While reading an online article about the new AMC series “Rubicon,” in which my brother The Actor has a recurring role, I clicked on a link to a story about the writer Anne Rice and her recent renunciation of Christianity:
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 ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else...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. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian…My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.” — Author Anne Rice’s postings on her web site and Facebook wall on July 29, 2010
I’ll say right up front, I haven’t read any of Anne Rice’s books, or seen any of the movies made from her books. I don’t know what precipitated her “conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God.” Judging from the three links on her website that are under the label “Christianity,” she became, until her recent renunciation, a Roman Catholic. Perhaps this is news only to me.
The male-pattern balding of the Roman Catholic church has been widely documented, analyzed, and debated by better, more informed writers than I. The Boston Globe recently published an article about the media blitz that the Roman Catholic church is launching to convince people to come back. In the story, a woman was quoted as saying, “I go to church, I want to talk about Jesus, and all they seem to talk about is money, money, money.” When PW read that, she burst out laughing, pointing out that probably the only thing Jesus talked about more than money was about not being afraid.
I can’t count the number of people I know who have left the Roman Catholic church for many of the same reasons Rice states above. I know people who have left to become atheists, or to just find their own path, either in a different denomination or in a sort of ad hoc way as spiritual people who don’t have a specific spiritual home other than the wide world around them. Many recovering Roman Catholics I know have found a home in the Episcopal church. They find comfort in the similar liturgy and language, while simultaneously being surprised and delighted by the amount of intellectual, theological, and spiritual elbow room.
As a queer woman, I completely understand and agree with Anne Rice’s frustration with people who claim the mantle of Christianity while behaving in ways that, to my mind, likely would have drawn the wrath of the savior they claim to follow. Of course, there are too many examples to count, since pointing out Christian hypocrisy is easier than shooting pickles in a barrel (which is even easier than shooting fish in a barrel, since pickles can’t take evasive action.)
An example of Christian hypocrisy near and dear to my life is the battle over equal marriage. The fight against equal marriage has made curious bedfellows (pun intended) of the Mormon and the Roman Catholic churches, to name two of the biggest religious players on the anti-equal marriage team. I find it interesting, and not at all surprising, that two organizations with such tortured histories around sexuality — the Roman Catholics with their insistence on a celibate male priesthood and the Mormons’ with their legacy of polygamy (as well as their insistence on a male priesthood) — would be so deeply and extravagantly invested (to the tune of millions of dollars) in preventing committed, loving, consenting adults from being able to marry each other. It’s appalling to me to imagine the many thousands of people who could have been fed, sheltered, employed, advocated for, healed (or at least treated) with that vast time and treasure.
Whatever the subtexts for Anne Rice’s conversion to and subsequent renunciation of Christianity, I wish her well. I do wonder how she will manage to follow Jesus outside the context of a community. I don’t think it’s impossible, but going solo — or even ad hoc — at feeding, freeing, clothing, sheltering, and healing those who need such things is a recipe for burnout. Shoot, even Jesus needed a raggedy group of thick-headed misfits to keep himself going. So far as I can tell, the great majority of his followers are still a raggedy group of thick-headed misfits. A friend of mine and fellow Emmanuel parishioner refers to us as a “band of mutants.” That works, too, and not just for people at Emmanuel.
I wish Anne Rice had my luck to participate in a Christian community that includes an intellectually lively mix of skeptics, agnostics, and atheists. Within the course of any given day, I’d wager that many of our parishioners (and clergy) are each of those, sometimes all at once! I wish she had my luck to participate in a Christian community that is on the cutting edge of undoing millennia of implicit and explicit anti-Jewish bias in Christian worship and study. I wish she had my luck to eavesdrop on two brilliant, funny, queer, female Episcopal priests translating Hebrew together once a week, working their way through the lectionary’s Hebrew Bible selections; it’s thrilling and often disturbing to (over)hear how many liberties translators have taken with the texts over the centuries, and to consider the horrible, or just annoying, consequences of translation and punctuation choices.
Come to think of it, I wish EVERYONE had the luck I’ve had in travelling the crooked line of my spiritual path. Then it occurs to me, hmmm, maybe I hogged all the luck! Of course, I know it’s not only luck that’s gotten me here. My luck has been well-seasoned with stubbornness, resilience, what PW calls my “pantheistic whyheadedness,” and my continuing to work at discerning what’s worth fighting for and what I’d be better off releasing. I’m sharing my bounty as best I know how — this website is one way of doing that. And, of course, I can always make more Gay Jell-O!