Podcast talking: Would Democrats take Marianne Williamson seriously if her name was ....

“Donald Trump is not going to be beaten just by insider politics talk. He’s not going to be beaten just by somebody who has plans. He’s going to be beaten by somebody who has an idea what the man has done. This man has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes.

“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. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.”

— Marianne Williamson’s final statement in first debate for Democrats seeking White House in 2020.

Anyone want to guess what this particular candidate might use as the anthem that plays at the beginning and end of her campaign rallies?

I’m thinking that it might be something that honors the 1992 bestseller — “A Return to Love” — that made her a national sensation back in what people called the New Age era. Something like this: Cue the music.

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I focused quite a bit on that book’s old New Age theology in my recent post (“Evil, sin, reality and life as a 'Son of God': What Marianne Williamson is saying isn't new”) about a fascinating New York Times feature about Williamson and her decision to seek the White House. I thought it was appropriate that the Times gave so much attention to the religious themes and concepts in her work, instead of going all politics, all the time.

But, truth be told, the key question discussed in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast — click here to tune that in — focused on mass media, celebrity, religion and, yes, politics, all at the same time.

Look again at that debate quote at the top of this post and give an honest answer to this question: Would that quotation be receiving more attention if the candidate who spoke it was someone named Oprah? How about this person’s candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination?

Williamson is being treated as a bit of a novelty, frankly, even though millions of Americans — on the elite coasts, but also in the heartland, because of her role as a spiritual guide for Oprah Winfrey.

Surely it’s a joke that someone like Williamson or Oprah thinks she can be president, right? I mean, Millions of Americans wouldn’t elect a talk TV superstar who has mastered climb-higher rhetoric to the most powerful elected office on the planet. Right? Right?

So who is Williamson and why, when I taught at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, did I require future pastors, counselors and youth leaders to read her bestseller? Listen to the podcast, for more on that.

Right now, I would like to point readers to a long and quite serious piece about Williamson by Tony Carnes of the sociology-meets-journalism website called A Journey Through NYC Religions. Here’s the massive double-decker headline:

From NYC comes the New Age of Washington, DC?

Need Love to caste out fear from nation’s psyche, says Dem candidate Marianne Williamson

There are many reasons to dig into this article. I think the main reason is to see how Williamson’s emphasis on love and healing has grown out of her own life experiences. We are talking about one of those journeys out of the mists of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

The political language is almost all built on her decades as a spiritual leader among the people in the mush middle of the American faith spectrum, where the language sounds familiar and Christian (even in some megachurches), but the doctrinal details often veer into interesting territory.

Here is a key passage that leads from her life lurching from one relationship into the next, before her deep dive into the mystical volumes of “The Course in Miracles.”

… During her two college years, Marianne Williamson left a trail of broken relationships that corrupted her spirit. Part of the closeness many feel for Williamson derives from the bonding that occurs between sufferers of the same curse.  …

Marianne left college for love, which was disappointed over and over. Albert Goldman, biographer of John Lennon and Elvis Presley, who later hired Marianne in New York City, remembers her as the warmhearted girl "who cried all the time" over failed love. Marianne's fall pushed her toward an eventual nervous breakdown. She has mentioned going to two therapists for help.

Frenetic lifestyles were followed by searches for peace. Consequently, religion was sometimes thrown in as a life-saver. 

Williamson returned to New York in 1973 to try to break into the cabaret scene. In 1975 Williamson hooked up with Jeff Olmsted to form a singing duo.  She wasn't very successful and was "always torn up emotionally," according to Albert Goldman, a New York-based writer.

At about the same time, Williamson picked up A Course in Miracles off a friend's coffee table during a party on Manhattan's West Side. Eager to explore anything that would counter her depression, she was curious about the book; but seeing the Christian language, she left it on the table.

The story is that A Course in Miracles was channeled by Christ through automatic writing to Columbia University psychologist Helen Shucman, another inhabitant of the West Side.

Sometime later, Williamson found the Course left on her dinner table by a boyfriend.

This book lifted her out of a radically redefined “hell,” into a life in which “sin” was all an illusion. Only love was real.

That worked big time in Hollywood and in major cities on the coasts. As I said earlier, Oprah allowed Williamson to leap into the hearts of millions of heartland, suburban Americans — especially women.

OK, here is one more quote from this must-read piece. Eventually, she connected with two other people who could help her move in powerful circles, as in Bill and Hillary Clinton (among others):

At least by the early 1990s, Williamson hoped she could bring her show onto the White House stage. She started doing lectures in Washington, D.C.

"She fancies herself political," a close friend of Williamson says. "She wanted to do lectures in DC so badly to speak to the politicos. But she was naive. She didn't get a big crowd in DC. She gave a speech to Washington and thought she had Senators in the house. None were there. Just other New Age people."  …

In her politics, she supported Clinton. During Clinton's first term, the President and his wife promoted Michael Lerner's "the politics of meaning" as their leitmotif and invited Williamson to give them counsel.

Lerner, editor of the liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun, hoped that liberals could rally around a politics of meaning much like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. had successfully promoted a "politics of hope" after World War II. Critics say that the "meaning" seems to be an empty sack to be filled with "meaningful gestures," moving speeches and vague regrets.  New Age religion tends to drift to "hope" or "meaning" without definition. Williamson also had the travails to empathize with the Clintons in their troubles and counseled Hillary.

Read it all. The mainstream Democrats, I think, will find some way to use her media skills and, yes, her connections to Oprah America.

Enjoy the podcast.

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