We need to talk about Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson, who is running for President again, is wildly popular with young folks on TikTok. The Intercept explains her popularity among the under-30 crowd:

THE KIDS MAY or may not be alright, but one thing is clear: They are super into Marianne Williamson. If engagement on TikTok is any indication, a Democratic presidential primary held today among people under 50 would result in a landslide for the bestselling author now making her second bid for the nomination.

Williamson has only posted 65 videos on TikTok, yet has drawn more than 11 million views, according to a TikTok data counter. But there are also endless Marianne stan (Maristanne?) accounts — @marianne2024winner and @marianne4prez among them — that post her speeches and rack up massive numbers. A scroll through the popular account @realdemocrat20 turns up multiple Williamson videos, all generating eye-popping numbers for her treatises on universal health care, corruptiongun rights, or abortion, including nearly a million views for whatever this is.

recent poll found Williamson hovering above 20 percent with voters under 30 — far higher than she reached in the crowded 2020 field — suggesting the buzz on TikTok is translating into real support or that real support is producing the buzz on TikTok. "I am obsessed with it," said Jessica Burbank, a leftist political TikTok star who posts as @kaburbank, of the Marianne mania.

The Guardian explains that her progressive stances, including her condemnation of wealth inequality and championing of universal healthcare, explain her appeal:

It's certainly easy to make fun of Williamson but, while she's said a lot of questionable things, it's wrong to dismiss the author as a joke. When she's not talking about the "power of the mind" Williamson has a lot to say about institutional inequality, the need for universal healthcare, the problems with capitalism, the importance of cancelling student debt, and the complacency of the Democratic establishment. And guess what? An awful lot of young people are listening. Williamson's very left-leaning videos draw millions of views on TikTok and her speeches often go viral.

But if you scratch beneath the surface, or dive more deeply into the spiritual beliefs that have guided her career for decades, her ideologies look less progressive and much more disturbing. These kinds of deep dives are, thankfully, what the folks at the Conspirituality Podcast do best, and if you're at all interested in learning more about Williamson and her guiding scripture, A Course in Miracles, I highly recommend two recent episodes of Conspirituality Pod. Episode 148, Marianne Williamson and Asshole Jesus provides an overview of A Course in Miracles and its main tenets, which are completely contradictory to progressive politics. The episode also describes allegations by former campaign staff that Williamson was emotionally and verbally abusive to them—a far cry from the kind of love she constantly talks about. The podcast's website describes the episode: 

Is Marianne Williamson's promotion of A Course in Miracles any more relevant to her political persona than Biden's Catholicism? If it demonstrably informs her every instinct and communication (as we expect it would given she sermonizes out of it every day), then yes, it is. If it leads her to suggest that meditation can help contain nuclear waste, divert hurricanes, heal the "scam" of clinical depression, or "boost the immune system" against COVID19, then yes, it is. 

Is it sexist to highlight Williamson's reported history of interpersonal abusiveness, when male politicians get away with far worse? There is definitely a double standard to resist. But when a candidate builds a political persona on being a love-and-light way-shower, it's important to evaluate what that actually looks like ground-level. It's also important to consider whether immature behavior might be a plausible outcome of following the Jesus of A Course in Miracles, who is a huge asshole. 

Finally: if Williamson is the only candidate out there talking about reparations and M4A, is it reactionary to dismiss her on religious or behavioral grounds? Not if you're actually interested in a functional progressive politics, free from magical thinking and charismatic bafflement. 

And just this week, the podcast dropped a follow-up episode, Marianne Williamson's Spiritual Therapy Schtick, which they describe:

Marianne Williamson? Inexperienced? Not at all. In fact, she does have a ton of experience… in New Age, on-stage pseudotherapy, where she solves the problems of the troubled with memorized lines from A Course in Miracles. She's been doing these sessions at workshops and retreats for decades, and the schtick is always the same: if only the person would change their minds about their problem, the world would be healed. 

While this may fly on the workshop circuit, if you listen carefully you'll hear that she gives the same answer on the stump.

It comes through most clearly when she's pressed on questions of strategy. She will instantly pivot to talking about the spirit and the soul. The effect is a disarming oscillation between the political and the personal. Are we talking about defeating fascists? No, no, that's too worldly! We're talking about opening our hearts. And if that feels good during a politically tense exchange, it's because she changed the subject.

To see how this sleight-of-hand works, Matthew examines two classic Williamson encounters to show that the answers she gives on the stump aren't much different from the answers she gives on her New Age retreats. 

One of the videos they deconstruct in that episode is called "Being Rejected for Your Spiritual Beliefs" and features Williamson using the New Age blame-the-victim, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, "love is the ultimate reality" philosophy of A Course in Miracles in a kind of pseudo-therapeutic encounter.

But how can a dumb New Age book be so potentially destructive? In a terrific post on Facebook, Conspirituality Podcast's Matthew Remski sums up the book's philosophy like this:


(I was in a cult based on this book. Here's a distillation of 1200 mind-numbing pages. So you don't have to read it now. You're welcome. I'll be talking about this and other New Age publishing phenoms on the Monday Bonus episode.)

God is perfectly everything and everywhere, and nothing else is real. If you don't feel lovingly at one with all things at all times, it's your own damn fault. You're sleepwalking through your life, having a nightmare about unreal, non-God-type events like getting sick and dying. Your body doesn't really exist, and while you think it does under the spell of your insane ego, you're pathetically denying your union with God, who doesn't even recognize your body, because He didn't make it. He only makes eternal things, don't you know. You're even more of a denier of God if you feel pain or are sick, because sickness is stupid and God is not stupid. How could you be sick unless you wanted to be sick? Get it? Not only that, if you try to make yourself healthy instead of just calling on Jesus' name, you're doubling down on your ignorant and selfish belief that your body is real. In the Course, Jesus says that your beliefs make your world, buddy, so you should really get some better beliefs, because the world isn't so nice, is it? You seem to have created murder and wars with all your twisted little victimized desires, you sicko. Yes: every human suffering, from loneliness to racism to poverty to terror and all of the existential ambivalence in between, is the result of your beliefs and conscious choices. So they're not real! And you're in luck – you can instantly reverse them all by surrendering your heart to the Holy Spirit! In the magical moment you do this, you are participating in the miraculous truth that you're not in this world, you've never been born, time doesn't exist, no one really dies, and none of this is really happening. 


But, you might ask, surely Marianne Williamson doesn't still follow ACIM? She absolutely does. She leads a daily ACIM discussion, called Mornings with Marianne, that you can purchase on her website, "Williamson Learning Center," for 65 dollars a year for the teachings only, or $95/year for teachings "plus bonuses." You can also buy other workshops and courses taught by Williamson, like this "Spiritual Makeover with Marianne Williamson," on sale at Commune, a New Age site that platforms spiritual influencers, COVID minimizers, and wellness grifters. If you want that Williamson-branded, spiritual makeover, it'll cost you $199, but you'll get four "in-depth workshop sessions with Williamson"—a total of 22 videos "offering you spiritual guidance, encouragement, and wisdom for a balanced, blessed life." Here's the course description:

Love has the same relationship to fear that light has to darkness. You turn on the light, the darkness is gone. You turn on the love, the fear is gone. In this workshop, Marianne offers "spiritual basics" — foundational wisdom on how the universe operates and how you can leave behind a fear-based mentality.

In This Workshop You Will Learn:

How to see what is real – and what is illusion – in any situation

Why over-identification with your problems doesn't help and why you can never be permanently wounded

How to apply the teachings in A Course in Miracles to your own life

Why prayer is the medium of miracles

How to align your daily actions with a thought system based on love

I'll leave you these thoughts that Matthew Remski recently posted about why we should all be very skeptical that someone who follows, preaches, and sells workshops based on ACIM could be a champion for progressive values. He first asks, "Can Marianne Williamson maintain cred as a progressive while promoting New Age Jesus? Can she hammer out policy while preaching out of A Course In Miracles—the most anti-political, pseudospiritual text on the planet? I doubt it, but hey—miracles happen!" He goes on:

— Yes, @mariannewilliamson presents progressive positions on reparations, some ecological and inclusivity issues. She platforms better than mainstream Dems in most ways. The question is whether she has the networking, organizational track record or coalition-building skills to bring these values to actual political fruition, as opposed to the outcome of updating her retrograde spiritual products with progressivism. There's a difference. 

— If you're bonded to MW as a spiritual inspiration, I get that grilling her commitment to New Age Jesus might seem mean. But she's running for President. Charisma isn't enough, and past statements and commitments carry relevance beyond the personal. She has written or implied that fatness is "a repository of twisted, distorted thoughts and feelings," and that AIDS can be mitigated by self love. She has been alt-med-y on psychiatric medication and vaccines—all in ways that directly echo material from #ACIM, as in Lesson 136: "Sickness is a defence against the Truth." Williamson teaches from this book via video every day.

— Zooming out, I argue that a moral and intellectual investment in the New Age Jesus of ACIM is correlated with further white divestment from the activism-rooted spirituality of King and Black liberation. It follows a decades-long pathway in the defanging of progressive politics by obsessing over the internal turn, and the self-project. It is an investment in a very white feminist, extremely boring spirituality of neoliberal narcissism, psychological consolation through magical thinking, and the erasure of class and privilege analysis.