Kamala Harris and religious affiliation.


Kamala Harris. Wikimedia

Kamala Harris is one of my state’s senators, and recently she’s become presidential nominee Joe Biden’s choice for his vice-president. No, this isn’t an endorsement. (Though I confess I’m totally voting for Biden, ’cause Donald Trump is awful.) Instead I’m gonna talk about how the press talks about her religion.

Harris is a regular at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. She considers herself Baptist. Now, her mother’s from Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Madru, India. Her mom was born into the upper-class Brahmin caste, and Harris has been to India many times to visit the family, and go to temple with them. Various news articles claim she was raised Hindu and Christian.

Hence I’ve heard a number of people claim this means she’s both. I’ve heard it from people in both parties: From Democrats who think having multiple religions makes her broad-minded… and from Republicans who think it makes her pagan.

The way certain articles report it, she sounds both Christian and Hindu. But you gotta remember a lot of reporters, including religion reporters, aren’t religious. So they don’t know squat about religion… and presume you’re born into your religion. Just as they themselves were born into the religions they no longer practice.

So if Harris’s mom is Hindu and her dad is Christian, that makes her both. Right?

Following that logic, I should be both Christian and atheist. Except I’m totally not atheist. I picked a side. People can do that, y’know. Harris did.

But many irreligious people really don’t get this. They presume if you were raised something, that’s your religion. For life; or at least until you publicly, loudly denounce it. If you were born into an Episcopalian family and were raised Episcopalian, yet for the past 30-some years you’ve been going to a Baptist church with your Baptist wife, such people are still gonna insist you’re Episcopalian. That’s not a hypothetical example; that’s former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. Who didn’t get rebaptized (’cause he didn’t need to; Episcopalians and Baptists follow the same Christ Jesus!) so irreligious people figured he remained Episcopalian all his life.

I was raised Fundamentalist, so even though I became Pentecostal in my 20s, such people would presume I’m still Fundie. If I were raised in the Latter-day Saints they might figure I’m still Mormon. Maybe a stealth Mormon, who’s only pretending to be Evangelical for nefarious reasons. Especially if I got into politics; they’d cynically assume I was faking a religion so I might get more votes. Even though I’ve written a ton about what precisely I do believe, partisanship always make people of the opposition party respond, “Nah, you gotta be lying.”

So it won’t matter how much Harris claims allegiance with the Baptists: They’re still gonna wonder if she’s not still secretly Hindu.

(Especially after she and Biden wished Hindus a happy Ganesh Chaturthi. Now they’re gonna wonder if Biden, a practicing Catholic, isn’t faking his own religion a bit. ’Cause wishing well of people of other religions, is just so unfathomable to partisans.)

Can you be both Christian and Hindu?

Short answer: No.

Unless by “Hindu” we’re talking about someone’s ethnicity—someone whose ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent, or beyond the Indus River. Plenty of ethnic Hindus are Muslim, fr’instance. You can totally be a Christian who’s an ethnic Hindu. Same as you can be a Christian who’s an ethnic Jew.

The problem is when you claim you can practice both Christianity and Hinduism. No, you really can’t.

Oh, you might try. Plenty have. But they’re not truly practicing either religion anymore. They’ve invented some new eclectic religion, with parts which come from Christianity and parts which come from Hinduism. They think it’s compatible with both, and might even try to go to church or temple and try to worship with the Christians or Hindus therein. And the Christians and Hindus might tolerantly let ’em. But they’ve compromised too much of the authentic Christianity and authentic Hinduism, and really they’re heretics in both religions.

Fr’instance God. In Christianity he’s a being. In Hinduism he’s the entirety of the universe. Two religions; two entirely different views of who God is and how he works. You can’t combine religions without compromising one religion’s view, or the other, or both. And because you define how the religion works, you’re not letting Jesus define it for you. You’re not following him; you’re in charge. So you’re not properly Christian; and since you’re not really following any Hindu gurus either, you’re not properly Hindu. You’re your own thing.

True of everybody who claims they’re of multiple religions. Jewish Christians regularly claim you can totally practice both Judaism and Christianity… but no you can’t. Judaism follows the teachings of the medieval rabbis. Christianity follows Jesus. You gotta follow the one or the others, and most Jewish Christians (thankfully!) follow Jesus instead of the rabbis: They appropriate the trappings of Judaism, but properly they’re Christian.

Because we can’t serve two masters. Mt 6.24, Lk 16.13 Either one religion wins out, or the other does. Or neither does, and we’re really just blazing our own trail, same as every other pagan.

So if Harris did claim she was both—and I’ve found no evidence to say she’s done any such thing—she really isn’t. She’s one or the other, or neither.

And if she visits a Hindu temple, or wishes Hindus well, or asks one of her aunts to break a coconut in temple for her: No it doesn’t cancel out her Christianity. They do karma; God does grace. What, are you trying to synthesize religions together? Stop that.