Do Christians care if ‘Noah’ movie jibes with the Bible? Survey says … yep




LOS ANGELES –  Paramount Studios has poured an estimated $125 million into the production of “Noah,” casting big names like Emma Watson and Russell Crowe, and trusting their baby to Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky. But six weeks ahead of its theatrical release, concern is brewing that the flick may not be popular with Christians at the box office.

Faith Driven Consumer – a movement connecting Christian consumers with companies compatible with a biblical worldview – issued the results of an online survey, first published in Variety, that indicated a whopping 98 percent of faith-driven consumers are “unsatisfied with (the) Bible-themed movie which strays from Biblical message.” The report suggested that “Noah” could thus face “commercial challenges.”

“We gave participants a strong contextual understanding, and many found that the point-of-view the film seems to take is significantly different than what is in the Bible,” Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone told FOX411, adding that his intention was not to tell Hollywood what type of film they should or shouldn’t make. “98 percent indicated this did not meet their needs. This doesn’t mean they’re mad at the film, it just doesn’t appeal to them.”

According to Stone, the information about “Noah” presented to those participating in the survey included press reports about a focus group’s reaction to an early cut of the movie, as well as “Noah” trailers and marketing materials.

Stone said the survey got more than 5,000 responses.

It also got a big response from Paramount.

The studio issued a release staying the survey question did not contain any reference to the film “Noah” and argued that other statistics cast a much rosier picture for the film. According to Paramount, Nielsen’s National Research Group has defined the film as “very religious,” and found that 83 percent of those aware of “Noah” want to see it.

Variety magazine, however, rejected Paramount’s claim that the Faith Driven Consumer survey wasn’t based on “Noah,” and quoted Stone saying as much.

The controversy has led many to question exactly who the film is trying to reach, and if it will bomb without support from Christian moviegoers.

Bob Waliszewski, director of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In ministry, said if the film strays too far from scripture, there could be trouble brewing for Paramount.

“Some Christians will go if only out of curiosity. But whether the Christian community by and large goes has to do with how respectful and how accurate Aronofsky’s film is,” he explained. “First rule of thumb in filmmaking is to at least be respectful, and if this retelling is done in a way that is anti-biblical, Christians won’t relate, and Paramount could have a big money loser on its hands.”

Since early drafts of the script were leaked a couple of years ago, “Noah” has been plagued by suggestions that it portrayed the famous flood as a punishment for man’s disrespect for the nature, as opposed to sins against God. Last year, sources attached to the production told FOX411 that tensions had risen in the editing room, with Paramount wanting to make a more biblically-accurate film, while filmmaker Aronofsky had different ideas.

Others argue that box office returns for the film, which is slated to open March 28, will depend more on the quality of the content rather than the Christian turnout.

“It is commonplace for Hollywood to change stories for dramatic effect or impact,” said Ken Wisnefski, Founder/CEO of internet marketing company WebiMax. “I do know people were less than excited by the trailer that debuted at the Super Bowl and in turn, the fact that the movie may not be all that good would hurt its box office take… not the fact that Christians in mass are avoiding it.”

And Brian Godawa, Hollywood screenwriter and author of the Amazon bestselling Biblical fantasy novel “Noah Primeval” said he wouldn’t count the Christian community out just yet.

“Christians are more open minded than many secularists who refuse to go to movies that they believe are Christian in their message. They can discern the good from the bad and appreciate entertainment,” he added. “The problem comes if the movie is offensive to their ‘sacred story,’ that is, if they feel that the meaning has been turned into an agenda for another worldview or belief system than the Bible.”



Silver hoop earrings found among ancient treasure in Biblical city

By Owen Jarus

Digging History

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    The jug with treasure was found just to the north of a “massive structure,” as the researchers call it, which may be a tower overlooking a valley. (ROBERT MULLINS/AZUSA PACIFIC UNIVERSITY)

A jug containing silver earrings and ingots has been discovered at the ancient biblical city of Abel Beth Maacah in Israel.

Found to the north of a massive structure that may be a tower, the jug and its treasure appear to date back to about 3,200 years ago, long before minted coins were invented, archaeologists said. Curiously, they found no sign that the treasure was hidden, and no one appears to have gone back for it, they added.

“We found it in a small jug leaning against a wall, apparently on a dirt floor,” said researchers Robert Mullins, Nava Panitz-Cohen and Ruhama Bonfil in an email to Live Science. “It didn’t seem to have been deliberately hidden in a niche or any other hidey-hole.”

Panitz-Cohen and Mullins are co-directors of an excavation at the ancient city in Israel that found the treasure last summer, and Bonfil is the excavation surveyor and researcher. They published their initial findings recently in the journal Strata. [See Photos of Biblical City and Silver Treasure]

Why the treasure was not retrieved, and apparently not even hidden, is a mystery. “Perhaps the family needed to leave their home suddenly and hoped to return to retrieve this jug and its contents, but were unable to,” the researchers said. Afterward, “this area was covered by accumulating debris and earth over the centuries, [and] no one knew that the treasure was there,” they added.

The “massive structure,” as the researchers called it in their journal article, may be a tower that overlooked the Huleh Valley. At some point, the structure fell out of use, and the area to the north of it was used for homes. The treasure may date to that time.

The site, now called Tell Abil el-Qameh,was first identified as Abel Beth Maacah in the 19th century based on its location and historical accounts, although little excavation has been done there until now.

Silver treasure
When the treasure was discovered, the silver was bunched together in what looked like a big ball. After conservator Mimi Lavi, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, cleaned the ancient silver, the team saw that it consisted of five hoop earrings.

They also found an enigmatic silver object that looks like a twisted knot, as well as several ingots or scrap pieces of silver that would have been used for monetary transactions. At the time, the treasure was abandoned, minted coins had not been invented and the pieces of silver would have been used for trade.

The earrings could have been worn by men as well as women, the researchers noted. “We know from ancient iconography and from burials that men also wore jewelry, so it is possible that these were not just female ornaments,” the researchers said.

A period of collapse
The period around 3,200 years ago was a time when many cities were destroyed and some civilizations collapsed. Ancient records indicate an enigmatic group called the “Sea People” descended on the Middle East, leading to chaos in the region, although they do not appear to have settled in the area of Abel Beth Maacah.

Archaeologists are unsure how these events affected Abel Beth Maacah or if they have any bearing on the silver treasure. [Photos: The 7 Ancient Wonders of the World]

“It seems most likely that Canaanites were ‘in charge’ or at least were the main inhabitants” of Abel Beth Maacah, the researchers said. If the city did suffer any destruction, it could have been abandoned for a time and perhaps repopulated by returning Canaanites or by Israelite tribes. “Hopefully, next season, we will be closer to some answers,” the researchers said of their forthcoming dig at the site.

Biblical city
The city was used for a long period of time after the silver treasure was abandoned and is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible.

According to scripture, a Benjaminite named Sheba ben Bichri, who was rebelling against King David, took refuge in the city. A man named Joab pursued him there and laid siege. A “wise woman,” as the text calls her, protested this action, saying Abel Beth Maacah is part of Israel.

“We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up the Lord’s inheritance?” (From 2 Samuel 20:14-22, New International Version)

The siege ended when the city’s inhabitants killed the rebel and threw his head from the wall. Some scholars believe that King David would have lived about 3,000 years ago, roughly two centuries after the silver treasure was abandoned. While the biblical story doesn’t shed light on why the treasure was abandoned, it illustrates the importance of the city in the time to come.

Mullins is also a professor at Azusa Pacific University, and Panitz-Cohen and Bonfil are with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology.


Have Christians lost the culture war?


Todd’s American Dispatch

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The culture war may be lost and religious liberty might not be that far behind, according to a new survey from LifeWay Research, the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Seventy percent of senior pastors at Protestant churches say religious liberty is on the decline in the United States, and 59 percent of Christians believe they are losing the culture war. Eleven percent considers that war already lost.

The survey results are staggering – indicating grave concerns about the moral direction of the nation from both the pulpit and the pew.

“Ten years ago we were talking about who would win the culture war, and now we’re talking about how will Christian rights be protected after the culture war,” Ed Stetzer, the president of LifeWay Research, told me. “We’ve lost our home field advantage. There are going to be some things that are different.”

Stetzer said it’s a big shift, “and it’s a shift I would not have guessed.”

Over the past few years, I’ve documented hundreds of instances of religious persecution in the United States. And the targets have been exclusively Christians.

The military labeled evangelical Christians and Catholics as religious extremists. Christian organizations like Family Research Council and American Family Association were labeled by the military as domestic hate groups. Bibles were briefly banned from Walter Reed Medical Center.

The Internal Revenue Service targeted Christian ministries engaged in pro-life activities. The government demanded to know the content of one group’s prayers. A Wyoming church was ordered by government officials to turn over their membership roles. A Baptist newspaper in North Carolina was audited – as was America’s evangelist, Billy Graham.

The list of attacks on Christians goes on and on – from students ordered to stop praying in front of the Supreme Court to chaplains being told they could no longer pray in the name of Jesus.

In recent days, the battleground has pitted gay rights groups against Christian-owned businesses that cater to the wedding industry. Christian bakers, florists and photographers have been hauled into court and brought up on state discrimination charges for declining to participate in same-sex weddings.

And in every single instance, lower courts have ruled that gay rights trump religious rights.

Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, said the concern is widespread.

“Half of Americans say that religious liberty is on the decline,” he said. “That’s a lot of people.”

Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, conceded that Christians are losing the culture war and they are losing ground every day.

“The primary reason Christians are losing the culture wars is that pastors are AWOL when it comes to informing and energizing their congregations,” Jeffress told me.

Unless Christians stand up and engage the political process, Jeffress said he fears there may come a day when religious liberty is extremely curtailed.

“A religious leader once said, ‘My successor will see the tax-exempt status removed from churches and his successor will go to jail,’” Jeffress said. “That is probably on the horizon.”

But there are some pockets of resistance – like the town of Greenwood in the Mississippi Delta.

Jim Phillips is the senior pastor of North Greenwood Baptist Church. He told me that Greenwood still has a “very high respect for the historical Judeo-Christian ethic.”

“Every one of my son’s community college football games around the state last season began with a prayer on the loudspeaker – in Jesus’ name,” he told me. “Will that eventually be challenged? I suspect so at some point.”

But right now, he said, “Pockets of religious boldness still exist.”

Phillips said national trends, though, are disturbing.

“Christians have slowly given away their impact on culture by becoming more and more worldly instead of confronting the culture to become more and more godly,” he said.

So who is to blame for the loss?

Phillips blames Christians.

“Sadly, Christians have often wimped out and grown silent instead of being bolder for the Gospel,” he said. “Christians get subdued into thinking they’re not supposed to rise up.”

Jeffress agreed with that assessment and said the church must involve itself in the political process.

“There are 50 to 80 million evangelicals in America,” he said. “Only half are registered to vote and only half of those voted in the last election.”

Jeffress said it’s imperative for people of faith to engage the culture.

“Every time we go to the voting booth we are casting a vote for righteousness or unrighteousness,” he said.

Pastor Phillips also urged his fellow pastors to step up to the plate.

“My calling is to keep leading the charge,” he said. “As a local pastor, my goal is to keep encouraging my church to seek to raise the bar and not lower it when it comes to confronting culture.”

Stetzer said he hopes the survey will spark a “fruitful national conversation about religious liberty concerns.”

“The perception was that the culture war was once a winnable war,” Stetzer said. “But it’s switched from an offensive battle to a defensive battle.”

Pastor Jeffress urged Christians to stand their ground.

“We ought to do everything we can to push back against this encroachment on religious liberty and protect our right to spread the Gospel,” he said.

I write about this very issue in my new book, “God Less America,” which will be published in May.

But I’m reminded of a quote by President Ronald Reagan:

“If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”

A few years ago, a New York public school teacher was ordered to remove that quote from her classroom wall. She was told that it violated the U.S. Constitution.

I’m afraid we may be “gone under.”


Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him onTwitter. His latest book is “God Less America”.


Jews return after Spanish Inquisition

Alberto Ruiz Gallardón’s great grandfather saved 65 Jews from being sent to concentration camps
Paul White/AP
  • Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardón
    Alberto Ruiz Gallardón’s great grandfather saved 65 Jews from being sent to concentration camps Paul White/AP
Published at 12:01AM, February 18 2014

Thousands of descendants of the Jewish population expelled by Spain more than 500 years ago have come forward to take up the offer of citizenship provided by a nation eager to make restitution.

There are approximately 3.5 million Sephardic Jews scattered around the world, many of whose ancestors originally came from Spain.

Thousands of Jews have already contacted Spanish embassies in Israel, the United States, Turkey, Mexico, Chile and Argentina, expressing a desire to return to the land they were ousted from in 1492 by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. “We have received a high level of interest,” a Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

A total of 300,000 Jews were forced to convert or leave by the brutal Inquisition, which continued with the expulsion of the Moors in 1502. Many who refused were burnt at the stake.

Applicants must prove their origins through their surnames, genealogical charts and evidence of ancestors buried in Jewish graves, and they must get a certificate from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain. Knowledge of Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish medieval language still spoken by about 200,000 people, will be considered.

The Bill was initiated by Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, the Spanish Justice Minister, whose great-grandfather, Jose Rojas Moreno, saved 65 Jews from being sent to concentration camps during the Second World War while serving as Spanish Ambassador in Romania.

One of those tracing her ancestry back to Spain is Judith Vital, 85, who lives with her husband, Solomon Taragán, 88, in Jerusalem. Ms Vital speaks good Spanish and retains a cultural Spanish identity, in spite of the time that has elapsed since her descendants’ expulsion. She says Sephardic religious songs have been passed down the generations over 500 years.

“I was born in Greece [but] I always used to ask my papú where my name came from. We think it was originally from Barcelona,” she said.

Sephardic Jews living outside Europe may find the offer especially appealing, as it provides an EU passport and the chance to work anywhere in the eurozone.


The vocation to love, part 1: an invitation

Filed in Spirituality by  on February 17, 2014 • 

Dorothy Day by J Mario http://www.flickr.com/photos/siwc/6299296436/

What is the best-kept secret of the Second Vatican Council? Many of the Council’s radical ideas are now so integrated into our lives that we forget how new they were. But some of its riches have not yet been fully exploited.

My vote for the most neglected idea would be this: that each Christian, lay as well as ordained, has a unique and irreplaceable mission of his or her own (see e.g. Lumen Gentium 30-36, 40-41).

I could almost say that the lay mission is even harder  to replace than that of the ordained, because lay people can bring Christ right into the everyday world, reaching the parts, as the Heineken advert used to say, ‘that other beers cannot reach’. In fact, the more someone lives on the margins, the more crucial their mission is.

Entertaining Angels, the film of the life of Dorothy Day, begins with a heartbreaking scene of a young woman being dragged kicking and screaming into a grim prison cell and thrown down on the floor in chains. Her cell-mate is an older woman, who calms her and cradles her in her arms: Dorothy Day was in the same jail cell for protesting peacefully about nuclear armaments.

No one but an actual prisoner can be the presence of Christ for her cell-mate. Every single Christian, wherever he or she is, is called to love in just that place. We are all, each one of us, called: the idea is so important that I’d like to explore it over the next weeks and months in a series of short posts. I hope you’ll stay with me.


Atheist rabbis ‘in the closet’

01/23/2014 12:07   By BRIAN BLUM

Dr. Paul Shrell Fox examines the permanency of religious opinion.

Haredim Ba'al Karham
Photo by: Photo: Marc Israel Sellem, graphic: Mali Mizrahi

Avraham (not his real name) is an Orthodox rabbi living in the center of the country.

He is married with five children, and has a comfortable job as a rabbi/educator at a local religious school where he teaches fifth and sixth graders. There’s only one problem: Avraham no longer believes in God.

But this newly atheist rabbi can’t come out of the closet, so to speak, because by doing so he would potentially risk losing everything – both his family and his job. To appropriate the Alvy Singer line from the movie Annie Hall, Avraham keeps his true identity secret “because he needs the eggs.”

Avraham’s story is one of seven documented in an absorbing new study by Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox, a clinical psychologist, researcher and lecturer at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Shrell-Fox, who immigrated to Israel nearly 20 years ago, became interested in the topic of how religious practice and beliefs evolve over time. With funding from the Texas- based Binah Yitzrit Foundation, Shrell-Fox decided to pose the “big question,” starting first with Judaism’s leaders.

Shrell-Fox posted to two Internet lists of rabbis and received 15 responses, which were edited down to seven for the initial study – four in Israel and three in the US – all English speakers. Since the initial publication of the results, another 15 rabbis have contacted Shrell- Fox, wanting to participate in a follow-up study. The researcher presented his findings in Israel this summer at the Schechter Institute’s annual Conference on Judaism and Evolution; the full report is expected to be published early next year.

“The premise behind the study was that religious opinions are not something permanent; they go through changes with age that cannot be foreseen by a person in advance,” Shrell-Fox explains. “But what happens when that person is someone who serves as a rabbi in his community or has a job in which being a rabbi is important, and he finds out one day that he is no longer a believer?” Of the seven rabbis interviewed, four of them, says Shrell-Fox, “feel trapped in their jobs,” forced by circumstance to continue at work despite their hidden views.

In all seven cases, the rabbis’ wives were in on their husbands’ existential tussles and were emotionally supportive; as long as the house continued to function under a religious regimen, meaning keeping Shabbat and the holidays and keeping kosher. One rabbi put it this way: “My wife got into the relationship when I was religious; she shouldn’t have to pay the price.”

Despite their new views, none of the rabbis want to separate themselves from the community. “They love community life, their friends and the kiddush after Shabbat morning services,” Shrell-Fox points out.

Most are also older – 40 to 50 years old – and professionally established. It’s hard to start a personal “cultural evolution,” as Shrell-Fox puts it, at that age.

What led to these rabbis becoming atheists? Shrell-Fox says it’s different for each, but for two of the study participants, it was coming in contact with Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, which presents religion “as a natural evolution that comes from the bottom up, not from the top down,” Shrell-Fox explains. “Before reading the book, religion was a very emotional thing for them. Afterward, they took a more intellectual understanding.”

Shrell-Fox is under no illusions that any broad conclusions can be drawn from his research so far. But he hopes that by raising the issue, rabbis in theological transition can find each other and talk about the changes they’re going through. His research was inspired in part by a study conducted with Christian clergy who had lost their faith but continued working in their fields, and how they rationalized that decision.

That study took place in 2008 and, since then, a confidential online forum was created by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to support the Christian group. Some 1,500 clergy participate.

A similar website is now being set up for the rabbis to create a sense of community, “so that people will know they’re not alone.”

Shrell-Fox’s research has already done that. “Two of the rabbis in the study actually knew each other. They had gone to rabbinical school together and kept in contact, but weren’t aware of the other’s distress,” he reveals.

The planned website is a fitting 21st-century approach to an issue that has undoubtedly existed for much longer but was never spoken about. “Hundreds of years ago, the idea of whether you believed in God was irrelevant,” Shrell-Fox says. “The questions were all about behavior. The sages of the Talmud went into great detail about what the High Priest would do in the Temple service. They didn’t ask him what he thinks. Faith was more intangible.”

Things only changed when medieval commentators, in particular Saadia Gaon and Maimonides, began to formulate their articles of faith, Shrell-Fox adds, which were in themselves a reaction to Islam and Christianity.

While Shrell-Fox is a psychologist, he is a rabbi too.

But is he an atheist? “I want everyone to be comfortable being in contact with me. Some people might feel uncomfortable if they think I’m a non-believing rabbi, and some might be uncomfortable with me if I do believe in God. I need to be as anonymous as the participants in the study.”



New study: Family-friendly, faith-based and patriotic films are dominating the box office



This image released by Disney shows Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff, left, and Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, in a scene from the animated feature film, “Frozen.” (AP Photo/Disney)

LOS ANGELES –  They say sex sells, but perhaps not as well as one might think…

According to the newly released 2014 Annual Movieguide Report to the Entertainment Industry, family-friendly, patriotic and religious films are earning more money at the American box office each year.

For the first time, nine of the top 10 grossing movies in 2013 at both domestic and international box offices had a family-orientated theme, including “Iron Man 3,” “Frozen” and “Man of Steel,” and a large portion of top 10, such as “Fast & Furious 6,” had references to Jesus Christ.

“There is a great incentive to make movies that are good, true and beautiful. There is an audience out there, and studio heads – even ones that aren’t Christian – have intentions to reach this audience,” Movieguide founder Dr. Ted Baehr told FOX411.

The 80-page report, which has been published by the Christian Conservative, pro-family advocacy group Movieguide for 22 years, broke down box office statistics regarding theatrical earnings and used letter codes to determine the content, ranging from world views to nudity to language and drug use. The study noted that movies with faith-driven, redemption-based themes in the top-25 category averaged $87.07 million at the box office, and those with a non-Christian worldview, like “Grown Ups 2,” averaged $21.64 million.

Only four R-rated films made the cut, coming in between 15th and 19th in earnings.

Movies that had no foul language, like “Frozen,” earned the most (an average of $65.81 million), while films with more than 25 incidences of profanity, like “Wolf of Wall Street,” averaged just $30.43 million and did not make the top 25.

Similarly, films without any sexual content –“Gravity,” for example – averaged $51.15 million in box office earnings, compared to films with significant nudity or sexual content, like “We’re the Millers.” Films with blatant sex and nudity averaged less than $24 million in the U.S.

“Contrary to popular opinion, sex does not really sell,” the study found. “Moviegoers clearly prefer the types of positive, family friendly movies with biblical and morally uplifting content.”

The report also claims that movies reflecting “strong Pro-American, conservative, patriotic, moral and/or capitalist content or values” – such as “Iron Man 3,” “The Hunger Games,” “Hating Breitbart,” “Captain Phillips” and “Lone Survivor” – earned more overall than films like “White House Down,” “Blue is the Warmest Color,” “Elysium” and “Spring Breakers.”

The study found that none of the top 10 overseas movies had an R-rating, that none of them depicted sexual content and that had no sexual references.

“If studio executives, filmmakers, actors and stockholders want to make more money they should adopt these spiritually uplifting standards, theology and ethics,” the report concluded.

Follow @holliesmckay on Twitter


God Help Us

Marianne Williamson’s campaign to save America’s soul, starting with California’s 33rd Congressional District

Zack Munson

February 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22

Los Angeles
In case you were wondering, things in California just got a little weird. Okay, maybe not “just.” Let me be more specific: The congressional election in California’s 33rd District, a coastal tract encompassing some of the wealthiest, most liberal quarters of Los Angeles County​—​Bel Air, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills, to name a few​—​just got a little weird. On January 30, Henry Waxman, the district’s long-serving and notoriously cantankerous representative, surprised everyone by announcing he would retire at the end of this term. Since arriving in

Congress in 1975, Waxman has been a dogged champion of progressive causes and a frequent irritant to Republican administrations. During George W. Bush’s term alone, Waxman, from his perch on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, launched investigations into everything from the handling of Hurricane Katrina to government contractors in Iraq to Republican National Committee email ethics. Generally speaking, he has been a pain in the collective GOP hindquarters for nearly 40 years.

But with Waxman bowing out, how will things change? A television producer named Brent Roske has declared his candidacy, but it’s purely symbolic, and he’s not actually campaigning. Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who made a name for herself by complaining that the Jesuit school’s health plan didn’t cover birth control, floated her name as a possible candidate and then decided against it. There is a possibility that conservative Bill Bloomfield, who gave Waxman a run for his money in 2012, will give it another shot, but he has yet to announce (Waxman beat him 54-46 in a district Obama carried 61-37). The field remains wide open. In fact, at the moment, there is only one candidate running anything approaching a real campaign. Well, maybe “campaign” is the wrong word. It’s more a vision quest. If you live in Waxman’s district, Marianne Williamson doesn’t just want to represent you. She wants to save your soul.

Though perhaps not a household name, Williamson is something of a celebrity: Her self-help books have earned her national recognition, and her weekly lectures on spirituality have made her a fixture in Los Angeles for over 30 years. Back in October, having at long last grown tired of politics as usual, frustrated with the Democratic party of which she has been a member all her life, and armed with a large grassroots following (she claims more than 400,000 Facebook fans and 200,000 Twitter followers), she announced her independent candidacy for Waxman’s seat and has been kissing proverbial babies ever since.

New Age spiritual teacher, guru to movie stars, friend of Oprah​—​she is both self-actualized and self-made. Born to a Jewish family in Houston in 1952, by the late 1970s, Williamson confesses, “I was a total mess.” After bouncing “from relationship to relationship, job to job, city to city, looking for some sense of identity or purpose,” she found herself living in New York, “seeking relief in food, drugs, people, or whatever else I could find to distract myself.”

She wallowed in this depression until stumbling across a book that she credits with transforming her life. That book was A Course in Miracles, a 1,300-page spiritual manual (complete with student workbooks and instructions on how to teach it) written by New York psychologists Helen Shucman and William Thetford and published by the Foundation for ParaSensory Investigation (now the Foundation for Inner Peace). Williamson heeded the book’s call to become a “miracle-worker.” In 1983, now living in Los Angeles, she began lecturing on The Course (as she calls it) at the Philosophical Research Society in Los Feliz. She developed a large following, particularly among Los Angeles’s gay community, which was then being ravaged by the initial outbreak of AIDS. By the end of the ’80s, she had helped to found the Los Angeles Center for Living and Project Angel Food, both nonprofits providing assistance to people suffering from HIV, AIDS, and other life-threatening illnesses. A few years later, she had to resign the leadership of Project Angel Food after a controversy erupted when she fired several employees for their attempts to unionize. In response to numerous media reports of her explosive temper and overbearing management style, Williamson, ever ready to embrace her own weaknesses, nicknamed herself “The Bitch for God.”

In 1992, she wrote a self-help manual, A Return to Love, expounding on excerpts from The CourseA Return to Love’s overall spiritual lesson is that we as human beings are in fact all one being, not under but with God, that all of our minds are actually one mind, and that we have tricked ourselves into thinking we are separate from one another, thus creating fear, which dominates us and throws us into collision with everyone else, who, we need to remember, are really also us. According to Williamson, there is only one way out of this destructive cycle, and that is (spoiler alert) a return to love.

Both her book and The Course make liberal use of Christian theological terms, but deploy them as merely symbolic of universal spiritual truths. “The concept of a divine, or ‘Christ’ mind,” we learn, “is the idea that at our core, we are not just identical, but actually the same being.” Christ, you see, “is a psychological term” and “ ‘Accepting the Christ’ is merely a shift in self-perception. We awaken from the dream [that] we are finite, isolated creatures, and recognize that we are glorious, infinitely creative spirits.” And, not to leave anyone out, Williamson’s book also includes a smattering of references to other religious and cultural traditions:

In Taoist philosophy, “yin” is the feminine principle, representing the forces of earth, while “yang” is the masculine principle, representing spirit. .  .  . In Christic philosophical terms, Mary symbolizes the feminine within us, which is impregnated by God. .  .  . Through a mystical connection between the human and divine, we give birth to our Higher self.

And so on. And so forth.

Despite its mealy-mouthed pan-denominationalism, Williamson’s counsel is not, as these things go, all that bad: We should try to think of others more than ourselves; we should try to treat people with kindness; we should try to replace our selfish and fearful thinking with love. It is all just fuzzy enough about specific directives to appeal to spiritually minded folks who might be turned off by having to do anything, besides think happy thoughts, to achieve enlightenment. Perhaps as a result, the book spent 39 weeks on the New York Times self-help bestseller list and brought Williamson national attention (not to mention a lot of money).

In the intervening years, she has published nine more books (five more bestsellers), including, in 2000, Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens. The book is really a political manifesto, glorifying the protest politics of the 1960s and lamenting, “The invisible order that shot our heroes [i.e., JFK, RFK, and MLK Jr.] did not keep shooting, but began providing goods and services as quickly as possible to distract a grieving generation from our psychic pain.” The result of this materialist conspiracy, Williamson feels, has been a disengagement from politics, and Healing offers a broad indictment of the American voting public’s apathy and ignorance. “Today’s average American is more apt to rebel against a tennis shoe not coming in the right color than against the slow erosion of our democratic freedoms,” she declares. “Today, most Americans are too cynical, or tired, or both, to even approximate our Founders’ courageous repudiation of injustice.” The overarching message is that we need to slough off our materialistic chains and apply our great spiritual wisdom, above all our innate love for one another as human beings, to the political problems of the day. All we need, in other words, is love.

On my way to meet Williamson at a restaurant in Brentwood, I’m not quite sure what to expect. I’ve never seen a guru before, let alone had lunch with one, and my East Coast prejudices are already starting to get the better of me. I’m half-expecting her to glide into the dining room in flowing saffron robes and to answer my questions in New Age hypno-babble. To be honest, I’m kind of hoping for it. But I find her sitting at a corner table dressed neatly in a black pantsuit, mundanely sipping a cup of coffee.

Clearly, Williamson is not your straight-from-central-casting hippie-dippy-California spiritual type. She is tall, brunette, beautiful, and quite squarely put together: sharp features, a strong chin, a firm handshake. Her bearing is businesslike and utterly without pretension. The spiritual life has clearly been good to her. She speaks confidently, rapidly. She is relentlessly on message, and her message is simultaneously aggressive and unifying. “I think there’s a basic disintegration in our democratic foundation which is not being addressed by either major political party,” Williamson tells me. “Part of the problem I have with the status quo is that they only speak to the selfish interest of the American people, and I believe the American people are better than that.”

Her primary concern is that “Americans are feeling locked out of the system.” When I gently point out that the 33rd District, locus of countless Obama fundraisers and home to some of L.A.’s richest, most famous, most beautiful souls, ranks fairly low on any scale of locked-outness, she immediately agrees. “This is definitely one of the least locked-out districts.” That being said, “We are more than economic creatures. We have a soul.” She continues, benevolently, “I am not speaking to the rich in you, or the poor in you. I am speaking to the American in you.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” she says with a smile, “capitalism has been good to me. But what is happening today is that too many people can’t get in the club, there has to be enough access. There has to be enough access to opportunity for America to be a stable democracy.” All in all, she exudes an aura of moderation, and her frequent references to America’s most popular political icons only add to it. “The Constitution doesn’t mention political parties; Washington warned us against them,” she declares. “JFK said, ‘Let us not seek a Republican answer or a Democratic answer. Let us seek an American answer.’ ”

What, then, is the American answer that Marianne Williamson seeks? Well, despite the promise of her campaign’s slogan to “Create Anew,” it is pretty much warmed-over, social-justice, progressive, liberal blah blah blah, with a little California crunchy-wackadooism thrown in. Prison reform, climate change, shutting down nuclear power plants, and ending the “corruption of the food supply” are high on her list of priorities. Above all else, she is intent on getting the money out of politics and views Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision easing restrictions on campaign contributions, as perhaps the greatest threat to democracy that America has ever faced. But even while condemning both political parties and the state of our democratic system in general, while complaining about incarceration rates and Monsanto and “moneyed interests,” she somehow still sounds quite reasonable, lacking the stridency of MSNBC and the outright incoherence of the now-defunct Occupy movement (RIP). After just a few minutes, I can’t deny that Williamson is a knockout of a candidate: smart, eloquent, passionate, and considerably more telegenic than her, um, rodentine predecessor.

As our conversation winds down, she suggests I check out her weekly spiritual lecture, you know, “so you can see me in front of an audience.” I am happy to oblige, and when I show up at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on a Monday night, taking my seat in the back among a crowd of several hundred spiritual seekers, I am not disappointed. Williamson writes in A Return to Love that “the spiritualization process .  .  . is the cultivation of personal magnetism,” and if she were any more magnetic, people’s fillings would be flying out of their teeth. As spirit guide, she is softer than in her candidate persona, but she talks just as quickly and fluidly and with as much conviction. “May we be lifted above and beyond to the endless love and peace that is beyond,” she prays from the stage, concluding, after a dramatic moment of silence, “And so it is.”

She talks for about an hour to the rapt crowd about a passage from The Course dealing with the idea that “I am as God created me.” Her talk is quite soothing, and she implores us to “discover within your mind the self that is the son of God.” She reminds us that we “are perfect and changeless, and so is everyone else,” that “the universe is invested in your self-actualization,” and that our “function is to be the light of the world.” The overall effect is pleasantly soporific, and by the end of the lecture I get why everyone here loves her so much. I mean, I feel fantastic; I had completely forgotten how perfect I was. After the closing prayer, after we “gently pour ourselves back into the awareness of the human body,” she gives us another “And so it is.” This time the audience calls back in unison, “And so it is. Amen,” which, I’m not going to lie, is pretty odd.

In fact, it’s almost as odd as some of her supporters. At the campaign’s weekly volunteer meeting, held at The Source Spiritual Center in Venice every Thursday, the first person I encounter, among the crowd of about 50 volunteers, is Steve. A self-described fiscal conservative and social liberal, Steve is the founder of GRIP​—​Get Rid of Incumbent Politicians​—​an organization with the modest goal of removing every single incumbent in America from office. Steve starts to tell me how he got involved with the Williamson campaign (“Have you heard of Dirty Wars?”), but our conversation is interrupted when an airy woman with flowing blonde hair grabs a microphone on stage and starts welcoming us to The Source. “Let’s just take a moment of silence and sit in gratitude for a moment and take a couple of breaths together just to get present in this moment. This is all we’re ever in, this is all we have, and that’s where all power lies.” She closes her eyes, inhales deeply, exhales, inhales deeply again, and exhales before inviting us to check out “the amazing soundbath The Source has on Saturdays,” with a promise that afterwards we can go to the “café and elixir lounge” downstairs, if we like.

She hands the mike over to Rob Nelson, Williamson’s campaign coordinator. Wild-eyed and meticulously unkempt, Nelson paces the stage back and forth like an uncomfortable comedian, the front of his sweater inexplicably tucked into his boxer shorts, which stick out of the top of his designer jeans. He and the campaign’s political coordinator, a nebbishy young fellow named Ben Eisenberg, go through a simple training session on how to register people to vote, and they dutifully deal with the volunteers’ innocence about the process. One supporter, for example, is horrified to discover that some of the people they register might vote for Waxman (he was still in the race at the time). Another asks if she has to stay in her own neighborhood, or if she can register voters in other parts of the district, to which Eisenberg responds, somewhat wearily, “If you live in Santa Monica, but you want to register voters at a farmer’s market in Malibu, that’s totally okay.”

There’s a brief pause in the action before everyone breaks into smaller groups to discuss canvassing specific locations, and I flinch when a pair of large hands suddenly begins massaging my shoulders from behind and a face pops into my peripheral vision. “Oh! I didn’t mean to startle you!” my new friend, an African-American man wearing a UCLA cap, says with a smile. “How’s the universe treating you?” I let him know it’s treating me just fine and ask how it’s treating him. “Oh, just living in the attitude of gratitude! So are you ready to create anew and achieve the dream?”

This is Tony. He’s been a follower of Marianne for a while, and when he heard she was running for Congress he signed right up to help. In fact, he even wrote a “musical poem” for her campaign. Based on the ’90s hip-hop song “I Got 5 on It,” the poem combines the Williamson campaign slogan “Create Anew” with the generally great life slogan “Achieve the Dream.” According to Tony, he got the idea from Gandhi’s grandson, whom he recently met on a trip to India. When I tell him I’m a reporter writing a story on Marianne, he asks excitedly if I think “America is ready for amazing grace on seis tres,” referring in Spanish (for obvious poetic reasons) to June 3, the date of California’s open primary, when the voters will decide which two candidates get to face off in the general election. When I tell Tony I’m not sure, he shakes my hand with a smile, tells me it was great to meet me, and vanishes almost as abruptly as he appeared.

A few days later I find myself in another bustling crowd, this time at the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club, where we are assembled for the Williamson campaign’s first monthly issues forum. Tonight’s topic is the all-important “Getting Money Out of Politics,” and Marianne has brought in special guest Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor, to give a talk. As I enter the hall, I run into Whitney and Caroline, a pair of sixtysomething students of The Course. Even though they live just outside the 33rd District, they’re big supporters and plan on urging all their friends in the district to vote for Marianne. “She is a self-actualized person,” Whitney tells me, “Which is a good thing to bring to a body of people like Congress.” Caroline, the more talkative of the two, is more forceful in her endorsement. “It’s like Marianne says, it’s either love or fear. Do you remember what Eisenhower said?” I assure her I don’t. “Beware the military-industrial complex,” she says with a stern face, before adding, casually, “I believe in the Illuminati and all that.”

The room is packed by the time our guest speaker is introduced. Winkler, for his part, gives about as interesting and humorous a talk on the legal history of campaign finance reform as one could expect. Then Marianne joins him on stage, and the floor is opened for questions. “Waxman, while he has been good, has shown a penchant for the military-industrial complex,” the first questioner begins. “Why is impeachment of the Supreme Court not viable?” asks another. “How can we stop Grover Norquist?” “Is there a shadow government?” “Would you support efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth?”

Williamson handles these questions with aplomb, working the crowd, delivering lines that frequently elicit applause. Perhaps not surprisingly, she is less conciliatory here than in her sit-down with me. These are her people, and she is serving them red meat. Or whatever the vegan equivalent of red meat is. “Waxman says fracking is bad, but he won’t do anything about it. How many more studies do we need to realize we are raping our planet?” she asks, to much applause. She announces, to more applause still, that she supports a bill creating a Department of Peace and making its secretary a cabinet-level position. “The phrase ‘shadow government’ doesn’t feel helpful to me,” she says at one point. “It sounds like something over there that we can’t do anything about. They’re doing it in the light of day!” The crowd erupts. “We repudiated aristocracy in 1776. It is time for us to repudiate it again!” she shouts, to the loudest cheers of the night.

Throughout all this, she still manages to talk about America’s founding principles and the greatness of the American experiment, about the urgency of reengaging with the democratic process, at one point even referring to Tocqueville, all while making the case for her candidacy. “The House of Representatives is the people’s house​—​the artist, the philosopher, the shoemaker should all serve terms,” she says. “I think my election to Congress would be the best thing to happen to the Democratic party​—​it would make them get their soul back.”

And it is the soul after all​—​be it the Democratic party’s, America’s, yours, or even mine​—​that Williamson is most concerned with. After a question on the compatibility of spirituality and politics, posed toward the end of the forum, Williamson grows a little quieter, a little softer, assuming her spirit-guide mantle yet again. “Spirituality is the path of the heart, it should influence everything we do.” She concludes, simply, “We need a politics of conscience, we need a politics of heart, we need a politics of love.”

As we file out of the Woman’s Club​—​our political apathy most heartily rebuffed, a nascent sense of brotherhood among us, the energy of a newfound love for our fellow man propelling us merrily toward the parking garage next door​—​a bearded, burnt-out-looking man sporting a grungy flannel under his “Marianne for Congress” T-shirt asks if anyone can give him a ride to a place called Café Gratitude in Venice. An awkward silence ensues. Nobody in the crowd responds, or even makes eye contact with him, doing their best to ignore his existence.

And so it is.

Zack Munson is a writer in Los Angeles.



Candace Cameron Bure on how faith helped her navigate child stardom

Faith and Fame


  • Actress Candace Cameron Bure.ROWAN DALY

Assault arrests, drug use and multiple stints in rehab are just a few all too common side effects of achieving fame and success at such a young age.

Candace Cameron Bure was 11 years old when she starred on the ABC sitcom “Full House.” Unlike many of her peers, the young actress transitioned into more adult roles while still holding onto her morals and faith.

“I love acting and I’ve learned to navigate continuing to be a working actress and hold my faith and values,” Bure told FOX411.

From a young age, Bure had the support of her family including brother and fellow actor Kirk Cameron of “Growing Pains.” She credits her family with helping her stay on the right track.

“Because how close my family is to me, and the big influence that my mom and dad had on me as a child and then into adulthood, I just never desired to be seen differently,” said Bure. “Even if that was at the risk of my career.”

Bure admits that there was a lot of pressure within the entertainment world to break out of her youthful image quickly by taking on provocative roles, but the now 37-year-old was not swayed by the industry to become more suggestive.

“[There was] pressure from the industry because there’s a lot of guidance told by agents and managers and in casting that we need to see you differently,” Bure said. “I just heard that advice but chose not to take it.”

With her faith as a guiding factor in both her personal life and in her career, Bure carefully chose what roles to take on once “Full House” ended when she was 18.

“My values always played a big part in the roles that I chose,” Bure explained. “At 18 or 19, I understood that I could be seen as an adult very quickly if I chose more risqué roles, but it wasn’t a desire of mine to create a new image for myself. I was very happy and content with the pace that I was at.”

Now a mother of three, Bure has more than just her own image to manage; the actress’ 15-year-old daughter is considering pursuing a career in acting or music.

“I have children of my own now. I have a family to protect and children to look out for, so I have very strong boundaries and I work within those,” said Bure. “It’s very easy to say I wont do anything with nudity but there are certain parts that I would love to dive into as an actress that are very different than me, and I can do those with out breaking my personal boundaries.”

So how does Bure feel about her teenage daughter following in her footsteps?

“My daughter loves performing and really loves singing but I’m for anything my children would like to do as long as they work hard to achieve their goals.”

There are challenges to one’s faith that come with every profession and Bure hopes that like her parents, she was able to instill her values in her children.

“As a parent I’m always going to look out for my children and guide them and protect them in any career path,” she told FOX411. “But if you’re trying to live out your faith, it will be difficult in whatever job that you have.”

Bure’s not alone in preparing her children for the future. The actress has been married for almost 20 years retired professional ice hockey player Valeri Bure. So what’s their secret?

“We really base our marriage on the foundation of the Bible and living our marriage the way we believe honors God.”

That’s not to say their marriage is not without its ups and downs.

“We’ve had our share of struggles and we’ll continue to have them,” she said. She writes about how she’s able to balance her career, faith and family life in her new book “Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose.”

“It’s about being committed and valuing and respecting the person that you’re married to.”

What advice does the former child actress have for up and coming actors?

“I think what’s most important is that you have your moral compass you’re boundaries your faith in place,” she said. “You really have to know who you are before you step out into the world because if you don’t the entertainment industry or the world will try and define you and tell you who you are if you don’t know beforehand.”

Faith & Fame is a regular column exploring how a strong belief system helps some performers navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry.