Thursday, July 29, 2010

Anne Rice and Christ(ianity)

There was a time in my life when Anne Rice was my absolute favorite author. I was a huge fan of her vampire books, although I preferred brooding moralist Louis over renegade extremist Lestat. Rice is arguably responsible for the cultural resurgence of vampire fiction from the 1980s on. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian of course reach back to Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), but both owe their popularity in our society to Rice's work as well. Rice also wrote about the Mayfair witches, another series that was fascinating in its genealogical construct and magical lore. She also wrote erotica and S&M fiction, but few people realize that she wrote historical fiction too. Her book Cry to Heaven, for example, was about 18th-century Italian castrati and was written with such lush language that it read like an Italian Rococo painting. I was privileged at one point to meet her at a book signing and asked for an interview about that book because I was presenting a conference paper on it. She agreed, and I had the unique opportunity to talk to her for 30 minutes on the telephone. She truly brought New Orleans to life in much of her writing, and people (me included) flocked from all over to find her house in the Garden District.

Then came the death of her husband and her diabetic coma. It's too easy to attribute these things alone to her conversion, but thereafter Rice became what one might suggest was a born-again Christian. She wrote two novels about the life of Christ, and a confessional of sorts about why she was leaving the supernatural behind her and rededicating herself to Christ. Her fans were devastated, including the numerous gay fans among her following. I won't say I was as distraught as others, because by this time my literary taste had begun to move in other directions (although I do still collect her work and read it at times). What always struck me about her Christian conversion was how this related to her relationship with her son, novelist Christopher Rice, who is openly gay.

Things, however, are ever evolving. Yesterday, news broke on some gay blogs that Rice had posted on her Facebook page that she was leaving Christianity behind. This is what she wrote: "In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen." Of course there has been a flurry of activity on her page with hundreds of comments (which I'm ignoring), but her latest post, from about 5 hours ago, clarifies where she stands on her faith at this time: "My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become."

I have to admit, I'm fascinated by this. It's not that I'm happy she's denigrating Christianity, because that isn't it at all. But I do like that she is nuancing the very specific idea of Christ and his teachings from the religious doctrine that has spawned from his words for over 2000 years, interpreted and reinterpreted by humans--like you and me--who simply saw things in their own way and then convinced others of the righteousness of their way, to the exclusion of all other possibilities, and in the process the obfuscation of Christ's simple teachings. All you have to do is read the Gospels of the New Testament to see very clearly that Christ was, above all things, about love. Not judgment, punishment, or anything that signifies hate or pain. Just love. So kudos to Anne for recognizing this and reminding all of us not to judge but to love. Hm, maybe I will read Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt now.

1 comment:

Sherman Clarke said...

I don't follow Anne Rice myself but was very interested in your telling of her reconversion from strict adherence to one church's creed. My dad was a Baptist preacher and he didn't expect us to find the same answers he did. Good old libertarian Baptist, non-doctrinal but strongly ethical. It surprises me when someone throws out the Christ baby with the Christianity bath water (to stretch a saying way beyond reason). I don't usually answer "Christian" when someone asks my religion but have been going to church here in Alfred because I like the people and enjoy the singing of the hymns even if I don't pay close attention to the words all of the time. Anyway, thanks for sharing, Roberto.