The Great Oprahstasy
Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network is about to air a seven-night documentary series called Belief, designed to promote religion as a global force for good. Diana Butler Bass, an Episcopalian, historian, and leading voice among liberal Christians, can’t say enough good things about it in today’s Washington Post. Excerpts:
“Belief” is not a standard world religions course that teaches the great global faiths by focusing on religious leaders, institutions, dogma or customary religious practices and rituals. Instead, the show delves into the territory of spiritual experience by telling the stories of people within various religious communities, presenting contemporary religion from the perspective of on-the-ground faith.
The show reveals how religion itself is shifting, how we are living through a period of intense spiritual democratization. In all the world’s religions, older forms of remote and hierarchical authority — not to mention the very idea of a distant and monarch-like God — are being challenged by ordinary people as they pray, worship, walk pilgrimages and seek the divine in nature and neighborhoods.
Across the planet, people are taking responsibility for their own versions of meaning and, in the process, are remaking faith in ways that are more inclusive, more personal, more connected to the natural world and more attentive to their community.
“Belief” narrates this often-ignored but startling story: The age of top-down religion is over. That age is being replaced by an age in which even people who faithfully maintain distinctive religious identities are engaging in do-it-yourself spiritual journeys that often lead in remarkably similar directions of love, healing and justice toward a God (or gods) close at hand.
The shift is outpacing conventional religious institutions. For generations, religious belief has been understood as teaching, doctrine or ritual defined by and passed on through credentialed authorities such as priests, clergy, shamans or learned teachers. Those bodies of knowledge were codified into systems, structures and institutions to preserve particular beliefs and practices.
Religious organizations and authorities served as mediators of truth to the faithful, whose primary responsibility was to assent to these affirmations and shape their lives around the rituals and practices of their ancestors. With the move toward democratized faith, people now find meaning without deferring to once-powerful authorities.
Read the whole thing. No doubt Oprah, known for her New Age spirituality, believes this is true, and a great thing. Obviously Diana Butler Bass does too. Not having seen the show, I cannot say to what extent Bass’s take fairly represents the show’s content. I’ve seen where a couple of conservative Evangelicals who have screened it called the series fair to Evangelicalism, and well executed.
The take on world religion endorsed by DBB, and imputed by her to Oprah, is, of course, apostasy. It is the seductive self-worship of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism gone global. It is a greater enemy to authentic Christianity than anything the State may conceivably concoct. If you want to know what the fiercest foe of orthodox religion sounds like, don’t read Richard Dawkins or the New Atheists; instead, read that Diana Butler Bass column.
The Benedict Option will help Christian communities find the strength to withstand whatever the State and Big Business throw at it, but it will be useless if it cannot also provide a place of powerful resistance to MTD, also known as the Great Oprahstasy.