I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

A holiday week didn’t slow down the news. Cussing from the Oval Office, aspirations from Oprah’s couch…it was a weird week. Here are some of the top ILYBYGTH-related stories:

President Oprah?

Why do so many white evangelicals love Trump? Darren Guerra says it’s only “Jacksonian Evangelicals,” at First Things.Bart reading bible

Want to stop school segregation? Stop attacking charter schools, says Emily Langhorne at USNWR.

Liberalism is over, by Patrick Deneen at The Spectator.

San Diego State: Lecturer took anti-white attitudes too far, at CHE.

Museum of the Bible: A “safe space for Christian nationalists,” by Katherine Stewart at NYT.

Leadership shake-up at Moody Bible Institute, at CT.

More Trump/evangelical crack-up. How did evangelicals respond to Trump’s “S***hole” comments?

Big-time college sports—the new Jim Crow. So says Victoria Jackson at LA Times.

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The Oprah-iate of the Intellectuals

Will she or won’t she? Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes has people talking about a Winfrey presidency. Here’s the ILYBYGTH question: Why aren’t progressive pundits talking about it? I think I know why—it’s a rare moment when conservatives and progressives agree on something.oprah president

For their part, conservative pundits have had a field day with the Oprah news. At National Review, for example, commentators have relished the story. They’ve asked if Oprah will ditch her Hollywood-lefty friends; they have gleefully pointed out that Oprah would be the Left’s Trump; they’ve champed at the bit to see Oprah fight against an establishment Democrat.

At American Conservative, too, Benedictine pundit Rod Dreher has wallowed in the idea of an Oprah papacy/presidency. President Oprah, Dreher crows, would be

the Pallas Athena of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. She would be the goddess of the nation-state.

On the other side of the culture-war spectrum, there has been markedly less talk about an Oprah presidency. Sure, Rolling Stone wondered about it. And a few other progressive small-fry have opined. But big progressive outlets such as The Nation, Progressive.org, and ThinkProgress have maintained a studied silence on the issue.

Why? I have a hunch and I’d be happy to be better educated by SAGLRROILYBYGTH.

I think smart progressives agree with the conservative National Review crowd on this one. That is, they see Oprah as the Trump of the Left. An Oprah candidacy, progressive strategists might think, will force them into discussing non-issues such as Oprah’s wacky universe-embracing religious quackery.

After all, as Yale’s Kathryn Lofton has argued, Oprah has crafted more than a media empire. Her “gospel” has translated Oprah into something else.

And progressives want to talk about health care and tax plans, not enlightenment through elaborate poster-making.

Science and Its Discontents

What keeps Americans from believing in evolution?  In climate change?

Around here, we focus on principled religious dissent, such as the creationism of ministries such as Answers In Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research.

But what about a much broader, more amorphous sort of anti-science?  What about a strangely popular anti-science that isn’t part of any religious subculture, but is rather a mainstay of mainstream culture itself?

It seems as if the most influential scientific dissenter out there might not be Ken Ham or Henry Morris, but Oprah.

Scientific Dissenter #1?

Scientific Dissenter #1?

In a recent essay in The Verge, Matt Stroud discusses the implications of Oprah’s reign of error.  In this piece, Stroud points out that the alt-science on offer by Oprah’s pet gurus has done more than just confuse schoolchildren.  In the case of James Arthur Ray, Oprah’s scientific influence has actually killed people.

In 2009, according to Stroud, Ray led a group of believers into a sweat-lodge in Arizona.  In the end, three of those scientific dissenters were dead and many more suffered injury.

Why would they subject themselves to this sort of physical peril?

Because Oprah told them to.

Stroud makes a strong case that Ray’s meteoric rise to celebrity depended on Oprah’s alt-science imprimatur.  To be sure, Ray had been peddling his version of energy-science before Oprah discovered him.  But when Oprah touted a 2006 film in which Ray discussed his alt-scientific ideas about “Harmonic Wealth,” Ray became a national and international figure.

Stroud demonstrated the link between Oprah’s support and Ray’s success.  Soon after Oprah showcased the film and book in which Ray made his alt-science case, Ray was everywhere.  As Stroud put it,

Ray soon appeared on Larry King Live to say, “Well, Larry, science tells us that every single thing that appears to be solid is actually energy. Your body is energy. Your car is energy, your house, everything, money, all of it is energy.” The Today Show, Fox Business News, and local network affiliates followed. He toured the country while guesting on smaller venues from Tom Green’s internet talk show to Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. He even judged a Miss America pageant. “Whatever you fear or love will come into your life,” he’d repeat for his agreeable hosts.

Stroud doesn’t make the connection, but this sort of shoot-from-the-hip spiritual guruism can be far more influential, and far more dangerous, than the principled and storied religious dissent of creationists.

Let’s look at another example of the disparate influence of traditional science dissenters and that of Oprah.  Perhaps Ken Ham and his Answers In Genesis ministry can attract attention to the question of atheism with their series of billboards in Times Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.  But Oprah can make a much more influential statement just by questioning one of her guests.  Recently, Oprah told super-swimmer Diana Nyad that Nyad didn’t sound like a real atheist.  More than any billboard, Oprah’s off-the-cuff theism provoked an outpouring of hand-wringing over questions of belief and unbelief.

The disturbing implication for those of us who hope to see better science education in schools is that the problem is not limited to principled religious dissent.  Much more widespread and amorphous is the sort of alternative-science guruism on tap from media moguls like Oprah.

Oprah has made her billions by knowing what millions of Americans want to hear.  Outside the traditional ranks of religious skeptics like the folks at Answers In Genesis, the market-driven dissent of Oprah’s pet gurus can cause much more confusion and consternation.