Monday, May 23, 2011

Oprah and the Triumph of the Therapeutic

    Post-Oprah, the notion that confession is something private, something hidden, became hopelessly medieval. In America today, confession is best done in public: shame is gone, replaced by more therapeutic bywords like ‘closure’ and ‘catharsis.’
Thus spake National Catholic Reporter's Joe Ferullo, quoted here — Oprah blamed for decline in sacramental Confession. Long on my reading list is the book that prophesied her coming: Philip Rieff's The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud.

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Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

As one old priest once told me, confession isn't about therapy, it's about absolution. There is a place for pastoral counseling, but the confessional ain't it.

As Christopher Lasch pointed out, we live in a culture awash in narcissism. Add the therapeutic toxin into the mix, and getting people to see the reality of sin becomes next to impossible.

4:15 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

An old American priest once told me, sadly, after my confession, that these days most people come for therapy, not absolution.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


"Confession as entertainment" is such a big part of our culture that a very popular book blog that has invited people to share their "Top Ten Books I've Lied About" now has sixty-five bloggers joining the linky party. (Yes, of course I linked up. I like irony.)

Oprah's brand is more of "confession as self-help"--but naturally, it's also highly entertaining.

6:27 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Reading War and Peace as I am, and influenced by Tolstoy's ideas about history, I'd say that Oprah didn't lead the trend, but followed it.

I remember my contemporaries back in the '80s mistaking shamelessness for "honesty." It was probably one of the reasons that '92 was the last full year I lived in the US.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, she definitely didn't start the trend! If anything, she's just the major symptom.

I think the loss of shame can be traced directly to the loss of a real understanding of sin. At least all Adam and Eve didn't know was that they were naked. We their children don't know that we've been sinful.

11:01 PM  

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