Source: Vanity Fair – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
“NO ONE DECIDES TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT IMPULSIVELY”: MARIANNE WILLIAMSON EXPLAINS HER MAGICAL THINKING
In an interview, the self-help author running to be America’s spiritualist in chief discusses meditation, war, David Brooks, and why the public should take her seriously.
Marianne Williamson, the author perhaps best known as Oprah Winfrey’s spiritual adviser, made a distinct impression during the first round of Democratic debates in June, as viewers either fawned over her old tweets or made fun of her “mid-Atlantic” accent. The 67-year-old became famous in the ’80s and ’90s for her work bringing the popular book A Course in Miracles out of the umbrella of Christianity, and for the past few decades, she has been leading thousands of her followers in secular spiritual workshops to manifest miracles across the country. Her brand of spiritualism carries all the markers of American evangelism coupled with the aims of progressive politics—be it support of the HIV/AIDS community through her nonprofit, Project Angel Food, or her showy, jaw-dropping mediated public apologies between black and white Americans.
Political commentators have described Williamson, somewhat derisively, as the left’s Donald Trump. She is, as journalist Lynda Gorov wrote in a 1997 profile, the “high priestess of pop religion,” a self-help guru whose writing is “hyperbolic and given to psychobabble.” But it’s precisely her moony politics that made Williamson such an unexpected hit during her first televised debate. Onscreen she was nothing like the other candidates, vehement about love and dismissive of policy proposals, exclaiming at one point: “If you think we’re going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you got another thing coming.” (As it happens, some of her words have been misattributed to Nelson Mandela.)
Recapping the debate for Vanity Fair, I called her an “odd duck,” adding that she offered the audience “the exact kind of rule-breaking unhingedness that Trump sold to Republicans, except promoted via the language of compassion, and possibly also healing crystals.” So it was a surprise to discover later that day that Williamson tweeted out my piece, with the cryptic words, “It was the best of nights, it was the worst of nights.” A smiley face emoticon was squished on the end. I reached out and found her happy to be interviewed.
Like so much else about Williamson, the whole series of events was just rather off the beaten path. The slight, silky voiced, and unexpectedly forceful Californian once roomedwith Laura Dern and in 1991 officiated Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding (at Neverland Ranch!) to her seventh husband, Larry Fortensky. Williamson has already received donations from Jeff Bridges, Dave Navarro, and Deepak Chopra. Alyssa Milano announced on Twitter that she would be attending a Williamson fund-raiser—and was quickly, as the kids say, ratioed.
Oh, yeah: Williamson called vaccine mandates “draconian” and “Orwellian” at a New Hampshire event, adding in June, “To me, it’s no different than the abortion debate. The U.S. government doesn’t tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child.” (Previously, in 2015, Williamson said “the facts are in about measles,” but also advocated “a skepticism, which is actually healthy, on this issue of vaccinations.”) It’s a curious, potent mix of beliefs: she calls for at least $200 billion in reparations to the descendants of slaves, advocates for the creation of a Department of Peace, and has described herself as a “bitch for God,” but balks, at least at first, at mandatory vaccinations. (She’s since repeatedly tried to walk her words back, but the anti-vaxxer label has stuck.)
It is unsurprising that Williamson’s sticky wicket would be here, in the uncomfortable terrain of child-rearing, paranoia, faith, and wild theories about alternative medicine. The vaccine debate is fully about belief—a war in conviction between faith in modern medicine and deeply felt distrust for it. And belief—a heartfelt, if vague, idea of universal spirituality—is Williamson’s sweet spot. She has written 12 books about the “path of the heart” in everyday life, from her best seller A Return to Love to the regrettable A Course in Weight Loss. Williamson has glowing testimonials from thousands of readers and workshop attendees, and the seal of approval from people like Gwyneth Paltrow, who called her a “spiritual legend.”
As Katherine Miller reported in BuzzFeed, Williamson guided Oprah Winfrey and paved the way for Paltrow’s Goop. Her “cheesy and radical” New Age spirituality from decades ago integrally shaped “Big Wellness,” the now massive women-oriented industry that abuts health, happiness, and beauty, making it a catchall for face masks, houseplants, astrology, and therapy memes. A Texan Jew turned Californian preacher, Williamson aspires to spiritual leadership, the kind wielded by the great people she liberally quotes in her work—and her life. While we spoke, she slipped in quotes she attributed to Ronald Reagan, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Adams—only some of which I could readily verify.
Her efforts are intriguing. Some find Williamson’s candidacy repugnant: the Daily Beast calls her a “celebrity grifter,” and Molly Jong-Fast wrote of the candidate’s “moonbeam politics,” “Every minute Marianne Williamson spent talking could have been gone to a serious candidate discussing climate change or immigration or peace in the Middle East.” But Williamson’s tactics point to a glaring omission in liberal politics. About 9 out of 10 Americans believe in God, and yet in the last several decades, the left has fully ceded the language of faith to the Republican Party—the party that cages children and limits health care. It’s laudable, and necessary, to wage war against dogma and superstition. But in jettisoning spirituality, progressive politics has left something on the table.