Monday, December 05, 2005

Oprah, Lance, and God

One last thought (so help me, this will not become an Oprah-centric blog): I used to cringe at Winfrey and the new-age platitudes I'd hear when I stumbled across her show. (Mostly it was the replays aired deep in the void between Friday night and Saturday morning; I've long been a melancholy creature.) Anyway, I'm more tolerant of her now; partly because I simply avoid her, sure, but also because I appreciate the fact that she doesn't overly imbue her humanitarianism with God. Yes, she calls her charitable helpers "angels" and things like that, but her spiritual vocabulary always seems fairly generic.

Nothing against God (well, OK, maybe a little something against God), but I think the world is too often divided between: a) do-gooders who tie their best intentions to their religious beliefs so directly that your sharing that belief becomes a kind of prerequisite for accepting their good work; and b) people who are concerned about things and want to do good, but don't quite gather the head of steam needed to engender meaningful change. Probably seasonal affective disorder.

(I left out c., those who aren't concerned and don't want to do good, because it's early Monday morning and that's depressing enough.)

So if Oprah is going to build schools for girls in Africa, and force thousands of casual readers to buy box sets (box sets!) of William Faulkner novels, without incessantly thanking heaven for her good fortune, like so many victorious athletes, then I'm all for it.

One athlete is a notable exception: Lance Armstrong. I saw him a few months ago on Charlie Rose -- I'm not particularly interested in Armstrong, but I had a hard time changing the channel for some reason -- and when I was considering the interview the next day, I realized that he spent the full hour talking about his somewhat miraculous story and work ethic without mentioning religion. I imagine Lance might be a religious guy, and I certainly don't mind if he is. But it's rare lately for someone to have an inspirational story and not use the lessons gleaned from their experience to stump for the guy upstairs. Armstrong did address issues of courage and inner strength, but also talked at length about inquisitive rigor and the importance for him of delving deep into the scientific aspects of his predicament.

If at some time during his medical ordeal, Armstrong turned to prayer (and it's hard to believe that even the staunchest atheist wouldn't be tempted), he didn't do it in public, as far as I can tell, and I think there's something dignified about that.

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Blogger Dezmond said...

To Flip the Coin

Again, I am not all that religious either, but why do so many people have such a distaste or distrust of those who do have a religious faith and dare to express that faith in public. Many of today's leading faiths include the charge to spread the Word (especially some prominent sects of Islam and evangelical Christian groups). As in, part of practicing their very faith includes sharing the Good Word with others. Or at the very least, not keeping it swept under the rug in the fear of offending someone who doesn't share that faith.

We have freedom OF religion in this country, not freedom FROM religion. The effort by some on the Left to erase all traces of religion from public life goes way beyond what was intended by separation of Church and State. The Founding Fathers were trying to avoid a Church of the United States as a branch of goverment or with veto powers or a Vatican state, not wipe all vestiges of spirituality from the lifeblood of this nation.

The most ridiculous current example is the "controversy", if you can call it that, in the news lately over whether it is appropriate for some store clerk in Foley's trying to sell you new place settings to say "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukuh, Joyful Kwanza, Wonderful Rhamadan" (just to cover all the bases). Jesus Christ, is what the current hostility towards religion has come to?...oops, I mean Jesus Christ, Mohammad, Moses, Vishnu and Buddha, this is ridiculous.

12:07 PM  
Blogger JMW said...


Perhaps you should start a blog of your own. I say this seriously. You seem to have a lot to vent (no surprise to me, of course), and I feel like my comments board is a paltry home for your uncontainable rage.

Seriously, what you say about increased sensitivity is true enough (if a bit rehearsed at this point), but you have to understand that there are those on the other side who also feel the need to "spread the Word" -- the Word being that believing in a Word from on high is absurd. Look at the statistics in this country, and try to get any sympathy from me about freedom OF vs. freedom FROM. (There are people in Pennsylvania, a beautiful state, RIGHT NOW debating whether or not religious philosophy should be taught in biology class. How could even religious people want that?)

If you look at my post, I'm just saying that I appreciate when faith is kept reasonably private because in my opinion that seems to flatter the faith, not just because I don't share it. You're right that the most fervent Islamic and the most fundamental evangelical Christian groups want the process to be much more public -- if you're really siding with their viewpoint, that's fine.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Yeah, but those people on "the other side" are just Godless heathens who must be suppressed by any means necessary...err...I shown the error of their ways and that Jesus loves them. If they don't realize this, then they will burn in hellfire for eternity.

As far as starting a blog of my own, nah, I enjoy being the voice of Truth and Justice on yours. The conservative gadfly in a morass of liberal relative morality. Plus, if I stopped posting here, you'd lose most of your outside commentary!

By the way, you need to post something about the year's best CD releases and year's best films, so then I can comment and post my year end lists.

3:27 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Ah, dezmond. As I've said thousands of times before, if you think I'M the representative of liberal relative morality, it's a good thing you don't get up here much. I'm like Pat Buchanan up here.

Also, year-end lists will be coming soon, indeed. I just need to refresh my memory about all the candidates.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read his book, but Lance Armstrong is apparently an atheist. (Sorry for posting links this way, but I don't know how to do hot links in the comments)

The story from Armstrong's book that was related to me (by a Christian who shook her head and gave me one of those "such a shame" looks) is that when Armstrong was battling back from cancer, and it looked like he was not only going to make it, but that he was going to get back into dominant racing form, people were constantly coming up to him and talking about the wonders that God had worked in his life and how blessed he was. His response was (and again, I'm paraphrasing from memory of a second hand story), "God didn't do this. I did. God didn't have testicular cancer; God didn't go through a divorce; God didn't go through chemotherapy; God didn't put in all those hours on the bike; God didn't put up with all that pain and show all that discipline. I did."

Incidentally, I'm with both dezmond and Jdub on this one. Yes, people get too bent out of shape by confrontation with other religious beliefs. But that goes for Christians, too.

Anyway, I'm also with Jdub insofar as he says that there's something respectabe about people who don't put their religion on display. And I believe the Bible's got JDub's back on this one:

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

PS -- I'm not really sure why I'm calling JW "Jdub," except that I'm annoying. Sorry about that.

-- The Comish (sic)

5:07 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

J-Dub is my stage name, so that's fine.

5:56 PM  
Blogger helen_boyd said...

I'd assume that a guy who has cancer might have a problem with God. But that's just me.

2:57 AM  

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