Thursday, July 06, 2006

The purpose-driven wife?

Incidentally, skepticism of Mrs. McGraw (No. 2*) and her motives is not confined to naysaying, curmudgeonly types like myself. Here's a dissenting take on her from inside the very Christian-faith movement that Robin McGraw increasingly purports to represent. (She likes to position herself as a leading voice for, and perhaps the most recognizable public face of, the Women of Faith.) The writer expresses the same cynicism about Robin's book deal that I voiced in yesterday's post, then goes on to confess deep reservations about the latter-day (highly profitable) blending of Christianity and pop-psychology as a whole.

You wonder (or at least I do): Is Robin trying to "glom onto" the movement launched by such contemporary pop-culture clerics as Joel Osteen and Rick Warren?)

* In addition to the Google references in the link, see SHAM pp. 72-74.

25 comments:

Cosmic Connie said...

Great title for the post. Re the "(highly profitable) blending of Christianity and pop-psychology as a whole" -- this is truly a match made in heaven, if you'll pardon the expression. Purists' protests notwithstanding, the marriage of Christianity and pop-psych was inevitable. "Witnessing" (or spreading the Good Word) has always been a tenet of Christianity. In the past this was done largely through instilling fear of damnation and hell, but people have gotten more sophisticated now (or just gullible in new ways), and fear doesn't work too well anymore. SHAM works. It makes Christianity seem more cool and with-it. Of course, it also helps rake in the bucks for the conspicuously Christian gurus who write all those books. I actually prefer their message to the hellfire-and-damnation approach, but they still make me roll my eyes.

Rodger Johnson said...

Interesting post...even more of a relief that someone else sees the marriage of pop-psych and Christianity as absurd, comical, troubling.

Oh, yes, cosmic connie and many others have become too sophisticated for the ol'time hell fire and brimstone sermons of yester years -- at least that's a start back in the right direction.

If one reads and studies the "Good Book" as it should be studies -- like any other historical text and with a certain level of academic rigor -- it mentions what we are talking about here.

The marriage of fluff to truth that confuses many -- pity.

Anonymous said...

the thing that no one comments on tho, i guess b/c its too sensitive, is that religion itself is a "sham." if you take all of the arguments you raise against self-help, 99% of which i consider totally valid, they could also be lodged against religion--the lack of proof, the lack of results, the sacrifices people make in the name of false hope. right?

Anonymous said...

Right. They don't call it "pie in the sky" for nothin'.

Rodger Johnson said...

It seems to me the understanding of religion is skewed in this discussion. Religion in general has a certain absurdity to it -- take Islam for example -- especially the extreme, fundamentalist sect that fuels al Qeada. The same fundamental extremes can be found in every "religion." And the results those sects and thoughts produce are quite evident.

But following -- say the Bible -- produces a more pleasent outcome.

For example, what's so bad about loving and honoring one's wife. Or, what bad could come from feeding the hungery, clothing the naked and helping the poor rise from poverty. Those are very real and tangible things you and I can do to make our communities better places to live.

Now -- say you live life according to McGraw and exercise one of his life laws -- say "there is no reality, only perception" -- then you live life in the subjective.

You become self-centered and the poor, hungerym, naked person you see on the street corner disappears, because "he needs to take responsibility for himself, I did."

His responsibility for his life may be true, but people make the best choices given the resources available to them at the time.

Steve Salerno said...

In my own comments in this blog, as well as in my book, I have tried to avoid discussions of religion--and the obvious parallels to be made--but it isn't really a matter of sensitivity or squeamishness. It's because, first of all, to mix self-help and religion in a single analysis would be, I fear, to do an injustice to the examination of both (and certainly it would taint the validity of that analysis in the eyes of many readers. The simple fact is that many Christians who will listen attentively when you talk about the foibles of self-help would get extremely defensive and probably recoil in horror if you lumped religion in with the mix). Secondly, self-help is for-profit, whereas religion--at least in theory--is not. As most readers of this blog are well aware by now, a key reason for undertaking "SHAM" was to follow the money in an attempt to reckon the verifiable cost-effectiveness of self-help, which is something you could never hope to do with religion (since religion isn't about "cost-effectiveness"). Finally, call me naive, but I do believe that most people who go into religion are basically sincere and well-meaning. Now, that's not to say that something doesn't happen to them as they grow in stature--like, say, Mr. Osteen--as a result of which they become somewhat more venal and money-driven than they used to be. But most of the clerics I've actually known seemed to believe they were, indeed, doing God's work. (Perhaps they were misguided in that belief--but I do think they honestly believed it.) That's not a mentality one would expect to find in too many self-help gurus...not if they're going to be honest about it.

Steve Salerno said...

In p.s., I think Rodger makes an important further distinction--between organized religion and simple everyday religiosity. That's another element that would seriously skew the discussion (and require a lot of careful qualifying) if we tried to analyze "religion," in all its diversity, through a self-help-based lens.

Rodger Johnson said...

A serious analysis of either self-help or religion would have to be done separately -- that's right.

Remember, however, we can only analysis what we can measure, anything else is an exercise in metaphysics.

Cosmic Connie said...

I agree with Steve/Rodger that there is a distinction between religious faith and organized religion. (And I am glad Rodger thinks I am starting back in the "right direction," LOL. Gee, I've been moving in this direction ever since I was five and my mom took me to a country Baptist church where we were treated to a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon. In the middle of the silent prayer that followed, I let out a loud raspberry. My mother was not amused.)

As an agnostic who more often leans towards belief than away from it, I do see that many people of faith are sincere, and I would never argue that the human race would be better off without a belief in some higher power. But, like Steve says, "something happens" to some of these folks of faith once fame hits them, and the word of the profit becomes more important than The Word.

sarah smalley said...

I hate to be the only dissenter here but I take comfort in what Robin McGraw is doing. I think it's unfair to criticize people simply because they've been successful at doing something. Steve, you seem to have this belief that if self help gurus were sincere, it's almost like they'd be martyrs to the cause (almost, yes, in a religious sense). Why should Joel Osteen apologize for his phenomenal success? Apparently he "speaks to" an awful lot of people, and motivates them to do good or at least, feel better about their lives. Why would anybody look for reasons to critize that? As you seem to do constantly.

Rodger Johnson said...

Sarah, Sarah...this is just a discussion about a trend that seems to date back to colonial America.

We're discussing the modern-day soothsayer, snake-oil salesman (or woman to include both genders).

The point, for Steve, I think, is the incredible amounts of money SHAM is raking in. It's a cash cow with no tangible, measurable results -- at least good ones. And

I suppose its in how you skew the results. For the McGraws and Osteens, the results are quit tangible -- just look at their fat bank account.

Now, I have no problem with money -- I'd like to have a few million of my own, but I want to earn it doing something productive. Not churning out feed-good cliches and praying on the insecurities of others.

The McGraws and, unfortunately, the Osteens are creating wealth irresponsibly and their work add nothing to the general well-being of society. In fact, I think their have contributed to global warming.

You know, paper comes from wood...

Anonymous said...

Ha! Rodger, for a minute there I thought you were going to say they'd contributed to global warming with all that hot air they were putting out...

sarah smalley said...

Rodger, I see you are a regular to this blog and I guess in your mind that entitles you to some status here but, I think your response to my comments is frankly more than a little condescending, like I need to have blogging explained to me. And maybe religion and life as well, huh?

You start right off with that "Sarah Sarah" stuff as if you're lecturing a small child who's been bad or who just doesn't "get it"!

You seem to be an intelligent guy and so I would hope you could engage with others, or at least me, on a higher plane next time. I am entitled to my beliefs, as are you. Another thing, maybe next time you could let Steve talk for himself instead of trying to interpret him for me. Or are you Steve's alter ego? See, I even know a big word or two. Imagine that.

Steve Salerno said...

Hmmm. I have my own feelings on the byplay above, but I suppose it's best if I leave it to you folks to sort out.

FYI, Rodger is not my alter ego, Sarah. If I were going to pick an alter ego, lord knows (and I use that phrase advisedly) I'd pick a better-looking one... ;)

P.S. That's a joke, Rodg. See? My codependent side is coming out...

Two Write Hands said...

Here's a question: Why do we pay people to talk down to us and balk when someone is willing to do it for free?

Rodger Johnson said...

Sarah – my last post was written tongue-in-cheek. That emotion is difficult to convey in cyberspace – my apologies. I do respect your opinion and enjoyed reading it. You must admit the global warming stab was a bit funny, right?

To the larger issue of SHAM and more particular the problem with Mrs. McGraw’s partnership with a conservative Christian conference for women, I find that troubling.

The McGraw’s have millions – and trust me – that’s a butt-load of money! I’ve seen bankrolls of some of the client my boss does business with. My point is simple. If what the McGraws, Robbins and Osteens preach is good, empowering and righteous – then why are we always drawn back for more. Why is self-help not help enough?

Shouldn’t self-help – help – and then we can move on. Shouldn’t self-help – if applied – cure some of ills of the world? Where are the results? That’s all.

Oh, Steve, remember those jabs always come back with interest.

Cosmic Connie said...

Sarah, I think your dissenting voice has added to this blog and made it even more interesting. And obviously you can hold your own here. :-)

I don't pretend to speak for Steve, but I can tell you that what bugs me the most about so much of the SHAM material (whether it's Christian-based or not) is the formulaic approach. These books and other materials are just cranked out by the boatload -- and so many of them are poorly written, poorly edited, etc. They read as if little actual thought was put into them. Good writing is hard work, and so many good writers do not make money from their work. So many mediocre writers do. I guess that bugs me too.

Joel Osteen has a special place in my heart because he and his massive Lakewood Church are based in my home town of Houston. (Some of us are a little irate over the fact that his church took over one of the Bayou City's top rock-concert venues, but hey, they had the bucks.)

Admittedly, I used to make fun of Joel's s--t-eating grin, but I did see that many were moved and encouraged by his positive message. Heck, I've even listened to him on occasion and I have to admit he brightened my mood. And, as I said in a previous entry, I think that his way beats the heck out of the hellfire-and-brimstone method.

My impression (though I do not know the man personally) is that Osteen is actually a pretty nice guy who may be a little overwhelmed by his sudden rise to fame. But he couldn't have become "a star" without hundreds of followers who elevated him to that status. Once the publishers got wind of a cash cow, they did their usual thing.

But at least Osteen, in light of his success as an author and national keynote speaker, has temporarily stopped drawing his enormous salary from Lakewood Church. I don't know too many minister-gurus who would do this.

I wonder when Osteen's wife Victoria will come out with her own line of books...maybe she could write about how to throw a tantrum on an airplane and not get arrested like normal people would...oh, bad, bad Connie. Sorry.

There's nothing wrong with making good money from what you do, whether it's brain surgery or book writing or keynote speaking. But, as Steve and Rodger pointed out, it seems that the many of the SHAM gurus are producing nothing of lasting value. However, as long as there is a market for it they'll keep cranking it out.

And come to think of it, I believe part of the reason there is such a huge and seemingly endless market for it is that people today are so easily bored; they just want more, more, more. They want to try everything. I actually think that for many, self-help is just another form of entertainment.

Steve Salerno said...

Impressive comment, CosCon. You cover so many bases with such verve and insight. It's a shame, isn't it, that our "culture" has lost the reverence for writing per se? I remember some years back I did an essay for PW about the fact that--during that particular week--4 or 5 of the books on the NYT best-seller list were "written by" animals: cats, a dog--I think there might've even been a pig in the mix for good measure. Very, very few people nowadays care about the actual quality of the communication. That is simply gone forever, I fear. It's about all celebrity, trend-chasing, "service" (though whether much of today's writing actually does any lasting service to readers is debatable) and, as a final catch-all category, "the shtick" or gimmick behind the book. It's even infecting the last great bastions of literary merit, like The New Yorker, the Atlantic and (it pains me to say) Harper's, where I was lucky enough to publish my first full-length article in 1982. If I think about this too much, I can get quite depressed about it... Is there a 12-step for that?

Steve Salerno said...

On the brighter side, I do feel compelled to note that, with 19 comments (and counting) on this latest item, we have shattered the old record for SHAMblog feedback (which I think was 12 comments for any one post, before this). Let me convey my most sincere appreciation to all who have weighed in with such passion and eloquence. How I would love to sustain this kind of momentum through the release of the paperback in late September... Unrealistic. But fun to contemplate.

Anonymous said...

On a different note Steve, I am glad to see that you have a sense of humour! I was getting rather worried about you and all that negativity. I agree with most of what you have to say and with what you are trying to do. However, I had stopped visiting this site because your posts were making me depressed! I am glad to see the spirited discussion triggered by your most recent post. A little dissent is good! I hope it continues.

Anonymous said...

I think Connie's comment about self-help being another form of entertainment is right on the money (so to speak). Like weight-loss junkies, who use their weight-loss efforts to create a lifestyle and social connections, self-helpers may be looking beyond the specific promises made by the self-help gurus and their products. As dieters replace their obsession with food with an obsession with dieting as lifestyle, so perhaps self-helpers replace the things that caused them to turn to self-help initially with the self-help programs themselves...

Rodger Johnson said...

Connie’s comment on self-help as entertainment is something I’d never thought of before. The fun factor in many of our lives has evaporated. We work too much, we eat too much, we argue too much and enjoy life’s little pleasures less and less. We want some fulfillment out of life, finding none in the money we make, in the spouse we married (that isn’t the case for me) and in the communities we live.

We are self-absorbed, self-medicated, half-sedated, trying our best to stay distracted, living life according the latest, greatest and new self-help scam. We think it’s the only way to fine sanity and order in an insane and otherwise disordered world.

Let’s remember we live in cycles. In his “Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life,” Jacques Barzun lists four: EMANCIPATION, INDIVIDUALISM, followed by PRIMITIVISM and REFORMATION.

Given the American culture today, we love our individual autonomy. Absorbed in number one, we misunderstand that to live fulfilled, we must loose ourselves in the honest aid of another. Living in a perpetual tail chasing of individualism, we try to catch and relieve our internal demons, hungry for emancipation from ourselves. Thus, we find entertainment in frivolous fluff peddled to use by sweet-talking, good-looking folks. We see them and want what they have.

All their money, fame, and wealth heaped on wealth -- the truth it never buys. We find in the end that nothing matters, no amount of money, no mansion, no fame will satisfy us inside.

Steve Salerno said...

Nicely done, Rodg. Your attempt to force-fit latter-day social phenomena into Barzun's formula reads a bit strained to me...but then, critics said the same of aspects of my book, and its take on self-help. So who am I to judge?

Geez...this sure puts pressure on me to come up with something REALLY good for the next post, huh?

Anonymous said...

I think this is your best thread yet. Very thought provoking .

Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, Steve, don't bow to pressure to come up with the next great post...it'll come to you! (There's a lot of material out there, you know.) Actually, I think the ceaseless pressure to produce is one factor that ruins some authors -- including some self-help authors. Even the ones who actually have something worthwhile to say can be victims of their own success. For example, say their first book is such a raging success that they sign a six-book contract with their publisher...and then they run out of things to say. But they have to come up with something...anything. So they do, and it's packaged and marketed just like a real book.

Anyway, Steve, I hope your book, which *is* a real book, is smashingly successful.