The Impact of a Postmodern Evangelist
The “Queen of Talk” is without question Oprah Winfrey. She has risen to the pinnacle of the programs that are deemed to help their listeners deal with the “everydayness” of life. Oprah has literally built an empire that her counterparts can only look at and shake their cumulative heads over. She is indeed the Queen.
According to numerous sources Oprah reaches upwards of 22 million viewers each week from around the world. She is syndicated in the United States, but she is likewise seen throughout the world on 112 outlets that seek her down-to-earthiness. She also has as many as two million readers of her magazine and another 115 million visitors to her Web site (www.oprah.com).
“I’ve been an orator really, basically all my life . . . Other people were known for singing; I was known for talking.”1 Oprah has parlayed her ability to talk into a billion dollar asset. Literally, she talked her way into the money! When Oprah was twenty-two years old she had the fortune of landing a position with a Baltimore station, WJZ-TV, as an anchor for the news. In 1978 she was summarily replaced and offered a seat in a “comfy” chair as co-host of her first talk show, People Are Talking. After the dust-up regarding her failed news anchorship she commented, “This is what I should be doing. It’s like breathing.”2
Oprah has been talking ever since and has done so effectively. She has become the most influential woman, individual, in “talk show” history with her ability to connect to so many women and a few men as well. Her influence is unquestioned! She has single-handedly given a platform to many individuals who would have likely never become the stars they have without her generosity and devotion.
Oprah is not only an effective communicator, but she is also an effective evangelist for Postmodernism, a world view that allows the individual to accept truth on his own terms as it relates to his experience and his comfort quotient. As a result, she has become an international spiritual leader in her own right.
Oprah’s Emergence as a Spiritual Leader
In her early life with her grandmother and father (she was bounced from relative to relative for several years) she was given a Christian foundation from which she gained solace and comfort during some trying years throughout adolescence. Oprah proved to be an overcomer and was able to rise above her circumstances. Her strength allowed her to move beyond what life had given her and she ultimately gained a platform from which she could influence the nations. Oprah stated, “I’m in a position to change people’s lives. It is the most incredible platform for influence that you can imagine, and it’s something that I hold in great esteem and take full responsibility for.”3
However, the biblical foundation laid by her father was unable to support the structure Oprah was erecting during her adult years. She rarely discusses her religious beliefs; however, it is possible to glean her “truth” from interviews and candid remarks that she has made over the years. Her new-found “truths” come from a variety of sources. They compliment one another because they ultimately come from one source. She has adopted the pantheistic4 world view of those spiritual teachers whom she has embraced over the past decade or so.
Oprah offered the readers of her record breaking magazine this nugget of “truth” in January 2002; “No one knows your truth better than you. Take time to consult your inner guide. Then trust it.”5 This statement offers the reader a non-judgmental source to better understanding one’s reality, yet doing so without conflict. There is no place other than oneself to seek an answer to life’s issues because we have the “divine” within to consult – our inner guide.
Oprah has evolved in recent years to become the leading spokesperson regarding New Age philosophy. She has likewise evolved in her thinking regarding the source of truth. She makes this comment in defense of her newly discovered path to enlightenment, “Funny thing about truth: It’s something that lives deep within us, as surely as if it were written into the genetic code . . . when we pursue truth, we are searching for the universal. A Hindu principle teaches us, ‘Truth is one, paths are many.’ Which way is yours?”6 This concept of truth lying deep within each of us as if it were our genetic code is likened to the idea that “God” resides within each of us as an inner guide to show us the way to all truth. There is one truth, but many ways to discover it. You may choose the Christian path; another may choose the Buddhist path, or the Hindu path. It makes little or no difference which path one chooses; according to Oprah they all lead the inquirer to the same truth. God lies within you as your highest self.
Oprah’s Conversion Experience
It is appropriate to ask oneself, How did this change of religious perspective happen? Who were the individuals who influenced her transformation? What was their message? These questions are not only appropriate to ask, but they are critical to our understanding of how Oprah became seduced by the perennial teachings of the occult. Likewise, the answer is instructive to us as well.
Oprah’s goal as a television personality is not just to entertain the masses, but also to transform people and show them the way to recognize their innate divinity. She has become the most prominent evangelist of popular culture regarding moral and spiritual issues and she is being heard. A recent Newsweek article, In Search of The Spiritual, gave the results of a NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll taken to identify the spiritual climate of America. The poll indicated that Americans are being shaped by Oprah and the spiritual gurus she has on her show. The poll stated that “eight in 10 Americans – including 68 percent of evangelicals – believe that more than one faith can be a path to salvation.”7 This finding reflects the message that is preached by Oprah and her spiritual mentors. The NEWSWEEK article went on to say, “There is a streak in the United States of relying on . . . ‘individual visceral experience’ to validate religious ideas.” In other words, many Christians no longer accept the Bible as being reliable or trustworthy, but are more inclined to seek experiential validation for their understanding of truth. Adler, the author of the article, goes on to add that religion for many people is “Rather than being about a god who commands you, it’s about finding a religion that empowers you.” Oprah has given numerous New Age personalities a platform to do exactly that, to offer her viewers a religion that offers empowerment rather than a religion that offers the individual a relationship with their Creator. These self-styled spiritual leaders to whom Oprah gives a podium seduce her audience with their occultic message of self-realization.
Early on in her personal transformation she hosted celebrities like Shirley MacLaine and Marianne Williamson. She also gave voice to Gary Zukav, Caroline Myss, Iyanla Vanzant, Betty Eadie, James Van Praagh, and Deepak Chopra. Oprah’s platform was broad enough that all of her spiritual allies not only gained notoriety, but, in many cases they gained their own platform to spread their New Age gospel. Their books became instant bestsellers, their speaking fees increased exponentially, their cache increased among those who were on the “A” list, and their spiritual influence affected the masses. In the case of Iyanla Vanzant she secured her own television talk show as a result of Barbara Walters hearing her on Oprah.
The New Age/occultic influence of Oprah’s spiritual mentors is without question. Her interviews with each of them are examples of Adept and seeker: the Master who enlightens the student and the student who offers devotion to the Master. Oprah has fully accepted her role as seeker and teacher of this self-empowering philosophy. She sees her role as the conduit between the enlightened and those in darkness.
Her most influential teacher was Eric Butterworth, a Unity8 minister, and the author of Discover the Power Within You9. Essentially, Butterworth’s message is the same as those listed above. He is more blatant than the others in his presentation. Some of his teachings that Oprah has embraced is a pantheistic view of God (God is a universal force or energy10). Pantheism supports the idea that God, as a universal force, is in each individual regardless of the person’s spiritual state or whether the individual believes in God or not. Another teaching that Oprah has seemingly embraced is that Jesus is merely a teacher of “Divine” truths, a way-shower, one who helps man recognize his innate divinity. Perhaps the one teaching that most undermines the eternal state of the seeker after Truth is the belief that salvation is obtained by individual effort. That is to say, the individual gains his or her salvation through their “good works” over many lifetimes (reincarnation) and therefore does not accept the urgency of needing to seek redemption from a holy God. Essentially, this view denies that man can truly have a meaningful relationship with his Creator. To further exacerbate the problem, the belief that all religions offer a valid path to the god within is accepted without discernment. Other teachings that each of these spiritual leaders impart include the oneness of all humanity with the divine (See note #6), the belief that all of mankind is essentially good (we only have a belief that we are not), and that man is depraved or evil and is in need of redemption.
Butterworth makes this point time and time again. His basic premise is that the power within each individual is God – the force or energy that permeates all of creation. According to Butterworth, Jesus is truly the way-shower in that he first made the discovery for himself and offers it to each of us. He states, “We must begin to see Jesus as the great discoverer of the innate Divinity of Man, the supreme revealer of the truth about man, the pioneer and way-shower . . .”11
Butterworth uses Scripture with a metaphysical interpretation to lead his reader to a predetermined outcome. That is to say, he misuses it and twists it to suit his own understanding. For example he states that, “The message of the Gospels has been misunderstood. They have been made to appear to say that Jesus was really God taking the form of man . . . It fails to catch the real theme of His teaching: the Truth of the Divinity of Man.”12 This is but one example of the metaphysical interpretations used by Butterworth. Every New Age/occultic interpretation he offers the reader is similar to the distortion above.
The message that Oprah disseminates to her audience, through her quests, echoes the teachings of Butterworth. “We must see Jesus as the great discoverer of the . . . great world within. We must study and emphatically reject our historical tendency to worship Jesus. When He becomes the object of our worship, He ceases to be the way-shower for our own self-realization and self-unfoldment.”13
The Spiritual Message of the Gurus
Regardless of the guest, Marianne Williamson, Iyanla Vanzant, Betty Eadie, Gary Zukav, or Deepak Chopra - the message is the same: there is a power, an energy, a force within you that opens your understanding to your true self – your God-Self, your innate Divinity. There is no individuality; we are one. We only believe we are separate, but in reality we are all a part of God’s “oneness.” Marianne Williamson is a best-selling author of metaphysical texts and best known for making the New Age text A Course in Miracles14 popular among those individuals who lack discernment, secular and Christian alike. In her book that launched15 her popularity on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992 she made this observation, “If you go deeply enough into your mind, and deeply enough into mine, we have the same mind. The concept of a divine, or ‘Christ’ mind, is the idea that, at our core, we are not just identical, but actually the same being. ‘There is only one begotten Son’ doesn’t mean that someone else was it, and we’re not. It means we’re all it. There’s only one of us here.”16 Williamson then makes the analogy that we cannot separate ourselves from God no more than the wave can separate itself from the ocean.17
Williamson agrees with her spiritualist counterparts when she teaches the essential goodness of man. She says to “focus on Christ means focus on the goodness and power latent within us, in order to invoke them into realization and expression.”18 She continues by saying, “‘I accept the Christ within’” means, ‘I accept the beauty within me as who I really am.”19 She then finishes her thought by saying, “very few of us were taught that we’re essentially good.”20
Another of Oprah’s spiritual mentors, Iyanla Vanzant, (formerly known as Rhonda Harris), gained her place on the metaphysical talk show circuit after she appeared on Oprah. Iyanla received the attention of Oprah for several reasons. Her interest in her African roots and the fact that she is an ordained Yoruba High Priestess gave her unparalleled credibility with her mentor. Vanzant’s Yoruba religion meshed well with the New Age occultism Oprah had already come to embrace. Yoruba is an ancient Nigerian religion that practices nature worship and ancestor reverence. “In addition to the worship of one God, named Olodumare, the Yoruba worship dozens of deities known as ‘Orishas’ who are personified aspects of nature and spirit.”21
Oprah used her show to high-light Yoruba when she invited Oba Oseijeman Adefunmi the Yoruban King to be on her program with his wives.22 Oprah has succeeded in raising the awareness of those in the black culture to a new level of apostasy. There is a growing interest in Yoruban culture and worship. In Dallas, Texas, and other large metropolitan communities Yoruba is gaining a foothold. Ashira Tosihwe has been a Yoruban priestess for twenty-five years in Dallas and is an influential voice for this nature religion that seeks to compromise the Christian faith among the black community. Winfrey described Iyanla Vanzant as “one of the world’s most admirable spiritual leaders.”23
Vanzant comments in an article on Orisha Consciousness that her experience with Yoruba culture had been through dance and its music and it only seemed natural that she would embrace the spiritual and religious philosophy as well. She was initiated into the Santeria tradition and was later possessed by an Orisha since doing so was a prerequisite for being a “good priest”. Iyanla can be summarily dismissed as just another spiritual metaphysician who went off the deep end, but Oprah’s credence of such an occultic, New Age practice is more than troubling. Her lending legitimacy to such a belief is deceptive because she speaks as a Christian, but in reality she is an apostate who desires to seduce others into her world of “truth”.
Deepak Chopra is another of Oprah’s spiritual mentors. He is a popular speaker and author on alternative, New Age therapies that are grounded in ayurveda, treatment that is based on Hindu methodology. Chopra’s primary message is that man has unlimited potential to become fully conscious and realize his or her divinity. Essentially, we must recognize that we are gods and goddesses and that our greatest need is to discover this “truth” in our lifetime.
Several years ago I was given a copy of Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. The friend who had given it to me had received it from a Christian acquaintance who was giving the book to all her friends in hope of sharing the hidden “truths” that Chopra espouses. My friend had an uneasiness about the book and asked me to take a look at it and give him an assessment. Immediately I knew the author and shared my concern, then I began to do a quick read-through to point out the author’s premise. It did not take long! On page three of the text I found these words by Chopra . . . we will remain unfulfilled unless we nurture the seeds of divinity inside us. In reality, we are divinity in disguise, and the gods and goddesses in embryo that are contained within us seek to be fully materialized. True success is therefore . . . the unfolding of the divinity within us.”24 Once again another of Oprah’s mentors is in agreement with Eric Butterworth and the teachings of Unity.
Deepak Chopra makes the point of infinite unity when he discusses his first principle of success. He says, “The Law of Pure Potentiality could also be called the Law of Unity, because underlying the infinite diversity of life is the unity of one all-pervasive spirit. There is no separation between you and this field of energy. The field of pure potentiality is your own Self.” 25 Chopra then adds, “your true Self, which is your spirit, your soul . . . is immune to criticism, it is unfearful of any challenge, and it feels beneath no one. And yet, it is also humble and feels superior to no one, because it recognizes that every one else is the same Self, the same spirit in different disguises.”26
At this point it is imperative for us to mention the obvious. The capitalized “Self” denotes deity. In other words, we are divine beings. Chopra then adds, every one else is the same Self, we are “one”. He adds that in his view there is no distinction between us; we are the same being disguised as different persons.
These conclusions made by Chopra are shared by all of the spiritual mentors who influence Oprah. She simply uses their spoken or written message to give her subtle acknowledgment of all that she promotes throughout her empire. One telling comment reported in an article that appeared in NEWSWEEK stated: Oprah said that gurus are here ‘not to teach us about their divinity but to teach us about our own.’27
Chopra offers an insight to the primary problem that causes the spiritual distortion among Oprah and her spiritual mentors. He sums it up by saying, “I believe in the melding of Eastern wisdom and Western pragmatism of ancient knowledge and scientific research which has guided my spirit to work its wonders . . . I am not yoked by any religious messiah. I do respect all religions.”28
The gurus have spoken! Their message is the same: we are “one”, we are divine beings having a physical experience, and we are gods. God is not a personal Being with whom we can be in relationship. Jesus is just one of many way-showers whose goal is to show mankind his way to self-discovery or his innate deity. Salvation comes by accepting this new-found “truth” and becoming fully conscious of our true Self. Reincarnation is man’s opportunity to eventually get it right29, and to escape ignorance and judgment. Butterworth is worth noting again. He makes this statement in his closing remarks, “We have all eternity to achieve that ultimate goal of perfection. And for those who wonder how that can be, there is the possibility of reincarnation. Jesus didn’t directly teach it. But he certainly seems to have strongly implied it. And the Divinity of Man, which He most certainly did teach, seems to call for it as an important process.”30 Butterworth is asking us to stake our eternity on an implied presupposition that is not founded in fact, but fanciful thinking!
Butterworth and the others who have influenced Oprah have neglected an important source for their reasoning: they have rejected the Holy Bible as it was delivered to the saints. Their deception lies in their use of a metaphysical interpretation and distortion, rather than allowing the Bible to stand on its own, without embellishment. The teachings of the gurus can only be tenable when the Scripture is diluted with the false teaching of Eastern monism.
Oprah’s former pastor makes a telling observation regarding Oprah’s transformation. In an interview with Christianity Today magazine he said, She has broken with the [traditional faith],” he says. “She now has a sort of ‘God is everywhere, God is in me, I don’t need to go to church, I don’t need to be a part of the body of believers, I can meditate, I can do positive thinking’ spirituality. It’s a strange gospel. It has nothing to do with the church Jesus Christ founded.”31
The Bible is clear in its teaching that God is not an impersonal “it” or energy/force. God is triune, a personal Being who cares for His creation, and a Creator who governs the universe rather than an energy that encompasses it. Jesus is not a way-shower, but The Way. He is God incarnate and our redemption; He is our salvation. Salvation does not come to man through personal enlightenment or recognizing one’s innate divinity; it comes by man’s obedience to a holy and just God who sacrificed Himself for their souls. All religions are not equal. They are not various paths by which man can travel to reach his own perfection. Jesus is unique and therefore Christianity is truly the only way to man’s salvation as understood by Jesus’ resurrection. No other religious leader or guru has risen from the dead. Jesus alone accomplished it. Without the gospel of His saving grace man cannot be worthy to stand before a righteous God and escape without condemnation. Jesus is the final judge of mankind. Man will not be able to gather enough positive energy on that day to alter the course. The time for right choices is now. There will not be another opportunity in the afterlife.
- America’s Beloved Best Friend, www.achievement.org.
- Richard Zoglin, Lady with a Calling, Time, August 8, 1988, p.62-64.
- America’s Beloved Best Friend.
- Pantheism. All is God, God is not a personal being. God is a universal force or energy.
- O’ The Oprah Magazine, p.22. Calendar 1/26/2002.
- Jerry Adler, In Search of The Spiritual, NEWSWEEK, Aug. 29/Sept. 5, 2005, p.52.
- See: www.Christianinformation.org/unity
- O’ The Oprah Magazine, p.21.
- Oprah credits Eric Butterworth as the one who most influenced her in her new-found spirituality. She promotes his book on her web site as one of her top favorites. On her web site she makes this comment regarding Butterworth’s book. This book changed my perspective on life and religion. Eric Butterworth teaches that God isn’t “up there”. He exists inside each one of us, and it’s up to us to seek the divine within.
- Eric Butterworth, Discover the Power Within You, Harper & Row, Pub., New York, 1968, p.23, 137.
- Ibid, p.8.
- Ibid, p.10.
- See: www.Christianinformation.org/ A Course in Miracles.
- Oprah was so taken with Williamson and her new book that she bought 1,000 copies to distribute to the spiritually needy. See: David Gelman with Donna Foote, A Miracle on Your Doorstep, Newsweek, 23 March 1992, p.65.
- Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love, HarperCollins Pub., New York, 1992, p.28-29. Williamson is the senior pastor of Church of Today, Warren, Michigan.
- Ibid, p.29. This analogy is also prominent in Butterworth’s writing.
- Ibid, p.30.
- Ibid, p.30.
- Ibid, p.31.
- Dallas Morning News, Metro, 5/11/2005, p.4B.
- Debbie Schlussel, Barbara’s Bizzare Oprah Clone, 8/17/2001 www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp? ARTICLE ID=24093.
- Deepak Chopra, The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success, Amber-Allen Pub. And New World Library, San Rafael, CA, 1994, p.3.
- Ibid, p.10.
- Ibid, p.11, 12.
- Wendy Kaminer, Why We Love Gurus, Newsweek, 10/20/1997, p.60.
- S. Kallsnick, Age of Awareness, 50+Plus Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 5, 1997, p.11.
- See: www.Christianinformation.org/reincarnation.
- Butterworth, p.221.
- LaTonya Taylor, The Church of O, Christianity Today, April 1, 2002, p.45.