I agree with you about the nimrods running around with pictures of kids playing with the dinosaurs. As to the Gospel of Thomas, I've read it. As I recall, it is pretty hard on women at the end.
Your comment about the Limbo thing is probably too harsh. It is a bit like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but it does represent a legitimate dogmatic issue, and one which is being resolved in an enlightened way.
At the end of the day, however, we should follow Ghandi's advice and practice Christianity. He thought the religion fine except that too many who called themselves Christian didn't actually follow the teachings of Christ.
With respect to the balance, I'm beginning to think that Windsor, ON might not be too bad a place to retire.
By 11:25 AM, at
Unfortunately I would not expect any 2000 year old writing to have many feminist applause lines. And while I have certainly not read all of Thomas I like the thought of the philosophy without the supernaturalism. It makes me think of an old Jefferson quote I've always liked: "Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian." I think we will have to agree to disagree on the LImbo question. As I said a few weeks back it's the kind of thing that we unbelievers just don't get.
And I just wish Canada had better beaches.