Monday, August 2, 2010

Revenge of the Vampires

By Eric Von Salzen

I’m not a big vampire fan (well, in my youth I did envy Bela Lugosi for his suave neck munching), so I’ve never read any of Anne Rice’s innumerable vampire novels. I had heard of her of course, and so I was interested several years ago to hear that she had returned to the Christian religion, specifically to the Roman Catholic Church in which she grew up. She did a radio discussion about this with N. T. Wright in 2006, which is worth listening to. She was in the process of writing a series of novels about the life of Jesus under the overall title Christ The Lord, and she has now published two volumes, subtitled Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana. I recommend both of them.

Now Ms. Rice has announced (on her Facebook page!) that she has left Christianity. She explains:

For those who care, and I understand if you don't: 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.

If that’s not clear enough, she lists several characteristics of Christianity to which she objects, It’s anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-artificial birth control, anti-Democrat, anti-secular humanism, anti-science, and anti-life.

If I took her argument seriously, I guess I’d have to leave Christianity, too, because I also oppose anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-artificial birth control, anti-science, and anti-life positions (and some of my best friends are Democrats and secular humanists). But I’m not leaving.

In part I infer that what Ms. Rice really objects to are positions of the Roman Catholic Church, and she has confused “Christianity” with Roman Catholicism. This is not surprising. When I was growing up (Ms. Rice and I are of an age) a lot of my Roman Catholic friends thought that the only valid form of Christianity was Roman Catholicism (and a lot of my Protestant friends thought the Roman Catholics were mackerel snappers). If she’d said that she’s leaving the Catholic Church for the reasons she cites I wouldn’t question her decision.

But by saying that she’s leaving “Christianity”, and by identifying all these negative characteristics with Christianity, she’s made a fundamental mistake. Although there certainly are Christians who hold the views to which she objects, not all Christians do so. And more important: These positions are not an essential part of Christian belief or Christian theology. Yes, yes, I know that Paul said some beastly things about gays and women, but that doesn’t mean that you have to believe that all gays are idolaters, or that women must be silent in church, in order to be a Christian. Christianity is about faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of Humanity. If Anne Rice remains “committed to Christ as always” (as she says), she’s a Christian whether she likes the name or not.

The other thing that’s wrong with Ms. Rice’s announcement is that it reflects the notion that you shouldn’t be part of an institution that has objectionable people in it. Groucho Marx said he wouldn’t join a club that would accept him as a member, and Ms. Rice won’t belong to a church that has any sinners in it. She’s going to be mighty lonely. She would do well to read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians to help her understand that our church is made up of flawed people, who are nevertheless called to a common faith.

The attitude that Ms. Rice displays is by no means unique to her or to the Roman Catholic Church. It is an attitude that lies behind much of the friction and fragmentation in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the idea that we won’t sit in the same pews, or kneel at the same rail, with “THEM” (whoever “THEM” are). Ms. Rice describes Christians as “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous”. The description fits not only Christians but all human beings. Yet we are called to break bread together.

When the Holy Spirit touches the heart of Anne Rice and brings her back to the Christian community, she should be welcomed.

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