Some Americans who are nonreligious and some who are atheists were disappointed when U.S. presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont declared he had "very strong religious and spiritual feelings" at a recent Democratic town hall. "It's a guiding principle in my life, absolutely, it is," Sanders said when a New Hampshire voter asked him about his faith. Ironically, Sanders made history Tuesday as the first ethnic Jewish and non-Christian candidate to win a presidential primary.
"Everybody 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," said Sanders, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.
The town hall statement came a week after the Vermont senator told The Washington Post he is "not active in any organized religion," but believes in God. That lukewarm reference to religion prompted atheists and others to describe Sanders as the first "none" to run for president, referring to people who have no religious preference.
Sanders was raised by Jewish parents and has said he believes in God, and that "all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together."
"Sanders defines God in a very different way than the way most Americans do, and, in fact, a way that would be compatible with nontheistic humanists," Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, told The Huffington Post after Sanders' Post interview was published.
Lauren Nelson, writing on the popular blog Friendly Atheist one day after the town hall, described Sanders' response as a "punch to the gut."
"Here was a candidate who, throughout decades of public service, had always been a staunch advocate for keeping religion out of politics, and he was saying that religion was the reason he was running?!" Nelson wrote. "Sanders, who has in the past indicated that his Judaism was a function of culture instead of belief?! HOW COULD HE BETRAY US?!"
Nelson eventually concluded Sanders' religion is "empathy," and said she could support that.
"Shame that you can't openly come out as an atheist and still have a chance to get elected," @bensouthard tweeted during the town hall.
And @MBrothers22 tweeted, "This (is) what an atheist says when they don't want to offend anyone."