Columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post is a brave man, and a survivor. He slipped into Oprah Winfrey’s “Live Your Best Life” tour and lived to tell the tale. In his report, “Church of Oprah,” he tells what it was like to see thousands of women, each paying at least $185, sit in awe of their mentor and spiritual guide. The few men present were “corks bobbing in a sea of estrogen,” he informs. The crowd of “well-behaved, beautifully dressed” women “seemed to have a certain light in their eyes as they waited to see a woman who comes into their lives daily through her talk show and monthly through her eponymous magazine, whose every cover she glamorously graces.” Yes, Oprah smiles from the cover of every issue of her own magazine. Her “Live Your Best Life” tour will take her to Denver and Dallas later this year, but the crowd of devotees in the Washington Convention Center was looking for something more than encouragement and advice–they were looking for meaning in life. Robinson says that a little voice in his head starting murmuring, “Cult of Oprah. Cult of Oprah. Cult of Oprah.” Yet, Robinson decided that the cult metaphor was wrong. Instead, “Oprah presides over something grander and more significant. It’s more like a church.” Robinson is on to something here. Consider his analysis of what Oprah means to so many women, and why: “Oprah’s great gift, and the foundation of her lay ministry, is her understanding that even women who have enjoyed great success in their personal and professional lives can still struggle to find meaning and fulfillment, and that they can learn from Oprah’s own search for the same things.” For Oprah, meaning is autobiography. As Robinson relates, “Oprah gets fat, Oprah goes on a diet, Oprah loses the weight, Oprah gains it back, Oprah loses it again, maybe this time for good. Oprah fights an ongoing battle with her hair. Oprah’s relationship with her significant other seems to lack something, since she and Steadman never get married, but she hangs in there with him anyway. Oprah has a best friend, Gayle, who sticks with her through everything. Oprah makes charitable gifts. Oprah promotes books, mostly by women writers or with strong female characters, many of them difficult books that offer not comfort but more questions.” Oprah offers spirituality and meaning without reference to any God in particular. Marriage and motherhood are for other women. Oprah will just sail along on her own quest for the perfect diet, satisfying relationships, and global harmony. She will use her television program and media empire to chide parents who have hang-ups about their children’s desires for sex-change operations and will feature a constant cast of human weirdness. She assures us all that our choices are empowering and that all sexual lifestyles are equally valid and fine. Robinson is a brave man because writing anything even remotely critical of Oprah will bring an avalanche of hate mail. [I can offer personal testimony.] But Robinson is wrong on one count. The Church of Oprah is a cult.
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