Recent interviews give insight to the religious perceptions of Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont currently running for president as a Democrat.
You need not be concerned Sanders will talk about God too much, or pander when doing so. Though culturally Jewish, Sanders may be the most authentically secular, top-tier candidate for the presidency in our lifetimes.
Growing up, Bernie Sanders followed the path of many young American Jews. He went to Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed and traveled to Israel to work on a kibbutz.
But as an adult, Sanders drifted away from Jewish customs. And as his bid for the White House gains momentum, he has the chance to make history. Not just as the first Jewish president — but as one of the few modern presidents to present himself as not religious.
“I am not actively involved with organized religion,” Sanders said in a recent interview.
Sanders said he believes in God, though not necessarily in a traditional manner.
Now a lot of people aren’t involved in organized religion who still believe in God in some amorphous, not readily-definable way. Kinda like a benevolent, really powerful Sta Puff Marshmallow Man, or a ginormous cloud with a face.
“Sanders defines God in a very different way than the way most Americans do, and in fact, a way that would be compatible with nontheistic humanists.”
In other words, “We’re okay with Bernie’s version of God, because it’s the closest to atheism currently on a ticket.”
What, then, is Bernie Sanders faith? In his above interview with WAPO Sanders said,
“I think everyone believes in God in their own ways.”
This particular belief puts in alongside every president who’s ever sat in the office. The notion of “God” is notoriously generic.
“I want to be treated with dignity and respect, and I want other people to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
“I think it is important that a sense of morality be part of our politics.”
Acknowledged that this sense of morality exists in many religions, and in many forms. It exists outside religious thought, as well. Irreligious Americans also want people to be treated dignity and respect.
But Sanders goes further:
“To me, it [God] means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.”
Call him Bernie Wan Kenobi.
If Sander’s “own way” of believing in God is the inter-connectedness of all people, he is not far from the vague, pantheistic Force of George Lucas’s Star Wars Universe. Per Obi Wan:
It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
Maybe Sanders can be Intergalactic Theologian in Chief. Long, long ago, in a seminary far, far away…
It is not a stretch to conclude Sanders does not hold to the existence of a personal deity. Not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, not Allah, the God of Muhammed. In response to a Jimmy Kimmel question about faith, Sanders responded:
“I am what I am,” he said. “And what I believe in, and what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together.”
In a Democratic Town Hall meeting this week, Sanders reiterated that basic thought.
“I believe that as a human being, the pain that one person feels — if we have children who are hungry in America, elderly people who can’t afford their prescription drugs — that impacts you, and that impacts me….My spirituality is that we are all in this together.”
Sanders’ “faith” is not that God is concerned about our humanity, but that God is our common humanity. Further, God isn’t merely re-created in our own image, but, collectively, we are God.
It is easy to see why secularists and atheists are comfortable with Sanders’ idea of God. We are the captains of our fate. We are the masters of our souls–assuming we have them.
Interestingly, Sanders, despite eschewing of religion personally and lack of belief in a personal deity, has been compared to Jesus, at least in a philosophical sense.
It remains to be seen whether followers of Jesus will vote for the sorta-pantheistic democratic socialist. His sense of justice and fairness will doubtless appeal to some. Questions about his economic policies will keep others at a distance. Still others will not vote for the candidate who’s idea of God is basically the same as Yoda’s.
Featured image ( credit: Michael Vadon / flickr)