“I am not actively involved with organized religion,” Sanders told the Washington Post on Wednesday.
“I think everyone believes in God in their own ways,” Sanders, who is Jewish and went to Hebrew school when he was young, continued. “To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.”
As Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate points out, this is not the first time that Sanders has provided an “elliptical” answer on the subject of religion. When asked about God by Jimmy Kimmel, Sanders deflected, saying, “what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together.”
The whole thing is quite fitting with Sanders’ larger campaign argument that the United States is ready to be more like western Europe. When he invokes countries like Denmark, Sanders is generally speaking about economic policy and the social safety net, but it’s also true that his attitudes towards religion are similar to what you’d find in countries like Denmark or the Netherlands, where a lot of people have some nominal faith but aren’t really church-going believers.
It’s long been believed that such an attitude is a non-starter in American politics, however, where it’s assumed that people are a lot more churchy than our western European counterparts. Certainly, most mainstream politicians, particularly those with eyes on the White House, are not only religious but are members of traditional churches that hold standard-issue Christian beliefs: That Jesus was a real person, that he was literally born of a virgin, etc.
Already Sanders is outside of that norm, simply by being Jewish. But if he held more traditionally Jewish beliefs, that would fit into the long-standing expectation that national politicians kow-tow to the American belief in their own religiosity. Rejecting organized religion, however, is a bold choice.
That said, Sanders may be more in line with where Americans are actually at when it comes to religion than what long-standing stereotypes about America religiosity would have you believe. Which is to say, Americans aren’t nearly as religious as we think we are.