Vivek Ramaswamy emails me, as does half the Republican presidential primary field, because I am on the mailing list of a GOP fundraising outfit that does not honor unsubscribe requests.
Ramaswamy’s latest email stood out from the daily deluge, though, for the simplicity of its conceit.
“I am not afraid to say these truths,” ran the subject line. Inside, the fundraising pitch was short and blunt: “TRUTH. There’s only one. Not yours, not mine. Just pure TRUTH,” read the brief note festooned with links to donate.
In the middle were the 10 affirmations Ramaswamy has increasingly placed at the center of his campaign messaging, rattling them off every chance he gets:
Set aside, for a minute, the question of whether the list is as true as Ramaswamy claims, and look instead at the form. It’s familiar—or it should be, for Christians. This is undeniably a creed, and that’s precisely the problem.
Ramaswamy isn’t unique in taking a creedal approach to politics. The best-known contemporary example is the “In this house we believe” sign, which has become ubiquitous in many progressive neighborhoods in recent years.
As creeds go, In this house is remarkably efficient, dogmatic, and magisterial. Each line requires substantial knowledge of the faith: “Science is real,” for instance, invokes a whole host of beliefs about evolution, vaccination, climate change, masking, and more.
There are a few variants on the text—some later manuscripts, which I suspect are more common in states where oil pipelines or fracking is an imminent concern, add the statement “Water is life.” But you never see an In this house protestant posting a sign with a few of the lines crossed out. The creed is complete, and the faithful uphold it in its entirety.
Right-wing interest in mirroring and/or parodying the In this house mantra seems to match the original sign’s spread. When I first researched the phenomenon for an article at The Week in 2020, I came across a red, white, and blue version with lines like “Fetal rights are human rights” and “Immigration is a privilege.” Yet more often, it looked like bumper stickers, campaign signs, and American flags were the Right’s counterpart of choice.
Since then, however, the market appears to have expanded. There are jokey offerings (“We believe Bigfoot is real”) and theological ones (“We believe sola gratia, sola fide …”) and a new political version that ignores abortion and immigration in favor of declaring socialism to be “the gospel of envy” and the news to be “propaganda.”
However popular they may be, none of those have made the cultural impact Ramaswamy likely hopes his list will achieve. As a write-up at Mother Jones observed, Ramaswamy’s 10 truths loosely follow In this house, but they’re less derivative than the explicit parodies.
Ramaswamy takes more freedom to include the dogmas he deems essential and adopts a soberer presentation than open mockery. His invocation of “TRUTH” is zealous but apparently serious—or, at least, as serious as anything else in modern American politics. It seems inevitable that his supporters will learn to recite his creed.
And that’s just the thing that unsettles me about all this. Contra the email’s claim to be sharing “pure” truth, it’s very much his creed.
This is not, like the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, the work of the church under the guidance of the Spirit—now ratified by more than 16 centuries of faithful Christian use. It is, as Ramaswamy told The Atlantic, the work of 15 minutes on an airplane. It is the work of a political candidate whose “one God,” affirmed in the first line, is not the same God as the one his typical evangelical supporter worships.
It is also the work of a man, as the same Atlantic article indicates, whose understanding of truth and belief is strikingly incoherent. Consider the following exchange:
[Ramaswamy] presents his ideas as self-evident, eternal truths. I asked him if he believes that truths can change over time. For instance, what did he make of the fact that most white Americans used to view it as a “truth” that Black people were genetically inferior—that they weren’t fully human?
“I don’t think that’s true,” he said.
“It is true,” I said. “That’s partly what justified slavery.”
“But it was a justification; it wasn’t a belief,” he said. “Look at emperors—Septimius Severus in Rome. He was Black. He had dark skin. They viewed dark skin as the way we view dark eyes.” [The Atlantic]
What Ramaswamy says here does not make sense. The part about Roman emperors is irrelevant to the matter at hand. The implication that a belief can’t be false is laughably wrong.
And though the Atlantic writer’s phrasing is unclear too—he speaks of truths “chang[ing] over time” but seems to mean that popular beliefs evolve—Ramaswamy’s answer is just as confused. He doesn’t really defend the idea of ultimate, changeless, and (at least partially) knowable truth. He simply defends his list.
The original In this house mantra has basically the same problem. Its author was a woman in Wisconsin. Her homemade sign went viral on Facebook, and then it went into mass production. I’d guess not one in a million adopters of her creed knows her name, though she wrote the very words by which they publicly define themselves.
Like many evangelicals, I did not grow up in a creedal tradition. Most of the churches in which I was raised were formally or functionally Baptist. As an adult, my longest church membership was in a Mennonite community where, like other Anabaptists, we had “no creed but Scripture.” These noncreedal churches had statements of faith and confessions, some of which were very similar (albeit usually more verbose) than the major Christian creeds, but we didn’t have the same doctrine of creedal authority.
For many years that made sense to me, and it still does, in theory. But in practice, I’ve learned that just because a community espouses “no creed but Scripture” doesn’t guarantee it will be marked by deep scriptural study and obedience. Instead, it can produce a community in which scriptural interpretation is an individual project undertaken without clear guardrails or a means of settling sincere disagreements about what the Bible means.
I’m now a member of a creedal church—in part because I think most of us need the creeds’ succinct and long-tested summary of our faith. I believe we have neither the scriptural knowledge nor the personal constancy and wisdom to do without them. Maybe creeds are training wheels; but I, for one, don’t have perfect balance.
The choice to adhere to a creed, though, is a weighty matter. And I think that’s why I have a strong instinct against creedal politicking. The In this house author and Vivek Ramaswamy may have many merits. That doesn’t mean their political agendas deserve creedal authority. Adopting a creed is too serious an expression of loyalty and identity for politics.
Creeds are important, and that’s why they only belong in church.
Bonnie Kristian is the editorial director of ideas and books at Christianity Today.