Oprah Winfrey recently announced her first-ever cross-country tour, “The Life You Want,” which will feature Oprah “like you’ve never seen,” in addition to talks from a series of “hand-picked” gurus, including Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, Elizabeth Gilbert, and former pastor Rob Bell.
“It’s about living the life you want,” Oprah explains, “because a great percentage of the population is living a life that their mother wanted, that their husband wanted, that they thought or heard they wanted…Start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world.”
Today, over at The Federalist, I offer a lengthy critique of the spectacle, arguing that behind all the glory and grandeur, much of this amounts to plain old cultural consumerism:
This is cultural consumerism at both its highest and lowest — humanistic in its instincts, privileged in its priorities, and carefully glazed with all the right marketing to deceive itself that justice is at hand and Neighbor Love has the wheel. It’s as if human desire has grown so weary of natural constraints and so content with its own appetite that it would prefer to label self-indulgence as “self-help” and be done with it.
It’s faux-self-empowerment for the self-centered, heart-religion as a mantle for hedonism.
As it relates to the areas of vocation, calling, and whole-life discipleship, getting first things first is fundamental to all that we do. Service and sacrifice must come before self-empowerment, and obedience to God before that:
We ought not be blind slaves to the arbitrary demands of others, of course. But as tourmate Elizabeth Gilbert unknowingly demonstrates, we also ought not eat-pray-love ourselves into oblivion, divorcing our “callings” from external needs and our desires from absolute obligations. If the “life you want” begins with the life you want, you’re not likely to find much life at all. When all you’ve got is an “opened self,” a “cleared mind,” and “the will to dream for yourself,” that delicious taco you ate on your Meditation Vacation to the Andes is probably your best bet for filling the void.
The prophets of self-esteem are sure to point to a “higher power,” of course. Indeed, for starting out as the first and second greatest commandments, the calls to love God and neighbor have evolved into furry-and-blurry platitudes for many. Yet properly understood, and bound to their particular context of obedience and sacrifice to a particular God and Savior, this is where true self-empowerment ultimately lies, and where the self, quite paradoxically, dies.
Grasping the true meaning of all that shouldn’t be too complicated, especially for self-help experts who peddle expensive weekends jam-packed with “timeless wisdom.” But it does require a clear vision of the image painted on the altar. And here, Oprah’s Big Tent Self-Helpism isn’t about to lend any spectacles.
For the full critique, which includes some analysis of Rob Bell’s peculiar role, you can read the whole thing here.