Marianne Williamson on politics, tikkun olam, and the Jewish mind

marianne williamson pic for blog

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson is running for Congress — running as an independent for the U.S. House of Representatives in California’s 33rd District — and I’m very glad.

She is one of the great spiritual teachers of our time, and broadening the manifestation of her calling has the potential — the possibility, at least — of transforming our conversation, our politics, and our future.

And here’s to possibility: it has been sadly lacking in much of today’s cynical and self-destructive partisan discourse.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Marianne three times, and I’ve posted a fair number of excerpts from those conversations on this blog. You’ll find a partial set of links to excerpts about various topics at the end of this post. Still now in the first month of her candidacy, Marianne’s announcement made me think back to the very first interview I did with her, back in January 2005. Enjoy this excerpt.

Ray: Would you talk about your childhood? Your father took you to Vietnam during the war, when you were 13. Your childhood was very much a 1960s childhood. How has your upbringing informed your politics and your spirituality?

Marianne: My childhood was very positive, indeed, for those two aspects of my life. My father was a deeply committed humanitarian. He was a fighter for social justice. He was spirited in the deepest sense.

He truly embodied the Judaic principle of tikkun olam, that we are here to repair the world. I grew up thinking that was what everybody was trying to do. God, in my childhood home, was a given. So, politically and spiritually, I think I was given a tremendous beginning.

My father’s politics were old-fashioned in the sense that he used to say, all the time, “You’ve got to fight the system!” But my spiritual beliefs have led me to believe that the fight is the problem.

So, I have had to evolve out of a fight mentality that I think I inherited from my father in regard to politics. On the other hand, I have to say he himself seemed to evolve past it quite a bit by the time he died.

Ray: Do you think there is something unique to your background in Judaism — to Jewish approaches to life, religion, and God — that has carried through to the work you do and the way you think about things?

Marianne: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. I have faith like a Jew. My conclusions, where I go with my thoughts, often go outside the box of traditional Jewish theology, specifically in regard to Christ. But the thought process by which I get there is Jewish to the core.

Ray: I’m ethnically Jewish, and I have to ask: How would you describe the Jewish thought process?

Marianne: First of all, I think the Jew takes God personally. Think of the character Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof having this ongoing conversation with God, like he’s talking to his therapist or something.

The Jew talks to God like he is sitting in the chair opposite you: “We’re going to have to have a serious conversation here, and in some areas I need to argue with you, because you clearly are not doing things right!”

That’s No. 1 — taking God very personally. It’s not an abstract. There is nothing abstract about the Jewish conversation with God. It is juicy. It is passionate. And it is, at times, combative.

No. 2: Judaism is very related to a historical tribal experience. There is no other religion based on a people — a literal genetic gene pool — the way ours is. Our historical experience has included profound persecution and resultant suffering.

As a consequence, the vast majority of Jews, and I am among them, are trained by our parents to always be on the side of the oppressed, because we were the ones oppressed in the past. We realize that at any time it could be us again if things don’t go well, and that has informed my political perspective.

The reason Dr. King and Gandhi have been so important in my life is because they fused the spiritual and the political passions that have come to mean so much to me personally.

I was brought up by my father with a great emphasis on political and social struggle, and yet I found as I emerged into my own adulthood that my deepest passion was spiritual. When I came to Dr. King and Gandhi’s writings, I felt like I had found nirvana. Here were people who fused the political, the social, and the spiritual and found their most righteous connection.

Someone said to Gandhi, “You are such a holy man. How can you be involved with politics?” And his response was, “Is not politics a part of dharma, too?”

For the new-consciousness community, this understanding is important. When I came out with the book The Healing of America in 1998, the new-consciousness community acted like I had committed a crime. What has she done? She has turned her back on the spiritual path.

The book was written in the context of asking what kind of spiritual perspective we could have in politics. But the reaction at that time from the community was that it held its apolitical stance as almost a sacred principle.

I am so happy that has begun to change. You are more likely now to go to a spiritual bookstore and see something like a call to sign a petition for this or that, for example. This change is good and important.

You earlier mentioned my blog. Did you notice the quote from Dr. King there about religion? I think it’s really amazing.

I wrote in my Web journal: “Many of us in our own day are seeking to balance, as he did, our spiritual and political passions.” Then I quoted from my book, The Healing of America: “On the last Sunday of January 1960, Dr. King resigned from his job as pastor of his Montgomery church. ‘On that day,’ wrote his biographer Stephen Oates, ‘King went from being a preacher with an interest in civil rights to a movement leader with a deep and abiding religious faith.’

“For years, King had struggled with the question of how far the religious person should go entering into worldly affairs and political dialogue. Ultimately, Dr. King felt he could not be true to his religious calling unless he were to make a stand for political change, because what he saw around him was unjustified and unnecessary human suffering.”

I then quoted Dr. King: “The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”

So, the new-consciousness movement needs to think about this, too. If we are just concerned about people’s souls, and we are not concerned about their materiality at all, then ultimately narcissism becomes a convenient option fairly easy to rationalize.

Ray: Did having and raising a child make you a more “real world” activist in your approaches, Marianne, because you wanted to make the world a better place for your daughter?

Marianne: I had an experience that probably is shared by many parents. When my daughter was born, I felt viscerally connected to generations before and after me in a way that took me by surprise.

I understood when I had a child that I am part of a river that passes the door of every generation in its time, but certainly did not start here and has no intention of stopping here.

So, yes, I think my great-great-great-great-grandchildren’s ability to breathe — and also what kind of world they live in — are very real concerns to me.

Ray: In your book The Gift of Change, you present the Margaret Mead quote about a small group of concerned citizens being the only thing that ever has effected change. Is the new-consciousness community the group to do it now? Then, also, is broadening the new-consciousness audience important?

Here’s what I mean: Much of the mind-body-spirit audience in the United States is female, white, and middle- to upper-class. Is it better for new-consciousness thinkers to market primarily to this core audience or to try and broaden and diversify the audience? The answer could even affect the way an author writes or speaks, depending on the audience he or she is trying to reach.

So, what does proselytizing mean for the mind-body-spirit community?

Marianne: That is a very important question, Ray, and it is a complicated one. It is a conundrum of sorts, isn’t it? Because, on the one hand, I think we all are attracted to the principle in Alcoholics Anonymous that says attraction, not promotion. But at the same time, we see the extraordinary influence that conservative, right-wing so-called Christianity has had on the country, and you can’t help but admire their marketing plan.

I think in the final analysis, though, we have to stay with our innocence. Gandhi said that the end is inherent in the means. The end does not justify the means. If we try to be someone we are not in order to achieve a result, then the result cannot help but be something other than what we intended.

I am reminded of a situation in my life back in the ’90s. A man came to me and said, “I came to hear you three years ago, and I thought you were the biggest fool and the biggest nutcase. But, now, three years later, after someone dear to me has been in recovery and I have had to go through so much myself, I come back to hear you, and I think you are such a wise woman. And I realize you are saying the same things you were saying three years ago. I so admire you for not changing your message to try to reach fools like me.”

Even though in my books I do have to modify certain language, simply because not everyone reading my books is an A Course in Miracles student, in terms of the philosophy I stick to my guns, as it were. While we might at one time or another choose stylistic changes in our community, I think it would be to the detriment of who we are and what we ultimately are trying to do if we in any way compromise our core values.

I’ve posted a variety of number of interview excerpts with Marianne Williamson (along with many other teachers) on this blog, and I invite you to explore some of my favorites:

Please leave comments with your thoughts, and if you like the posts please share them with your community by posting links on your own social media channels. You can visit Marianne Williamson’s website at www.marianne.com and follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/williamsonmarianne.

Thank you very much for visiting and for your interest. I truly appreciate it.

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