If there is any person in American life who symbolizes the whole "spiritual" vs. "religious" storyline, that person would, for me, have to be Oprah Winfrey. About a decade ago, in an interview with HomeliticsOnline.com, I summed up this whole "feelings and experience trump doctrine and history" trend with the term "OprahAmerica." Please note that I also included George W. Bush and his nods to "Compassionate Conservativism" in this trend.
If only I had thought of the word "Truthiness"!
Anyway, the Washington Post Style section ran a story the other day reviewing the Oprah interview with Rielle Hunter, the "other woman" in the John Edwards story. This story was about as snarky as mainstream journalism gets, starting with the "Queen of Denial" reference to Hunter in the lede. The story is packed with irony and sarcasm and all kinds of Style section stuff.
I am here to suggest that the Style gods seem to have missed a major irony in this Oprah interview. Pay close attention to this pivotal slice of the whole:
After Rielle had explained to Oprah about a gajillion times that she was a person who was deeply committed to the truth and being authentic, Oprah was finally driven to ask: "So you are a person who is on a spiritual path. You've mentioned truth here several times. What part of you could make that okay, then, to be with this married man with children?"
"Because he was available," Rielle said simply.
And how does God fit into this "spiritual" road map to truth, authenticity, integrity, happiness and a better America? A few lines later we read:
In July 2007, Edwards and his wife renewed their wedding vows, even though he knew he had a bun in someone else's oven, by Rielle's account. They had never used birth control, she explained.
Rielle acknowledged that she thought it was a bad thing for Edwards to stand before God and retake vows he knew to be a lie, but she didn't think less of Edwards for having done that because "I understood where he was in his process," Rielle said, as she waggled her pink sandal on her big toe. Oprah, to her credit, did not roll her eyes and throw up her hands.
Though he was "gracious" when he found out she was pregnant, he became "very angry when she was photographed by the National Enquirer, while hiding out at Edwards aide Andrew Young's North Carolina home, Rielle told Oprah. She said Young then brought up the idea to claim he was the baby's father.
"Why did you, Miss Spirituality in Alignment With the Truth ... go along with it?" Oprah asked -- a great line.
Rielle capitulated, she said, because she did not want her baby girl to grow up blaming herself for having kept Daddy from being president of the United States.
So, Oprah and the Style gods are saying that what Hunter did was absolutely wrong? By what standard? Might her behavior, and that of the candidate himself, even be called a "sin"? Is it always a sin to have sex with a person who is married to someone else? Where, precisely, does it say that? Who gets to articulate the exceptions to the rule?
Is the problem here that what Hunter did was tasteless and embarrassing? What, precisely, did "Miss Spirituality in Alignment With the Truth" do that was wrong, according to the commandments of OprahAmerica? She was following her own feelings, living out the experiences as they came to her. She was following her own path, right?
She was being "spiritual," as opposed to being tied down by the ancient rules of "religion." That's a good thing. Correct?
What a great story, whether this was the story the Style gods planned to publish or not. In a way, this story "gets religion" in this day and age or, I should say, it "gets" what some people consider to be "spirituality."