Jeff T. Wattrick: Marianne Williamson is the 2020 version of Pat Robertson

Marianne Williamson attends the Farrah Fawcett 5th Anniversary Reception at the Farrah Fawcett Foundation on June 25, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. | Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Should we take Marianne Williamson’s presidential candidacy seriously? 

Alex Pareene says yes because Williamson is the 2020 version of Donald Trump. Though she’s “aiming her message not at the raging car dealer dad but the anxious Wellness Mom,” Pareene writes, Williamson is the same kind of unqualified, celebrity candidate as our disastrous president. Anything is possible post-Trump.

But Williamson isn’t Trump. Her celebrity isn’t as mainstream. Her debate performance created no noticeable bump in polls. According the Real Clear Politics average, she’s polling at 0.2%, while Trump was a frontrunner at this stage of the 2016 Republican contest. Williamson’s odds to win the Democratic nomination remain at Seth Moulton levels. 

Pat Robertson speaks about the national deficit, 1986 | Wikimedia Commons

Nonetheless, the impulse to take Williamson’s candidacy seriously is correct. She’s not 2020 Trump. She’s really 2020 Pat Robertson. 

Both Robertson’s 1988 campaign for the Republican nomination and Williamson’s 2020 campaign center on theological/spiritual beliefs. Robertson wasn’t an evangelical Protestant running for president. He was running for president as an evangelical Protestant who sought to build a “Spirit-filled” government. Williamson, similarly, is running on the premise that the United States government should operate based upon her spiritual beliefs.

According to a Vice article, linked from Williamson’s campaign site: “Williamson says she wants the country to take a ‘serious moral inventory.’ She freely talks about redemption and ‘a merciful God,’ miracles and ‘moral leadership.’” 

Not incidentally, Robertson feigned offense when Tom Brokaw called him a “television evangelist” and Williamson doesn’t like being called a guru. Of course, Robertson is a television evangelist and Williamson, in the colloquial use of the term, is a guru.

Pat Robertson | Wikimedia Commons

Robertson’s campaign mainstreamed conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists into the Republican Party establishment. The Christian Coalition and the emergence of Christian Right leaders like Ralph Reed are both outgrowths of Robertson’s campaign. 

Williamson, who once led the Church of Today in Warren, Mich., seems eager to inject New Age philosophy into the Democratic Party’s DNA. 

“Our task is to generate a massive wave of energy, fueled and navigated by we the people, so powerful as to override all threats to our democracy,” according to her campaign website. “Where fear has been harnessed for political purposes, our task is to harness love.” 

Obviously, it’s an open question if Williamson’s fledgling political organization will be as potent as Robertson’s in merging the spiritual with the political. The answer will likely hinge upon whether liberals, progressives and Democratic Party activists desire their political coalition to be an explicitly spiritual movement. 

Rashida Tlaib | Wikimedia Commons

In normal circumstances, it’s bad form to focus too closely on a candidate’s religious beliefs. Bigots have long attacked the legitimacy of politicians — from Al Smith and John Kennedy to Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — because of their religious backgrounds. 

As a consequence, Catholic Joe Biden isn’t expected to defend transubstantiation to voters. Nor does LDS member Mitt Romney need to explain Joseph Smith meeting with the angel Moroni. After all, every religious or spiritual system offers ideas that can seem laughably absurd to non-believers.

The difference between Williamson and Al Smith or Ilhan Omar or Mitt Romney is the latter group never suggests governing the nation based upon their personal theology. Williamson very much seeks to spiritually based government. It is therefore appropriate, if not essential, to ask whether or not we want a government based on her spiritual beliefs.

Central to Williamson’s teachings and worldview is a book titled, “A Course In Miracles.” According to its publisher’s website, the book “was ‘scribed’ by Dr. Helen Schucman through a process of inner dictation that she identified as coming from Jesus.” Throughout Williamson’s published writings and social media posts are references to “A Course In Miracles.”  

Marianne Williamson attends the Project Angel Food’s Angel Awards 2015 | Araya Diaz/Getty Images for Project Angel Food

No one can prove with certainty that didn’t Jesus co-write a book with a New York psychologist in the mid-1960s. If “A Course In Miracles” provides clarity or guidance to your life, that’s wonderful. I don’t need to understand another’s religious or spiritual beliefs to respect their right to them free of judgment. 

But to be governed by them is another matter. Plenty of people claim to speak with the divine. They’re usually lying or mentally ill. As such, “A Course In Miracles” is not the rock upon which I want my national government built upon.

Beyond the dubious origin story, “A Course In Miracles” includes plenty of New Age claptrap about how your thoughts determine your reality: “Miracles enable you to heal the sick and raise the dead because you made sickness and death yourself and can therefore abolish both. You are a miracle, capable of creating in the likeness of your Creator. Everything else is your own nightmare and does not exist. Only the creations of light are real.”  

By that logic, cancer patients, refugees and Holocaust survivors created their own “nightmares.” If only they were seeking “light” or whatever, things could have been different. 

Reductio ad absurdum isn’t even necessary to see how adherents can apply this thinking to problems that literally can’t be solved or avoided by manifesting positive affirmations. One simply needs to read Marianne Williamson’s Twitter feed. 

Nuclear disaster in Japan? Visualize angels fixing it.

Catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Also visualize angels fixing it.

Voter intimidation? Angels can fix that, too! At least that can if you idiots would visualize that happening.

War atrocities in Syria? Send love with your mind.

Forest fires? Pray for rain.

Swine flu? God is the real immune system.

Depression? Skip the doctors, therapists and medicine. Just think of it as a “sacred journey.”

What’s that old chestnut about believing people when people tell you who they are?

This is who Marianne Williamson is, a financially successful personality who believes science-based mental health care is bad, that angels can stop oil spills, and faith heals the swine flu. 

Pat Robertson once prayed away a hurricane, too.

Back in the real world, first responders stop forest fires and oil spills. Professional diplomats devote their careers to dealing with despots like Assad. American Civil Liberties Union lawyers fight voter intimidation. Medicine, not God’s light, fights diseases. 

forest fire
Wikimedia Commons

The Democratic Party, for all its many faults, stands as a bulwark against the superstition and magical thinking creeping into our political discourse. Love is love, but science is also real. 

Marianne Williamson may support conventional progressive policies just as other (actually qualified) Democratic candidates support progressive policies. However, as her debate night comments dismissing “plans” suggest, her campaign also wants to undermine the rational, practical approach to governing embraced by Democrats across the faith spectrum. Given the choice between magical thinking and critical thinking, Williamson favors the former. 

That’s dangerous for both the Democratic Party and our modern, democratic society. 

Take Marianne Williamson seriously. And reject her completely. 

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