Student Culture, Trends & Issues

The Price of Not Paying Attention


We live in an age of distraction.

It’s not just something we’re learning to “deal with,” but something we believe is “essential” to life in the 21st Century.

In some ways we wear our “state of distraction” as a badge of honor… Naively believing that it speaks to our level of importance.

We don’t call distraction, of course…

Instead we use words like “multi-tasking,” being “efficient,” and “doing more with less (time).”

But living distracted lives comes at a cost…

Yesterday we had New York Times best-selling author Stephen Mansfield on campus. Among other things, he’s written The Faith of Barack Obama, The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith and Values of Sarah Palin.

Most recently Mansfield wrote Where Has Oprah Taken Us?

In this book he describes how Oprah has become the most dominant “religious” figure in our culture… and how she is leading millions of people down a dark path.

Oprah doesn’t claim to be Christian… but does use some language that would lead the casual Christian to think… well, maybe.

At best, her religious (oh, sorry) spiritual beliefs could be described as a ‘name it and claim it’ kind of theology, with strong Buddhist and Hindu influence… and A LOT of “self-talk.”

And sadly — even strangely — it didn’t start out this way for Oprah.

Her roots are in the Baptist church.

But during a pivotal time in her mid-twenties… when she was struggling to get a foothold in the television news industry… And not much in life seemed to be going her way, Oprah was sitting in church and heard (what she thought) the preacher say:

God is jealous of you.

But what was more than likely said by her preacher was:

God is jealous for you.

There’s a BIG difference between these two phrases… isn’t there?

Instead of hearing that our God is a jealous God who wants our devoted attention, commitment and love… she heard that our God — the God of the universe — was jealous of her.

Her car? Her hair? Her clothes? Her life?

She didn’t know (again, she probably was a little distracted by the chaos of her life at that moment in time), but it didn’t sit well with her.

And instead of asking for clarification… she decided it was time for something else.

And thus began a spiritual journey — totally devoid of what Oprah would refer to as “religion” — that put Oprah at the center of her own universe.

There are so many nuances to even this sliver of her story… but this one turning point (over something that was almost assuredly misunderstood) begs the question:

How is the inability of many of our students to be attentive — to fully pay attention —  damaging them?

How is a simple misunderstanding leading them in an unintended direction?

How is the unwillingness of some to ask for clarification changing their lives forever?

I sit and wonder where Oprah might be today — not to mention the MILLIONS of followers she has gained over the years — had she asked her pastor for clarification… or sought out the wise counsel of those around her in that faith community.

As careful as we must be (as pastors) with our words… clarity of communication is truly a two-way street.


  • steverankin

    So on target, Guy.  The literature in higher education (The Astins, e.g. at HERI at UCLA) and a number of Jossey-Bass publications reveal how “spirituality” has been completely divorced from “religion” for a number of people working within higher education.  The definitions of “spirituality” are so expansive and fluid that almost anything people want to include in “spirituality” can be supported.  Furthermore, “religion” is defined in narrow, externalist, rule-based terms.  Clearly, anyone reading this kind of literature (in fairness, there are other perspectives being presented, too, but they are not as popular or nearly as prominent) can get the idea that “spirituality” is good and “religion” is bad for college students and for people who work with them.  It is the spirit of the age.

    I want to make clear that I appreciate the seriousness of this literature and the useful insights we gain from it.  I have no intent of suggesting a wholesale rejection.  I do think, however, that we need to engage in some serious critique.  The view is pretty one-sided, I’m afraid.