Regarding matters theological, I am a man of nearly limitless flexibility. You say Jesus is God? Fine by me. Jehovah? Sounds like a great guy. Allah? If you say so.
As I discovered while watching the Da Vinci Code last weekend, I'm even prepared to entertain the idea that Jesus hooked up with Mary Magdalene and his great-great-granddaughter is a brunette hottie.
Or maybe not.
But on one theological point I am absolutely adamant and unmoving: God is not Oprah Winfrey.
If it appears I'm stating the obvious, then you are clearly out of touch with modern American spirituality. In an article titled "The Divine Ms. Winfrey," USA Today described Oprah as "a spiritual leader for the new millennium" and quoted a Beliefnet.com survey in which 33 percent of respondents said Winfrey has had "a more profound impact" on their spiritual lives than their clergypersons.
Oprah is certainly pompous and self-important enough to play God, describing her daytime chat about makeovers and man-dating as a "ministry." And, to her credit, she is financially successful enough to be admired for her accomplishments. But would God really charge Her cash-starved fans $185 to attend a "Live Your Best Life" seminar, as the Divine Ms. O does?
So how did Oprah become our modern Madonna? (The "mother of Jesus" one, not the "pointy-boobed has-been.") For the same reasons the Da Vinci Code is being treated as serious theology by lapsed Catholics and conspiracy theorists across the land. The desire to have faith without responsibility.
As every Oprah fan and Da Vinci Code reader knows, the racist, sexist oppressors behind that evil enterprise known as "Organized Religion" (or as it's translated in the original Greek, "Halliburton") have propagated a theology in which you and I are the problem and God is the solution. God is better than we are and demands that we become better, too. This oppressive God requires that we do things that are hard, and (worse!) avoid doing things that feel really, really good.
This kind of God — the judgmental kind — makes us feel bad when we do bad things. This God could theoretically go so far as to hold us responsible for our own actions.
Call the ACLU, quick! Or at least the Democratic National Committee. Somebody's got to stop this Guy!
But have no fear, my vaguely-spiritual suburbanite friends. Oprah is here.
When Oprah is God, there is no judgment, except against those who would dare judge the actions of others.
When Oprah is God, everybody is good, or at least when they are bad, they feel bad afterwards and cry a lot, which is the same as being good.
When Oprah is God, God is within all of us, which means everybody IS God and, therefore, we can do whatever we want and always feel good about it. How sweet is that?
That's the "magic" (pardon the pun) of spirituality. Everyone is God, every path leads to God, so there's no need for those annoying little things like a coherent theological construct, or a set of beliefs that are so important as to be inviolable. Just believe, baby! Even if it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why, the dumber, the better! Go for it!
Of course, the problem with the "every path, we're all God" system is that "every path" includes the female genital mutilation of the Islamists and the human sacrifice of the Aztecs. And if everyone is God, that would include Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and even — yes, it's true — Don Rumsfeld.
No matter. The High Church of Oprah will continue to grow, each televised sermon accompanied by the sacraments of low-carb breads and sugar-free colas. Because Oprah validates the most widely-held belief in the world: Belief in believing.