Raise your hands if you’ve been here: Anne Rice quit Christianity. She insists she’s still “committed to Christ as always”, but the Christianity label – and all the intolerance that tends to go with it – is too much for the Vampire Queen. I can’t say I’m surprised, but my heart goes out to her. It can be such a struggle to be unconventional when you’re surrounded by the most conventional kinds of fundamentalists.
When Anne Rice became religious, she made sure everybody knew it. She renounced her vampires (to the dismay of many) and pledged to keep her work forevermore at the Jesus-loving heart of the Christian universe. She followed through, too, with novels like Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt or her spiritual memoir Called Out of Darkness. It certainly seems that Rice was quite committed to proclaiming the Good News. There’s nothing like a revert trying to prove she’s got the spiritual street cred to run with the cradle Catholics who’ve been flocking to Mass all their lives. And that’s not easy when you have to read a missal to know the Mass responses . . . or when you’ve written a series of extremely popular and rather sensual novels about vampires.
But like so many before her – including the one writing this post – it seems she couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that some of those more controversial Catholic tenets were flat-out wrong. And finally, she reached the breaking point. I don’t know what did it, but she got there. Calling her fellow Christians “quarrelsome, hostile, [and] disputatious”, she proclaimed: “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.”
That’s brave. That’s hard. After all the flak she took for walking away from vampires to write about the life of Jesus, it took a lot of bravery for her to speak up about her break with the mainstream beliefs of the Catholic Church – which, as her bold statement seems to indicate, often seem to focus more on what a person is against rather than what they stand for.
I’m particularly intrigued by her insistence that she doesn’t want “to be anti-life”. I was Catholic for long enough to know this much: the Church loves to talk about being pro-life. It’ll tell you day and night how it’s the most pro-life institution around. She can’t possibly be talking about “anti-life” in the way abortion opponents use the term. So what does she mean?
Personally, I think she’s being informed by the complexity of human emotion any writer has to observe to create even remotely convincing characters. That’s what life is about. When the Catholic Church creates their narrow list of acceptable beliefs, requiring Catholics to eschew birth control and con
demn homosexuality and impose their strictures on the broad range of human experiences they consider “sinful”, they limit the extent to which we can experience life. We’re meant to live it. I believe, fully and completely, that we’re meant to learn. We can’t have much compassion for the human experience if we turn away from it at every opportunity. It’s better to experience life in all its richness.
But Christianity, at its most fundamentalist, often advises us to turn innocent eyes away from the full range of hour experience, to condemn our own inner worlds with all their unflattering emotions and scandalous desires. You don’t deal with that part of yourself face-to-face; rather, you try to not be that part of yourself. That’s a sin against life that Anne Rice – creator of lush vampire worlds and even a few erotic novels – just doesn’t seem willing to embrace.
Personally, I’ll stand by her on that one.
I’m particularly interested to see how this influences her upcoming works, and whether she returns to some of the darker themes she’s considered in her past writings. And even though I admit I never had much interest in her Christ the King series, this latest public conversion has got me curious. I wonder how much she let her misgivings filter into her novels about the life of Jesus. Or did she keep to the orthodoxy she had to know was expected of her?
I’ve heard they’re not her best work, and I’m not surprised by that. Vampires are her subject matter, no doubt about it. But maybe there’s still some value here. Even if the story isn’t particularly captivating, it might be worth a look just to see what the subtext tells me about her experience. After all, we’ve got something in common: she’s a fellow traveler on the same road I’ve been on ever since I came to understand that Catholic orthodoxy and birth control just don’t mix. It’s a religion that (at least in its official manifestation in Rome) has trouble being one-size-fits-all. Some people just don’t fit.
Anne Rice didn’t fit, and neither do a lot of other people who can probably relate very deeply to her experience of renouncing the “anti-life” religion that restricts their hearts so painfully. God bless Anne Rice for speaking up, and for continuing to tell her story.
Maybe that way, the rest of us Catholic castaways – and we are many – won’t feel so alone.