Today one of America's most powerful religious leaders is giving up her biggest platform:
The "religious leader" thing is a joke…sort of. Winfrey does have a distinct set of spiritual views, and they're pretty clearly rooted in the American New Thought/mind cure tradition. Elements of those ideas have certainly circulated in high-profile venues before, but they've never had a forum as influential as The Oprah Winfrey Show. It's easy to mock the conspiracy theorists who throw around words like "antichrist" when they talk about Winfrey, but their anxieties are rooted in something real. For decades, millions of ordinary viewers have watched a daily TV show that presented a friendly, not-at-all-scary, positive-thinking sort of New Age spirituality as Middle American common sense, and they've responded with wild enthusiasm. When it comes to undermining conventional conservative Christianity, Oprah has done more than every New Atheist combined.
Kathryn Lofton sums up the Creed of O:
"She endorses some modes of theological existence, but dislikes many more. For her, religion implies control and oppression and the inability to catalog shop. The only way religion or religious belief works for Oprah is if it is carefully coordinated with capitalist pleasure. Thus, the turn to 'spirituality'—the non-dogmatic dogma that encourages an ambiguous theism alongside an exuberant consumerism," Lofton said.
In Winfrey's view, Buddhism isn't about meditation and renunciation, it's about beaded bracelets and fragrant incense. "Christianity isn't about Christ's apocalyptic visions or the memorization of creeds, it's about a friendly guy named Jesus and his egalitarian message. As long as you can spend, feel good about yourself and look good, your religious belief will be tolerated on Planet O. The religion of Oprah is the incorporated faith of late-capitalist America," Lofton said.
As you might guess from that casual invocation of "late-capitalist America," Oprahism has critics on the radical left as well as the religious right.