An open letter to Anne Rice

Dear Anne Rice, Your decision to leave the Catholic Church and to leave Christianity prompted the On Faith panel questions … Continued

Dear Anne Rice,

Your decision to leave the Catholic Church and to leave Christianity prompted the On Faith panel questions this week. I was preparing to write a response about the relationship of Christ to Christianity, about the distinction between spirituality and religion when I heard your interview on National Public Radio. The sorrow with which you made this decision touched me deeply. I could hear in your voice that this was not an easy decision. Your disappointment with the Church reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr’s disappointment with religious leaders expressed in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

As you know the letter was written in the spring of 1963 as a response to an open letter to him by clergy who were critical of his presence in Birmingham. They called his efforts to end Jim Crow segregation, America’s brand of apartheid, unwise and untimely. King’s response was “the time is always ripe to do right.” He thought the church ought to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer, an agent of change, rather than one that simply reflected the status quo. King lamented that not more church leaders were actively helping his cause. He wrote:

“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious- education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking, “what kind of people worship here?” Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

He wrote further that his deep disappointment had caused him to shed tears of love. He wrote: “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

King recalled the days of the early church when it was radical, when its commitment to the teachings of Jesus was so strong that people supporting the status quo saw the church as a threat. He grieved for the church of his day saying it was “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” He decried an anodyne church. He wrote: “Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and even vocal sanction of things as they are.” He said the church risked becoming only an irrelevant social club.

King questioned whether or not organized religion is “too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?” He wrote of faith in “the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world.” He thanked God for “some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.” He calls the sacrifice and the witness of such people “the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times.”

Your decision seems to me to be such a break. When you say that your faith in God and in Jesus remains, it is clear that you have not broken from the inner ecclesia about which King wrote. You have become a member of the true ecclesia.

When I read your words on Facebook, I laughed. I have a sister friend who is an ordained minister. We often say that every religion would be perfect if it were not for the people who profess it. Christians corrupt Christianity. Muslims mess-up Islam. Jews junk-up Judaism. Hindus hinder Hinduism. Buddhists break Buddhism. The list could go on. I think this is why the Apostle Paul wrote: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) We are always pressing toward the goal to be better witnesses for incarnate Love today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today. It is a matter of spiritual growth and maturity.

Spirituality and spiritual growth do not require organized religion. However, religion in its truest sense is the tie that binds us together in Love to divinity, to our fellow human beings, to nature and all of creation. When religion separates us rather than connects us, when religion causes us to stand in judgment of the Other, when religion fosters fear and hatred, it is no longer religion. In this instance it has become the worship of itself, and thus it has become idolatry. I think this may be what you see. Your alienation from such is understandable and laudable.

The good news is that you are not alone. Not all Christians, not all Catholic Christians are anti-everything progressive. When I taught at Andover-Newton Theological School, I had the great good fortune to be a faculty member of the PhD. ethics seminar at Boston College. Ours was a Catholic-Protestant partnership. My faculty colleagues and the students in the seminar were doing interesting and important work in moral theology. Their work is social justice work that challenges an unjust status quo. When I was there, they were working on war and peace, reconciliation in post conflict situations in Africa, the theological and moral rationale for the nation’s social responsibility to the poor, ministry to prisoners and to the elderly, a moral critique of American middle-class consumerism, work on environmental ethics, the role of moral theology in politics and public discourse, moral theology and beauty. And much more.

The public face of the Church may be one with which you do not want to be associated, but you would be proud of the young scholars at Boston College. I am certain there are others I do not know. Further, I want to encourage you to join a faith community that understands itself as the inner ecclesia in which King planted his faith. There are Catholic communities where women celebrate mass. There are open and affirming Christian communities that welcome everyone to the communion table, believer or not. All races, classes and sexual orientations are welcome.

I make an argument for equal justice for LGBT people based on Christian scriptures.

Now to answer the question of whether or not one can believe in Christ without being a Christian, I say yes. Further, since Christ is a title and not the name of an individual, I say that those who accept the responsibility of the anointing, the pouring out of the oil of joy, the unction of the Holy Spirit, those who are willing to wear the mantle of radical love and to walk in the will and the way of God who is love, then these people are each a Christ, whether they are Christians or not. The commitment to not only believe in Christ but to try to be Christ day by blessed day is Christ-likeness beyond Christianity.

Ms Rice, I am sorry to say that I have not read your novels. So many books, so little time. But, I intend to start reading some of the vampire books in the near future because I am interested in why at this moment in human history there is vampire mania in our society. I was interested to hear you say that in your faith you found what your vampire characters were looking for. You said that you now felt free to confess fear, doubt, pain, conflict and alienation. Respectfully, in Christ you already had this freedom. You said you were moving on and plan to use the pain of this experience in your work. I am glad to hear this; however, I do not think God wants us in pain. As a womanist thinker, I agree with womanist theologian Delores Williams when she warns against the notion of sacrificial pain. Pain is an indication that something is wrong. Our sacred work is to end the pain, ours and that of Others.

I pray that God will bless you in all that you do, that you will find a community that becomes your spiritual home.

Valerie Elverton Dixon

  • heidilee2

    What I don’t understand is why Ann Rice thinks that it is neccesary to broadcast her negative views. I mean she is an author and people will maybe heed her opinion blindly. But why does she want to put people in the same position that she is? I’m sorry she feels this disillusionment. Maybe she should start her own religion.

  • jsmith4

    A wonderful “letter,” Ms. Dixon.Ms Rice is expressing her conscience, as conditioned by (among other things) her engagement with Jesus’s teachings.It is “un-Christlike” NOT to challenge the injustices of the Catholic Church. Remember the money-changers in the temple?And Heidi, Ms Rice (like Rev King) “broadcasts” her views because she feels a moral duty to speak out against injustice, and people listen to her (obviously – see this topic).

  • hdimig

    We need a new word for people who believe in God but think organized religion is bogus. Atheist does not cut it because I don’t believe science can explain everything. Agnostic is inaccurate because I don’t doubt the existence of God. I personally go further than Anne Rice who just seems to want to give up her religion based solely on some inconvenient politics. I think 3/4 of the stuff about the nature of Jesus is myth that was made up to convert pagans and support someone’s theology. The Jefferson Bible, I can believe that. All of the stuff is garbage.

  • Secular

    Ms. Dixon, what was the purpose of your letter. You lost me completely after your excerpt of Dr. Kings letter. We all know that followers of each religion are poor representation of the religion. But then each religion is incoherent gobbledygook of thoughts and ethical prescriptions. While you can use the contradictory prescriptions to argue both sides of any issue. I mean any damn issue. Heck you can argue the 10 sides of an issue if there were 10 sides. I don’t want to be as verbose as you, but your letter waste of lot of precious ink. We ought to be thankful that WAPO is not printed.

  • APaganplace

    anyway, that’s the thing: if you want to make this whole discussion *actually* about Anne Rice: Well, when she was to all appearances eagerly willingly embracing it when ‘Christians’ were calling it a ‘Righteous conquest’ for Jesus… over non-Christianity (From someone who writes vampire novels, which are basically fetishized Christianity to begin with?) The very ‘Christians’ she now renounces were quick enough to claim her making a publicity stunt out of ‘renouncing’ people she didn’t know in the first place was some great and wise spiritual triumph for ‘Christ’… Seem to be crying ‘foul’ *now,* when the same person, after trying to propagandize a while, says, ‘Actually, I’ll keep the ‘Christ’ and forget the rest of this!’Ever think there’s a connection or some kind of double-standard between how she ‘went in’ and how she ‘goes out?’ She repopularized the Christian vampire fetish, rather like Twilight is trying to do *now* without any inconvenient concerns about undeath or being sundered from the daylight world of life and sex and love… Frankly, I was pretty Goth, myself, and trying to minister to a lot of Goth kids, and all she did was confuse the Hel out of a lot of people. Had to say a lot like, “Are you *dead?* No? Great. OK, you’re not a ‘vampire’ and that’s not ‘magick:’ you’re just trying to eat people by creating drama and it’s not going to work. We’re going to *breathe,* kids. Eat, have sex, live, love, eventually die, be reborn all natural-like.”There were always some spiritually-useful things about Goth: Realizing how people take away sex and fetishize death and ‘eternal life’ but never *live.* This was always kind of a Christian kink, though, if you never got past it. Ms Rice loaded the idea down with sugar: Twilight makes it saccharine. None of it has anything to do with the merits of varying religions but what is made of it.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    There are religion seminars and classes, study groups, religious projects, etc., that are uplifting, I agree.However, I question this: “[R]eligion in its truest sense is the tie that binds us together in Love to divinity, to our fellow human beings, to nature and all of creation.”Ideally, but where does one find such a religion? In fact, it may be that once formal religions come into existence, elements within them ossify. For many believers such as those to whom King wrote his letter, religion is a force of reaction at worst, conservatism at best. It quells fears of progress, casts out those who threaten the establishment, weds politics, and, indeed, oppresses the masses.The ideal is one thing, Ms. Dixon, the real another.

  • mnourse7777

    If you believe that Jesus is God as He says He is, and that He founded a Church based on the “rock” Peter, and that He said He would be with us until the end of time (via the Holy Eucharist and the Spirit), and that whatever the Church He founded binds on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and that there is right and wrong, Heaven and Hell, salvation and condemnation, then sticking with the Catholic Church is the best decision IMHO.Many of the great Church saints did not like what was happening in the Church and fought to reform it based on the Truth Jesus revealed and inspired. So if one chooses to leave the Church rather than work for valid reform, then that is their choice. The Catholic Church would have crumbled long ago if it were not for Jesus holding it together – despite being run by humans.The Church is dogmatically correct about male priesthood, sinfulness of practicing child molesters, adulterers, fornicators, same sex masturbation, lying, cheating, etc. And throughout history, people have rejected the Church because of its views because their ears were itching for someone to tell them what they wanted to hear.We will all face our God (even the non-believers in Him) at judgment time to make their case. Personally, I believe in the Catholic Church that was founded by Christ and I will endure its crosses just like Jesus did so that I can win the prize of everlasting life. I pray that you all will receive and accept the gift of Faith and cherish it. For what else is our purpose of not to Know, love and serve God in this world so that we may be His Spouse forever in Heaven.

  • truth4eternity

    Christian missionaries seek converts all the time. After winning the converts, they also display the trophies of their victory on the websites in the form of testimonials of new converts. The agenda is always clear, show how Christianity is superior to their previous faith.My point is, Christianity has always used media to market their growing membership. Now if someone else uses the media to announce the evils of Christianity, the christians should not feel so pissed and go around writing open letters.

  • bird48

    I am a Christian lost in the bigotry, and misguided theology, of the American Christian.

  • abbyandmollycats

    If I understand Ms. Rice correctly, she has left the Roman Catholic Church and abandoned the Christian community because of specific doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. She is not the first person to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Once upon a time a man named Martin Luther… Not all Christians share either the specific doctrines which she finds untenable or the belief that only Roman Catholics and certain others as accepted by the Roman Catholic church are Christian. Being part of a church can be difficult; churches are people and people can be difficult. It is much easier to say that one cannot tolerate a specific community and go away than it is to answer the call to live in community by finding a way to do so. I would be reluctant to display every step of my personal ongoing spiritual journey, with all its missteps and failures, to the public. Perhaps Ms. Rice is more courageous and a better witness than I am.

  • kitten2

    Anne Rice is a good woman who used her head and her heart to leave a “devil” church. The reality is that Christianity is something that people should see in you, not what you have to say. If you are really changed Christian, then I should see evidence that Jesus touched your heart through compassion, love, forgiveness, all those good “fuzzy” christian values folks profess to believe in. How can America be a Christian nation and be a bigoted one at that? And, then all those scandals…the Catholic church is nothing new with scandals. Gee…isn’t Dante’s Divine Comedy discussing those raucous bishops and nuns having sex orgies going to the pits of hell all about, too. Let’s not start talking about the prosperity club of evangelicals, now. Tsk.Tsk.Tsk. SHAME ON YOU!