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viewpoint

Threat to our religious roots

| Thursday, February 11, 2016

A 74-year-old socialist just won the New Hampshire primary. This seems nearly impossible to fathom. A man who identifies with ideas that oppose the very economic system that this great nation was built upon has somehow won one of the most significant primary races in the election cycle. With this said, socialism isn’t even Bernie Sanders’ most disheartening feature. In fact, the biggest threat Bernie brings to undermining America isn’t found in something he identifies with but rather something he doesn’t identify with: a religion.

When people talk about Bernie Sanders they often emphasize his radical economic ideas, down to earth personality and strong Brooklyn accent. Bernie’s religion never seems to be spoken of. The truth is Sanders doesn’t belong to a religion. While Bernie has often described himself as “culturally Jewish,” he admitted to the Washington Post late last month that he “isn’t actively involved with organized religion.” Bernie may have claimed in a New Hampshire town hall last week that he possesses “very strong religious and spiritual feelings,” but these sentiments seem to be of little substance. In a recent interview with the Washington Post Sanders said, “I think everyone believes in God in their own ways. To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.” What does that even mean?

Bernie Sanders is a rarity. It is nearly unheard of for anyone to succeed in national politics without identifying with some sect of Christianity. The only non-Christian president America has ever had was Thomas Jefferson. Even still, Jefferson believed in God and many aspects of Christianity. However, Jefferson couldn’t be categorized as an orthodox Christian based on certain disbeliefs he had regarding Jesus’ divinity. While some people attempt to argue that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a Christian because he never officially joined a church, Lincoln himself professed faith in the Christian scriptures on several occasions. The faith of all other 41 presidents are practically never brought into question. They were all Christian. America was built on Judeo-Christian values and the people have consequently continued to elect Christian leaders to maintain such a principled foundation.

The separation of church and state is vital. However, the separation of church and state does not entail eliminating religious influences. America is a Christian nation. Approximately 70 percent of the United States’ population identify as Christian. America’s democratic principles and promotion of equality and opportunity stem from a Judeo-Christian value system. We have the motto “In God We Trust” written over our currency. We profess to be “one nation under God” in our pledge of allegiance. Many governmental meetings begin with prayer. While the government cannot support the establishment of a religion or prohibit one from exercising their respective religion freely, the first amendment does not declare the United States a godless nation.

Throughout America’s history, the nation has been guided by a Judeo-Christian ethic. This guiding ethic has influenced the people we elect and laws we make. The guidance that such an ethic has brought has aided in America’s success and power to do good in the world. This is not to say that the nation has not made major mistakes or imposed terrible injustices throughout its history, but it is to say that one should not be quick to discount the immense good that America has done. One should also be careful not to ignore the importance such a fundamental value system has had on the ideals and goodness that America projects.

The election of a nonreligious president would not destroy America. However, it would fundamentally change the essence of America. The United States would begin to lose its true identity, as a nation grounded in Judeo-Christian values. America’s exceptionalism is rooted in its religious influences. Drifting away from such influences will deliver a blow to the true greatness of America.

Bernie Sanders has a relatively minute chance of being the Democratic nominee for president, let alone the president of the United States. However, the senator’s rise in popularity and recent primary success indicates that many venerate him. This suggests that it is plausible in the near future for a person similar to Sanders to be elected president. This is a rather frightening thought. It is frightening in the sense that the economic structure upon which our nation was birthed would be radically altered. However, it is even more frightening in the sense that the very underpinning of our nation, our religious influences and values, would begin on a course towards oblivion.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Eddie Damstra

Eddie is a junior from Orland Park, Illinois. He is majoring in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Constitutional Studies and plans on pursuing law school after his time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame.

Contact Eddie
  • what no really

    Is this serious? You’re advocating actively discriminating against politicians based on their religious views or lack thereof? I assume a Muslim candidate would be disqualified for you as well. This is kind of gross!

  • Austin

    Remember kids, morality and American values are exclusive to Christians, and are unattainable even to those who have been engaged in America’s political system for 45 years and have lived here longer than this author’s grandparents have been alive. Ideals of American exceptionalism are also reserved for Christians, despite the majority of the founding fathers being Deists whose religion held little resemblance to today’s Christianity. I’m not necessarily a Bernie supporter, but the backwards and exclusivist mindset of this author are more dangerous to America’s future that any secularist could ever be.

  • RJ

    I think the commenters on this article are confused. They are ignoring what is really being said in this article: if Bernie Sanders is elected president, it will be the first time that the American people have elected a non-Christian. What the writer is really expressing is his concern as a Christian that the American people are no longer as invested in the Christian faith as they used to be.

    • what no really

      Why is that a concern?

      • RJ

        hey if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

      • RJ

        It may not be a concern to you, but it is a concern to the author as well as millions of Americans.

        • what no really

          The religiosity of many Americans is of concern to me. I don’t think Christians should be disqualified from elected office though.

        • MJ

          One of the problems with this is that those millions of Americans continue to empower a political machine that (figuratively) bludgeons other Americans non-stop and then claims they are the victims. Perhaps if that machine dialed it way back and focused on being more Christian and less political, it would find more people invested in the Christian faith. Not to oversimplify, but when surveys consistently turn up evidence that less religious people think Christians are “mean” and that’s what keeps them away from churches, maybe it’s time to do a little more soul-searching on what the modern American christian movement really looks like.

    • TheFreshTrumpet

      Hard to say that’s what he’s implying when it’s also very easy to infer that he sees a non Christian running for president as a “threat” to his religion. However, I don’t think this a case of poor wording. It’s not like the reason atheists don’t run is because they get demonized by the right and can’t get support or something crazy like that

    • HolyHandGrenade

      Except your religion and your political views aren’t (and shouldn’t be) related… it seems like if a Christian had all of Bernie’s views, it would somehow “validate” everything, which doesn’t make sense considering the secular nature of government.

    • Tripper

      What are you talking about? A non Christian was elected in 2008.

  • João Pedro Santos

    So, let’s see what your concerns about Bernie Sanders are:

  • João Pedro Santos

    So, let’s see what your concerns about Bernie Sanders are:
    “A man who identifies with ideas that oppose the very economic system that this great nation was built upon has somehow won one of the most significant primary races in the election cycle.”
    Actually, Bernie isn’t a socialist in the strict definition of that word. He’s a social-democrat. That is, he wants to redistribute wealth in the US as a way of increasing the standards of living of its people. What he defends (universal healthcare, no college tuition and a raise in the mininum wage) aren’t anything new in capitalist countries. For example, most of European countries have universal healthcare and no college tuitions. Are countries such as France, Germany and Spain socialist?
    “In fact, the biggest threat Bernie brings to undermining America isn’t found in something he identifies with but rather something he doesn’t identify with: a religion.”
    This is also absurd. Though Christianity is the main religion in the US, it doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t allowed to have other religions (or no religion at all). In fact, discrimination based on religion is prohibited by the American constitution. Even though almost all American presidents were Christian, in Western Europe a lot of presidents and prime-ministers are atheist or agnostic and that was never a threat to Christians. In fact freedom of religion is good for all, even if you belong to the majority. Most European countries were theocracies for centuries and in the end people found out that secular governments were a much better option.

    • RandallPoopenmeyer

      Good points. The author is presumably Christian, so wouldn’t he want socialism in this country? Helping others? Redistributing the wealth to the poor?

  • TheFreshTrumpet

    Ah yes, those wonderful Judeo Christian values like the subjugation of women, black people, and pretty much anyone who wasn’t a straight white Christian man. Such a shame those values have been lost over the decades. Damn you Sanders!

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    Keep your disgusting religion out of my life and government and we won’t have a problem.

    America’s “true identity” is different for EVERY AMERICAN!
    I acknowledge that our country has strong ties to religion, but it also has strong ties to many other culturally immoral things that have died out over the years; slavery, mistreatment against women and minorities, etc.

    Just because something is “tradition” doesn’t mean we should blindly follow it.
    One does not need a religion to be good or moral either.

  • HolyHandGrenade

    “In fact, the biggest threat Bernie brings to undermining America isn’t found in something he identifies with but rather something he doesn’t identify with: a religion.”

    Oh, because it’s not like our country was founded on the basis of religious freedom and freedom of speech, right?
    ___________________________________________________
    “One should also be careful not to ignore the importance such a fundamental value system has had on the ideals and goodness that America projects.”

    So, apparently these values are mutually exclusive, and solely held by Christians? Atheists, Muslims, and Jews can’t be nice people? It sounds like you’re just whining that a Christian rhetoric and mindset wouldn’t be as egregiously influential on a system that does not care what your values are (though constituents do). And beyond that, right wing conservative values are not the only ones Christians support. Some actually like liberal values and legislation, such as gay marriage. Another thing to point out is that if an agnostic-type like Sanders gets elected, then that is in fact was the majority wants; it does not go against the will of the people or the government from the standpoint of democracy.
    ___________________________________________________
    “It is frightening in the sense that the economic structure upon which our nation was birthed would be radically altered. However, it is even more frightening in the sense that the very underpinning of our nation, our religious influences and values, would begin on a course towards oblivion.”

    Our nation, last I checked, has had the economic and policy related structure Bernie wants to *expand* (not uproot) for decades! He doesn’t want socialism and a government owned means of production! Be careful not to equate socialism with regulation and social policy in a capitalist system. We’ve had free-market regulation (see anti-trust laws, limited liability, intellectual property rights, FDIC, etc…), a mixed economy, a minimum wage, welfare programs and progressive taxes forever, and yet somehow this is all “radical”?
    __________________________________________________

  • Drake

    I couldn’t agree more, Eddie! Bernie Sanders as POTUS would be the downfall of American democracy and the opposition of the values our country was found upon

    • João Pedro Santos

      What values? Slavery and voting rights just for white men? Luckily those “values” were abolished a long time ago.

  • JMND

    Two things:

    You do know Christ was a Jew?

    And the the word Judeo-Christian means “of or relating to the religious writings, beliefs, values, or traditions held in common by Judaism and Christianity.”

  • Nic

    Very insightful and intriguing! It’s scary to think someone like Bernie Sanders could even come this close. America is in an age of darkness. A president like him would cause the eventual destruction and carnage of the values and ideals of America that we all know and love that was built by the impressive and intelligible founding fathers.

    • João Pedro Santos

      Can you try using arguments instead of ad hominem?

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    This author has to contradict his own arguments to make Lincoln and Jefferson religious people, otherwise his theory that our country and economy would collapse without a religious president wouldn’t hold water (it still doesn’t)… because our country is doing just fine after two non religious presidents (Jefferson and Lincoln)

  • João Pedro Santos
  • Tripper

    Barack Obama faked “Christianity” to be elected, but he’s clearly an atheist with Muslim sympathies.

  • Sarah Stubbs

    I assume then, that this article is an endorsement of Hillary Clinton? And if Donald Trump were to be elected? Would he be Christian enough for you? I’m a strong Catholic, but I would still vote for Sanders over Trump 100 times over. There are a lot of terrifying people in our history that claim to be Christian, and good people who weren’t. I agree that politics have shifted, but when people have to choose between others in the race and Sanders, who is radical, but generously so, calm, honest, reasonable, and intellectual, what do you expect people to do? I’m just frustrated that politics constantly asks us to pick the lesser of two evils. Sanders seems like a saint next to others in the race that claim to be Christian.

  • This is a series of unsupported assertions about why America is great (depending on which paragraph you look at, it’s either the economic system or Christianity–never mind that Pope Francis considers the American economic system to be in conflict with Christian values, as indicated in the second encyclical). There are no supporting arguments–the assertions are declared as if they were ex cathedra, without any engagement with Sanders’ views or the views of his supporters. This reads like the drunk ramblings of somebody’s uncle. How did this kid get into Notre Dame?