LATimes pours out its love for the 'spiritual' Williamson

A positive news story about a political newcomer isn't unusual. Newspapers and television outlets do these sorts of things regularly, and for all sorts of reasons. So on one level, it's not all that surprising that the Los Angeles Times offered a rather complimentary -- some might even say "fawning" -- profile of New Age authoress and teacher Marianne Williamson, who is challenging longtime area Congressman Henry J. Waxman in the 2014 elections. Here is a sample of the prose:

It was a Thursday night, normally a slow time for churches and synagogues, but the sanctuary of The Source Spiritual Center in Venice was packed.

When a diminutive woman stepped to the front of the room, people paused in their scramble for a chair or purchase of a T-shirt and engulfed her in cheers and applause.

She called for a moment of silence. The audience stilled. She dedicated the evening ahead "to all that is good … to the fulfillment of love" in everyone.

"And so it is," concluded Marianne Williamson -- friend of Oprah, associate of Hollywood elites, best-selling author and charismatic spiritual leader.

Williamson has spent three decades offering a path to inner peace for those who seek it. Now she's entering an arena in which inner — and outer — peace seems in particularly short supply: She's challenging Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) for the congressional seat he first won when Gerald Ford was president and the country was preparing to celebrate its bicentennial.

"This is a journey we're all taking together over the next few months," Williamson told the crowd of 200 or so who had shown up that night to volunteer for her campaign. In the cadence of a revival-meeting preacher, she talked of a corrupt system in which the two major parties and the corporations that fund them have "locked out" citizens and ignored some of the country's most pressing problems.

There's no doubt that Williamson has a following, and that many, if not most, of those followers appreciate the spiritual aspect of her work, which often centers on "A Course in Miracles," the so-called "Third Testament" and New Age tract that is popular with a large number of readers. Her own books have often been best sellers, including "A Return to Love," which appears to have catapulted Williamson into national prominence. Williamson also appears to have some solid credentials in terms of community service and activism, so her entry into politics is a bit more serious than some celebrities' ventures might have been.

The Times discusses all this and includes a bit more about Williamson's spiritual journey:

After launching her campaign with a splashy Oct. 20 announcement at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills — Alanis Morissette performed — Williamson has been putting on political events, including a "yoga fundraiser" this month.

The events are similar in tone and format to her Monday night spirituality lectures at a Los Angeles theater, which are based on "A Course in Miracles," a set of books published by psychologist Helen Schucman in the mid-1970s that aim to help people achieve spiritual transformation.

Williamson said she discovered the set on someone's coffee table when she, like many of her generation, was searching her way through the social turmoil of the time. As a Jew, she said, she was initially put off by the Christian references but eventually came to appreciate the work and, in 1983, began giving talks on it at the Philosophical Research Society in Los Feliz.

Two things strike me about this piece.

One, as mentioned, is the rather soft and supportive tone. If a person with traditional, even "conservative," religious beliefs -- an Orthodox Jew or a staunch Roman Catholic -- who had a similarly high media profile were to enter an open primary for Congress in Los Angeles, would that person's spiritual viewpoint be treated as gently in the Los Angeles Times? I'm guessing not, given the overall media reception people such as Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin have received, in part at least due to their expressed religious views.

Second, why is there little discussion -- apart from some generic comments by Rep. Waxman about potential challengers in general -- of whether being a person whose principal work comes from spiritual teaching and writing really qualifies one for the U.S. Congress? One can argue that it does, or that it does not, but isn't there anyone who could offer an opinion? No professor of comparative religion or some such who could discuss Williamson's work?

Instead, we get a soft-focus portrait of an obviously accomplished woman who may -- or may not -- make it to Congress and who may do some useful things there.

Without asking, and answering, questions about one of the most important aspects of Williamson's life and work, i.e., her spiritual path, however, readers can must gin up a measure of faith to decide how well she'd do there. In other words, the story lacks basic reporting and a crucial foundation of basic information. Strange.

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