[The quadrennial election-season is upon us. Accordingly, today’s posting is the first in a series on Marianne Williamson and her candidacy for President of the United States. The series will explore parallels between her platform (as articulated in her 20th anniversary edition of “Healing the Soul of America”) on the one hand and “A Course in Miracles” (ACIM) on the other. Postings to follow will also connect ACIM and Williamson’s policies with liberation theology – the most important theological development of the last 1500 years, and the inspiration for the Global South’s most effective social movement since the middle of the 19th century. The thesis here will be that Marianne Williamson is actually a U.S. liberation theologian, but in the tradition of 19th century abolitionists, as well as that of women suffragists, Martin Luther King, and Mohandas Gandhi. As such, her candidacy promises our country the revolutionary impetus that liberation theology provided for the profound socio-political changes Latin America has experienced over the last six decades. Apart from more formal explanations of this thesis, the latter’s point will be made in the form of weekly Sunday homilies reflecting on the narratives of Jesus’ words and deeds as presented in each week’s liturgical readings.]
Marianne Williamson for President! She’s a Liberation Theologian
On Monday, January 28th, Marianne Williamson declared herself a candidate for President of the United States. In making her declaration, this great spiritual leader, who has a larger social media following than any Democratic candidate declared so far, implicitly proposed addressing in 21st century, non-religious ways the spiritual hunger that Williamson and others in the “higher consciousness community” consider endemic to the human condition, whether that hunger is recognized or not.
However, the difference between Williamson and others in that community is that she consistently applies her spiritual insights to the public sphere. And as we shall see shortly, she does so in a manner that completely respects the convictions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs – and atheists, along with those who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
Because of its inclusive approach, Ms. Williamson’s candidacy promises to build on the accomplishments of 19th century abolitionists, and on those of 20th century women suffragists, and participants in the American civil rights movement. The abolitionists and many suffragists were highly committed Quakers. And, of course, King was a Baptist minister. Following in their footsteps, Williamson promises to at last offer progressives (and the country at large) entry into a sphere that conservatives – Christian fundamentalists to be exact – have controlled at least since the 1980s. It’s the essential realm of faith and spirituality.
Failure to enter that sphere has hamstrung the left whose “enlightened” tendency has been to reject and ridicule rather than embrace what many consider the deepest dimension of being human. That tendency has not simply cost progressives votes on election day. Even more fundamentally, it has incapacitated them by its implied blindness to the spiritual hunger shared even by humans in general. Put otherwise, Williamson is confronting the right on its own turf.
In daring to do so, she is boldly following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King who demonstrated the ability of faith to awaken critical thinking capacities belonging to ordinary people. King as well as Malcolm X, and the abolitionists that preceded them all tapped into the undeniable power that religious language, symbols and metaphors possess to actually motivate ordinary people to work for social justice and profound political change. The same, of course, is true of Mahatma Gandhi and the liberation theologians of the Global South. In fact, I’ll argue in future postings that Marianne Williamson could easily be classified as a liberation theologian.
Before I get to that however, please recognize that during her campaign Williamson does not plan to wear her identity as spiritual teacher on her sleeve. And that’s her strength too. Instead, she’ll employ her spiritual consciousness and conviction fostered by years of spiritual discipline to guide her campaign in the right direction which will inevitably call for deep psychological – not to say – spiritual – transformation for all of us.
Recently, she described that transformational direction in an extended interview with CNN’s John Berman. Williamson said her most prominent issues would be:
- Medicare for All
- A permanent tax cut for the middle class
- Free education for all children (including tuition for public colleges)
- Government support for children’s services
- A Green New Deal
Those, of course, are proposals similar to what have been proposed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, whom Williamson supported in 2016.
Why then run, Berman asked, before Sanders and Warren have officially announced? Won’t her campaign be somewhat redundant in the face of two veteran politicians who, he intimated, have a much better chance of getting elected?
Williamson’s response was significant in that it clearly underlined not so much her competitive edge even over candidates like those just mentioned, but the added value her candidacy represents. Ms. Williamson wants to expand the conversation, she said, to address the psychological and spiritual issues underlying what she sees as the severe disease that mortally threatens the American body politic. As long as those remain unaddressed, conversation and policy proposals, however excellent and whatever their sources, will remain at less-helpful superficial levels. It will be like watering the leaves of a plant, when its roots remain dry and shriveling.
And what root causes is Williamson referring to? Basically, she says, it’s an amoral economic system. It is capitalism-as-we-know-it that has focused on short term gains while allowing market forces instead of common-sense spiritual principles (as elementary as the Golden Rule and democracy) to assume their irreplaceable and decisive roles in the organization of our country’s politics.
Such assumption now has millions of children living in chronic despair and trauma. (Williamson always begins with child welfare.) The system has also created layers of racism and fostered wars across the planet. It has made our country destructively expert at waging wars but unwilling to wage peace.
Williamson reminded her interviewer that Franklin Roosevelt considered the administrative aspects of the presidency as secondary to the moral leadership the position affords. She pointed out that her 35 years of naming and addressing such moral dimensions of public policy is what qualifies her to exercise the moral leadership F.D.R. referenced. That’s Williamson’s competitive edge. It’s her added value. It’s what no other Democratic candidate offers so clearly.
When asked about paying for her program, Williamson chuckled. She asked: Isn’t it interesting that interviewers always raise that tired canard? When it comes to giving a $2 trillion tax break to billionaires, very few, she said, will ask, “Where will the money come from?” Even less do they raise that question when it comes to fighting wars – not even wars like the one against Saddam Hussein in Iraq that was entirely illegal and based on lies.
Marianne Williamson had a similar response when asked about the reparations she advocates for African-American descendants of slaves. She’s proposing a fund of $100 billion for the purpose. It would be paid out over a period of 10 years to finance economic and educational projects to benefit the community in question.
There are precedents for this she added. After World War II, Germany paid out $89 billion in reparations to Jewish organizations in the country. President Reagan signed into law the American Civil Liberties Act to similarly repair harm done to every survivor of the internment camps set up for the Japanese-Americans during the same World War. Moreover, following our nation’s Civil War, General Tecumseh Sherman proposed giving every freed slave 40 acres and a mule. Instead, former slaves were given the Black Code Laws that plagued them till the mid-1960s. It’s time, Ms. Williams said, to make good on Sherman’s reparational promise which was never kept.
From all of this, you can see that Marianne Williamson with her huge social media following is a serious candidate. For people of faith and advocates of social justice without a shred of religious faith, she presents a strong antidote to the religious right that has cornered the field of language, symbols, and metaphors by which most people in the world make sense of the world.
Williams knows that field inside-out. She recognizes that surrendering that field to reactionary forces is what renders progressives relatively weak before the 75% of Americans who identify as Christians. In the spirit of the abolitionists, women suffragists, and civil rights activists – in the spirit of Gandhi and liberation theologians – she wants to reclaim that turf and the specifically moral influence missing in the Democratic White House since the FDR era.
(Next week: My Meeting with Marianne Williamson. )