Senator Bernie Sanders made headlines this week for challenging a statement made by cabinet nominee Russell Vought that “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.”
There was a swift response denouncing Sanders’ supposition that this kind of comment disqualifies a candidate for public office. Article VI of the Constitution mandates that “no religious test” shall ever be required as a requisite for a candidate’s qualification for office. Mr. Sanders’ official rebuttal was that Mr. Vought’s religious conviction is “a bigotry that runs counter to what America is about.”
Those who found Senator Sanders’ charge inflammatory shifted the meaning of his words to fan the flames of religious xenophobia. Liz Wheeler on her show Tipping Point was typical of the rhetoric that emerged: “People like you, Senator Sanders, would deny us to worship the God we choose. Who are you to sit there and tell us what to believe?” Turning up the heat, Ms. Wheeler proceeded: “That means as Christians we can’t believe what we believe. Senator Sanders you are asking us to reject Jesus Christ.”
Setting aside the politics of the debate, Bernie Sanders placed into the forefront a crucial point about religious freedom for public dialogue, and Ms. Wheeler’s rhetoric is evidence of how important it is to challenge the basis of religious dogma.
Bernie Sanders is not attacking anyone’s freedom to worship the God they choose. He is pulling the alarm on the fervency of religions that claim their way, and only their way, is truth and the rest of humanity be damned.
What Ms. Wheeler and many others of her co-religionists forget is that in prior times such attitudes led to murdering people who did not accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Sadly, we still are plagued by some humans who deem it their moral responsibility to murder in the name of their God—but even those who would not murder, cling onto the righteousness of their dogmatic, exclusionary beliefs.
The alarm Bernie Sanders is alerting us to is that beliefs, such as those articulated by Mr. Vought, matter for a humanity that strives for religious freedom. In a pluralistic society, you are granted the freedom to choose whichever God to worship. When you say that only your religion is right or true you have transformed the light and warmth of your religion and God into a fire that at best is inflammatory and at worst hellish.
E Pluribus Unum, in America, also refers to the religions or non-religions of all who attempt, however challenging, to form the one from the many. May Bernie Sanders’ words burn brightly and forge a more perfect union of religious freedom and freedom from religious dogma.