“A Wrinkle in Time” is getting panned by critics, but that hasn’t deterred Oprah Winfrey from proselytizing the message of the movie as she sees it.
A 14-year-old girl asked Oprah for advice for young girls “who want to make a difference in the world.” This girl raised over $50,000 to send other girls to see the movie, which Oprah stars in.
To answer her, Oprah tapped into the prophetic gift that’s bestowed on all celebrities with the requisite daytime talk shows and book clubs:
The highest honor on earth that you will ever have is the honor of being yourself. And your only job in the world is to figure out, that’s what this movie is about — people think your job is to get up and go and raise money and take care of your family — that’s an obligation that you have, but your only true job as a human being is to discover why you came, why you are here.
And every one of us has an internal guidance, a GPS, an intuition, a heart print, a heartsong that speaks to us. Your only job is to be able to listen and discern when it’s speaking versus when your head and your personality is speaking. And if you follow that, you will be led to the highest good for you. Always.
When a sweet pile of word garbage is dumped into your ears like that, you might wonder how the daytime prophetess could possibly have the millions of followers she does. Really, her message isn’t that much different than the typical self-worship your kids hear in Disney movies. “Follow your heart,” and “be yourself” are the proverbs of the age.
It doesn’t sound as bad when it’s put into a story, because those stories all have happy endings. But when Oprah lays it out like a Sunday morning sermon, it’s easier to see how terrible this advice really is.
Let’s review, starting with Oprah’s idea of “highest honor.”
The highest honor on earth is not to be yourself, because you are wretched: You lie and you cheat and you hurt even the people that you love. You break your promises. You are selfish and greedy.
Sure, you have a few talents, a few crumbs of wisdom, a few bright spots in your totally depraved heart. But are they enough to nominate you for “the highest honor?” No. This is advice from a bubble world devoid of red editing pens and full of participation trophies — the world millennials were raised in, and that our own kids are being raised in.
Telling someone they’re a double rainbow of awesomeness is not going to encourage them to improve. Actually, studies have shown that most subpar workers believe they’re doing a good job. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and we need less of this, not more. But this only comes with honesty about our shortcomings, not the lie that simply “being ourselves” is worthy of the highest honor.
Maybe what Oprah really means is that we shouldn’t be “fake.” We shouldn’t try to be someone we’re not. Yes, honesty is honorable, but being honest has to include acknowledging how awful we are. And if we acknowledge how awful we are, we quickly realize that being our “authentic selves” shouldn’t earn us any special honors.
Oprah would have you claim that you are the highest value and set yourself up as a god. Pride is the original sin, and you might remember it didn’t work out so well for the first guy who tried it.
This idolatry is just the beginning of Oprah’s bad advice, though. She goes on to claim that our only true job in the world is to “discover who we are, why we’re here.” It’s not wrong to seek answers to those questions. Actually finding that answer, realizing who you are in relation to God, will ultimately lead you to eternal life. But Oprah isn’t preaching the gospel here. She’s already implied that this spiritual journey of sorts is personal, and so everyone’s answer is unique. You only need follow your “internal GPS” to find your “highest good.”
But your highest good can’t be found by geocaching the depths of your heart. As the prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick — who can understand it?”
The problem isn’t that Oprah is telling this young woman to find what’s good for her. She should. The problem is that she’s telling her to follow a compass with a false north, and it will lead her in the opposite direction of her “highest good,” or for that matter, the good of everyone her life touches.
Oprah is perhaps the world’s foremost purveyor of “sola feels” doctrine: the idea that truth is “personal” and subjective, and that feelings should be your ultimate guide in life. But the heart doesn’t lead us to what is good, for us or anyone else — it is ever inclined towards evil. Oprah believes Jesus came to “show us the way of the heart.” Well, here’s what Jesus had to say about the heart: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”
If you make “finding yourself” and “following your heart” your chief priority in life, above family, friends, work, and everything else, it will be your destruction. Sure, Oprah says making money to care for your family is “an obligation,” but what if your heartsong is telling you to abandon your job and your family to become an artist with a live-in lover in Paris? Should you follow your heartsong then?
There is no “heartsong.” There is no inner voice guiding you toward your highest good, because the “heart” is just a synonym for our feelings. A feeling about something is not enough to make an informed decision on whether a given action is good or bad, and it certainly shouldn’t be the deciding factor in any significant life choices.
Perhaps that is why so many young people seem directionless — passionless, even. Maybe it’s why they are paralyzed by indecision, drifting from job to job, never quite satisfied with what they’re doing, consistently putting off milestones like marriage and childrearing. Perhaps that is why they take “gap years” to “discover themselves,” as Oprah encourages. If you sit around waiting for your heart to tell you what to do, you’ll be directionless forever.
And yet, Oprah not only encourages listening to the murmurs of your flighty heart, but prioritizing that murmur above what your head or “your personality” tell you. Essentially, she is telling this young woman to feel instead of think.
It doesn’t get more “sola feels” than that. Your mind and your personality are going to do a much better job guiding your life and helping you change the world than the whimsical notes of your “heartsong.” Finding work that suits your personality and engages your mind will be far more satisfying than straining to hear the imaginary whispers of your heart. Working hard at that job, whether it’s the job that puts food on your family’s table or not, will do more to change the world than all the feels you could possibly feel.
Work that suits you won’t always be fun. Even “dream jobs” are grueling at times, and that’s yet another reason not to follow your heart. Your heart wants to be thrilled and fully content all the time, and it will roam from place to place, person to person, looking for that fulfillment until the day you die. Your feelings can prompt you to take ridiculous risks, to break other’s hearts, and to abandon responsibilities.
So you should do the opposite, as Jordan Peterson suggests, and “take some bloody responsibility.” That is your calling, and your “internal GPS” won’t lead you to it. Do right by your family, your friends, your employers and your community, and you will benefit from it, perhaps more than anyone else. Regardless of whether you find a vocation beyond being a mother, father, provider, or simply a good citizen, responsibility anchors your life when a torrent of deceptive feelings would try to uproot it.
If there is a “true job,” it’s to take responsibility for your life, for your sins, for the people who depend on you.
Ultimately, the concept of responsibility, of “obligation,” is what cracks Oprah’s crackpot advice wide open. If our only job is to follow our hearts, how do we know that this traditional “job” of making money and caring for family is an obligation? Isn’t that an idea imposed on us from the outside?
She even uses the GPS as an analogy for this internal “guidance,” but it seems she doesn’t actually know how a GPS works. The receiver triangulates your position based on the position of at least three satellites orbiting the earth. Precise distances from the satellites must be known for your receiver to tell you where you are. A receiver out of sight of the satellites can’t tell you your location, where your destination is, or how to reach it. You need objective data from above to figure that out. So if Oprah was true to her own analogy, she’d be telling us to turn to objective, external truth, not to our hearts.
America’s life guru can’t fully adopt her own garbage advice. Reality is poking through from the back of that underutilized mind. Yes, we have obligations imposed on us from society and from God’s law, and those obligations derive from eternal, objective truths. Living by those truths will bring both personal fulfillment and positive change in the world.
Morality is a blessing no “heartsong” can match, and we’d do well to let it guide us.