Recently, I read an article in the newspaper that conservative Evangelical ministers are criticizing Oprah for her promotion of a universalist view of spirituality. Her views have come under fire quite curiously after she selected Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" as her latest Book Club sensation. The book has been out for a few years and now with Oprah's blessing, it followed the pattern of other books that received her endorsement: instant bestsellerdom.
I started reading that book before she selected it, so the timing was perfect for me. It's the kind of book you want to read and discuss with others. I've never belonged to a book club and have been curious to join one, though I haven't made an effort to find one. When I finished reading the book back in February or March, I was struck by the truth in a lot of what the author wrote about. I know what he says has merit because I have seen similar things in my own life and have tested it and it works.
The latest controversy reminds me of the one that occurred a few years ago over "The Da Vinci Code." When that novel was first published in 2003, it didn't receive universal condemnation. It was basically ignored...until it became a HUGE publishing sensation (selling well over 25 million copies, or was it 40 million?). Only when something achieves that kind of success do Evangelical ministers start to panic, because now people who've read the book are asking too many questions and thinking deeper about what they believe and why. I can understand their panic because they have every reason to fear "an idea whose time has come." If you teach people since childhood that the same old Bible stories are literally true, any ideas that reflect a different way of looking at the world is going to be a threat. So, to counter the threat...instead of examining your own beliefs for once and seeing if it meets the test of logic, you start to attack a viewpoint that gains in popularity or attention, which only brings more attention to the idea you're hoping to kill.
This latest conservative outrage is just one example of their fear of the kind of power and influence a woman like Oprah Winfrey has. And her power has only grown because when she first endorsed Barack Obama, he was way behind Hillary Clinton in the polls. Now he'll be the nominee and he plays to stadium-sized crowds. Who can deny Oprah's magic touch now?
So, what is this idea that they are fearing?
A friend of mine told me about how she saw an advertisement by a church that was going to speak about this book. She and a friend went to it, thinking it was going to be a nice lecture about the ideas presented in "A New Earth", but what they found instead was a completely negative trashing of the book to the point where it was obvious that the preacher didn't even read the whole thing. He selected passages and used Biblical quotes to contradict Eckhart Tolle's "New Agey" ideas.
I'm a bit curious to hear the evangelical views of the book, but because I was made to go to those type of groups as a teenager, I don't think it would be any different from when they ripped on secular music. It's all fear-based, which I've moved far beyond. Fear is never a good motivating factor to join any group. I seek inspiration, inspiring ideas, and inspiring people. People who preach fear will only see my back as I hurry the hell away from them.
When I read "A New Earth" earlier this year, a situation occurred at work between a coworker I don't like and myself. I didn't handle it the best way I could have. Tolle wrote about how some people are so used to anger and fear that they subconsciously invite more of that into their lives and if we play into it by falling to their level, we're just feeding the problem and it will bring us down. This might be considered basic psychology, but Tolle goes into more depth about how to act around negative people who seek conflict to feed their egos. It truly is challenging to step outside of those situations and remain calm, even if someone is screaming and yelling at you for no reason and your every impulse is to lash back. That's exactly what they want, so the trick is to not give them what they want.
So, if you're one of those who condemns a book without reading it because your minister claims its "of the devil", I hope that you will read it for yourself. I simply cannot understand why anyone would think it's "anti-Christian" at all. The whole book is about becoming a better person that understands how one's ego operates and how to subvert your natural instinct to lash back at abusive people. When you can recognize the subconscious human dramas that our egos always try to pull us into, you can rise above it all and live a truer and freer existence.
I tried some of the techniques he mentions and it actually worked. It's a challenge, but take it from a guy like me who remains skeptical of any spiritual claim: there is nothing in "A New Earth" that will make you turn your back on God or Jesus. If you strive to live the way the book talks about living, our world will change for the better. How can that be a bad thing?
A final word about Oprah...what's so wrong about the spirituality she promotes on her show? Why do conservatives attack her for desiring to lift people up and inspire people? These are the same people who never criticize Rush Limbaugh, a talk show host who tears people down and seeks to divide Americans from one another. If you'd compare the two, Oprah is far more Christlike and Rush is living the role that would make Satan quite proud. So, it should tell you something when an Evangelical minister will condemn Oprah and her spiritual book selection while remaining silent when Rush rants about the latest religious controversy he helps to fabricate.
Now, I wanted to write about Michelle Obama, another strong black woman who has raised the ire of conservatives. What caused them to go into crazy rants on their propaganda networks? It was her statement: "For the first time in my adult life, I'm really proud to be an American."
What's wrong with that statement? I can't find a single thing wrong with it. Even Bill Maher pointed it out in his show on Saturday night. He then read quotes by conservatives like Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and even Dan Quayle's press secretary. The quotes he read were baffling, because these conservatives asked her why she didn't feel proud when the U.S. Hockey team beat the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics, or when the Statue of Liberty reopened for business in 1986, or that pharmaceutical companies have created drugs to improve people's lives (that was Malkin's question), or even Oprah's success.
It's outrage like this that has me wondering just how dumb conservatives are anyway? Have they been asleep at history? Are they that vacant between their ears?
Let's recap American history, shall we?
For over 400 years, blacks have been abducted from their families and homes in Africa to live in slavery on a new continent with no hope of ever seeing freedom. Many have seen their families split apart on auction blocks as different buyers made bids on their worth. When slavery was finally abolished, they still faced discrimination and harassment for another century. In the South, blacks were lynched by mobs, KKKs burned crosses in their yards, and many homes and churches were bombed during America's domestic terrorism years. All of this was overlooked by our government. When they rose up to demand equality in schools, public transit, and all areas of commercial life, they were beaten, spat at, called ugly names, bitten by vicious dogs, fired with water hoses, etc.
In our lifetime, many still face inequality in schools, in being hired to good jobs, getting into colleges, approved for home loans, finding a willing taxi driver after sunset, etc. We've seen race-tinged ads win elections for white politicians over black rivals (such as the case with Jesse Helms in 1990 and more recently when Harold Ford of Tennessee got bamboozled by a misleading ad that conjured up all the bad stereotypes white people have about African Americans).
So, given the history of our country, can you understand why an educated woman like Michelle Obama would be really proud of our country with the political success of her husband? With our racist history, I can completely understand why the white caucus voters in Iowa made Michelle proud when they cast their votes for Obama back in January. It was a sign that America has turned the page, willing to rise above fears and prejudice to give a minority candidate a shot at the most powerful job in the world. We should all be as proud. I know I am.
I find this example to be a simple case of selective outrage. The rightwing always has selective outrage. They let Bush statements go un-outraged, but if a Democrat (especially if he or she is a minority or a liberal) makes a statement, they just run with it ad nauseum and into the ground. That's the power of having a propaganda network that operates as an echo chamber, repeating the talking points put out by the RNC. It has nothing to do with truth, patriotism, or decency. It has everything to do with the conservative fear of any idea that didn't originate with them that has taken on a kind of popularity rarely seen in our country. That two highly educated and strong black women have raised so much of the conservative anger is fascinating to me. I have only one more thing to say about that:
"You go, girls!"
Oops...I shouldn't even say that (how about: "you go, ladies!"), so let me just say that I love strong women who aren't afraid to stand up for what they believe in, even if it causes controversy. Now's not the time to back down from the regressive ideas of the right. Justice is on our side, and Oprah and Obama are leading the way! If conservatives want to fear anyone, they better start looking to the heavens for misrepresenting God all these years.