Marianne Williamson: America's Cults of Madness | Opinion

When on the debate stage during the Democratic presidential primary, I referred to the "dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred" that our president had unleashed among us. While I was mocked by nighttime talk show hosts and others for having said it, I'm not sure how anyone can look at phenomena such as the cult conspiracy theory QAnon and not consider that certain elements present in American politics today lie way beyond the purview of what anyone would consider normal.

By discounting even the mildest deviation from their prescribed languaging of events, our political and media establishment—elite rationalists that they are—present a conceptualization of QAnon that lacks any power to solve the problem because they don't recognize what the problem is. They don't recognize it because they can't see it, and they can't see it because they refuse to acknowledge that anything beyond the purely material factors of life are real.

Many of these elite rationalists go to therapy and take part in spiritual activities on a regular basis, thoroughly convinced that there are internal factors deeply operative in their personal experience. Yet when it comes to any acknowledgment that such factors work within groups of people, as well as individuals, there's a resistance to any political narrative that lies beyond their ability to articulate and thus their ability to control.

Cults like QAnon are not simply a political issue; first and foremost, they are a psychological issue. In truth, whole civilizations have been seized by bouts of collective psychosis throughout history. The Inquisition, the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide are prime examples. Although those horrific phenomena came to an end, the underlying forces from which they emerged have not been expunged from human consciousness. In fact, part of the problem is that, with the characteristic arrogance of the modern materialistic mind, too many have thought our civilization too "evolved" to have to worry about such things. Surely we're too advanced to fall collectively for mental madness, as long as rational thinking prevails. Oh, really? Are not some chinks in the armor beginning to appear?

Centuries ago, long before the birth of Sigmund Freud, mental health and mental dysfunction existed just as they do now. Yet our forebears didn't have psychological jargon with which to describe such inner realities; they simply called them angels and demons, both of which they saw as elements of the soul. Our political establishment has laughed off such notions with a psychological naïveté masquerading as intellectual sophistication. Yet our failure to deeply understand something doesn't mean that that something does not exist.

America's cults of madness are opportunistic infections, collective dysfunctions that have resulted from the sickness of our nation's psyche, or soul. But health is not an absence of sickness so much as sickness is an absence of health. To say our nation's soul needs healing is absolutely true, but it's not going to happen without a deeper understanding of what it means. The reason our nation's soul is sick is because it hasn't been healthy for a while. America doesn't just have a pandemic, a broken economy or a tyrannical president to deal with. We have a collective mental health issue that is hiding in plain sight.

A healthy soul is characterized by happiness, generosity toward self and others, expanded compassion, creativity and life-giving productivity. For those who wish to see ourselves and our fellow citizens living those words, and our society blessed and maintained by their existence, it's time to ask ourselves with brutal honesty: Is America organized politically, socially or economically to align with any of those things? Are the psychological principles that guide our nation's policies the stuff of a healthy soul? It is not enough to be reasonable. Reason disconnected from values can produce unreasonable results.

The same psychological principles that prevail within an individual's life prevail within the life of a nation. As ancients knew, matters of the psyche are matters of the soul, and a nation, just like an individual, has one. Chronic suffering is damaging to the soul, regardless where it came from. Numerous factors—despair, anxiety and fear experienced by millions of people on a regular basis as the direct and indirect results of our loveless, amoral economic organizing principles—have so destroyed our country's psychic immune system as to make opportunistic infections, such as cults of madness, simply to be expected.

Conspiracy Theorist QAnon Demonstrators
Conspiracy theorist QAnon demonstrators protest on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles on August 22. Kyle Grillot/AFP/Getty

Such things as QAnon, Nazism and cult followings of a nationalistic leader are hydra that cannot simply be cast away by our rationalistic notions of problem solving. Having had its head cut off, it is the very nature of a hydra to simply grow another two.

Only when we decide as a society to actively align our policies with the tenets of a healthy soul—putting kindness, love, mercy and compassion over cutthroat attitudes that put glorification of self over a commitment to the love that binds us as one, not only in our private behavior but in our political and economic behavior as well—will our wounded soul begin to heal itself. The truest thing that can be said about America's soul right now is that we have sold it. Our government has sold its soul. American capitalism has sold its soul. The false god of short-term corporate profit, feeding off the legitimization of greed and the financialization of almost every single thing, has made a petri dish of us, out of which has emerged the symptoms of our national sickness.

Yet the symptoms alone are not the deeper problem. It is their cause—our idolization of the things of the world over the things of spirit, our deference to money before our deference to love, our lack of reverence and the de-sacralization of nature—that has compromised our immune system and now threatens to destroy us. Each of us has a role to play in the healing of our nation's soul, from increasing our capacity for kindness, to committing to the collective and political changes that will realign our nation with the angels of our better nature. Until and unless we do so, the manifestations of collective fear will continue to grow and will possibly overwhelm us. The only real remedy is an awakening of the heart and the manifestations of collective love.

Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign. She is the author of 13 books, among them Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.