After all, evangelical Christians make up the Republican Party‘s largest voting bloc by religious affiliation. And they have net negative views of groups outside — or deemed by them to be outside — the Judeo-Christian fold.
Yet surprisingly, on faith, Ramaswamy treads his own unique path. Unlike Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, two other prominent Indian American Republicans, Ramaswamy hasn’t abandoned his parents’ religion. And he doesn’t shy away from discussing his Hindu beliefs.
But when speaking about faith, Ramaswamy vacillates between profundity and pandering. In his pursuit of the presidency, Ramaswamy has become a religious salesman overeager to please the customer.
Vivek’s New ‘Truth’
At a public forum in August, Ramaswamy quite ably articulated in layman’s terms the Hindu concepts of atman, Brahman, and dharma. He did this in response to a Christian woman’s question about his belief in God and Jesus ؑ , whom she characterized as the son of God.
No one, except for Ramaswamy’s wife, probably understood that the biotech entrepreneur was referring to those concepts. He used no foreign words. And he made no references to Hindu scripture. That, of course, is Ramaswamy’s magic. He’s a skilled communicator and, when he wants to be, a bridge-builder. He can make Hinduism — seen by many as polytheistic — palatable to a fervent Christian’s ears.
Ramaswamy likes to say he’s not trying to be something he’s not — i.e. a Christian. But the Republican hopeful quite often tries very hard — one might say too hard — to make Hinduism adjacent to evangelical Christianity. So hard that he’s coming close to inventing a new religion.
For example, on many occasions, Ramaswamy has said that he believes that Jesus ؑ was “a son of God,” not “the son of God.” A generous interpretation could be that Ramaswamy has developed this view after years of study of Christianity, including attendance at a Catholic school. And the Hindu tradition has a strong absorptive capacity. Hinduism differs from Abrahamic religions in that it has many strands and sub-strands that can be very, very syncretic and incorporate the holy figures of other faiths. In India, for example, there are Hindus who sing devotionals about revered figures in Islam.
But the context here is key. Ramaswamy is not some sage meditating in the foothills of the Himalayas. And he’s not a regular Hindu American involved in interfaith activity. His statements on religion are ultimately a politician’s sales pitch to get the votes of evangelicals. His comments on the nature of Jesus ؑ come across as a semantical, lawyerly response to make Hinduism seem Christianity-like. He’s done the same with his own candidacy, offering his “10 Truths,” obviously riffing off of the Ten Commandments.
Importantly, Ramaswamy’s interfaith appeals are limited to Christianity and Judaism, which says a lot about his intentions. He rarely, if ever, mentions other religions like Buddhism, Sikhism, or Islam. Clearly, to say good things about Islam would be off-message to the evangelicals whose support he seeks. His message is as much “I’m not one of them” as it is “I’m one of you.”
To win the hearts and minds of evangelicals, Ramaswamy has become more brazen as of late. One could see it as an act of desperation.
Last week, in response to criticism that he wasn’t sufficiently supportive of Israel, Ramaswamy declared the country to be a “Divine gift, gifted to a Divine nation, charged with a Divine purpose.”
Now, Christian candidates can at least refer to biblical verses about blessing Israel when they want to show they are supporters of the Jewish state — though it doesn’t quite make sense when referring to the modern State of Israel given that close to half of Israeli adults identify as secular or not religious. In fact, the most religious Jews — the Haredi or ultra-Orthodox — “ascribe neither political nor religious significance to the State of Israel,” as Moshe Krakowsky explains in The Forward.
But it makes even less sense for Ramaswamy to do so. Israel plays no role in Hindu mythology or the broader Hindu religious tradition. What he’s doing here is simply appropriating evangelical or Christian Zionist rhetoric about Israel as his own. It’s political pandering in its purest form.
Ramaswamy isn’t simply feigning a belief. He’s inventing a new one. With his bizarro-evangelical Hindu Zionism, Ramaswamy is suggesting that he, and Hinduism as a whole, view Jews as the chosen people — or, as he might say, a chosen people.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.