Anne Rice’s about face
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!”