Of late I am increasingly frightened by something I see happening in our culture: it is the seeming superficial-ization of everything in American life to the point of absurdity and deception. The prime culprit of course is the ubiquitous mass media (especially 24-hour cable programming and the Internet) and its constant dumbing down of the American consciousness to the lowest common denominator of the most tantalizing sound bites and images. The other bad boy is the interminable chatter/commentary by clever cultural sharpshooters: it’s so bad sometimes that it makes me wonder if we can actually pull ourselves out of our co-dependence upon charlatans. What makes my priest’s heart so heavy is that I think our society is going down the path of deep spiritual degradation, and it doesn’t look like this trend will be ending any time soon. Certainly not in an election season.
Case in point: Oprah. Our country’s richest woman is easily one of the most spiritually bankrupt people in America and also one of the most shockingly popular. How does a New Age con artist like Oprah get so many people to literally adore her? She did not make $260 million last year by feeding people solid food. She deals in fads, feelings and frauds — it’s that simple — and apparently she is very effective at convincing people to follow her well-packaged crock of nonsense. Of a recent political speech, she admitted fawningly that she had “cried her eyelashes off” when she heard it, and I am sure her crocodile tears were persuasive to her vast audience. For people schooled in the truth, the reaction would be very different: I saw the same speech and could barely keep myself from throwing up, but they don’t pay me $260 million a year.
When asked why she refused to interview her anointed one’s political opponent, she balked and got caught in a nasty public relations double-bind which is what usually happens to people who play games with their own popularity. Her refusal would have been easier to swallow if she had just said simply that she didn’t like the other candidate and didn’t want her on the show; that we can accept! But then again, basic honesty is probably above Oprah’s pay grade. The truth is that Oprah has put her social clout to partisan political use, and when she was called on to be fair, she just couldn’t admit that she was playing the political hack.
I do think Oprah’s menace is fundamentally spiritual though, and that it feeds off the growing spiritual superficiality of the American populace. Its treachery is not to be underestimated. Oprah not only believes in but forcefully advocates pernicious New Age trends like Helen Schucman’s A Course In Miracles and Eckhart Tolle’s terrible esoteric movement that is trampling down Christian values and opening up a spiritual vacuum in the hearts of millions as we speak. Having the life sucked out of our souls by spiritually bankrupt “celebrities” is a slow spiritual death, to put it mildly. However, Oprah is just the worst case scenario of what is reaching epidemic proportions in a personality-obsessed, spiritually infantile and media-saturated culture. The most popular show in American prime-time is not called “American Idol” for nothing: we are literally becoming a nation of idol-worshippers.
What can we do about all the deceptive cultural garbage clamoring to fill our vulnerable souls? Well, the Church has always had the answer and never ceases to instruct us in the discipline that will bring our souls down that “narrow way” of Christ. We are to “reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises” — that would include all his idols too. We are to consume the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth and say “yes” when we mean “yes” and “no” when we mean “no.” As Jesus said, “everything else is from the devil.”