I can’t say I spend my time watching Oprah, but I recently came across a New York Times article about her show that made me do a double take. It seems that recently, the Queen of Therapy interviewed Rielle Hunter, mistress of John Edwards and mother of his youngest child. Times writer Alessandra Stanley reported the interview in a column titled “One Woman’s ‘Truth’: Rielle Hunter Talks to Oprah.”
The word “truth” is in quotation marks, and for good reason.
I have spoken and written many times about the issue of truth and reality. Well, this story may illustrate most of the things I’ve ever said.
For one thing, Rielle Hunter stated that she did not regret the affair with John Edwards, but rather, painted the scandal as a necessary stage in Mr. Edwards’ “process of self-actualization.” And then she said, “I followed my heart, and I believe it was the right thing to do, which is weird…because I didn’t make a commitment to Elizabeth. I wasn’t the one lying to her.”
My heavens! Where do I begin? First of all, “following your heart” may lead you to do the right thing. But more often it will lead you to do the wrong thing. And it depends, of course, on the moral condition of your heart—or, if you prefer, your conscience. Remember, the word “conscience” comes from two Latin words, con scienta, meaning “with knowledge.” The healthy conscience is informed by objective moral laws and truth.
Second, Ms. Hunter talks about being supportive of Mr. Edwards’ desire to live “a life of truth.” Rielle admits that lying like a rug is a “really unique way of getting there.” No kidding. Leaving out everything else that’s wrong with that idea, calling something “true” doesn’t make it true. Your opinion and my opinion have no effect on truth. Truth is truth because it is objectively so. It is unchanging; it is not something we can make up.
But what I find particularly striking—appalling really—is the gentle treatment that Ms. Hunter received from Oprah Winfrey. Wouldn’t you think Oprah might say, “But didn’t your conscience bother you? Don’t you care about the consequences? How can you say hurting someone else is self-actualization?” Instead, the Times reports, “Ms. Winfrey…wasn’t confrontational or even very probing.”
Not that the Times’ own tone is very probing either. But at least Ms. Stanley did call Ms. Hunter’s story a “solipsistic and New Age-ish account, in which Ms. Hunter’s ‘truth,’ as she put it, trumped all other concerns, including all the lying.”
Well, the whole incident has me aghast. Why was this tawdry interview on network television? Is sensationalism the only thing the media thinks will sell to the public? Does anyone care about genuine standards of morality and truth and decency? What about the influence this kind of drivel has on the millions of adoring Oprah groupies?
Well, in one way, maybe it’s a good thing the interview aired. It showed the world what has become of the so-called “self-esteem” generation. It stripped bare the old clichés of moral relativism, like “follow your heart” and “truth is what you believe it to be,” and showed just how ugly and hollow they really are.
There it is for all to see. When we base our idea of truth on what makes us feel good, we end up lying not just to others, but to ourselves.