Anne Rice’s about face

The Compass - - NEWS -

A few years ago, I was in a sec­ond hand book­store, brows­ing the shelves for the “deal of the day.” I over­heard a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween a cus­tomer and the lady be­hind the counter.

“ Do you have any Anne Rice books?

“ Yes, we do. Which ones specif­i­cally are you look­ing for?”

The cus­tomer asked for some of Rice’s vam­pire nov­els.

She con­cluded her part of the con­ver­sa­tion by say­ing, “I don’t care much for her since she went re­li­gious. Her books no longer have the same ap­peal to me as her vam­pire nov­els. It’s too bad she went that way.”

The name of Anne Rice needs no in­tro­duc­tion to the devo­tees of her vam­pire fic­tion. “ In­ter­view with the Vam­pire” is her sig­na­ture ti­tle. Many other ti­tles fol­lowed.

At the time of this con­ver­sa­tion, Rice had just pub­lished the first of a new se­ries of nov­els - her Je­sus books. Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt was the ini­tial ti­tle. It was fol­lowed by Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. Rice’s change in writ­ing style star­tled her read­ers.

Then, in 2008, Rice pub­lished her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Called Out of Dark­ness: A Spir­i­tual Con­fes­sion.

Af­ter years as an athe­ist, she ad­mit­ted pub­licly that she had re­turned to her Ro­man Catholic faith of her child­hood.

Many of Rice’s read­ers were thrown for a spin, not only be­cause of her about face, but be­cause her book Black­wood Farm closed the Vam­pire Chron­i­cles.

From now on, she an­nounced, she would “ never write an­other word that is not for (God).” Her fans were dev­as­tated.

Now, Rice has had yet an­other about face.

On July 28, 2010, she wrote on her web­site: “ To­day I quit be­ing a Chris­tian. I’m out. I re­main com­mit­ted to Christ as al­ways, but not to be­ing ‘Chris­tian’ or to be­ing part of Chris­tian­ity. It’s sim­ply im­pos­si­ble for me to ‘ be­long’ to this quar­rel­some, hos­tile, dis­pu­ta­tious and de­servedly in­fa­mous group.

For 10 years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an out­sider. My con­science will al­low noth­ing else.”

Later that day, she posted a fol­low-up note on her web­site: “ In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti­gay. 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 the anti-sci­ence. I refuse to be anti-life.”

Or­ga­nized re­li­gion turned Rice off. As she told a Chris­tian mag­a­zine, “ I wanted to ex­on­er­ate my­self from the things or­ga­nized re­li­gion was do­ing in the name of Je­sus.”

As early as 1980, I learned some­thing very sig­nif­i­cant about the very real dif­fer­ence be­tween Chris­ten­dom and Chris­tian­ity. I per­son­ally find the dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two to be lib­er­at­ing.

“ Chris­ten­dom” refers to the ad­min­is­tra­tive or power struc­ture of re­li­gion as con­structed by hu­mans. It is char­ac­ter­ized by de­nom­i­na­tions, in­sti­tu­tions and or­ga­ni­za­tions. It is highly rit­u­al­ized, strat­i­fied and for­mal­ized.

The founder of Chris­ten­dom was Em­peror Con­stan­tine the Great. Fol­low­ing his con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity, it rose to be­come the dom­i­nant re­li­gion in the Ro­man Em­pire. In the process, Con­stan­tine tied it to the sec­u­lar state as closely as pos­si­ble.

Whether or not this was a pos­i­tive step re­mains an open ques­tion. There are pros and cons on both sides.

Mean­while, there is much to dis­like about Chris­ten­dom, both an­cient and mod­ern. Think only, for ex­am­ple, of the Cru­sades and the In­qui­si­tion.

Read­ers could eas­ily com­pile their own list.

On the other hand, there is such an en­tity as Chris­tian­ity, by which I mean the re­li­gion of Je­sus of Nazareth.

The re­li­gion Je­sus of Nazareth pro­pounded in the ser­mon on the mount.

“ For­give us our debts,” he in­structed us to pray, “as we also have for­given our debtors.”

The re­li­gion Je­sus of Nazareth taught in the beat­i­tudes. “ Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he said, “ for theirs is the king­dom of heaven.”

The re­li­gion Je­sus of Nazareth ex­em­pli­fied in the golden rule. “ Do to oth­ers,” he com­manded, “ what you would have them do to you.”

The late cur­mud­geon Mal­colm Mug­geridge ( 1903-90) dis­tin­guished be­tween these two en­ti­ties.

Chris­ten­dom is of this world and is tied to ab­so­lute power. Like all other hu­man cre­ations, it is sub­ject to de­cay and even­tual dis­so­lu­tion.

Chris­tian­ity is not of this world and is tied to ab­so­lute love. Un­like hu­man cre­ations, Christ and his king­dom will en­dure.

To re­turn to Anne Rice, it seems to me she is re­nounc­ing Chris­ten­dom as an out­ward sys­tem, but com­mend­ing Chris­tian­ity as an in­ward re­al­ity.

“Christ,” she writes, “ is in­fin­itely more im­por­tant than Chris­tian­ity and al­ways will be, no mat­ter what Chris­tian­ity is, has been, or might be­come.”

To which I can only echo a hearty “Amen!”

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