Together Oprah and Obama are giving a soul to the Culture of Death
Analysis by John Jalsevac
Eckhart Tolle, the New Age guru, who numbers amongst his disciples the wildly influential talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, who, in turn, is herself Barack Obama’s most enthusiastic supporter, proclaims that history is at a moment of crisis. According to his theory, if humanity does not collectively achieve a state of “higher consciousness,” then the race will soon violently destroy itself and the planet in a final conflagration of “egoic consciousness”.
It is a little eerie to hear a man who falls so firmly on the left echoing the apocalyptic theories of the religious right, and proposing much the same solution to the problem. For what Tolle (with the accustomed linguistic obtuseness of modern self-appointed prophets) labels “egoic consciousness” is, to somewhat oversimplify, what the religious right has, since approximately the moment Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, called “pride.” And one thing on which the religious right and Eckhart Tolle agree, is that the flourishing of this egoic consciousness lies at the very heart of the malaise of the developed world, having lead to ever increasing social unrest, dissatisfaction with life, widespread violence, and a pervading selfishness, a devastating focus on the “I”, the ego.
Another important thing on which Tolle and the religious right agree is that there is only one proportionate response to the problem. For, since the problem is fundamentally a problem of spirit, the response must be a response of the spirit. Pride (or egoic consciousness) is a disease of the soul that reveals itself in violence, warfare, criminal activity, depression, etc. Hence, one must strike at the heart of the problem and eliminate the disease of the soul, thereby bringing about a new order of peace and harmony – or, to use the title of Tolle’s new book, which is a phrase pulled from the New Testament, “A New Earth.”
For Eckhart Tolle and his disciple Oprah, as well as her most admired politician, Barack Obama – as for the religious right – it is clear that what is necessary is a spiritual revival. And indeed, these three, and especially the latter two, have assumed the role of the priests and the prophets of the emerging spiritual springtime of the left.
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What chiefly distinguishes a “spiritual” man from a secular one is that a spiritual man recognizes that human beings have a soul that is the most fundamental source of all of their thoughts and actions. According to the spiritual man, therefore, the way to bring about real change (or “change you can believe in”), is to focus on changing the “within” rather than simply attempting to force change through external coercion, or the putting in place of particular social, political and economic structures.
This distinction between change from “without” and change from “within” has recently been making some high-profile appearances in some surprising, and not-so-surprising places.
On the unsurprising end of things, in his recent encyclical, “Spe Salvi,” Pope Benedict repeatedly hammers home the truth that the only meaningful change in society will come from “within” man, and not through secular and materialistic programmes of social reform. As he writes, “JesusâEUR¦brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.” And a little later, “Even if external structures remained unaltered, this [Christ’s coming] changed society from within.”
A few pages on the Pontiff criticizes the modern thinker for the error of materialism, and for his blind belief in “progress.” “Man, in fact,” he says, “is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.”
On the more surprising side, though, this distinction between change from without and change from within has made a prominent appearance both in Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope”, and in his campaign for the presidency. This is surprising because Democrats are not exactly known for their emphasis on a spiritual solution to society’s ills, nor for their de-emphasis on the power of government programs as the panacea.
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Obama’s campaign for the presidency has had about it something of a quasi-religious nature. His rhetoric, with his especial emphasis on “hope” and “belief”, bears a strong resemblance to that of Christian preachers, and it has been frequently said that his supporters look to him with something of the fervor that believers look to Christ as their savior.
And indeed, listen to the echoes of Pope Benedict’s teaching in these words in Obama’s book: “I think much of what ails the inner city involves a breakdown in culture that will not be cured by money alone, and that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP.” Or listen to this passage in which Obama relates his baptism, which evokes a comparison with other Christian conversion stories like Augustine’s “Confessions” or Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain”: “Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”
“You need to come to church,” he writes elsewhere, “precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it; rich, poor, sinner, saved, you needed to embrace Christ precisely because you had sins to wash away – because you were human and needed an ally in your difficult journey, to make the peaks and valleys smooth and render all those crooked paths straight.”
And, unsurprisingly, the left is responding to Obama’s spiritual politics, for they are starved for it. Obama does not, as so many of his political compatriots have done, preach the cold, lifeless doctrine that government programs alone will renew America. Instead he challenges each person to do their own part to renew, in the first place, their own selves, and then through their self-renewal, to change their country for the better. Hence, Obama is being received as the savior who was to come.
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It is also unsurprising, therefore, that Oprah, who is perhaps the most well-known adherent of new age spirituality, has thrown the full weight of her support behind Obama. In fact, this is the first time in her life that she has officially endorsed a political candidate. And so enthusiastic is she about Obama that she personally took to the road for him, speaking on his behalf at various campaign stops this past December. If Obama is the savior of the left, then Oprah is his John the Baptist, making “straight the way,” preparing her millions of avid fans for his ascent to the presidency.
Both Oprah and Obama claim to be Christians. But in both cases this is a farce, for neither of them believes that Christ is the incarnate God (except, perhaps, in the sense that we are all in some way God), and neither of them believes that there is an objective, external truth to which they must wholly submit.
The official slogan for Oprah’s online class on Tolle’s book is “prepare to be awakened.” Compare this idea with this passage from Obama’s book, in which he describes the “spirituality” of his mother, a woman of no professed religion, who would (as Obama proudly tells us) alternately attend Christian churches, Buddhist temples, Chinese New Year celebrations, Shinto shrines, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites. “For all her professed secularism,” writes Obama, “my mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I’ve ever know.”
An even cursory reading of the chapter on his Christian faith in Obama’s book demonstrates that Obama has never seriously attempted to submit to the doctrines of Christianity, but rather chose to embrace the religion largely for utilitarian reasons, and as but one way amongst many to quench his thirst for some form of a spiritual life. Oprah, on the other hand, has explicitly stated that Christianity is but one way amongst many, presumably equal ways to God.
Instead of professing a true Christianity, therefore, Obama and Oprah are simply capitalizing on the possibilities of using the Christian name, and the name of Christ Himself, to further their political and social agenda and their own brand of spirituality. And theirs is a spirituality that eschews all definitions, all notions of an objective truth, and all submission to a higher authority.
Most importantly, theirs is a spirituality that, because of its intrinsic ambiguity, can be used by them to inspire in their followers a passion and fervor for their political and social causes that no pure, irreligious secularist could ever do.
In essence this spirituality without definitions or doctrines is a blank check that Obama or Oprah can cash in for whatever their cause of the day is. We have already seen Obama use his “religion” to justify supporting legally recognized homosexual unions, for did not Christ preach tolerance in his Sermon on the Mount? And he has used his spirituality to justify many other things besides – his radical support for abortion, for euthanasia, for infanticide, and so much else that is completely antithetical to even the most liberal reading of Christian moral teaching. And while Oprah has maintained a surprisingly low profile on many of the most contentious social issues (abortion, euthanasia, same-sex “marriage”, etc.), her head-over-heels enthusiasm for Obama, one of the most liberal politicians in recent memory, reveals her true heart. And this comes as no surprise to those who know enough to see through her infatuation with the vapid new age “spirituality.”
Obama’s spirituality is deeply convincing to those who have nothing deeper to hold on too. So too is Oprah’s. And hence the two of them are together filling a void, a thirst among the liberal establishment for a spirituality. At last count, well over a million and half people around the world have downloaded and viewed Oprah’s first class with Eckhart Tolle from a week and a half ago. And Obama, the political neophyte, has defied all predictions about an early demise, proving a formidable opponent even against the juggernaut of the Clinton name.
There is, indeed, a spiritual springtime of the Left, and Obama and Oprah are leading the way. But their spirituality without definitions is much more frightening than their greatest fear – a religion with doctrines. For their ambiguous “spirituality” captures all the spiritual energy and enthusiasm of its followers and puts it all at the service of a lie, or, what is even worse, of nothing at all. Together Oprah and Obama are giving a soul to the Culture of Death.
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