New Age self-help guru, woo promoter, conspiracy theorist, author and “spiritual advisor” to Oprah Winfrey. She also got quite a bit of attention for being one of the candidates in the 2020 Democratic primaries, where she became something of a well-deserved laughing stock. It was actually not her first attempt to run for office – in 2014, she also tried to run for the US House of Representatives. Both attempts to run for office were motivated in part by the vague, fluffy and not entirely coherent belief that the United States needs a moral and spiritual awakening. Though not all her views on politics may be unreasonable – that said, she ran mostly on a platform of gesturing and preciously few concrete policy plans – Williamson is particularly notable for her “problematic” (stupid) views on vaccines and various New Age bullshit, often promoted under the guise of anti-corporatist and anti-elite sentiments.
New Age nonsense
Williamson’s career in the New Age movement was launched with her book A Return to Love, which was largely a commentary and endorsement of a 1976 book of alleged channelings known as A Course in Miracles (also here). She has subsequently written numerous books, earning her the title “the high priestess of pop religion”. She is, at the very least, one of the major proponents of New Thought.
A central element in Williamson’s teachings – and New Thought beliefs in general – has been the non-denominational version of the prosperity gospel beliefs: (variations over) the law of attraction. In her 2012 book The Law of Divine Compensation it was formulated as: “To whatever extent your mind is aligned with love, you will receive divine compensation for any lack in your material existence. From spiritual substance will come material manifestation. This is not just a theory; it is a fact.” so there. After all, she can state that it’s a fact because the whole point of the idea is that you can make claims true by asserting them.
Other pieces of wisdom offered by Williamson include:
- “Just beneath the surface, this isn’t politics it’s black magic. Entirely a psychic battle. Use your shield of Virtue and your sword of Truth”
- “disease is loveless thinking materialized” (Williamson is understandably cagey about what she means by that, but it is false no matter how you parse it)
- “Everyone feels on some level like an alien in this world, because we ARE. We come from another realm of consciousness, and long for home.”
- “God is BIG, swine flu SMALL. See every cell of your body filled with divine light. Pour God’s love on our immune systems. Truth protects,” in connection with the H1N1 pandemic
- “Yin is feminine, earth; yang is masculine, sky. When God is seen as He, the soul is seen as She. Just archetypes. Spirit impregnates soul.”
- “A wisdom culture is emerging from the imaginal cells of a disintegrating individualistic society. We’re pregnant with the possible world.”
- “Every soul on earth is pregnant now with a new possibility. Do you have the courage to face your fear and give it birth within yourself?” (Strange references to pregnancy is a recurring feature in Williamson’s words of wisdom.)
When launching her presidential campaign, Williamson said that “I want this to be a campaign for people who are ready to be deep thinkers. These are very serious times. We need deep thinking,” thus effectively warning potential voters to pick a different candidate.
Williamson is anti-vaccine. And yes, we will repeat it: Marianne Williamson is antivaccine. And that is the case even if she often sometimes across as merely moderately sympathetic to the movement to those who don’t recognize the dogwhistles.
Officially, Williamson believes that vaccine mandates are “Orwellian” and “draconian” and has compared vaccine mandates to abortion, saying that the mandates interfere with what people want to do with their bodies. “Personal choice” is, of course, a standard call from anti-vaccinationists, who tend not to focus on the fact that it is their children they don’t vaccinate nor on the immunocompromised members of their societies – in short that the personal choice not to vaccinate is more analogous to the personal choice to drunk drive with your kids unsecured in the back seat.
Williamson has, on numerous occasions, tried to suggest she was walking back her anti-vaccine remarks, but they keep popping up. In 2019, for instance, she claimed that vaccines require further safety studies and raised concerns about something she called “neurons-toxins” (you might think she meant “neurotoxins”, but vaccines don’t contain any of those). She also vowed that, as president, she’d order the CDC to establish “an independent commission to review/reform vaccine safety,” being apparently blithely unaware of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee.
She has earlier stated that “I understand the controversial aspects of vaccinations, and I share many of the concerns” (2011) and that she believes that the “skepticism” is healthy (2015) and that while vaccines do protect against measles, she is rather concerned about the “overload” of vaccines (know your dogwhistle!). She also claimed that Big Pharma apparently covers up results of studies of vaccines they don’t like and that vaccines are currently not being independently tested (utterly false), and she has elsewhere suggested that there is a link between vaccines and an (imaginary) worsening of health among American kids: Indeed, Williamson claimed that the incidence of chronic disease in children has risen to “54%”. That’s false, but what is particularly telling is that the figure comes from antivaxxer Robert Kennedy, Jr’s Children’s Health Defense (Williamson stated that she was JAQing off over the causes of those putative numbers, but immediately continued to talk about vaccines, even though vaccines couldn’t have been the cause even if the figure had been correct; here is a discussion of how Kennedy arrived at the figure. The figure is not correct). Moreover, Williamson has suggested that the existence of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program shows that vaccines are unsafe.
Of course, you might claim that she is just pandering to the antivaccine crowd, not necessarily sharing their beliefs. Which really doesn’t matter. Pandering to the antivaccine crowd makes you antivaccine – whether you share their beliefs in your heart’s heart or not is pretty fucking irrelevant (though evidence is, for the record, pretty strong that Williamson does share them and is just desperately trying to come across as reasonable – no one likes being called “anti-vaccine”). We’ll also include a dishonorable mention to Faye Flam for her clueless defenseof Williamson’s antivaccine views.
Other forays into denialism and pseudoscience
Williamson has called for a ban on glyphosate, claiming that it can cause cancer (no, there is no evidence that shows such a link) and, to frame it as anti-corporatism, that the use of glyphosate helps Monsanto, whose patent on glyphosate expired in 2000.
She is also a GMO denialist, and has for instance linked to the anti-GMO conspiracy organization Center for Food Safety. In addition, Williamson has dismissed antidepressant drugs as “medicalization” of normal sadness (“a normal spectrum of human despair, normal human despair, which traditionally was seen as the purview of spirituality and religion”), and suggested that her New Age wellness advice is much better. There is an illuminating analysis of Williamson’s anti-psychiatry rhetoric here and her disease-denialist rhetoric in general here.
According to herself, she isn’t anti-science, though: “I am not anti-science (that one is almost funny, given how much I quote Einstein).” Of course, as JoeWV points out, “[q]uoting Einstein doesn’t make you pro-science but accusing all of western world’s universities, doctors, hospitals, governments and scientific organizations of being bribed by pharmaceutical companies is what makes you anti-science.” What is true, though, is that Williamson does have a long history of spreading fake quotes attributed to Einstein.
During her 2020 presidential nominee run, many of her more idiotic quotes were brought to light. Williamson herself often responded by claiming that they were taken out of context, so here we will present a few in context:
- “In the traditional Western medical model, a healer’s job is to attack disease. But if the consciousness of attack is the ultimate problem, how could it be the ultimate answer? A miracle worker’s job is not to attack illness, but rather to stimulate the natural forces of healing. We turn our eyes away from sickness to the love that lies beyond it.”
- “God is all that is good. He creates only love, therefore he did not create sickness. Sickness is an illusion and does not actually exist. It is part of our worldly dream, our self-created nightmare. Our prayer to God is that He awaken us from the dream.”
- “When a child presents a cut finger to his or her mother, the woman doesn’t say, ‘Bad cut.’ Rather, she kisses the finger, showers it with love in an unconscious, instinctive activation of the healing process. Why should we think differently about critical illness? Cancer and AIDS and other serious illnesses are physical manifestations of a psychic scream, and their message is not ‘Hate me,’ but ‘Love me’.”
The picture her critics painted of her as an idiot offering grifts and nonsense to people in difficult situations is, in other words, accurate. There is a good analysis of some of the dangers associated with Williamson’s ideas here.
Diagnosis: To some extent, at least, a love-and-fluff version of Donald Trump, complete with post-truth rhetoric, denialism and New Thought bullshit. We won’t say she’s “as dangerous as Trump”, but she’s pretty damn dangerous.