UPDATE (1/4/06): My thanks to Jackson for pointing to a lengthy L.A. Times piece (Dec. 26, 2005) about Anne Rice and her views on a host of topics. It's ironic that someone who is so upset that many Christians are arrogant, judgmental, irrational, and narrowminded, Rice sure sounds like a Christian who is arrogant, judgmental, irrational, and narrowminded. But, then, perhaps I'm the one who is arrogant, judgmental, irrational, and narrowminded for daring to say so...
There has been quite a bit of understandable fascination with the story of novelist Anne Rice's return to the Catholic Church and her recent novel about the childhood of Jesus, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. But what is the exact nature of the prodigal return to her childhood faith? If this January 3rd article in The Baltimore Sun is accurate, Rice's views about Catholic doctrine are, well, a bit different than those taught by the Magisterium:
Her views will not please all of the devout. Rice favors gay marriage. She believes the church position regarding birth control is a grievous error that is not supported by Scripture. She repudiates what she sees as intolerant, "sex-obsessed" church leaders and says she does not find support in the message of Jesus for their focus on sexual orientation or abortion. She argues for a more inclusive church.
"Think of how the church bells would ring and the pews would fill if women could become priests and priests could marry. It would be the great resurgence of the Catholic Church in this country," Rice said recently, seated in front of a roaring fire, in the La Jolla, Calif., mansion she moved to after she left New Orleans.
Would there be a growth of attendance if the Church had priestettes? We'll never know, of course, but the wasting away of Anglican congregations (not to mention main line Protestant denominations who have touted women's ordination) strongly suggests otherwise. As for married priests, Rice should acquaint herself with the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. In other words, she would do well to understand the difference between doctrines and disciplines.
Some Christians are using rather grand language to speak of Rice's conversion. The Sun reports that Christian columnist David Kuo, "a former aide to President Bush who was the deputy director of the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives", says: "This is a conversion story on the level of Augustine. Anne Rice was a daughter of darkness." And the National Catholic Register (which I write for on a regular basis) named her as "Literary Convert of the Year" in its January 1-7, 2006 edition. The Register notes that Rice's conversion is still ongoing, and quotes Archbishop Philip Hannan, retired archbishop of New Orleans, as saying, "She is somebody who needs a little bit of maturity. There are already a lot of people in the Church already who think that way. We don't give up on them."
It's a point well taken and — believe it or not — I'm not interested in bashing Rice or questioning her faith. And since I've not read her novel, I have nothing to say of it. But Archbishop Hannan's remarks have a flip side: those in the Church who agree with Rice may see the acceptance as an affirmation of their dissident views about key issues (which is not to say, again, that Rice is not sincere in her return to the Church). And Rice's seemingly foggy understanding of how important issues of life are ("She repudiates what she sees as intolerant, 'sex-obsessed' church leaders and says she does not find support in the message of Jesus for their focus on sexual orientation or abortion") and how they are part of a cohesive theological/moral fabric is disconcerting, to say the least.
The irony — and it is strikingly identical to the sometimes discordant stances taken by theologian Luke Timothy Johnson — is that Rice has no patience for the heretical views of skeptical theologians, such as those who make up the famed Jesus Seminar. The Register reports her as writing in the notes of her novel: "These skeptical scholars seemed so very sure of themselves. They built their books on certain assertions wihtout even examining these assertions." She also refers to the "bad faith" and "bias" of those scholars. Likewise, Johnson — who is a brilliant scholar and a very engaging man — has written books tearing apart the Jesus Seminar, but then also insists on supporting "gay marriage," contraception, and women's ordination. As I wrote in a review of his book, The Creed:
When Johnson agrees with Church teaching, his writing is measured and his arguments are logical. But when Johnson parts ways with Church teaching, the tone becomes polemical and he shows little if any respect for the thinking and logic behind those teachings.
So, my question, in contemplating the fascinating and curious journey of Anne Rice, is simply this: if one's careful study of the facts shows that the Catholic Church is correct about Jesus — his life, teachings, death, and Resurrection — then why not give the Church the benefit of the doubt and carefully study her reasons for rejecting contraception, homosexual acts, and women's ordination?