Anne Rice, Christ, and Christianity

 

On July 29, 2010, the celebrated American novelist Anne O’Brien Rice announced to the world that she was leaving Christianity. Born in 1941 in New Orleans of an Irish-American family and raised in the traditional Catholic manner, she opted out of the church when she turned 18, moving to Haight-Ashbury during the hippie era, eventually marrying and declaring herself an atheist. Only after experiencing several tragedies, including the death of a young daughter, almost dying herself, and finally widowhood, she finally returned in 1998 to a church she had thought had changed almost completely for the better. Not long after, in fact within two years, she began to realize it was not so. So after a struggle that has lasted over the past decade she has declared that she can no longer associate herself with a Christianity if that is, among other things, “anti-gay”, “anti-feminist”, “anti-science”, and “anti-Democrat.” Nevertheless, she continues to affirm that “my faith in Christ is central to my life … But following Christ doesn’t mean following his followers,” which she described as a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”

 

In many ways I can sympathize with her. That consummate propagandist of atheism, Christopher Hitchens, couldn’t have said it better—in fact, if that vitriolic critic could make the same distinction between God and religion, or between Christ and Christians that Rice has, it could turn out to be his salvation. But unfortunately doing so is not all that easy. Rice, after having announced some years ago that she was going to devote her considerable talents to writing a series of books on the life of Christ (Christ the Lord — two volumes so far) must have found out by now that it is no easy task to separate Christ from Christianity. In fact, after several centuries of scholarly efforts, the modern attempt to extricate the historical Jesus from the so-called “Christ of Faith” has only proved increasingly problematic. The problem is that, aside from two independent but fleeting early references to his existence (one by a pagan, the Roman historian Tacitus, and the other by a Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus), everything we know about Jesus depends on the recollections and impressions of his followers, none of which seem to have begun to take on any written form until several decades after his death. And even then, it took several centuries before his followers reached any definite decision as to which of these writings (by the third century there was any number of spurious “gospels” in circulation) could claim to accurately represent the authentic tradition.  So, as Rice has discovered, there is no road to the authentic Jesus except through the Christ of faith—that is, the faith of Christians.

 

What to do then? It seems to me, despite my criticism, that Rice has been basically on the right track, even if for the moment she seems to have lost all patience with Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church in particular. Did Jesus not predict, despite his reported prayer “that all may be one,” that the same time that his message would be like a “sword,” even causing division within families? And if this is true even within the intimacy of the immediate family, must this not also be unfortunately true within the “family” of Christianity? And as for what Rice herself should do, I think she need only to remember and remain true to what she wrote only two years ago in her own memoir.

 

“In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological and social questions which had kept me from [God] for countless years. I simply let them go. There was this sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point. No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from him. No question of scriptural integrity, no torment over the fate of this or that atheist or gay friend, no worry for those condemned and ostracized by my church or any other church should stand between me and Him. The reason? It was magnificently simple: He knew how or why everything happened: He knew the disposition of every single soul. He wasn’t going to let anything happen by accident! Nobody was going to go to hell by mistake.” (Called out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. Knopf, 2008, p. 183)

 

Maybe so for Hitchens—but it will certainly be a mistake if Anne Rice ends up there.

 

R W Kropf    7/31/2010                                  Anne Rice & Christianity.doc