Christ without Christianity; religion without spirit

Author Anne Rice said last week that she was ‘quitting Christianity:’ The once-lapsed Catholic wrote that she was could no … Continued

Author Anne Rice said last week that she was ‘quitting Christianity:’ The once-lapsed Catholic wrote that she was could no longer accept her religion’s teachings on homosexuality, feminism, politics and birth control.

“In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian,” Rice announced on her Facebook page.

Can you leave Christianity and keep Christ? Can you be spiritual without being religious?

Anne Rice says she quit Christianity in the name of Christ. That’s not quite the same thing as being spiritual without being religious; I’ll try to address both questions.

Quitting Christianity for Christ’s sake puts Rice in colorful company. it was Nietzsche, after all, who insisted that “the last Christian died on the cross,” but only because he thought Jesus’ teachings so incoherent that no one could follow them in any meaningful way. Ultimately it’s a semantic question. If by “Christianity” we mean anything that devotees of Jesus do in his name, then it’s an oxymoron and Rice’s ambition to follow Christ without Christianity is impossible. Whatever you do in the name of Christ, that’s your Christianity. If by “Christianity” we mean the specific dogmas embraced by the various Christian churches, then Ms. Rice is doing no less — nor any more — than any schismatic in church history who thought his or her vision was purer than orthodoxy.

A more evocative question is whether one can be spiritual without being religious. Again semantics are inescapable. Does “spiritual” have to do with supernatural essences, i.e. with spirits narrowly understood? For these folks spirituality equates to accepting supernaturalism, which some will say underpins any true religious commitment. (Of course this opens the door to another pie fight over the definition of “religion.” Is religion what we believe about the supernatural, or shall we follow Paul Tillich and say that any ultimate commitment — even, one supposes, following American Idol — can be our religion?) In the same way many bandy terms like “spiritual” so loosely that it’s difficult to know what the “S word” means.

As an atheist, I sometimes have difficulty persuading exceptionally broad-minded people that I am both non-religious and non-spiritual too! (Note: as a declaration of atheist principles, “I am not spiritual, honest to God!” does not work.) To quote another wild-eyed German (the anarchist philosopher Max Stirner), “Man has not really vanquished Shamanism and its spooks till he possesses the strength to lay aside not only the belief in ghosts or in spirits, but also the belief in the spirit.” (Stirner died in 1856, so please pardon his sexism.)

Tom Flynn
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  • amy_e

    For someone who writes books, Ann Rice doesn’t seem to have read many. Hasn’t she heard of protestantism? Sheesh. There are a dozen sects she could join and still believe what she wants to believe. That’s what they’re there for!

  • jzenman

    So if Tom Flynn is non-religious and non-spiritual surely he at least believes in his own consciousness. Or does he doubt his own existence? In the history of Christianity he forgot to mention the Gnostics who believed everything was spirit. There was no church, no orthodoxy, no hierarchy. Only spirit existed and all matter was merely an illusion. The Kingdom of God was within and everyone had direct access to God. Following Christ without “Christianity” was probably not a problem for them.

  • LK4541

    How about Christianity based on the historical teachings of Yeshua (Jesus)–not on the Pauline-Christian gospel about Jesus as the crucified savior?

  • thebobbob

    Key word here is belief. Believe whatever you want. She was rejecting the physical expression of Christ’s teaching by any of the churches, sects, or organizations that claim to adhere to or speak for this historical figure.She sure can because, with the exception of Orthodox Pastafarianism, it’s all made up hokey.She can wrap herself in the love of his noodly appendage and bath in the richness of his Sauce of Love. The Flying Spaghetti Monster feeds all who come to him.rAMEN

  • jontomus

    Jesus is Santa Claus for adults, I mean really – if you weren’t Christian, and you looked upon the beliefs and behavior of people claiming to be Christian — that’s a gut laugh for sure!

  • fressylynn

    to Ms. Anne rice:

  • fressylynn

    to Ms. Anne rice:

  • bdunn1

    I think we can lay Jesus to rest once and for all. He’s not coming back any more than Ronald Reagan is coming back.

  • DonJuan59

    If you can’t or don’t know what the words spirit or spiritual mean, then you certainly can’t say anything meaningful about it. This may be precisely the best place to leave it. So, I’ll leave her (and you) to whatever sentiments she and others like her want. She is free to believe whatever she would like. You too. Meanwhile, there is world of real-life issues to deal with: war, violence, hatred, poverty, injustice, environmental collapse… and if by some chance I discover that I live in a world with all others who struggle with life’s real issues, instead of being all alone and gazing at my inner self, and if I care at all to do anything about it, then maybe I’ve found true religion. Maybe I’ve found spirit if I can persuade others of what matters most, and of what doesn’t matter at all.

  • jsmith4

    Many esteemed “spiritualities” do not believe in supernatural beings.Buddhism as taught by the Buddha being perhaps the oldest.Spirituality is “the life of the spirit.” Do you have spirit? It helps you empathize with others, connect with other humans, feel your smallness in an enormous universe, appreciate baauty, cultivate your imagination, LOVE.

  • dangeroustalk

    Last week, “Interview with the Vampire” author Anne Rice left Christianity in the name of Christ and a week later the internets are still abuzz about it. Her statement seems to be almost as contradictory as the Bible itself… almost. I think it is important to note that Rice left Christianity not over some theological issue concerning God or Jesus being God and a human at the same time. So it doesn’t really make sense to talk about her spirituality as being any different then it was when she professed to be a Christian. Instead, Rice left Christianity for moral reasons. Let’s talk about that. You can read the rest of my response to this topic:I will be responding to every issue posted in the ‘On Faith’ section. If you would like to be notified when my new response is up, please subscribe.

  • tomwflynn

    I’m responding to JSMITH4, whose comment offers a textbook example of the obscurity that so often infects writing and thinking about things spiritual. JSMITH4 writes:”Spirituality is ‘the life of the spirit.’ Do you have spirit? It helps you empathize with others, connect with other humans, feel your smallness in an enormous universe, appreciate baauty, cultivate your imagination, LOVE.”Spelling goof aside, what does this passage MEAN? Does it do anything to clarify what — or at least, what kind of thing — “spirit” is supposed to be? Does it help us distinguish the spiritual from the non-spiritual? Not so far as I can see!As a nod to clarity, I will answer JSMITH4’s question. Do I have spirit? No I don’t. I emphathize and connect and appreciate and imagine and love, but I accomplish all those things and more simply by means of my thoughts and emotions. Synapses and neurotransmitters and hormones, they’re the real story as far as I’m concerned. Ultimately it all tracks back to physical chemical and electrical events in my brain, with no need to suppose some extra-physical essence whose magical properties make resonance and nuance possible. And if “spirit” doesn’t denote some extra-physical essence, then I would argue it has no referent whatever. In which case might we all do better to just quit writing about it?Tom Flynn (yes, that Tom Flynn)