Not hopeless at all, but not finding the article I based my remarks on.
Meanwhile, Bernie's religion - unusual as it is - is based in Judaism. And even if he refuses to speak about it, refuses to define it by that word, that word and every connotation that attaches to it attaches to him.
I love this article.
(CNN) Nobody would mistake Bernie Sanders' stump speech for a sermon. When making moral arguments about income inequality or climate change, he's more likely to quote statistics than Scripture.
Though raised Jewish, Sanders says that he is "not particularly religious," nor is he a member of any congregation or synagogue. "I am not actively involved in organized religion," he has told reporters.
But at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire in February, Sanders seemed to contradict himself.
"It's a guiding principle in my life, absolutely," said the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate.
"You know, everyone practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings."
So what gives? Is Bernie Sanders religious or not?
Many Americans answer that question with a shrug, according to a January poll conducted by the Pew Research Center. Nearly a third say Sanders is "somewhat" religious; nearly a third say he's not, and more than a quarter say they don't know.
It may seem impolite to question Sanders' religious views. Who cares whether he spends his Saturdays at a shul or a socialist rally? Millions, meanwhile, have rallied behind his presidential campaign, cheering his jeremiads against consumerism and political corruption.
But if Sanders wants to win the Democratic nomination, he has to expand his base, which means luring churchgoing Christians away from Hillary Clinton. According to exit polls, Clinton has dominated Sanders among Americans who attend worship services weekly, leading to a "God gap" among the Democratic candidates.
Sanders seems to know this. He has toured black churches and addressed evangelicals at Liberty University in Virginia. This Friday, just days before the New York primary, Sanders addressed a Vatican conference on the morality of market economies.
But speeches alone won't attract religious voters to Sanders, said Marvin A. McMickle, director of the Black Church Studies program at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in New York.
"We hear the words, but words can be memorized. I want to know more about the sources of those words. I want to know the rock he is standing on."
That rock is hard to find. Sanders rarely talks about religion and grows impatient with reporters who try to pry open his soul or delve into his Jewish background. He doesn't belong to a prayer group in Congress or a congregation in Burlington. By conventional standards, Sanders may be the least religious candidate to run for president in quite some time.
But Sanders' political platform is unmistakably moral, scholars say, and it draws more deeply on faith teachings than even he may know. In other words, if Bernie Sanders is standing on a rock, it may point to the Promised Land of socialist Scandinavia, but it sits on ancient soil.
Eli Sanders, Bernie's father, fled poverty and prejudice in Poland, immigrating to the United States in 1921. Crowded into a cramped Brooklyn apartment, his young family held Passover seders but rarely attended services at the local synagogue.
The Sanderses were proud of their Jewish heritage, the senator and his brother have said, but belief in God wasn't an abiding concern.
Back in Poland, Eli Sanders' family paid a high price for their Judaism. Many were killed in the Holocaust, sending a searing message to the next generation.
"A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932," Sanders said last year, responding to a question about how Judaism informs his political views. "He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important."
(There is some dispute about Sanders' framing of Hitler's rise here. Hitler lost his election in 1932, but his Nazi Party won seats in the Reichstag, setting the stage for Hitler's dictatorship.)
Sanders and his brother, Larry, attended Hebrew school at an Orthodox synagogue. They studied the Torah, reading about the patriarchs and prophets. It was more Torah 101 than Advanced Talmudic Studies, but the lessons stuck, Larry has said.
For the Sanderses, politics takes precedence over piety. In his autobiography, "Outsider in the House," Sanders recalls tagging along with Larry to meetings of Young Democrats at Brooklyn College. (Like Bernie, Larry Sanders made a career in politics; he is now the health issues spokesman for the Green Party in England.)
At the University of Chicago, where Bernie Sanders went to college, he spent hours imbibing socialism's sacred canon: the writings of Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky and Eugene V. Debs, a socialist who ran for president five times.
In his autobiography, Sanders completely skips the next chapter in his life. There is no mention of the months he spent on a kibbutz in northern Israel. (Actually, Israel isn't mentioned at all, a noteworthy omission for a Jewish-American politician.)
Friends say the agrarian Israeli collective solidified Sanders' faith in socialism, but it apparently did not deepen his relationship with organized Judaism.
As Sanders moved to Vermont and began his political career, local rabbis learned not to invite him to services. He never accepted, though friends say he would attend Jewish friends' funerals at synagogues. He wasn't hostile to religion, colleagues say. More like indifferent.
"He is quite substantially not religious," Larry Sanders would later say.
(Still, Bernie Sanders knows enough about Judaism to play a convincing cameo as "Rabbi Manny Schewitz" in a 1999 romantic comedy.)
When Sanders came to Washington in 1990 as a congressman, he kept his distance from the city's politically active Jewish community.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Washington-based Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said he tried to engage Sanders in a conversation about Judaism on a bus ride to Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Sanders politely rebuffed the rabbi's inquiries.
"He just didn't want go there. He obviously is not a practicing Jew, and doesn't want to talk about it, and I respect that."
Instead, Sanders was known in the Capitol as a stern-faced figure stuck in the political wilderness. In speech after speech, he harangued high officials, castigated his congressional colleagues, and even alienated allies by fulminating against the influence of money in politics.
"He is out there wailing on his own," a fellow New England Democrat told The New York Times in 2007.
But Sanders wasn't quite that isolated.
The media flocked to the democratic socialist -- a rare bird in American politics -- especially after he was elected to the Senate in 2007. Sanders tried to shoo reporters away, saying personality profiles don't interest him. He was especially reluctant to speak to Jewish publications about his religious background.
But after Sanders began his presidential campaign, he could no longer ignore those questions.
'I am who I am'
Sanders first hinted at his unorthodox theology in, of all places, a talk show interview. After questioning whether the socialist senator swims too far from the political mainstream to be elected president, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel asked Sanders if he believed in God.
"Well, you know, I am who I am," Sanders said, evoking God's evasive answer to Moses through 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 continued. "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."
It was a short answer. Just 30 seconds of spirituality before Sanders retreated to his stump speech, bemoaning childhood poverty and a lack of family leave programs.
Susan Jacoby, a well-known secular historian, said Sanders avoided Kimmel's question.
"He weaseled out. It was the exact opposite of his usual blunt talk. It was the answer of someone who is a secular humanist but doesn't call himself that."
Secular humanism, briefly, bills itself as a "naturalist philosophy." It rejects the idea of deities and supernatural forces while embracing an ethics of cooperation and respect for personal freedom. "No god will save us," declares a humanist manifesto written in 1973. "We must save ourselves."
Jacoby, who has written about secularism in American history, says that Sanders may be the least religious presidential candidate since Abraham Lincoln. Though he was an ardent reader of the Bible, Lincoln refused to join a congregation. (Other historians argue that Lincoln may have been our most theologically astute president, despite his distaste for organized religion.)