Don’t Be Shocked: Bernie Could Win the “Religious” Demographic
Sanders has a genuine chance of winning the secular base of American voters who can't bring themselves to vote for Trump, and have sickened at the sight of cultural Christians enriching themselves and consolidating their power by trouncing the doctrines of their own faith. In Obama's terms, these are the "high horse" Christians who profess Christ while bowing to Trump's ungodliness.
With Bernie Sanders rolling tide of wins, I keep having to ask myself, as a spectator to the Democrats’ version of 2016, why can’t the other party pull up its pants and nominate someone who isn’t a thief, a charlatan, an elitist, a money-bags, a has-been, or a Marxist? Why can’t someone “normal” like Amy Klobuchar or Andrew Yang, firmly in the center, or at least in the Overton Window of sanity, win?
I think the answer is complicated. As Jonah Goldberg has been warning us for some time now, politics has become entertainment. Institutions that at one time heralded serious policy and doctrine have now morphed into macabre parades of personality disorder. Our political parties have devolved into the Very Online trolls meet the undisciplined and biased media in a live reality show cage match. This leads to results more about who “fights” and who “really believes” than it does to sanity.
At least in public, the parties and our federal government have become a mockery of responsible politics. In private, pundits speaking in hush tones in supermarket aisles, and those with ears in Sunday talk show green rooms hear frustration, sadness, confusion, and sometimes, hopelessness. Many in both parties have to choose whether to give up and retire, or bunker up and become street organist monkeys to demagogues.
Sitting ominously behind this picture is the changing religious landscape of American voters. As Derek Thompson noted in The Atlantic, America lost its religion.
Think about this paragraph:
America’s unique synthesis of wealth and worship has puzzled international observers and foiled their grandest theories of a global secular takeover. In the late 19th century, an array of celebrity philosophers—the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud—proclaimed the death of God, and predicted that atheism would follow scientific discovery and modernity in the West, sure as smoke follows fire.
Now the smoke, Donald Trump, inhabits the White House, and the fire, Bernie Sanders, is likely to become the Democratic Party nominee. This anti-religious attitude encompasses the 2020 race like a picture frame.
Trump’s words seem to indicate his imprimatur of organized religion, but in fact he stands for everything opposed to it. No authority, no doctrine, no teacher or pastor can tame Trump. He accepts prayer as if it were an act of fealty. Sin is merely the act of being caught and admitting to wrong. In Trump’s eyes, he’s never sinned because he’s never admitted to anything. This flies in the face of orthodox Christianity.
But Trump tickles the ears of self-identified Christians who believe in a God of grace, but would rather do their own thing. The “unaffliated.” I count these to include folks who claim membership at a church because their names–along with their daddy’s and grandpa’s names–are inscribed in a membership roll, and they dutifully attend each other’s kids’ baptisms, graduations, and weddings, along with Easter and Christmas services. Every so often, in an act of conscience, or dragged by a nagging wife, they go to a regular Sunday service. “Cultural Christians” is what they are called.
Sanders, however, tickles the ears of secular humanists, who reject all organized religion, though many of them put up with people of faith, for the acts of human kindness and charity that result from their devotion. These individuals believe that through human effort, we can achieve our own grace. That the government, through planning and policy, can achieve justice and “provide for the general welfare.” They believe their stance is both patriotic and honest.
The secularists, who were enamored with Barack Obama, believe that cultural Christians are only after their own power, and not really contributing to the works of faith that result in less human suffering. They are right. Obama professed a sort of faith, but smelled very much like a secularist–he was the camel’s nose in the tent after decades of genuine, if imperfect (sometimes spectacularly so), Christians ruling the political roost of both parties.
Both cultural and pious Christians have won office, but Trump is the first openly secular person who won by simply pandering to Christians.
Sanders has a genuine chance of winning the secular base of American voters who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump, and have sickened at the sight of cultural Christians enriching themselves and consolidating their power by trouncing the doctrines of their own faith. In Obama’s terms, these are the “high horse” Christians who profess Christ while bowing to Trump’s ungodliness.
Liberals are more secular than ever before, while conservatives are only slightly more secular. However, the number of conservative cultural Christians is increasing as the number of regular church attendees is falling.
“Do you think that people who are not Christians are condemned?” Sanders repeatedly asked, challenging that belief as Islamophobic.
Questions like these tickle the ears of secularists, who bristle at the exclusivity of the Christian doctrine of salvation. Yet, Sanders maintains he is a “proud Jew” who doesn’t believe in anything Jewish.
“Well, you know, I am who I am,” Sanders said, referencing the Old Testament exchange between God and Moses at the site of the burning bush. “And what I believe in, what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together—that I think it’s not a good thing to believe, as human beings, that we can turn our backs on the suffering of other people.”
“And this is not Judaism,” Sanders added. “This is what Pope Francis is talking about: That we cannot worship just billionaires and the making of more and more money. Life is more than that.”
CNN source Susan Jacoby, a secular historian, assessed his response to Kimmel, saying, “It was the answer of someone who is a secular humanist but doesn’t call himself that.”
Just this September, a member of Sanders’ staff elaborated on the 2020 hopeful’s beliefs in an article in the Washington Examiner.
“He believes that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children who are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can’t afford their prescription drugs, you know what, that impacts you, that impacts him,” the spokesperson said. “That’s his very strong spiritual feeling, and that influences his approach to public policy.”
These are all policy prescriptions and pronouncements that most liberals can identify with. The Marxism and socialism that lie beneath Bernie’s brand of secularism may be palatable to those who have had enough with the parading of cultural Christians high on Trump.
In other words, Bernie might win on the backs of religious secular humanists, and cultural secularists who aren’t socialists but would ignore Bernie’s socialism the same way cultural Christians ignore Trump’s sinfulness. “Bernie fights” their battle.
In contrast, Bloomberg isn’t a fighter. He wilted in the face of attacks by Elizabeth Warren on women and NDAs, releasing three women from their agreements. Sure, that’s sane and sensible. But it’s not fighting. It invites more attacks.
Meanwhile, Sanders reversed himself on releasing medical records: the Washington Post called this “Trumpian tendencies.” Trump fights. Bernie fights. Fighting is what today’s politics has become about. The teams are no longer the parties fighting for political doctrine and policy.
Now the teams are cultural Christians putting forth their champion, Goliath, the big guy calling for the heads of those who oppose him. And in response, the cultural secularists put forth their David, a socialist, non-religious Jew, armed with five smooth stones. Don’t count out David–Sanders. If he wins, it’s merely the response of the secularists to the Trumpists. And there are more secularists than we think, which is why Bernie is doing so well.
Trapped in the middle of this, on the sidelines and watching in horror, are the genuine people of faith. The Jews who are shocked at a Jew who chooses anti-Semites as his surrogates, and the Christians who are shocked at a man endorsed by mega-church pastors who unrepentantly slept with a porn star while his third wife was pregnant with their child.
If I had to decide which side God is on, I’d say that God is definitely sitting the 2020 election out.