Marianne Williamson, Thoughts and Prayers, and the War on Spirituality

Stephanie Brail
Sep 6, 2019 · 9 min read

What’s going on in America? How could people be so mean to Marianne Williamson, of all people? Even if you disagree with her on issues, you have to admit, she’s generally nice. What gives?

In case you missed it, Williamson, one of the Democratic president candidates, has been under fire for her spiritual beliefs, and in particular, her tweet from September 4, 2019. She wrote:

I was born and raised in Texas so I’ve seen it. Millions of people today are praying that Dorian turn away from land, and treating those people with mockery or condescension because they believe it could help is part of how the overly secularized Left has lost lots of voters.

She has a point. I’m not sure why, but some militant atheists and secularists are on a vendetta against “thoughts and prayers” lately. The assumption is that people who are doing the thinking and praying are somehow also against donating money or taking direct action. Thus, the person who sends “thoughts and prayers” is often painted as a horrible hypocrite, without any evidence that they aren’t also helping in more tangible ways.

I have yet to see a scientific study backing these assumptions that people who deliver “thoughts and prayers” are otherwise do-nothings, but that’s the constant complaint. Ironic, coming from people who claim that nothing is true unless it is backed by a peer-reviewed double-blind rigorous case study published in a journal of repute.

I suspect that some of this criticism is aimed at people who believe in less government, but that doesn’t mean these alleged libertarian-minded prayer warriors don’t also donate or contribute in other ways. Regardless, “thoughts and prayers” has become a button for some people, and Marianne Williamson, who absolutely does believe in big government, is not immune.

One user (whose Twitter bio speaks of “compassion” saving us from one another) nastily responded to Williamson:

Lady-you need to realize that we are a world of science. While it is okay to believe in your whatever, it is shameful to think your “god” would decimate the Bahamas but spare the US because of prayers. Really? Your god sucks really bad for that. Shame on “it”.

Ah yes, science. A bit more on that later. It also appears this Twitterer has confused Williamson with an evangelical Christian. Not really. Williamson is more of the “We are all God” variety of spiritual seekers.

Marianne Williamson. Picture by Supearnesh.

Before I go on, Marianne Williamson was never my cup of new age tea. I’m not a believer in her foundational text, “A Course in Miracles,” nor am I a proponent of a literal Law of Attraction. (The Law of Attraction is a spiritual ideology that claims that everything that happens in your life is a result of your thinking and beliefs — the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s way over the top.)

I do think some of Williamson’s spiritual teachings (especially the Law of Attraction) are a bit overly simplistic, and I don’t follow them myself.

Still, I have been into my own bit of new age “woo woo” over the years. I’ve attended New Thought “spiritual centers” (notably, many years spent at Agape in Los Angeles, led by Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith of The Secret fame). I do think positive thinking can be very powerful, with some sensible limitations.

I’ve gone through various states of disillusionment with the idea of being a “spiritually powerful being,” but not enough to destroy my foundational belief that we are, in essence, spiritual, at our core. I also believe that the basic, underlying “force” that fuels everything in existence is consciousness, and nothing in modern physics actually conflicts with that belief.

Believing in consciousness, God, or prayer doesn’t make you stupid, wacky, or worthy of derision. And yet, that’s more and more of what our culture is coming to, which is a shame at best, and alarming at worst.

The New Religion: Modern Day Scientism

Unfortunately, a new atheism has sprouted up in the last decade or two that is arrogant, intolerant, and downright nasty to anyone who doesn’t believe the new dogma. Please understand me, I’m not against atheists — I have close family members and friends who are atheist and/or agnostic, and they are some of the nicest, kindest, most thoughtful people you’d ever meet.

I’m not talking that type of atheist. I’m talking about the rigid, evangelical atheist who wants to convert everyone to their non-religion and silence all those who believe differently. Those atheists are the scary ones. If they had their way, they’d ban all religion from the public square, and I daresay some of them would remove children from homes that taught religious beliefs to the family. Maybe they’d even lock the parents up for “child abuse.”

Lately, these militant secularists have decided to take up “Science” with a capital S as their Bible. And they are declaring war on spirituality and all things holistic.

I’m not anti-science in the least. But, science was always meant as an open-ended exploration, not a dead-end set of old dogmas. The new Scientists are all about being closed-minded and reductionist instead of exploratory in their thinking. They are actually anti-science, but don’t realize it.

Each scientific “dogma” is not a dogma at all, but a theory, which is open to be disproven by a future theory. That is the basis of science, and it amazes me how many faith-hating Scientists can’t understand this basic tenet of their chosen “religion.”

And science is only beginning to understand the nature of consciousness and what really fuels our underlying reality.

The Power of Prayer and Positive Thinking

Let’s talk then, about this “dubious” idea that prayer and positive thinking can affect the real world.

I could point you to various studies — and likely, the “Scientists” would try to debunk said consciousness and prayer studies as not being “rigorous enough,” instead of being open to more studies being done to explore these ideas. But sufficed to say, we have some evidence that “consciousness” or “thought and prayers” can have a positive effect — on people at least. If you pray for a sick person, you can apparently help them heal. If you are sick and use positive thinking yourself, you are much more likely to get well.

This isn’t to say that you can pray and suddenly your cancer disappears overnight. But, you have a better chance of beating cancer with thoughts and prayers. I personally know a faith healer who had serious stage 4 cancer and who believes she is in remission due to her powerful prayer practice.

Modern mainstream science acknowledges the “placebo effect” for a reason — it exists. And that placebo effect is a known, but unexplained, phenomenon, recognized by modern science, that proves that a person’s beliefs have a tremendous impact on their personal health.

Score one or “thoughts and prayers.”

But what about group thoughts?

I hate using quantum physics as an argument, since so many new age people don’t understand it and abuse it to justify all sorts of wild beliefs. That said, that “the observer” affects the quantum state of that which is being observed is evidence that consciousness underlies reality.

Thus, could group consciousness affect reality?

Why not? Especially if we are living in an elaborate computer simulation as some scientists have speculated.

Late-night radio legend Art Bell, RIP

Thus, when it comes to groups of people impacting something such as a hurricane with their thoughts and prayers, I believe it is possible. Having been an on-and-off listener to the late-night paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM since the days of Art Bell, I know of many such experiments they did on air — to some genuinely spooky results.

The problem is, group consciousness experiments are potentially fraught with peril — and that’s why Coast to Coast AM radio show hosts have over time become very cautious with them. Why? Because of unintended consequences.

If group consciousness can affect reality, it is entirely possible that the collective power of millions of Americans wishing Hurricane Dorian away from Florida had the unintended consequence of keeping it over the Bahamas longer than it would have otherwise.

I’m not saying that’s what happened. But denying the potential power of thoughts due to an outcome you don’t like isn’t really logical. Sorry, just because bad stuff happens, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist or people don’t have souls. Maybe God really is a jerk, I don’t know, but you can’t make an argument that God doesn’t exist simply because you perceive him as acting like a jerk.

So, it’s possible that thoughts and prayers saved Florida. Maybe the Bahamas was destined to get hit either way, and the thoughts and prayers just didn’t work for the islands. Maybe the computer simulation we may be living in has restrictions or variables we don’t know about.

I’m not saying that it’s likely that group thought pushed away a category 5 hurricane. I’m just open to the idea.

Positive Thoughts Can Be Empowering

What truly bugs me about all this “thoughts and prayers” naysaying is that it covers up an underlying disempowerment of people.

While I am not sure about the power of group thought, I am 100% behind the power of positive thinking when it comes to people helping themselves. I’m not saying that you should ignore reality, but positive thinking is definitely more helpful than being an Eeyore in life.

Sadly, even this bland idea is being torn apart by curmudgeonly skeptics in the media. I was shocked when I read a scathing editorial in the Salt Lake City Tribune of all places, claiming that Marianne Williamson was too much like Trump because they both have — gasp! — positive thinking fueling them:

But Williamson has more in common with Trump than she — and indeed many voters — might admit, and it’s not just that both have used personal celebrity as a springboard into politics. At their core, both are also prime representatives of one of the most important and formative spiritual trends in American life: the notion that we can transform our material circumstances through faith in our personal willpower.

Wow. Seriously? And that’s a bad thing, because…? The article really doesn’t answer that question other than conflating positive thinking in general with Trump doing what all politicians do either overtly or otherwise: inflate their accomplishments.

Worse, Williamson’s now being accused of having “wrong” beliefs about medicine, since she is against compulsory vaccines (how dare she!) and suggested that anti-depressants, which have a friggin’ black-box warning label about increasing suicidal ideation on them, may have caused some celebrity suicides.

For this wrong-think, she is being called crazy and criticized for believing in “quackery.”

I’m not sure what has happened, since being on the left used to be all about positive thinking, spirituality, and higher consciousness. Being outside the mainstream. You know, like, hippies. If all that empowering spirituality is thrown out, what do we have to replace it? A lot of victimhood, blame, and anger, for starters. No wonder our country is so divided and angry.

Positive Thinking Can Be 100% Secular

Here’s the rub: Positive psychology doesn’t have to have any foundation in spirituality whatsoever to be useful and helpful to people. I should know, as I have had a ton of life coach training which promotes positive psychology in a secular sense.

You can be a proponent of positive thinking and still be an atheist. You can make it about science. You can focus on neuroplasticity and amygdala retraining. You can base positive thinking in reality without going overboard and trying to direct weather patterns with your mind.

By using scientific methods to retrain the brain, you can potentially improve your physical health or even avoid the use of medications for mental health. So, is Williamson still a quack for suggesting that pills may not always be needed for depression and anxiety? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy isn’t woo-woo — it’s mainstream psychiatric science — look it up. It works!

In short, positive thinking (at least for individuals) can be beneficial on a completely materialistic level with no soul needed whatsoever to explain it.

Throwing out all speculation about the existence of group consciousness aside, “thoughts and prayers” are good things, even for atheists. An atheist who thinks more positively about themselves and the world is going to be more empowered, healthier, and probably more productive. Everyone who uses positive thinking wisely — without denying reality but responding to it with grace — will do better in the world.

So, Scientists. You may not believe that prayers have power, but try positive thinking sometime. It might just make your life a little better.

Mindful Life

Perspectives and information on spirituality, holistic health, mindfulness, and life in general.

Stephanie Brail

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Mindful Life

Perspectives and information on spirituality, holistic health, mindfulness, and life in general.

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