Moralistic therapeutic deism is a fairly new sociological term used to describe the spiritual sensibilities of people who believe that there’s a god, sort of, and that the point of this nebulous supernatural force is to encourage people to better themselves morally and get along with others. Sometimes there are vaguely karmic leanings, like the idea that good people have good afterlives, but it’s more of a category of spiritual notions than any well-defined set of commitments or beliefs.
It’s a more common persuasion than one might expect, and it seems to fit Bernie’s spiritual feelings pretty well. Asked at CNN’s Democratic town hall in New Hampshire about his religious commitments, Sanders said:
“[Religion] is a guiding principle in my life—absolutely it is. Everybody practices religion in a different way. I wouldn’t be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I didn’t have very strong religious and spiritual feelings…
If we have children who are hungry, if we have elderly people who can’t afford prescription drugs ... my spirituality is that we are all in this together, and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That is my very strong spiritual belief.”
One gets the sense Bernie is basically a secular humanist with a strong Jewish background, though that’s not exactly safe to express in American electoral politics. But the absence of “God” here makes Sanders notably different from his 2016 competitors.