“I challenge the idea that the people who got us in this ditch are the only ones who can get us out of it.”
Marianne Williamson has called herself “a bitch for God.” As presidential candidate, she is getting plenty of attention right now. She is well known among a certain crowd, as she has written numerous books that sold widely, including best-sellers, such as Healing the Soul of America that topped The New York Times nonfiction list for 39 weeks: “Seven reached the New York Times best-seller list, and four hit No. 1” (Cameron Joseph, Marianne Williamson Knows You Think She’s a Joke. But Her Campaign Isn’t.). I’ve known about her since the 1990s during my young adulthood. But for most Americans, she hasn’t been a household name. Yet many people are more familiar with her words, such as a quote often misattributed to Nelson Mandela: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Besides being on Oprah’s show in the past, she is well connected and, for those who know her, strongly supported. She has inspired many people, from famous stars to ordinary Americans, including in politics: “She has some surprising adherents in the Granite State, including former Rep. Paul Hodes who served as a co-chairman on President Obama’s 2008 campaign and is still a power broker in the state. He’s been a Williamson fan since her heyday in the ’90s — her quote “Who are we to stay small?” inspired him to run for Congress a decade-plus ago and hangs in his home to this day,” as reported by Cameron Joseph. That has been her career, inspiring people and she has a talent for it. It is the kind of mixing of religion, politics, and progressive vision we haven’t seen in a while, maybe not since Martin Luther King Jr.
I must admit it feels validating to hear her in the mainstream media, particularly in the early Democratic debates. She comes out of the same background as I do, something I explained in another post (Heretic For President!). She is part of a heretical tradition of thought that goes back to the earliest Christians. Today, we think of it as “New Age” or what in the liberal wing of Christianity is called New Thought. Basically, she believes God is Love — no ifs, ands, or buts. It’s the radical message of Jesus himself, too often diluted or rationalized away and yet still carrying a powerful punch when released from centuries of stale dogma.
Williamson was the minister of the second largest Unity church in the country, the denomination of Christianity I was raised in. She still does guest speaking at that church and other churches. Her primary career has been as a Christian minister, but the mainstream, both left and right, caricatures her as a New Ager, spiritual guru, or whatever; although I’ll give Slate some credit for sort of complimenting her, if backhanded (Shannon Palus, The Bizarre Charm of Marianne Williamson). “I do not understand why everyone is so dismissive of her,” said Marshall Kirkpatrick. “Are we really so out of touch with emotions, spirituality, etc that she seems insane?” If corporate media were to be fair, they’d have to admit she is a Christian minister who comes out of the American Evangelical tradition (Unity Church) and who upholds a theology that has its roots in the earliest Christianity by way of Valentinianism (A Course In Miracles). That is maybe too much historical knowledge for a society that suffers from permanent historical amnesia. She may be a heretic, but she is a heretic with credentials. I’ll call it the return of the repressed. It’s amusing.
Despite it all, Unity is slowly creeping into the mainstream. This has been going on for a long time. I remember when visiting non-Unity churches in decades past and I would sometimes come across the Unity publication The Daily Word even in mainstream churches. So, many people were reading New Thought theology without knowing it. More recently, the Unity Church showed up in a major subplot of the tv show The Path (Meyerism and Unity Church). Then there is the story of Carlton Pearson, as told in a segment on This American Life and in the Netflix movie Come Sunday. He attended Oral Roberts University and was mentored by Oral Roberts himself. As a popular fourth generation Pentecostal preacher, he came to a point of crisis in his faith. He no longer could believe God was a horrific and monstrous demiurge threatening people with eternal damnation. After much inner struggle, he converted to the view that there is no hell, was officially condemned as a heretic, lost his congregation, and then found his faith again in New Thought theology. He has since become the senior minister of a New Thought church and an affiliate minister of a Unity church. His story has inspired many.
Now here we are. We have a Unity minister as a presidential candidate. To me, it is mind-blowing. Unity Church powerfully shaped who I am. I can’t shake the blinding idealism of New Thought theology, in the way an ex-Catholic never quite gets over original sin or an ex-Baptist never loses that sense of fire-and-brimstone breathing down their neck. It is hard to explain being raised in that kind of light-and-love sincerity. I remember going to what was the Unity equivalent of a Bible camp, called Youth of Unity. I had never experienced so much positivity and goodwill in my life. Then I returned back to ‘normal’ life of high school and it shook me to the core. As wonderful as Unity was, it wasn’t the way life operated or so I was told. I was supposed to get real and accept the world the way it was. Like most others growing up in this society, cynicism fell upon me like a sledgehammer.
But Marianne Williamson embodies and exemplifies another way of being. She suggests there is another way and she walks her talk. She doesn’t care who attacks her. She won’t attack back. Instead, when she feels she is wrong, she admits and apologizes. Holy fuck! Someone aspiring to be president who isn’t afraid to apologize! Trump came to power on the arrogant, egomaniac and psychopathic claim that morality, compassion, and common human decency no longer matters. Williamson disagrees down to her soul that it does matter. How we act determines the kind of country we live in. And she is driven to make the world a better place or go down trying. When arguing her position, she doesn’t fall back on talking points. In response to a question about her strategy, she used air quotes as she spoke of her “strategy” — she said that her only strategy was to speak the truth she knows and to continue campaigning as long as people supported her vision of America (Marianne Williamson says she supports mandatory vaccines – but ‘when they are called for’). Her non-aggressive approach doesn’t come across as weakness for, when a principle is at stake, she doesn’t back down. And she isn’t afraid to call someone out on their bullshit, including the MSNBC interviewer Jo Ling Kent, but even then she does so with perfect politeness.
Her personality comes across as strong and confident, and not as a pretense and pose. I loved watching her in that interview. Before answering, she would often get this serious look on her face as if she were scrutinizing the true intentions behind the question and contemplating it as a philosophical issue. Such sincerity is potent, an antidote to cynicism. Trump would have a hard time combating her because she would never give him the kind of response he feeds on. No one is likely to throw Williamson off message because she lives her message. Walk and talk are perfectly aligned. I’m not sure how many people listening to her get where she is coming from. It’s something I’m extremely familiar with from years in the Unity Church. But most people rarely come across authenticity at this level. It’s not something we’ve come to expect in politics. The last time I heard a candidate this straight-shooting was when I went to a speech given by Ralph Nader when he was running for president in 2000, but even he didn’t come across with the same confidence in vision. Even Bernie Sanders, in his down-to-earth style, doesn’t come across as powerfully as this.
Marianne Williamson, in the Democratic debate said, “So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me please — you have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out … I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field and, sir, love will win.” Who says something like that in a national political debate, especially in a political party that has become infamous for its political insincerity from Clinton domination, and even more especially while facing president Donald Trump who came to power through hate, anger, and outrage. Such audacity to proclaim love in this era of cynicism. Listen to what she said in that debate (Tim Hains, Marianne Williamson: If You Think We’re Going To Beat Donald Trump By Having A Lot Of Plans, You’ve Got Another Thing Coming). She kicks ass! And it has won her a following, something the corporate media is trying to dismiss — oddly, one hit piece calls her positivity-spouting and humorous followers on Reddit “trolls” (Ben Collins, 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson’s reddit following).
Those in the mainstream are looking for reasons to attack her. For example, some misrepresent her as an anti-vaxxer (Jo Ling Kent, Marianne Williamson says she supports mandatory vaccines – but ‘when they are called for’). In explaining her actual position, she states in no uncertain terms that, “I understand that many vaccines are important and save lives. I recognize there are epidemics around the world that are stopped by vaccines. I also understand some of the skepticism that abounds today about drugs which are rushed to market by Big Pharma.” There is no way to fairly call her an anti-vaxxer. What she is mainly questioning is the anti-democratic role big biz plays in public policy and wants to ensure the best scientific evidence possible is available to promote the public good. She is a principled anti-corporatist and pro-democrat. As she put it in her own words, “I want you to rail against the chemical companies and their GMO’s — not support them. I want you to decry the military industrial complex — not assure them you’re their girl. I want you to support reinstating Glass-Steagall — not just wink at Wall Street while sipping its champagne” (An Open Letter To Hillary Clinton).
She supports mandatory vaccinations when they meet the criteria of the highest standards of the scientific method, if and only if the best evidence strongly supports a public health concern that is proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be remedied only through this drastic course of action. Otherwise, if the evidence is weak or still under debate, if big pharma is unduly influencing government decisions, then we are morally forced to defend democratic process and individual liberty, personal conscience, and bodily autonomy. It is the forever difficult but not impossible democratic balance between public good and private good. A mandatory vaccination is justified in many cases and maybe not in others. She is not promoting denialism. After all, she has vaccinated her own daughter. Science isn’t a dogmatic belief system that is forever settled. Instead, science is an ongoing process. To act like it is otherwise is anti-scientific.
The same problem comes up with attacks on her credibility because she is skeptical about GMOs. Do these people even bother to look into the science? I could write a long post about all the contrary evidence, especially the relationship between GMOs and increased pesticide use (as opposed to organic farming), but this isn’t the place to flesh out that debate. Let’s just honestly acknowledge it exists as a contested issue, a state of affairs that, of course, is reported on in the alternative media but also found in mainstream sources (a few examples: The UK’s Royal Society: a Case Study in How the Health Risks of GMOs Have Been Systematically Misrepresented by Steven Druker from Independent Science News, How GMOs Cut The Use Of Pesticides — And Perhaps Boosted It Again by Dan Charles from NPR, Largest-Ever Study Reveals Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops by Caroline Newman from University of Virginia, Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles by Robin Mesnage et al from BioMed Research International, etc).
If only from a viewpoint of the precautionary principle, whether about the GMOs themselves or the pesticides heavily used with GMOs, it’s perfectly rational that the vast majority of Americans (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents) are concerned about GMOs and strongly support having GMO foods labeled — 71-95%, depending on the question and the group asked (Chris Mooney, Stop Pretending That Liberals Are Just As Anti-Science As Conservatives). Not that American politics was ever constrained by nuance. That is precisely the problem. Williamson is arguing that we must understand diverse problems as being systemically related, such as health and the food system or such as the inseparable relationship between GMOs and pesticides. Yet nuance is deemed ‘loony’ because it challenges the dominant paradigm that is dominated by corporate agendas.
As a loony left-winger myself, here is how I put it: “Yeah, monocultural GMO crops immersed in deadly chemicals that destroy soil and deplete nutrients are going to save us, not traditional grazing land that existed for hundreds of millions of years. So, sure, we could go on producing massive yields of grains in a utopian fantasy beloved by technocrats and plutocrats that further disconnects us from the natural world and our evolutionary origins, an industrial food system dependent on turning the whole world into endless monocrops denatured of all other life, making entire regions into ecological deserts that push us further into mass extinction. Or we could return to traditional ways of farming and living with a more traditional diet largely of animal foods (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, etc) balanced with an equal amount of vegetables, the original hunter-gatherer diet” (Carcinogenic Grains). Tell me. Is my skepticism irrational? If so, how has the highly destructive ‘rationality’ of mass industrialization been working out for life on this planet, as we head toward the cliff of mass extinction and climate change?
In many different ways, Marianne Williamson is a potential threat to the Clinton Democrats. Republicans have sensed this and, as a way of fucking with Democrats, some of them have donated to her campaign (Cnaan Liphshiz, Republicans donate to Marianne Williamson’s campaign to keep her in the Democratic debates). It reminds me of how Democrats promoted Trump in the hope that would ensure a Democratic victory. It’s funny that Republicans are falling into the same trap of naivete. Williamson isn’t a mere unknown outlier. After the debate she participated in, her name was the most Googled and, even while the debate was happening, Google searches for her name spiked every time she spoke (Malachi Barrett, Marianne Williamson searches in Michigan explode after Democratic debate). Also, “Williamson has performed better in national polls than more established candidates like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; and Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii” writes Merle Ginsberg (Presidential Candidate Marianne Williamson Is Running on Empathy); and she concludes that, “If anybody could play Jesus to Trump’s Antichrist, Williamson is, as our wayward president would put it, straight out of central casting.”
Williamson is no lightweight. In the debates, she is the only candidate that brought up the harmful US policy in Latin America — interestingly, the only article I came across mentioning this came from a conservative source (Christian Watson, Democratic debate showed conservatives could learn something from Marianne Williamson). And she is bold in her vision that comes across as quite left-wing (e.g., since 1997, she has supported reparations for African American slave descendants) while simultaneously invoking the American founding generation of revolutionaries. Here is how she puts it: “Franklin Roosevelt said that the primary role of the presidency is moral leadership. Americans are a decent people, but over the last 50 years, the concept of what it takes to live a good life—an ethical life—has been overtaken by corporatocracy. When I was a child, corporations were expected to have responsibility to the community, not just focus on fiduciary responsibilities to stockholders. Soulless economics has not brought us economic vibrancy. It’s destroyed our middle class and replaced a model of democracy with a model of aristocracy. We repudiated that in 1776—and need to repudiate it again.”
We used to call that a jeremiad, an American tradition if there ever was one (Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad). If that is ‘woo’, then give me more of it. This is ‘woo’ that could seriously shake up public and political debate and hopefully a whole lot more. Give me some of that old time religion.