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Michael Bloomberg’s religion problem

by Brad A. Greenberg

August 20, 2007 | 4:56 pm

It seems like most the candidates in the ‘08 race are having a crisis of faith on the campaign trail. But keep in mind that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not declared his candidacy for president. Yet. Then, read Jacques Berlinerblau’s assessment of why Bloomberg would fair poorly among the Party of God (no, not that party of God):

If values voters really do exist, the very competent, very capable, Michael Bloomberg is going to have the darnedest time winning them over. All mayors of the ultra multi-cultural Five Boroughs must learn how to speak a discourse of pluralism and tolerance. This Bloomberg can do solidly, though not spectacularly. But he appears very uncomfortable—John Kerry uncomfortable—speaking about his own religious convictions. I, along with many of his other constituents, had always attributed his reluctant and maladroit God Talk to the fact that he was a nonbeliever—an unremarkable identity in America’s greatest city.

I had assumed this until Bloomberg recently described himself as “short, Jewish divorced billionaire.” This was about as explicit a profession of faith as New Yorkers have heard from their unsentimental leader. Some Jews were surprised (though not necessarily upset) to hear Bloomberg publicly refer to his religion. Mindful of option “(a)” above, Opposition Research teams across America have surely taken note of what could be spun as a self-serving “conversion.”

Mr. Bloomberg is affiliated with Reform Judaism and this too augurs badly for his candidacy. Let us assume that he is deeply committed to his faith. Let us even assume that while he was skillfully micromanaging the City’s recent upswing, he secretly received his rabbinic training and ordination at Hebrew Union College on Broadway and West Fourth Street. My surmise is that even if this were the case, Rabbi Bloomberg would still fair poorly in the Red States. This is because Reform is an example of the type of secularized religion I have been discussing in previous posts. With its emphasis on human agency and social justice, it is nowhere near as obsessed with the role of the divine in everyday life as are certain varieties of conservative Protestantism. Highly educated, affluent and at peace with modernity, they resemble, in many ways, the small but influential class of urban-dwelling non-believers. A Reform Jewish candidate stumping among, let’s say, Evangelical Christians might be construed by them as a Unitarian, a secular humanist or even an atheist.

 

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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