Anne Rice — Christ without Christianity?

August 14, 2010

OK. I’ve never read any of the Vampire Chronicles. I didn’t see Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire. So when author Anne Rice announced some years ago that she became a Christian, I thought, “That’s nice,” and shrugged.

Ah, but two weeks ago when she announced that she was leaving Christianity, that caught my attention. She made quite the splash by posting on Facebook:

Anne Rice - July 28 Facebook post

And then this follow-up:

Anne Rice - July 28 Facebook follow-up

This has been the reaction of some Christians:

Tom Cruise as a snarling vampire

“In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.” I don’t know her story, but this statement speaks strongly to me. Back in 2003, in a post titled A Different Approach to Evangelism, I wrote,

The first Christ-followers were Jews. When Gentiles began following Jesus, it caused all sorts of problems. There those who insisted that if you were going to follow Jesus, you had to become Jewish. …Could Acts 15 be a pivotal story for our own time?

The question of the early church in Acts 15 was, “Do you have to be a Jew to follow Jesus?” My question for people today is, “Do you have to be a Christian to follow Jesus?”

Of course, it all depends what you mean by “Christian.” The difficulty we face in post-Christian contexts is that it doesn’t matter how we define the word; the word is already defined for us. On Facebook the day before her now-famous outing, Anne Rice wrestled with the word:

Anne Rice - July 27 Facebook post

The issue is bigger than controversy and revulsion. It goes to identity and culture. We need to stop extracting people from their native cultures to assimilate them, Borg-style, into “the church we accept.” Instead, we need to adopt a missionary mindset that empowers and releases people to follow Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit in their own native contexts, letting them discover what that looks like for themselves. …Or do we not trust the Holy Spirit?

And finally, a word to my friends of all stripes (atheists, agnostics, humanists, pastafarians, you know who you are): Come, let’s learn together what it means to follow Jesus. It’s okay, you won’t have to become Christians. So relax. …You only have to die to yourself.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Related posts: Great posts about (and with) Anne Rice

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

16 responses to Anne Rice — Christ without Christianity?

  1. As usual Jon, you’ve hit the nail on the head…Anne Rice did too. I was exactly like you when she became a Christian years ago…basically shrugged my shoulders and moved on. I never read the books or watched the movie either. And have no plans to do so now. More than anything, this is an announcement to make us think…think about what it really means to follow Christ and how we can do so without alienating people and/or pissing them off (too harsh?). I shake my head on an almost daily basis at “Christians” crawling up on their pedestals to tell others how to live. Last time I checked, I’m not being paid to judge anyone – THANK GOD!!! Do I believe certain things? Of course I do. And I’d tell someone if they asked me if I agreed or disagreed with certain behaviors, but that doesn’t make holier or better or right. That makes me opinionated. I sort of love what Anne did…proclaiming that she absolutely follows Christ but can’t be part of the hypocritical group that surrounds him so much of the time. Will I still call myself a Christian? Probably. But I know what I mean by it. The problem seems to be, do others? Definitely something to think about…

  2. I’ve actually pitched futures scenarios in which the things that squick Anne Rice end up being the death of Christianity (and possibly Islam) entirely. All it would take is for enough fundamentalists on both sides to drag the world into a big enough holy war. In the wreckage that followed, the world might very well decide that it never wants to go through that again…and that it’s better off without either of them.
    The precedents are there. Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists are already convinced of the basic uselessness of religion; and much of Europe did in fact come to pretty much this same conclusion in the aftermath of the World Wars. In their case, they realized that religion was heavily bound up with the nationalism that damn near annihilated them, and did their best to jettison both. It’s still the most secular part of the world as a result.
    Rice is making an important distinction between Christianity as a faith and Christianity as the cultural propagator of nationalism, sexism, racism, and a host of other really ugly biases. She doesn’t want that peanut butter in her chocolate, and I understand that; I abandoned Christianity 15 years ago for very much the same reason. Constantly pulling the two apart just got to be too much work.

  3. What’s just as telling is the fact that thousands of people “liked” what Anne Rice posted. It makes me wonder if these are Christians who are just as fed up with hypocrisy as she is, or if they are unbelievers for whom Anne Rice has managed to voice exasperation. Either way, it’s heartbreaking.
    It would be encouraging if Anne Rice’s post served as a catalyst for change within the Christian Church, but I’m guessing if Ghandi’s quote couldn’t do it, Anne’s won’t either.

  4. nstryker (nathan) August 14, 2010 at 10:03 am

    whenever someone makes a declaration like this, i always want to know the details. when she wrestles over it like it’s an issue of nomenclature, then renounces “christianity” the word, does that mean she stops going to mass? does she stop hanging out with christians? what does it actually mean in her real life, not in the “religion” section of her facebook info?
    if it just means that she’s not using that word anymore, i think her step here is nothing more than yelling a controversial word in a crowded word. you might get people talking, and maybe that’s a good thing in and of itself, but i have a hard time buying that because the talk is centered on words, assumptions, and prejudices, not actions and changed lives.
    if she’s actually rejecting the church — the big c bride of Christ — then i feel like she’s committing spiritual adultery. it’s just the opposite way than as it’s typically presented.

  5. the word is burdened and it is a problem… but is it a word, a tradition worth reclaiming? I think yes.
    I experience the same thing on a smaller level. I’m a Baptist – talk about a word burdened with preconceptions, most of which I would say are wrong and bad. When I say that to someone, I see their eyes glaze over and defenses go up. Then I tell them about what I think are the best parts of the tradition: soul freedom, the responsibility of each person to work out their own faith and that nobody can tell you what you’re supposed to believe, it is between you and God. church freedom, that each congregation is responsible for the shape of its own ministry and faith in its context and that nobody from outside can tell them what they should believe or how they should live that faith. Bible freedom, that scripture speaks for itself and nobody can say, “this is the official meaning of this passage.” and separation of church and state, yes it was an idea that was formed and promulgated primarily by Baptists and Quakers who were the far left wing of Christianity at their time. The roots of the Baptist movement were very close to those of Unitarian Universalism in the US. Indeed, still today there are Baptist churches in New England that are dually aligned with Unitarian Universalists (you can see their ties when you look at the 4 freedoms) and we have a common hero in Roger Williams.
    Some days I think about giving away the term and the tradition… but it is a worthy one and one that I think speaks to our culture, so I fight for it in my little way. I think the term Christian is certainly of the same ilk and worth fighting for.

  6. “More than anything, this is an announcement to make us think.” That makes me consider that what she did is prophetic. We don’t have to follow in her decision to say, maybe God is using her to get our attention…
    “I know what I mean by it The problem seems to be, do others?” A-yep. That’s the part that rubs.

  7. Sara, thank you for adding your views, especially coming from a “I abandoned Christianity” perspective. Though I might be tempted to add the New Atheists to the “fundamentalist” category: namely, people who are unwilling to listen, and consider that the “evils” they oppose may be a straw man not truly representing the people I know. Curiously, a new breed of Christ-followers has arisen out of the ashes of European Christendom. Where some lament the waning of Christendom in the U.S. (still strong, but not what it was) and point to Europe as a sign of foreboding, I look to post-Christian Europe for hope, and to the brothers and sisters there and elsewhere for inspiration.
    “Bring me… chocolate!” Out of curiosity, did you keep your chocolate and ditch the peanut butter? Or did you dump them both?

  8. Touché, Melanie. I was going to crop that out of the screenshots I took, but decided that the large “like” numbers also told a story. Thank you for calling it out. As you point out, it doesn’t really matter who the likers are.
    “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

  9. Nathan, since we don’t know Anne, we can only surmise, and inject ourselves. But don’t you know others who have “left the church” but are still “committed to the Church”?
    If she is no longer participating in fellowship (stretching the word beyond its usual meaning), mission (ditto) and worship (ditto), then she will have a tough time saying she is still living a life of faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t get that sense — but of course, I don’t know her.
    I do consider what she has done to be prophetic: a wake-up call, for anyone listening.
    …On the other hand, I really like what Tony Campolo said in the movie Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. He quoted Augustine in saying, “The church is a whore. She is also my mother.”

  10. Roy, what a curious parallel! As you can tell, I go back-and-forth between wanting to abandon certain words, or reclaim them. I thank God for people like you.

  11. nstryker (nathan) August 14, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    i do know people who haven’t found “a church” and are still committed to “the church.” i also know people who have walked away from “churches” and say they’re still committed to Christ, but are lacking the fellowship, mission, and worship in any tangible form. to me, her language sounds closer to the language of the later camp, assuming this isn’t just an issue of nomenclature for her.
    a friend of mine emailed back and forth with anne about it, but only really got some guarded and/or boiler plate responses. stuff like, “i need to find my own path.” looks like we’re not to know how this changes things for her and need to focus on how it changes things for the church. and then my wife inserts, “you mean, how it changes things for you. i mean, what are you going to do based on this information.”
    and then i shut up and start praying.

  12. Yup, I know both kinds of people, too.
    Love your wife’s wisdom. A good, no-nonsense, practical slap in the face. 🙂
    See my follow-up post, which includes an interview with Anne Rice. (No, I didn’t call her.)

  13. Our battle should be the struggle to be Christ to the world. My battle is not gay agendas, atheism, feminism, secular humanism, or right to life. My struggle is being a nonjudge-mental case, compassionate, truth seeking, love expressing, family building, hard at work/life Christ expressor. That pretty much keeps me busy, or at least it should.

  14. Amen, David. But I particularly noticed your phrase, “to be Christ to the world.” Hmm, been reading a good book lately? 🙂

  15. I have been thinking about the idea of Christianity vs. the Christian culture lately. If we think of church, what we wear, who we vote for, and who we associate with, it’s all based on the culture of Christianity. Almost all of it is in direct conflict with what scripture teaches. There were not to many tithe supported churches in the New Testament with staffs that led congregations and visited the sick. Jesus was constantly with the sick who needed a doctor rather than those who didn’t. We have been bamboozled by the idea that we have to become members of a denomination or a church, dedicate babies there, how to baptize people, we can’t dance at weddings or have too much emotion when we worship God.
    I have been wanting to go through the Bible and look at what we consider important as Christians and look at the historical context of the item, the Biblical context, and then how it’s done today. I think we would be shocked at the stark contrast would be.

  16. Matthew,
    There’s nothing wrong with culture, if we recognize it as such. This would allow us to celebrate a variety of Christian cultures, plural.
    The problem comes when we equate “the way WE do things” with “the way things are SUPPOSED to be done.” Even looking at the Biblical texts, it’s easy to assume that “the way the early church did things is the way we’re supposed to do things.” It’s helpful, I think, to step back from all the “things,” come back to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and ask, “What do you want want me to do, in this context?”