Anne Rice and Our Modern Sin
by Michael Wittmer
Anne Rice has left the church again. Raised in “an old fashioned, strict Roman Catholic” home, Anne left the church when she was 18 and became an atheist. Her godlessness fueled her writing career, and she became famous for such erotic, gothic novels as Interview with the Vampire and The Queen of the Damned. In 1998 she had a religious awakening and announced that she was rejoining the Catholic Church and henceforth would “write only for the Lord.”
Until last week, when Anne made two posts on Facebook which changed her religious status to “It’s Complicated.” Anne wrote:
“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.”
A few hours later, she elaborated on her decision:
“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.”
Anne is not the first person to leave the Roman Catholic Church, but her reasons are illuminating for those who seek to reach this generation for Christ. The RCC was morally corrupt during Luther’s day, but the Reformers left the church for doctrinal rather than moral reasons. Doctrine doesn’t matter as much in our post-Kantian world (if God is the unknowable X then we are free to believe whatever we want about him), so all that’s left is ethics.
But the ethical reasons Anne gives don’t include the obvious ones. She isn’t targeting the moral corruption of priests abusing altar boys but is leaving the church for its alleged positions on social issues. Two of them are indecipherable: how is the church “anti-life” and how could a religious institution not oppose the secular in “secular humanism”? Two seem confused and historically mistaken: the church has supported science and includes many members who are Democrats.
That leaves the social issues of homosexuality, women’s rights, and birth control. Of these, Anne suggests that the church’s position on homosexual practice is the real reason she is leaving the church. In an interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, Anne said: “I didn't anticipate at the beginning that the U.S. bishops were going to come out against same-sex marriage. That they were actually going to donate money to defeat the civil rights of homosexuals in the secular society. …When that broke in the news, I felt an intense pressure. And I am a person who grew up with the saying that all that is needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing, and I believe that statement.”
Anne’s decision to leave the church—and the reason for it—are the logical products of modern individualism. If you begin where Anne does—and most people in our culture do—then you will end up where she is.
- Individualism turns homosexual practice into a civil rights issue. Who are we to deny anyone their pursuit of happiness? Their marriage isn’t hurting you, so leave them alone. I agree that we must protect the civil rights of homosexuals, but saying that gay marriage is ontologically impossible is not taking away their civil rights. Here is one area where individualism bumps up against nature. Homosexuals have the civil right to unite with a person of the same gender (it’s not against the law), but calling their union a marriage doesn’t make it so.
- Individualism turns Jesus into a spiritual version of me. Despite the Scripture passages which denounce homosexual practice, Anne is remarkably certain that Jesus is on her side. She ignores the historical evidence and turns Jesus into the great defender of homosexual practice. “In the name of Christ,” she says, “I refuse to be anti-gay.” Anne forgets that Jesus is a historical person with actual views that can be known. He is not merely an elastic symbol for whatever I happen to like.
- Individualism liberates us to leave the church. This is the stunning denouement of individualism. “In the name of Christ,” writes Anne, “I quit Christianity and being Christian.” Like a husband who divorces his wife because “I love you too much to live with you,” Anne says that Jesus is the reason she is leaving his body. Is it possible to love Jesus if we don’t love his bride?
- Individualism creates a Do-It-Yourself Religion. I will leave the final judgment to God, but it seems that Anne did not fully convert when she found God ten years ago. She enjoyed the comfort and peace which came from believing in God, but she apparently did not submit herself and her beliefs to God’s Word. Jesus is not a smorgasbord, where we can take extra helpings of tolerance and skip his teachings on holiness. We either receive the whole Jesus or we don’t receive him at all.
How do we share the gospel with people like this? We confront their autonomous individualism. We explain that we all struggle in this area, for we all want to play God and to project our beliefs and values upon him. But that is precisely our problem. Unless we repent of our autonomy, we cannot be saved. Jesus came to save us from our sin, including and especially the sin of turning God into a divinely large image of ourselves.
Which brings me to myself. I also am a product of Enlightenment individualism, which means that I also am tempted to project myself upon God. I need to ask myself whether any passages of Scripture still offend or challenge me. If it’s been awhile since I’ve been convicted by the Word of God, I can be reasonably sure that I’m not reading it correctly. I too easily project my lifestyle and values onto God, turning him into the great defender of what I like. I may differ from Anne on the specifics, but at root our sin is the same.
Michael Wittmer is professor of systematic and historical theology Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and author of Heaven Is a Place on Earth and Don't Stop Believing.
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