THE HEALING OF AMERICA
Simon & Schuster
366 pp., $24
It's fashionable today to write and talk about Americans' growing detachment from political life - something we all readily recognize and perhaps even share in.
It's more than a splash of cool water in the face, then, to come across this lucid appraisal of why such detachment is so unnatural and unacceptable for this society.
Marianne Williamson's latest book "The Healing of America" grabs one by the lapels and, particularly for anyone who shares her conviction of the spiritual nature of life, sets one thinking and moving in fresh ways. It is a prescription for tackling the country's political and social problems through spiritual regeneration. It offers a means to reinvigorate and transform political activism based on confidence in the power of prayer.
Williamson, the bestselling author of "A Return to Love," lectures widely on what she sees as the ongoing shift from materialism into an age of "scientific and spiritual consciousness." Her talks and writings reflect Judeo-Christian principles, but draw also on concepts of Eastern teachings based on her sense that God is speaking to all of us.
She has a vivid sense of America's purpose and founding principles, not as the savior of the world, but as having a responsibility to keep alive and active for everyone fundamental ideals that reflect a higher law. She presents a bold assessment of where we are falling short and of why we are reluctant to do much about it.
Williamson deals in specifics. She discusses at length unhealed issues that need to be faced (drugs and overmedication, money as an end, racial hatred, passivity toward injustice). In going back to founding principles, she refreshes our sense of the qualities that should characterize the political process instead of the current politics of negativity and discord. And she suggests definite steps to take to demonstrate prayer as an effective power in community life. There are even examples of prayers that can be offered in small groups gathered for political discussion and action.
It is clear that the writer herself comes from a liberal political background, and not all readers may agree with her depiction of some of the problems. But she values the contributions of both conservatives and liberals and points beyond labels for answers.
As moving as the review of founding principles is the consideration of how leaders such as Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. have applied the principles of individual regeneration of consciousness to social and political action.
Dr. King once said of Gandhi, "He was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful effective social force on a large scale." The expectation is not that we all become leaders of movements, but that we recognize that what transforms our individual lives can also transform our community, if correctly applied.
In urging this approach, Williamson is careful to distinguish between injecting religious views into politics and the spiritualization of thinking and action. One of the first principles she describes is the separation of church and state. She says: "Separating the state from undue influence of religious institutions should not be an impediment to the search for higher truth in the political arena. Spiritual understanding is a human need, not just a religious issue."