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. ...And, most recently:
As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. 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. ...
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.Sad, yes, but not surprising. In fact, I think that anyone who is surprised by this has not been paying attention to what Rice has said over the past five years or so. Back in January 2006, an article in The Baltimore Sun reported the following about Rice:
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.
I wrote the following back then:
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.
There was at least one huge difference between Augustine of Hippo and Anne Rice: when he became Catholic, he fully submitted his heart and mind to all of the teachings of the Catholic Church: theological, moral, and otherwise. Recall that in his Confessions, Augustine recounts how prior to converting he struggled deeply with the "disease of lust", uttering the famous prayer: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet" (Confessions, Bk. VIII, vii). He later makes the observation that
as I deliberated about serving my Lord God (Jer. 30:9) which I had long been disposed to do, the self which willed to serve was identical with the self which was unwilling. It was I. I was neither wholly willing nor wholly unwilling. So I was in conflict with myself and was dissociated from myself. Yet this was not a manifestation of the nature of an alien mind but the punishment suffered in my own mind. And so it was 'not I' that brought this about 'but sin which dwelt in me' (Rom. 7:17, 20), sin resulting from the punishment of a more freely chosen sin, because I was a son of Adam. (Bk. VIII, x).
He then admits, "Vain trifles and the triviality of the empty-headed, my old love, held me back. ... I hesitated to detach myself, to be rid of them, to make the leap to where I was being called." It doesn't matter that Augustine struggled with lust and pride and Rice has taken issue with Church teaching regarding homosexuality (her son, apparently, is homosexual), women's ordination, and contraception. The issue for both, as it is for all of us, is submission to the authority of the Church established by Jesus Christ, regardless of the particular issue or issues at hand. For Augustine, submission to the Church was submission to Christ; entrance into the Church was entrance in to the life of Christ: "The effect of your converting me to yourself," Augustine writes, "was that I did not now seek a wife and had no ambition for success in the world. I stood firm upon that rule of faith on which many years before you had revealed me to her" (Bk. VIII, xii; see Bk. III, xi).
Which brings us to St. Thomas Aquinas and a particular statement he makes in the Summa Theologica about the theological virtue of faith. It is made in response to the question, "Whether a man who disbelieves one article of faith, can have lifeless faith in the other articles?" (II-II, q. 5, a. 3). St. Thomas writes:
I answer that, Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith.
The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.
Put simply, anyone who is Catholic and who obstinately rejects and disbelieves one article of faith does not have faith regarding what he accepts, but holds it merely as an opinion. (Note the important, specific qualifiers!)
Faith, in other words, is of a whole cloth, virtue of faith is total, as Fr. Thomas Dubay explains in his book, Faith and Certitude (Ignatius Press, 1985). Fr. Dubay notes how an accommodation to secularism can erode and eat away at one's faith, eventually destroying it: "We are told in this eroding dilution of the gospel that it is sincerity that matters, not a rigid clinging to doctrines. Morality is reduced to 'not hurting others', and Christianity itself becomes nothing more than a vague adherence to Jesus without our finding out exactly who he is." This erosion is almost always evident, in our day and age (but also, obviously, in Augustine's time), in the realm of moral theology and teaching, as it is in the case of Rice.
Rice states she is no longer a Christian: "I quit being a Christian." She should have been more specific, for she has actually (without saying so directly) renounced the Catholic Church, Catholic teaching, and the authority of the Church. She says that "following Christ does not mean following His followers," which is quite contrary to what Jesus taught:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matt. 28:18-20)
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18)
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Matt. 18:18-19).
Rice has, in essence, taken up a sort of secularized, liberal Protestantism that attempts—almost Marcion-like—to extract a Jesus from the dust and difficulty and reality of history and turn him into a private guru who is "freed" from and separated from the humanity he embraced, the Church he founded, and the authority he granted to mere mortals. Rice claims her faith is in Christ, but it is a Christ made in her likeness and image: politically correct and socially trendy, anti-Church, disdainful of authority, with an open hostility toward traditional morality.
Whoever her Christ is, he is not the Christ embraced, at last, by St. Augustine, nor seen, near the end, by St. Thomas; he is not the Christ who said:
"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (Jn. 17:20-21)
Say a prayer to Sts. Augustine and Aquinas for Anne Rice, that she might be restored to faith and communion.
• "Revert" Anne Rice: Pro "gay marriage," pro women's ordination, and pro contraceptive. What gives? (Jan. 3, 2006)
• The Source of Certitude | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. | Epilogue to Faith and Certitude