Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession
It’s interesting to read Anne Rice’s first and only nonfiction book, so far, in the wake of her recent denunciation of Christianity. There’s a certain sense of irony in reading the conversion tale of someone who’s recently made it publicly clear that she is no longer converted.
At least the first fifty pages of her memoir deal exclusively with her childhood, and, specifically, her impressions of the Catholic Church during her childhood. Anne was an unusually pious child, vacillating back and forth between the desire to be a priest and then a nun and then a Saint. She actively wishes to be afflicted with the stigmata and talks about her admiration for St. Francis of Assisi, among others. She writes about her lack of awareness of gender issues and mentions that she didn’t identify as being either a child or a girl. She talks about her unusual upbringing and her mother’s tragic alcoholism.
None of her tale is especially dramatic, and if you are expecting a fire and brimstone tale of the sinner born again, you will be disappointed. This is the tale of a young woman who rejected the sexism and the unnatural prudishness of a pre-Vatican II church. She mentions being racked with guilt over just hugging and kissing her boyfriend, a slightly younger man named Stan Rice. This begins her rejection of church doctrine, that unravels her faith in the Church, and eventually undermines her belief in Christ Himself.
Anne, a woman who published erotic novels under a pseudonym, reveals that she was never with any man but Stan, her husband of over forty years. Anne and Stan were secular humanists. They were essentially do-gooders of the atheistic variety. Except for a descent into alcoholism on the part of both Anne and Stan, which is glossed over and mentioned as an afterthought, Anne and her husband did not live their lives very differently from adherents of the emerging church.
The only significant differences would be that secular humanists don’t pray, study the Bible or worship. Anne even mentions that after her fortunes changed with the publication of Interview with the Vampire that she later began tithing to a local parish in New Orleans, many years before she came back into the fold or even darkened the door of a church.
She describes her many novels as all being essentially a cry out to a God that she believed no longer existed. It sounds like an extended mourning for God realized as a prolific literary project. It’s easy to see a theme of mortality in her books, but I had never previously made the connection with religion and basically chalked up the vampire theme as being attributable to her young daughter’s death from leukemia. However, having now finished reading this book, I can see her point.
Her conversion from atheism back to Christianity, too, is not dramatic or sudden. It’s a slow, nuanced progression that happens over years. She describes it as an obsession with religious iconography and travel. She visits significant sites, indulging, in particular, a fascination with architecture that was centered almost exclusively around churches, synagogues, and places specifically associated with Christ and his ministry. The conscious turning point is when her teenaged son Christopher (she mentions that his name cannot have been an accident) reveals that he believes in the existence of God despite having been raised in an atheistic household.
This revelation causes her to research Christianity and embrace it on an intellectual level. Somewhere along the way of her reading journey something takes hold, and she finds herself returning to the church. After that we get a description of the deepening of her relationship with God and her discipleship. She and Stan marry in the church, and Stan, who died an atheist, even declares his happiness for her before he dies of a brain tumor.
Following Stan’s death, she consecrates her vocation to God. Thus, the novels Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana were born. She renunciates her former profession of writing exclusively about supernatural creatures of darkness and decides to apply that talent to writing about Christ and angels. Not that there’s anything wrong with writing about vampires!
Ultimately, her conversion experience leads her to the conclusion that God is Love and that her highest goal as a Christian is to practice that higher love and apply it in her daily life. She says that although there are matters that trouble her, especially the church’s response to gender equality and homosexuality (Christopher is gay), and to a lesser extent, the pedophilia scandals, that she is reconciled to the church. She mentions that being in the church strengthens her faith and so she actively chooses to participate in order to remain fully in dialogue with God. Rice tells of her need for the church in order to prevent her earlier backsliding from repeating itself, like the theme of her pre-conversion novels.
I’m not doubting her sincerity. Some have criticized her for what they see as financial motivations in suddenly embracing and then rejecting Christianity. This book was published in 2008, and it’s disheartening (because I so admire her talent) to me to see how quickly she ate her own words after they were printed. I wonder if it caused her any indigestion. At the very least, it causes a thinking reader to question the strength of her convictions. I wish Anne Rice peace and the love of Christ.
For more on Anne Rice, see my past post: We Are the Church Together.
Entry filed under: Books, Celebrity, Chrisitanity, Education, Faith, Gay Rights, Social Commentary, Spirituality, Women's Rights, Writing. Tags: Anne Rice, Catholic Church, Christ, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, Christianity, God, Stan Rice.