"Is Oprah's America a weaker America?" Robert Wright asks, referring to her role as a dispenser of forgiveness for wayward celebrities. Wright arrives at this question in the midst of comparing Tiger Woods's story to Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel The Natural. In the book, the cocky baseball player is misled by his lust and pride into disaster, and finds no easy redemption. Tiger Woods, by contrast, is returning to the golf course to win back fans and respect.

Wright reflects on how times have changed. Back in the 1950s, America was still fairly "Calvinistic"; "if you were playing a word-association game and someone said 'sin,' you were at least as likely to think 'damnation' as 'forgiveness.'" Now forgiveness is almost assumed: as soon as "Tiger Woods had started his fall, people started counting the days until the seemingly inevitable Oprah cleansing ritual."

The image of easy atonement that Oprah embodies unsettles him. "Does redemption that comes easily, without major atonement, send a message that transgression is no big deal, and wind up encouraging self-destruction?" Wright asks. He's not sure. But he knows that "whatever your answer to that question, Tiger Woods is exhibit A, for he has chosen the path of low atonement."