Home > Books > Where Has Oprah Taken Us? A book by Stephen Mansfield

Where Has Oprah Taken Us? A book by Stephen Mansfield

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I don’t know what made me pick this book up. Maybe it was something I just saw at the library as I was looking for something else. Or maybe it was because my mom is a big Oprah fan and I thought it might be interesting to read something about Oprah, to understand my mom and Oprah a bit better. Who knows.

Mansfield uses this book to write about his understanding of Oprah’s religious and/or spiritual beliefs. I think a very important concept to keep in mind, when reading a book like this, is that it is not the subject’s beliefs, per se, that are being analyzed, but rather the author’s beliefs as to the subject’s beliefs. So whether or not Oprah believes what Mansfield says she believes, well, I have no knowledge of that. I haven’t done any outside research on her beliefs or her reactions to this book, which was published in 2011. So we can only look at Oprah from the author’s perspective, which does not mean that it is an accurate reflection of her actual beliefs.

Mansfield is a die-hard Christian, so everything in this book has to be seen through that lens. For example, he says (p.34):

What I know is this: I am not capable of deciding my own path to salvation. I doubt any of us are. And the thought that I am left to seek out ‘my spirituality, my spiritual self on my own’ makes the universe a lonely, fearful place.

This statement follows a longer statement by Mansfield, regarding his own limited desire to determine anything regarding religion or spirituality based on emotions, and that he can only trust the words of “elders in the faith”. In other words, Mansfield does not want to take any responsibility for the intellectual analysis as to whether the faith he follows could be accurate or not; He would rather just trust what has been laid down for him, which means that his religious belief is more serendipity than anything else. So that if he had been born into a Jewish family, then he would have accepted that as his religion, and likewise if he’d been born into a Muslim family he’d happily be a Muslim. Mansfield does not want to have to question his own beliefs, he would rather question those of others, which I think leaves the reader wondering more about him than about Oprah. And, I think the book would have had an added depth to it, had he explored his own religious beliefs in conjunction with looking at Oprah’s.

Mansfield gives an overview of Oprah’s life: her upbringing and the challenges she faced living with her mother at certain times in her life and with her father at other times. Her parents had completely different ideas on child-rearing. Mansfield, I believe is trying to give the reader a sense of how Oprah came to be who she is today. He even discusses Bill and Hillary Clinton’s brand of religion, or at least his belief regarding their religion, which is unnecessary to repeat here. (Who knew that Hillary saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall in 1962?)

One thing that’s nice about this book, is that Mansfield discusses the ideologies of several well-known people and summarizes their belief systems, which for some of them, I had been wondering about myself (remember this is how he describes these people and beliefs-which may or may not reflect in actuality what those people’s beliefs really are):

Marianne Williamson: An expert on the teachings of A Course in Miracles. Her teachings are based mostly on this simple idea: release fear, embrace love.

Eckhart Tolle: His core idea is the certainty that all of reality is one. When humans perceive themselves apart from the oneness of the universe they belong to, it is then that dysfunction and confusion set in.

Gary Zukav: Believes that the soul undergoes a constant cycle of reincarnation. Each soul learns from the varieties of incarnations as well as its present lifetime.

Deepak Chopra: Believes that we are not individual beings at all but merely local expressions of an infinite, universal field of energy. All of us are connected to patterns of intelligence that govern the whole cosmos. Our bodies are part of the universal body, our minds an aspect of a universal mind.

The Reverend Ed Bacon: Believes that every human being is a gift form God, particularly people who are marginalized and victimized in our culture.

Iyanla Vanzant: She is a Yoruba priestess, believing that every human being is destined to become one with the divine creator and source of all energy.

Mansfield calls these people, “Oprah’s spiritual family.” He contends that the only reason any of them hold any sway is because they are “nice or attractive or humorous or kind”. And in Oprah’s case, the only reason she holds any influence is because she is “rich and famous”. Oh, dear Mansfield, even I do not believe that, and I am not a big Oprah fan. It’s almost ridiculous, or at the very least paternalistic and sexist to judge Oprah’s success in this way.

Mansfield’s overarching message is that Oprah’s form of spirituality is dangerous because too many people simply go along with whatever Oprah says, instead of investigating religion and/or spirituality for themselves. Wait a second, isn’t that exactly what he said he was afraid of doing for himself in the first place, that he’d rather just go along with what the elders said…hmmm. Just because you won’t do it for yourself, doesn’t mean others won’t do it for themselves.

I think Mansfield’s description of Christianity is just as bizarre as the religious beliefs he derides  (p.176):

There is a God who created all things but who is separate from his creation. He created all things along with his son, Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. Both reign from heaven, a place outside of this created universe. Both are tended by angels who do their bidding. Also part of this Godhead us the Holy Spirit, who is God in spiritual form and whose job it is to continue the work Jesus Christ began when he walked the earth. There are also demons, evil beings who were once angels but who rebelled against God prior to human history. These demons are led by an arch demon name Satan or Lucifer. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan are in conflict with each other and the earth is where much of this ongoing war places out.

From this synopsis of Christianity, he concludes that Christian spirituality is about knowing and worshiping God. Interesting, only because it puts a positive spin on what actually sounds like a made up fairy story.

In essence, I think his analysis is all wrong; if Christianity is based on teachings from the Bible, which was written by men, men who knew Jesus, or who “heard” the words of God, then isn’t that similar to what is happening with the people he calls Oprah’s “spiritual family”? Christianity and  other major religions began much in the same way that Oprah is exploring alternative beliefs today. Didn’t most major religious beliefs get passed on from one generation to the next by word of mouth, or by written word? Who’s to say that their beginnings were not as strange in their time, as Oprah and her “spiritual family’s” are today?

Ultimately, what Mansfield seems to rail against the most is the idea that there are strong similarities in the myriad of religious and/or spiritual beliefs that exist today. He would prefer that these religions remain autonomous-in their silos, as it were.

The low point in Mansfield’s book is when he compares New Age love to a lack of ethics and assumes that if the world were based on love and a feeling of love then we would have sex with children and animals because there is no ethical content to love, only a good feeling. That really delegitmizes his analysis.

In fact, a lot of priests have sexually abused children; Christianity provided the context for that to occur. Before looking to criticize other religions and spiritual beliefs, Mansfield should look to his own, and think about what it has or hasn’t done for society.

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Categories: Books
  1. Jyoti
    November 26, 2012 at 17:10

    Loved your commentary, Fiona, since I picked up the book and was only a little way in before I realized this man was projecting his confusion and inconsistencies about his own chosen religion (Christianity) onto Oprah and her spiritual/religious choices, a case of the pot calling the kettle black.Hope no one buys this book and that few will read it. What a load of rubbish! But I liked your take on it which reflected my own

    • Fiona Cox
      November 26, 2012 at 23:23

      I didn’t realize you’d picked it up too. I wonder what drew us to it separately…

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