Hunkering towards Eureka’s First United Methodist Church the encompassing bluster of wind and precipitation deracinated me from my surroundings. For several blocks I could only make out silhouettes of parked cars and a distant shimmer of light pelting the gray sky from behind stained glass windows. Once at the steps of the church I quickly signed off on my ticket and stepped into the stuffy scarlet-carpeted chapel. Every seat in the house was taken by an audience composed of roughly 80% middle-aged women (several of whom were knitting), 15% supportive husbands, and 5% other. After panning the chapel for a few minutes contemplating who looks as though they may be willing to either let me sit on their lap or consider sitting on mine, I headed back towards the entrance and providentially found a door leading up to a scarcely inhabited balcony.
A half hour late, Democracy Unlimited, the hosts for the event, eventually took the stage and introduced new age spiritualist Marianne Williamson. When the applause died down Williamson got everyone to close their eyes for a moment of silence. After a minute or so she began with a diatribe on the founding fathers. Given that her goal is to bring spirituality into politics, she wrangled God into her speech by laying out her belief that the founders understood the significance of democracy, not from a historical perspective, but because of their unique shared insight that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. “That’s the principle they built this country on. Because of that they stood to provide universal education and to have a free press. ” She states. “It didn’t matter one’s education or social class.” She then addressed, “Yes, they were all white men. But it’s been the political journey of every generation since then, including our own, to further expand those principles to everyone. In every generation, however, we also have those who want to roll that founding principle back.”
I agree that we must fight to expand those rights to everyone no matter race, class, gender, religion, and sexual preference, but that doesn’t mean that the intention of the founders was to do so, nor does it mean that they had a shared perception of God and thus unanimously contracted the founding of the United States. I abhor such cocksure oratory that stands solely on the peg leg of historical knowledge. Williamson doesn’t appear to understand that the nation was founded as a republic, or that rights only belonged, and were only intended to belong, to the ten percent of the population –the rich patriarchal landowners. She’s oblivious that James Madison defined pure democracy as “a society consisting of a small number of citizens who assemble and administer the government in person
,” or that Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine were Deists and thought the concept of miracle, which Williamson parades as the guardian of reason, to be an absurdest fable for the undignified and uneducated. As she continued, it grew evermore apparent that I would be choking on her jagged rhetoric like a child who’s decided to swallow a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle one piece at a time.
Williamson started her spiritual career by founding Project Angel Food, a meals-on-wheels program aimed at providing for victims of Aids in the Los Angeles area. Although riddled with controversy due to capitalizing on homes given to her by dying aids patents, Williamson rose to become an international public speaker and author after Oprah championed her 1992 book, A Return to Love. The principles Williamson bases her theology on and dribbles onto the printed page are taken from A Course in Miracles, a 1,200-page scripture dictated between 1965 and 1972 by a the disembodied voice of Jesus to the late Helen Schucman, a psychologist at Columbia University. ”I’ve heard it referred to as a ‘freed Christianity,”’ says Williamson, who believes it appeals to ”people who seek Jesus, but without the judgment, the guilt, the punitive doctrine.” As a Jew the step towards Christian spiritualism was difficult for Williamson, but she says, “You know the Jews say the Messiah is coming and the Christians say the Messiah came and Einstein said there is no time. So this whole idea he’s coming, he came — I think we’re living in a time where the official take on Jesus is not particularly relevant to me.” Apparently physics lacks relevance to Williamson as well.
Williamson doesn’t demand critical thinking of her followers who she teaches that if one defines love as she does, and “prays really hard,” a miracle will happen in their favor. By preaching peace and love Williamson has become a new age superstar along side Deepak Chopra, and predating Eckhart Tolle and the “will it to be” phenomenon of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Williamson has gone from prayer circles held in homes to auditoriums seating thousands. She was at the altar offering a blessing for Elizabeth Taylor as Taylor’s last marriage fell apart. She was invited to the White House during the mid-nineties to share her message with Hillary Clinton. As a result, she is in the gauche position of promoting emotional accessibility while hiring handlers to keep unpleasant interactions at bay. Due to such a duality, her publicists often demand to know in advance what questions she will be asked.
Williamson continues her speech informing the audience that the founders believed if all people could hone their critical thinking skills, then we will have a democratic society. For Williamson critical thinking doesn’t mean the same thing as it does to most thinking people. Williamson’s critical thinking means to open one’s mind to a spiritual phenomenon thus being able to see beyond what physical sensory and intellect can provide. To exemplify, she tells of the missing gold capstone from the Great Pyramid (Horus’s all seeing eye), which has gone undiscovered for as long as archeologists have been studying the pyramids. She stated that the founders used the image of it being placed back on the pyramid, illustrated on the dollar bill, as a representation of America as a nation of critical thinkers. As she’s making her point a sixty-year-old woman seated next to me sets down her knitting needles and asks her husband to retrieve a dollar bill from his wallet. She turns, peering over at him from above her glasses, and notes that, “Well, look. I’ll be, there is a pyramid on the dollar bill.” I had to fight the urge to lean over and inform the woman that although the Great Seal was designed in 1782, it didn’t find its way onto the dollar bill until 1935.
Once Williamson had established a thesis drawn from her mid-nineties book, Healing the Soul of America, she continued with disjointed psychobabble and mother bear references leading me to realize that, although much more articulate, she’s applying the same tactics as Sarah Palin; She believes in shooting from the hip, only for her — it’s the left one. Over and over Williamson referenced slavery and the woman’s suffrage movement as being conquered by God. She proclaimed, “It’s not up to you if you learn. It’s up to you if you learn through love or pain.”
It’s this kind of thinking that embezzles acclaim and marginalizes one of my favorite words: struggle. Justice isn’t simply resting on the surface of desire or supplemented via half-baked history, it’s earned, often with great sacrifice. Such erroneous idioms as the ones dropped throughout the night, mostly with the purpose of bringing people to a moral relativist view of God and politics through contextually misconstrued feminist language, have an uncanny way of influencing people who simply want reassurance that they’re right. It’s disappointing to see an audience overflowing with praise for someone like Marianne Williamson while people they should be drawing inspiration from, such as the enduring and brilliant Ayaan Hirsi Ali
, go unnoticed.
Williamson wants for people what many sensible people want: to have hope and stand in solidarity with the aim to make the world a better place for all. While a noble cause, one I share with Williamson, she fails to understand that religious hope is a driving force for those who don’t share her politics. It’s foolish to say that those spreading ideas in opposition to ones own are “hateful and not hopeful.” Even the most destructive acts perpetrated by man are often done because of a utilitarian hope. It takes hope to strap a bomb onto your chest and set it off in a public market place. To solve the problems that face the world it’s going to take reason, compromise, and hard work, all of which we must have hope in — but we cannot solve global issues with hope alone.
Wrapping up Williamson rallies on the current agenda of Democracy Unlimited by calling attention to one of the biggest problems facing America, corporate personhood. In a complete circle, one in which the center remains empty, she states that corporations are bad, but not all corporations because, for instance, she relies on corporations to publish her books. Oh, and capitalism, “well capitalism isn’t the problem; it’s been good to me.” To which the audience bellowed in approval.
While the crowd cheers local KHSU DJ and wannabe pundit David Cobb grabs the mic and roars, “now that’s what a politician should sound like! I love this woman!” Proceeding to pass a collection plate he informs the audience that the money collected is for sending Marianne Williamson across the state, perhaps even the country, to spread her message. Shaking her head in disapproval Williamson took the mic from Cobb and informed the audience that all the money was, in fact, going to Democracy Unlimited. After 45 minutes of questions I left understanding that the political spectrum from conservative to liberal doesn’t exist on a horizontal plan, rather, like the earth, it’s a sphere. If you go too far to the left or right you’ll end up in the same place.