Episode 47: Marianne Williamson and A Course in Miracles

This episode covers Democratic primary candidate Marianne Williamson and the primary source of her new age beliefs: A Course in Miracles.

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Before A Course in Miracles [1] [2]

Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford worked together in the psychology department of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.Before A Course in Miracles, neither was spiritual, Schucman explicitly describing herself as “atheistic in belief”.

Their working relationship was marred by their conflicting personalities. Schucman was critical and judgmental while Thetford was quiet and passive-aggressive. By the spring of 1965, Thetford was fed up and told Schucman that “there must be another way” of living, without all the acrimony between themselves and their colleagues in the psychology department. Despite her overly-critical personality, Schucman agreed with Thetford and was willing to collaborate him to figure out just how to do this, to live and work in harmony.

Schucman Hears Jesus [1] [2]

After deciding to collaborate with Thetford on this new way of living, Schucman began experiencing changes in her mental life. She began to experience, “heightened dream imagery, psychic episodes, visions, and an experience of an inner voice.” These new experiences took a religious turn, and Jesus himself appeared in both visual and auditory experiences.

Then, on October 21st, 1965, Schucman’s life changed forever when Jesus spoke to her in her mind’s ear and said,

This is a course in miracles, please take notes.

Thinking she was losing her mind, Schucman called Thetford. He told her that she definitely wasn’t losing her mind and that she should do what the voice asked and to begin dictating what the voice was telling her. Those dictations would eventually become A Course in Miracles. Schucman later described what it was like to hear this voice and the dictation process,

The Voice made no sound, but seemed to be giving me a kind of rapid, inner dictation which I took down in a shorthand notebook. The writing was never automatic. It could be interrupted at any time and later picked up again. It made obvious use of my educational background, interests and experience, but that was in matters of style rather than content. Certainly the subject matter itself was the last thing I would have expected to write about.

Over the next seven years, Schucman would dictate what the Voice told her and Thetford would type it out. These seven years produced not only the main text, but also the Workbook for Students and the Manual for Teachers.

So, what is it? [3]

Although A Course in Miracles is explicitly Christian (being a dictation of Jesus, after all), it deals with “universial spiritual themes.” There is also something of a warning about the contents of the book in the Workbook for Students,

Some of the ideas the workbook presents you will find hard to believe, and others may seem to be quite startling. This does not matter. You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do. You are not asked to judge them at all. You are asked only to use them. It is their use that will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true.

Remember only this; you need not believe the ideas, you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist. None of this will matter, or decrease their efficacy. But do not allow yourself to make exceptions in applying the ideas the workbook contains, and whatever your reactions to the ideas may be, use them. Nothing more than that is required.

What it says [4]

A Course in Miracles has a very brief introduction,

This is A Course in Miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time. The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. 

It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite. This Course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way:

Nothing real can be threatened.

Nothing unreal exists.

Herein lies the peace of God.

This introduction nicely captures the main divide in A Course in Miracles: knowledge versus perception. What is true is the law of love or God. This truth is eternal, unchangeable, and “unambiguous”. It is applicable to everything God created, and only what God created is real. It also can’t be learned because “it is beyond time and process”.

It has no opposite; no beginning and no end. It merely is.

Time, change, beginnings, and endings belong to the world of perception. In other words, the world of illusion.

It is the world of birth and death, founded on the belief in scarcity, loss, separation, and death. It is learned rather than given, selective in its perceptual emphases, unstable in its functioning, and inaccurate in its interpretations.

Knowledge Versus Perception: Two World Views [4]

In the perceptual world live the belief in opposites, as well as separate wills that are conflicting with themselves and God. This contrasts with the world of knowledge, where there is only the Will of God, which he shares with his creation. So all thoughts are really the thoughts of this Will.

Despite knowledge being knowledge, perception is very appealing because only what the perceiver accepts is allowed into perception. But despite this appeal, this “world of illusions” must be defended constantly from criticism because, after all, it is not real!

When you have been caught in the world of perception you are caught in a dream.

How God Helps Us [4]

So how do we escape the dream that is the perceptual world? Simple: God. God knows about the illusions but does not believe in them. He is thus able to help us unlearn our mistakes through His great learning aid: Forgiveness.

You may wonder what forgiveness has to do with the errors of perception. These ideas are connected because “projection makes perception”. What we see is merely our interpretation of...what we see. Our interpretation is fueled by our anger and lovelessness. Thus we see a world of evil. In fact sin just is “lack of love”. Thus sin “is a mistake to be correct, rather than an evil to be punished.”

By embracing forgiveness, we can unlearn our anger and fear, and thus change our perception. Forgiving ourselves allows us to see ourselves as what we are: created by God and an indivisible part of God. Once freed of sin and the corresponding “scarcity principle”, minds can “really” join together and with God. 

The Self That God created needs nothing. It is forever complete, safe, loved, and loving.

But the “special relationships” with our family, friends, and coworkers, relations tarnished by sin and our faulty perceptions, can serve as lessons for forgiveness, transforming these relationships into something Holy.

What the body is up to [4]

The body, when it is caught up in the perceptual world, only allows the body’s ears and eyes to be used for awareness. But really the body is a vessel for the intentions of the mind. If the mind is mired in sin, “it becomes prey to sickness, age, and decay.” But if the mind instead aligns itself with God’s will, “it becomes a useful way of communicating with others, invulnerable as long as it is needed, and to be gently laid by when its use is over.”

When one is aligned with the purpose of the Holy Spirit, one see’s not with one’s eyes but via the vision of Christ. One does not hear with one’s ears but through the voice of God.

It is the one correction for all errors of perception; the reconciliation of the seeming opposites on which this world is based. Its kindly light shows all things from another point of view, reflecting the thought system that arises from knowledge and making return to God not only possible but inevitable. What was regarded as injustices done to one by someone else, now becomes a call for help and for union. Sin, sickness, and attack are seen as misperceptions calling for remedy through gentleness and love. Defenses are laid down because where there is no attack there is no need for them. Our brothers’ needs become our own, because they are taking the journey with us as we go to God. Without us they would lose their way. Without them we could never find our own.

Of course we don’t need forgiveness in heaven; they haven’t made the mistake of playing around in the perceptual world. But us humans are really into the perceptual world, so we need all the forgiveness we can get.

A Course in Miracles Version of the Lord’s Prayer [1]

Forgive us our illusions, Father, and help us to accept our true relationship with You, in which there are no illusions, and where none can ever enter. Our holiness is Yours. What can there be in us that needs forgiveness when Yours is perfect? The sleep of forgetfulness is only the unwillingness to remember Your forgiveness and Your Love. Let us not wander into temptation, for the temptation of the Son of God is not Your Will. And let us receive only what You have given, and accept but this into the minds which You created and which You love. Amen.

Don’t Forget the Machine [5] [6]

Schucman’s career in dictation did not end with A Course in Miracles. Amongst her prodigious output are the Notes on Sound, which describe an electronic device to heal people. How does it work? According to the document,

It does not matter in what part of the body the healing takes place, nor by what means it is brought about. From the theoretical point of view, it can be said that healing can only be the result of a change of mind which now accepts healing where it formerly accepted sickness. The change of mind alters the thought field. around the patient, which seems to represent the place where he is. These changes cannot be different for a healing presumably brought about by medication, surgery, or faith. Healing can only be faith healing for sickness can only be faith in sickness.

Robert Skutch, who wrote a history of A Course in Miracles, says that these notes were shown to “eminent scientists”. Sadly, none of them could make heads or tails of it. 

Marianne Williamson

The Early Years [7]

Marianne Williamson grew up in Houston, the youngest of three children of Sam and Sophie Ann Williamson. From an early age, Williamson was surrounded by an eclectic range of spiritual books. Her brother Peter mentions Thomas Aquinas, the Qu’ran, and a Hebrew New Testament as examples. 

By the time she was 3, she already had a personal relationship with God. Her mother Sophie Ann says, 

When she was a baby of 3 or so, I would come in to kiss her goodnight. Half the time she’d be sitting in her bed with her eyes closed and her little hands clasped under her chin, and she’d say, ‘Go away, Mommy, I’m talking to God.’

When not rejecting her mother in favor of the Holy Spirit, Williamson would make sadly misogynistic speculations about the lack of success of famous women.

I used to do a lot of pretending I was Eleanor Roosevelt," Williamson says, remembering how she wondered if the First Lady's homeliness diminished her impact as a committed humanitarian. "I kept thinking, 'Could makeup have made a difference?'

The Drifting Years [7]

Marianne Williamson graduated from Houston’s Bellaire High School and attended Pomona College, majoring in philosophy and theater. Lynda Obst, her roomate at the time, noted her habits at the time,

Marianne was always picking up stray mystics. A part of her was always looking for something electric in life.

After two years of college, Williamson decided to move cross-country to New York City to become a cabaret singer. Albert Goldman, a writer who has written biographies of Elvis and John Lennon, employed Williamson as a secretary at this time and said she was,

a sweet, warmhearted girl. She was incapable of figuring out what she should do. And she was crying all the time.

When Williamson finished crying, she moved back across the country to San Francisco, persuing interests in Zen, meditation, and the Ouija board. Boyfriend and musician John Timothy said,

She had a theatrical intensity. If she didn't like something, she hated it. If she felt betrayed, it was something out of Ibsen.

Williamson then moved back to Houston in 1979, ran a metaphysical bookstore, married a dude she refused to talk about, and sand Gershwin standards in a Houston nightclub. By 1983, Williamson was unemployed and without prospects. But she moved to Los Angeles, and began her real career.

The Lecture Circuit [7]

Once in Los Angeles, Marianne Williamson began lecturing at the Philosophical Research Society, her main source of inspiration being ACIM. Her lectures soon included “a trendy amalgam of Christianity, Buddhism, pop psychology, and 12-step recovery wisdom.” These included “Romantic Delusions” and “The Fear of Abandonment.” Actress Therea Russel explains Williamson’s appeal in those days.

You don't have to give up your whole existence in order to lead a spiritual life. You can be 'semi-enlightened.' That's sort of the message she's talking about.

Williamson’s Approach to Lectures [7]

Williamson has been known to switch from airy-fairy to pragmatic, even in the same lecture. At a lecture at the Manhattan Center for Living, she quietly told the audience,

 I want you to close your eyes. We see a golden temple, and inside that temple is an inner light. We are in that light, joined together in the presence of God.

At that same lecture, a man told her that he was being deported because of an expired visa and didn’t think he could re-enter the US because his boyfriend was HIV-positive. Williamson took a very different approach to this question.

What you need is a good immigration lawyer. Pray to God to send you one right away.

It is perhaps this kind of hard-nosed tactic which led Marianne Williamson to refer to herself as, “the bitch for God”. 

The Return to Love [5]

Williamson’s fame reached catastrophic proportions with the publication of her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course In Miracles. Oprah Winfrey herself announced that she had given away 1,000 copies, and this publicity shot the book to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. As can be imagined, the book uses the word “love” a lot. Martin Gardner claims that the word appears more than a thousand times in the book.

We are all part of a vast sea of love

Love is a win-mode

Only love is real. Nothing else actually exists

Love is to people what water is to plants.

But “love” isn’t the only word Williamson uses. She has plenty of fun phrases in her book.

We are pregnant with possibilities.

Nothing occurs outside our minds.

If God is seen as electricity, then we are his lamps.

Gray clouds never last forever. The blue sky does.

Time does not exist.

We're always perfect. We can't not be.

Sickness is an illusion and does not actually exist.

Marianne Williamson also has a strategy for dealing with that whole pesky Jesus thing. As mentioned above, Schucman was explicit that the voice she was dictating belonged to Jesus. He identified himself “in no uncertain terms”. Schucman even left her name off the book to make sure everyone knew it was written by “the true author, Jesus”.

But a lot of hippy-dippy New Agers aren’t comfortable with taking on an explicitly Christian doctrine. A lot of the doctrine itself, as explained above, isn’t particularly Christian, so it would be nice if we could someone take Jesus out of the picture. Enter Williamson. In The Return of Love she explains that Jesus isn’t a person, but a metaphor for the love inside of us. When the Bible talks about Jesus healing lepers, what this really means is that the lepers were healed because, 

Jesus did not believe in leprosy.

What about reincarnation? Well, probably not, because death is one of those illusions. In fact,

We have been alive forever. We will be alive forever more.

Since you have to die to be reincarnated, and you never die, then you are never reincarnated. But this might not be right because although we live forever that doesn’t mean we stay in the same body forever,

The end of our physical incarnation is like the end of a chapter, on some level setting up the beginning of another.

But then Marianne Williamson quotes A Course in Miracles, which throws another wrench into the reincarnation works,

Reincarnation cannot, then, be true in any real sense because there is no linear time. If we have past lives, or future lives, then they're all happening at once.

So you’ve been alive forever, but not in your physical body, and all the times you are alive forever are happening all at once.

What about heaven? Perhaps you go to heaven once you leave your physical incarnation. But A Course in Miracles says this is wrong,

Heaven is here. There is nowhere else. Here is now. There is no other time … Heaven is not a place.... It is merely the awareness of perfect oneness, and the knowledge that there is nothing else; nothing outside this awareness, and nothing within.

But Williamson herself seems to think heaven IS a place, and there are even Angels in heaven,

Angels are the thoughts of God and in Heaven you will think like angels.

In her book A Return to Love, Williamson wrote that “sickness is an illusion and does not exist,” and that “cancer and AIDS and other physical illnesses are physical manifestations of a psychic scream.” 

The Incidents [7]

But due to some of her behaviors, it might be the case that Marianne Williamson isn’t the only one using the moniker “Bitch from God”. One example was a speech Williamson gave for Divine Design, a charity for AIDS. Before she takes the podium, she spends some time haranguing the AV crew. 

Excuse me! Excuse me! What was that! I told you!

Apparently she was referring to the slide show of AIDS victims, which wasn’t “uplifting” enough.

Her micromanagement of the event was also blamed for the auction missing its $2 million goal, only raising $725,000. Among the added costs was air-conditioning for the airport hangar the event was held in. This does not appear to be an isolated event. According to former employees and associates,

Williamson's offstage displays of temper and unchecked ego, as well as a cruelly abrasive management style, are alienating her allies, giving credibility to her detractors and, most damaging of all, beginning to undermine the basis of financial support for her legitimate—and vital—charity work.

Marianne is a tyrant. She's cruel—unnecessarily—and very controlling," says one former associate. "It doesn't mean that her works aren't great. They are. But her own ego is going to destroy her.

She has also rankled colleagues and employees. She dismissed most of the board members of the Manhattan Center for Living after a religious disagreement. The 20 member staff of Center for Living “rebelled” after Williamson fired the fourth director in five years. Some employees are even unionizing in order to “protect themselves from Williamson’s bad-tempered caprices.”.

Marianne's ego is all over the place," says a worker at the L.A. Center for Living, who wishes to remain anonymous. "When she's mad, it's like watching a 3-year-old throw a tantrum. I've seen her reduce a volunteer worker to tears and swearing that he'd never come back.

One board director, Regina Hoover, went on medical leave with Williamson’s permission in order to undergo a double mastectomy. But shortly after her surgery, she was fired and forced to negotiate the terms of her medical insurance for months afterwards.

And like a certain President of the United States, she has had some run ins with the media. The LA Times wrote a critical story, and an individual donor and corporate donor have ceased their donations because of it. Many volunteers with Williamson’s Project Angel Food organization had to be persuaded to not quit over the bad publicity. Marianne Williamson herself made clear what her employee’s approach to reporters ought to be,

You're f—ing with my livelihood. I'm famous—I don't need this, damn it!

Even her backers get this treatment. She tried to get a backer, Sandy Gallin, to introduce her to Dolly Parton and Shirley MacLaine at a Hollywood party. Gallin teased her with a mock, sing-song version of an introduction, “Dolly, this is Marianne. Shirley, this is Marianne.” Williamson’s response to this teasing?

Fuck off, Sandy!

Williamson’s Response [7]

Williamson admits that maybe her interpersonal skills could use some work.

Nobody at my lectures ever hears me say, 'I'm perfect.’ Am I dramatic at times? Yes. But are my instincts usually right? Yes. If I was a man, I'd be considered a good leader.

What about her penchant for firing employees willy-nilly?

People don't get fired because of Marianne's capricious ways or hormones. It's absolutely inaccurate to say that if Marianne doesn't like someone, they're out of here.

Sources

[1] The Scribing of ACIM • Foundation for Inner Peace: Publisher of A Course in Miracles (ACIM)

[2] How It Came into Being • Foundation for Inner Peace: Publisher of A Course in Miracles (ACIM)

[3] What It Is • Foundation for Inner Peace: Publisher of A Course in Miracles (ACIM)

[4] What It Says • Foundation for Inner Peace: Publisher of A Course in Miracles (ACIM)

[5] “Marianne Williamson and A Course in Miracles” by Martin Gardner

[6] Notes on Sound

[7] “The Divine Miss W” by Susan Schindehette



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