Bernie Sanders on God: the “Populist Prophet” or Rape Satirist?

The Washington Post recently interviewed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, (Bernie) about his “faith.” The Post suggests that Sanders could be the “first Jewish president — but as one of the few modern presidents to present himself as not religious.”

Sanders went to Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed, and worked on a kibbutz in Israel, yet, today he is not involved in any form of “organized religion.” He told The Post:

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.”

Being unaffiliated with a particular denomination or religion, Sanders, if elected, would join three presidents: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. According to the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life only these three were unaffiliated with a specific religion.

Last year, a more in depth analysis of Sanders’ “Jewishness” and the “grumpy old Jewish socialist from Brooklyn” was reported on by The New Yorker.

Sanders’s father was a Polish Jew who legally immigrated to America when he was 17 years old. Sanders was born in 1941 and graduated from James Madison High School, the same school from which Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sen. Charles Schumer also graduated.

The New Yorker reports:

Sid Ganis, a Hollywood producer who grew up in the same building as Sanders, described their neighborhood as an enclave of ‘ordinary secular Jews,’ adding, ‘Some of us went to Hebrew school, but mainly it was an identity in that it got us out of school on Jewish holidays.’ Sanders told me that, in the aftermath of the Second World War, his family ‘got a call in the middle of the night about some relative of my father’s, who was in a displaced-persons camp in Europe someplace.’ Sanders learned that many of his father’s other relatives had perished. Sanders’s parents had been fundamentally apolitical, but he took away a lesson: ‘An election in 1932 ended up killing fifty million people around the world.’

“Sanders’s close friend Richard Sugarman, an Orthodox Jew who teaches religious studies at the University of Vermont, said, ‘He’s not what you would call rule-observant.’ But, Sugarman added, ‘if you talk about his Jewish identity, it’s strong. It’s certainly more ethnic and cultural than religious—except for his devotion to the ethical part of public life in Judaism, the moral part. He does have a prophetic sensibility.’”

Most publications like The New Yorker highlight Sanders’ commitment to social equality, social justice, and helping minorities and the poor. However, Sanders’ position on rape appears to fly in the face of both his political and religious beliefs.

Mother Jones uncovered a 1972 essay that Sanders wrote for the Vermont Freeman, which “satirized” rape.

His campaign spokesman Michael Briggs told CNN the essay was a “dumb attempt at dark satire in an alternative publication, [and] … in no way reflects his views or record on women.” He added, “It was intended to attack gender stereotypes of the ’70s, but it looks as stupid today as it was then.”

In response, compiled a list of Sanders’ efforts to protect women from violence and sexual assault.

Either way his essay is telling. He wrote:

A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.

“A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.

“The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday — and go to Church, or maybe to their ‘revolutionary’ political meeting.

“Have you ever looked at the StagManHeroTough magazines on the shelf of your local bookstore? Do you know why the newspaper with the articles like ‘Girl 12 raped by 14 men’ sell so well? To what in us are they appealing?”

He wrote, “Many women seem to be walking a tightrope … qualities of love, openness, and gentleness were too deeply enmeshed with qualities of dependency, subservience, and masochism.” And men are also confused:

What is it they want from a woman? Are they at fault? Are they perpetrating this man-woman situation? Are they oppressors?”

Conservatives used this opportunity to focus on Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct. And National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke dismissed the essay as insignificant.

But, are Sanders’ beliefs about sexuality insignificant? Are they a reflection of his non-religious beliefs? Will his ideas about sexuality matter to female voters?

Sadly, there is so much misogyny among male politicians who disregard, take advantage of, seek to cover up, and abuse women’s human worth, that such behavior has become accepted as a “norm” among politicians. Just consider:

The question that remains is why does society condone and excuse such disrespectful attitudes towards women? And are such attitudes reflective of a person’s commitment to non-religious beliefs and practices?

January 31, 2016


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