Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Anne Rice Quits Christianity

One of the most talked about news within religious circles is the public announcement of Anne Rice's decision to quit Christianity. On the website of this popular author, she writes:
Popular author Anne Rice; Source: AP
"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. " (From; 07/28/10)
For a society that enshrines the separation of Church and State, the exclusion of religion from the school classrooms, and the general policy in many businesses that are more secular than religious, there is still that keen sense of public interest in the private beliefs of famous people. Anne Rice is one of them.

If one reads her confessions on the website carefully, it is easy to see that she is not exactly quitting the Christian faith but the institutionalized religion associated with Christianity. Note she says she remains 'committed to Christ.' What she is actually quitting is her Roman Catholic links. She continues:
"I quit Christianity in the name of Christ on this page so that I could tell my readers I was not complicit in the things that organized religion does." (08/08/10)
I read this sadly because Rice talks in a way that reflects a frustration on her experience of the churches she encounter. Unfortunately, Rice's decision summarily dismisses ALL churches. Are all churches the same kind of 'anti-science' that she is quitting? I remember Dr Bruce Waltke who remains in the Church despite being ostracised due to his position on the creation issue. Apparently, I think Rice's decision has been misunderstood, and even her own position is unclear. That is why she posts clarifications after clarifications about her momentous leap of 'unfaith.' In fact, after her sensational 2005 return to the Roman Catholic faith, she dramatically leaves. It makes me wonder what kind of a faith she harbors. It is one thing to privately and quietly resign her Catholic faith. It is another to publicly announce her decision for everybody to know. Naturally, one will start to suspect whether such antics is linked to helping her sell more of her books, wares and heighten the levels of publicity? After all, controversies can be very profitable.

Some Reactions
Richard Mouw, the President of Fuller Theological Seminary laments her decision and links that to the rising movement of people that claims to be 'yes-to-Christ but no-to-the-organized-church.' Mouw prefers to use this opportunity to call evangelicals to tackle this 'challenge' bravely and to make necessary adjustments to correct their wrongs. Mouw blogs his views here.

Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of the highly popular Mars Hill Church in Seattle, provides a pastoral response here. He questions whether it is possible in the first place to separate 'Christ' from 'Christianity' and 'spiritual' without being 'religious.' He then answers with a measured 'yes and no.' Driscoll predicts Rice will eventually return to Christianity, and surrounds her quitting decision as a way to carve out space for her to grieve. For those unaware, her daughter died of leukemia in 1972, her good friend died of AIDS in 1994 and her husband died in 2002. Even her son is a gay rights activist which the Roman Catholic faith frowns on.

My Comments
All of us embrace religion with our personal baggages. Some more, others less, but all have some kind of expectations that we bring with us. A little differential in expectations is tolerable. Once the differences exceed a certain level, the parties break ranks. Some stayed on to fight their 'principles' as a matter of 'principle.' Others take the pacifist approach to let things be while they practice their faith more privately than ever. Some others cannot take it anymore and leaves. Anne Rice does the latter.

I do not know Anne Rice. Neither have I read her books though I have browsed some of her books before. Her decision seems to me more like a publicity gimmick. It reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor, a former Episcopal priest who writes about her 'leaving church' in order to keep her faith sane. There is a strikingly familiar thread right here. Rice leaves Christianity but remains committed to Christ. Taylor leaves Church but remains committed to the Christian faith. This is yet another 'spiritual not religious' version that is widely practiced in North America these days.

Let me make 3 quick comments. Firstly, the Church is not perfect. That said, do not let our expectations be one of perfection. Secondly, when cornered, people will tend to take the path of quitting angrily. I think this decision by Rice is something like that. Thirdly, people are not perfect. The Church comprises the people of God. The people of God needs the constant assurance of care and love, understanding and tolerance, hope and faith. If we claim to be followers of Christ, can we simply enjoy the fruits without accepting the call to labour via seeding, watering, pruning, tending and the associated responsibilities that come with planting? In other words, a relationship is the whole deal, not just the choicest parts. Take a look at the LORD's Prayer on human relationships.
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12, NAS)

Ever wonder why Jesus enshrines this particular command for his disciples?
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15)
In other words, if we claim to follow Christ, make sure we obey Christ's command.
"I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one." (Henry Ward Beecher)


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