Numerous scholars have noted that human beings are inescapably religious, and that while society may think it is “secularizing,” the religious impulse is actually simply being transferred to some other locus of devotion. Obvious places where we can find this devotion in the early 21st century are celebrities, sports teams, and the government or some political ideology. This trend is pretty evident to those who are willing to admit it, but the fact is that most people aren’t.
So I was a bit surprised to open up the Wall Street Journal today and find opposite a defense of Paul Wolfowitz (yuck) an editorial titled “The Church of Oprah” (subscription required to view online). The author, a secular Jew, was an on-and-off viewer of Oprah for 25 years who tried to figure out why the talk-show host inspired such devotion. Here are a couple of choice quotes for those who can’t access the article:
“Oprah” was nothing if not a secular chapel. Countless celebs and civilians came on to confess their sins, to push their mea-culpa memoirs, and to seek absolution or redemption (good for the soul and for the ratings). . . .
She had countless followers always willing to take her suggestions–be your best self, find your own power–as commandments. . . .
Oprah’s final show made it difficult to avoid ecclesiastical comparisons.
Maybe the scholars of religion should revise upward all those church attendance figures for the last 25 years.