Marianne Williamson

What is This Thing Called Love? Marianne Williamson Runs for President

Douglas Groothuis on September 13, 2019

Woodstock happened fifty years ago. The event’s invocation was given by a Hindu guru who was a pantheist. Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson believes roughly the same thing. While a child of the counterculture, she is not dressed in a flowing white robe. She wears Armani and is well-coifed. Nor is she chanting before her audience sitting in the lotus position. But her political presence indicates just how much influence one strand of American spirituality—the New Age mindset—has come to possess.

Columnist David Brooks of The New York Times and articles in The New Yorker are taking her seriously, whatever small chance she has of winning the nomination. On September 8, The New York Times Magazine ran a long and generally sympathetic piece on Williamson, “The Gospel According to Marianne Williamson.”

Williamson may be viewed as part of “the New Age Movement,” but the phrase is a misnomer, since it is not a unified movement. It is rather an amalgamation of persons and organizations inspired to create a new world through cultivating a higher consciousness of one’s own divinity. It grew out of the counterculture and draws inspiration came from eastern religions, western esoteric and occult traditions, Transcendentalism, and the human potential movement. It is sometimes known as “the New Spirituality,” but it is as old as Hinduism.

In the 1980s, when the New Age movement was at its peak of popularity, the hopes for a new age of global light and love were higher than they are now. Nevertheless, ideas and practices at the forefront of New Age thinking, such as yoga and reincarnation, are now mainstream. But now we have a Democratic candidate for president who thinks she is divine—along with all the rest of us, of course.

Williamson, a photogenic 67-years-old, gained recognition as an early AIDs activist and through her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles (1992). This was a simpler and more popular version of teaching found in a three-volume work called, A Course in Miracles (1965) by Helen Schucman. I should say trance-channeled, since Schucman claims the words came to her from Jesus. When Williamson says “Jesus” or refers to his teachings, she has Jesus of The Course in Miracles in mind, and not the New Testament. In A Return to Love, she writes:

The Christian religion has no monopoly on the Christ, or on Jesus himself. Jesus reached total actualization of the Christ mind, and was then given by God the power to help the rest of us reach that place within ourselves.

Translated this means that we are all as divine as Jesus. He just got there first and he can show us the way. This is standard New Age Christology, which is better called heresy.

Williamson’s break came when she received the blessing of Oprah on “The Oprah Winfrew Show” in the early 1990s. Williamson, along with Eckhart Tolle, and Deepak Chopra, are New Age gurus who have risen to fame through Oprah’s touch. Williamson has sold three million books. Her most recent is The Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution (HarperOne, 2019). She was a spiritual counselor to Bill and Hillary Clinton, whom she visited at Camp David and at the White House.

Williamson is running as the spiritually-minded outsider, who sees the deeper matters of the heart as the deepest source of our problems. She is no policy wonk and she has never held political office. Her platform advocates mindfulness training in public grade schools, paying reparations of two hundred million to five hundred million dollars for slavery, and (more nebulously), chipping away at the nation’s “moral deficit.” As a Democrat she is, of course, “one hundred per cent pro-choice,” as her web page says.

Williamson’s appeal is not in her political acumen, but in her emphasis on love and the power of thought. The New York Times quotes her as writing this about weight loss: “The cause of your excess weight is fear, which is a place in your mind where love is blocked.” The cause of poverty: “Many people fail to manifest money because on some deep level they don’t think they should.” Disease “is loveless thinking materialized.” In this, Williamson gives a New Age take on the long history of American positive thinking.

But, as the Cole Porter song asks, “What is this thing called love?” According to Williamson, love is not rooted in a transcendent deity, but is a force within all of us. God need not forgive us, since there is nothing to forgive. Our problem is that we forget that we are God! As John Podhoretz wrote in Commentary, for Williamson, “There is no free-floating evil, no original sin; if only we give ourselves permission, we can each of us be infinitely loving and infinitely giving, we can all be ‘the Christ.’”

This is not Christianity; nor can any monotheist accept this kind of pantheism. No one should deny that politics needs love. But the word “love,” when shorn of any metaphysical support or meaning, does nothing to reconcile enemies, promote civility, advance justice, or encourage forgiveness where needed. A political philosophy that fails to recognize the reality of human sin—and all sin is sin against love—has no hope of offering a compelling vision of social order or of inspiring social reform.

I cannot imagine Williamson reading with appreciation St. Augustine’s or Reinhold Niebuhr’s reflections on God and politics, given their bracing critique of sin’s effect in a fallen world and the limits this places on political endeavor. She believes in neither the love of a personal God nor in our violations of that love through selfishness. Those seeking political wisdom and credible candidates must look elsewhere.

Douglas GroothuisDouglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and author of Unmasking the New Age (InterVarsity Press, 1986) and eleven other books.

  1. Comment by thoughtwrite on September 14, 2019 at 1:43 am

    There is more to being the president of the U.S.A. than promoting love within the country, whatever form that takes. If she were to be elected as president she and America would be a laughing stock on the world stage. She received Oprah’s blessing? Oprah blessed Obama also.. how did that work out? She was spiritual advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton? How did that work out for Hillary? Basically what I see in this person is that she advocates being a god. That is mentioned in the bible. Mankind thinks himself to be a god. That is also Satan’s original lie to Eve btw. The very idea of Williamson running for president and possibly gaining the nomination of the DNC is at the very least, cringe worthy. I hope she as most of the others will be forced to drop out eventually.

  2. Comment by David Gingrich on September 14, 2019 at 7:41 am

    Seems like a nice lady. She has zero chance at being POTUS of course. And she was recently heard to say that conservatives have been nicer to her than the Left. Her surprise at that tells all.

  3. Comment by David on September 14, 2019 at 10:43 am

    So, one has to now be Christian to run for President? Isn’t that rather un-American given our constitutional prohibition of religious tests for public office?

    And why all this extra heavy type to state that she is pro-choice when this is rather common? Infants in the US are 75% more likely to die in their first year of life than in other developed countries. Access to medical care before and after birth has much to do with this. All this concern about abortion and none about this shows that “right to life” ends at birth—pure hypocrisy.

  4. Comment by Alien & Stranger on September 14, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    The article is one of exercising spiritual discernment. Christians need to discern “the signs of the times”. So-called “New Age” thought is actually very old, rooted in Gnosticism and mysticism. The Bible warns against deceiving spirits, false teachers and prophets, those who “preach another gospel”. Those who lack discernment are taken in by “feel good” teachings that massage the ego and leave people lost and spiritually dead in their sins and trespasses. Christians need to vote according to Christian principles and values, not with a worldly mindset that rationalises and condones moral and spiritual compromise and capitulation.

  5. Comment by td on September 14, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    Hmmm. Your argument that abortion rates in the US are largely influenced due to infant mortality rates is a strange argument. Just to be clear, the US infant mortality rate is low, it just happens to be higher in the US than in Europe. And to be clearer, Europe and the US do not report infant mortality in the same way (both statistically and definitionally) so it is debatable how to compare these rates.

    I do not buy the argument that someone has an abortion in the US because of our infant mortality rate or because they might lack premium health care.

    It is most likely that women have an abortion because they don’t want to have a baby- for whatever reason. As christians we are called to convince others that abortion is morally wrong. That does not necessarily mean, however, that abortion must be illegal and subject to criminal prosecution.

  6. Comment by David on September 15, 2019 at 8:06 am

    I obvious made no link between infant mortality and abortion except to note the usual conservative lack of concern for their fellow man or infant. After much prayer for discernment, the UMC passed resolutions in favor of abortion rights. These were recently overturned in the conservative takeover of the denomination. The same occurred in other churches as well. All this gives credence to Susan B. Anthony’s observation, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

  7. Comment by What UMC do you belong to? on September 15, 2019 at 8:55 am


    Are you seriously trying to pedal the myth that the ‘conservative’ side of the UMC has ‘no concern for their fellow man or infant’, and the way to show that concern is to kill children in the womb?

    The UMC is a great church, but it’s leftist world-view is not infallible either. The church believes in abortion until birth or in some places even after birth. We are a reflection of the left-liberal insanity that grips too many people who know better. Have a nice day.

  8. Comment by td on September 15, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Perhaps what you call a “conservative takeover” is simply a necessary correction after liberal clergy abandoned the faith?

    As I implied earlier, i do not think abortion has to be illegal, but i also think it is a sin. Just because the supreme court says women have the right to have an abortion does not mean that christianity agrees or should agree. And, yes of course, we should help infants and children. But the level of that help from our government is not dictated by our faith. We are first and foremost called to get to know and love god, and to be transformed by christ.

    My gut tells me that we probably agree on this and that players on both ends of the political religious spectrum are the ones desiring to exactly correlate religious conservatism/liberalism with political conservatism /liberalism.

  9. Comment by Lee D. Cary on September 18, 2019 at 9:48 am

    ” Infants in the US are 75% more likely to die in their first year of life than in other developed countries.”

    Please site your source for this stat.

  10. Comment by Douglas Groothuis on September 14, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    The boldface was in the original at her web page. What pro-life person says “right to life ends at birth”? I know of none.

    I never said you have to be a Christian to run for President. I have voted for several nonChristians.

  11. Comment by Joan Sibbald on September 14, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    Marianne Williamson is New Age, not Christian.
    A Christian believes that Jesus Christ was born through God’s Holy Spirit to a woman named Mary.
    A Christian believes He preached His Word and performed miracles before thousands of people throughout His three year ministry.
    A Christian believes Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and on the 3rd day rose from the dead.
    A Christian believes He was seen by many for 40 days, then, in the presence of his remaining Apostles was taken up in a cloud to heaven.
    A Christian believes it is only through belief in Jesus Christ a person is saved. “No one sees God except through Me.” This Good News is proclaimed in the Bible.

    Marianne Williamson believes she is a god.
    Before she gets hit by the bus I hope she turns to Him!

  12. Comment by Jim on September 15, 2019 at 7:36 pm

    Amen Joan!

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