Novelist Anne Rice Ditches Christianity

In today's world  it may seem a little counter-intuitive for us straggling band of Anglicans to be standing on the threshold of the Catholic Church, eager for her full embrace.  Haven't we heard about the clerical abuse?  Are we not aware of her flaws?  Well, yes, but her glories far outweigh them.  And I am so thankful God has given me the grace to see.  But it has taken a long time.  So it is with some sadness I see that Anne Rice, who ditched her Roman Catholic background once, is ditching her Church again.  She has taken the increasingly fashionable position that one can follow Jesus Christ but not be religious, not be a Christian.  I beg to differ.

Anne Rice was born and brought up Catholic, then left the faith, only to return in 2005.  Her Wikipedia entry says the following:

In 2005, Newsweek reported, "[Rice] came close to death last year, when she had surgery for an intestinal blockage, and also back in 1998, when she went into a sudden diabetic coma; that same year she returned to the Roman Catholic Church, which she'd left at 18." Her return has not come with a full embrace of the Church's stances on social issues; Rice remains a supporter of equality for gay men and lesbians (including marriage rights), as well as abortion rights and birth control. Rice has written extensively on the matter:

Well, it seems that her dissident stance has won out. (My emphases.)

Novelist Anne Rice remains committed to Christ. But she is quitting Christianity.

The “Interview With The Vampire” author, who in recent years has spoken publicly about her faith and written a series of novels tracing the life of Jesus, wrote on her Facebook page Wednesday that she was finished with organized Christianity.

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 outside. My conscience will allow nothing else.

She followed that post a few minutes later with more details:

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.

Then she adds this:

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.

Oh, how I remember believing like this. It was just me and Jesus, baby, and since I believed I had a direct pipeline to Him, nobody external, no church, no human being on earth, was going to tell me what to believe.  So for years, I wandered as a lonely pilgrim outside the confines of organized Christianity.  Consequently, I also picked up a lot of wonky beliefs, heresies that I was even rather proud of since I thought I was smarter than most people.  I too, felt like an outsider, partially because I had to be so spiritually disciplined in order to even approximate normality.  I thought my disciplines made me more serious as a Christian, but when I finally embraced an orthodox faith, I no longer needed to meditate so long to still the negative chatter in my head.  In those days, my life was one of almost constant spiritual defeat, though thankfully, I had a deep sense that Jesus is alive and He loves me, so that kept  kept hope alive and prevented me from becoming a bitter person.  I have come to see that it is by believing the Truth we are sanctified, not by trying to obey the works of the law or the teachings of Jesus under our own steam.  Without right doctrine, one is doomed to fail in one's Christian walk.  I know from experience.  Trust me and do not try this at home.

Thank God for Pastor Doug Ward at Kanata Baptist Church.  I remember my first words to him. "I'm a maverick and a heretic and I've never been able to sign on the dotted line of any church," I announced, though I did tell him that I had asked Jesus to come into my heart and acknowledged Him as Lord and Savior.

"Well, maybe this church is big enough for you," he said.

How wise he was.  So I entered in.  I was loved and accepted and gently taught by people with a deep evangelical faith but a mission to reach out to seekers like myself.   So, for the most part, some of my odd beliefs — Swedeborgianism, Christian Science, Roy Masters (I think in the end, they all kind of cancelled each other out, but that's another story — one friend described me as like someone with several large dogs on leashes all trying to pull me in different directions) were not challenged directly.  Instead I was exposed to good teaching, wonderful fellowship and gradually the heresies I clutched began to lose their hold over me.  I will be forever thankful for Pastor Doug and the good, good Christian brothers and sisters at Kanata Baptist Church.  KBC was like the hyperbaric chamber I needed so that I would not get the spiritual "bends" I would have experienced had I entered the Anglican Catholic Church right off the bat.  What? no women priests?  What? people standing around repeating prayers in unison?

I feel bad for Anne Rice, because the lonely pilgrim road is a road to nowhere.  It is a road of intense vulnerability to the forces of darkness because you have no spiritual covering, no protection through the hierarchy that Christ instituted.  (To say nothing of the sacraments.)  And now I see that that Church is the Catholic Church and I thank God I have been able to see Her with spiritual eyes and not get distracted by the very real flaws of some of her members.

The Anchoress — how I love her — writes (her emphases):

Rice’s angry frustration with what she (and, let’s face it, many others) perceive to be a sort of Institution of No is interesting. She refuses to be “anti-gay,” but the church teaches that indeed we must not be anti-gay, that homosexual inclinations are not sinful in themselves, but that all are called to chastity, whether gay or straight.

So, what she is refusing is not so much church teaching, which she incorrectly represents, but the worldly distortion of church teaching both as it is misunderstood and too-often practiced. I do not know how anyone could read the USCCB’s pastoral letter, Always Our Children and then make a credible argument that the church is “anti-gay.”

But then, I do not know how anyone can read Humanae Vitae and credibly call the church anti-feminist or anti-humanist.

I do not know how anyone can read Pope John Paul II’s exhaustive teachings on the Theology of the Body and credibly declare the church to be reactionary on issues of sexuality or womanhood.

I do not know how anyone can read Gaudium et Spes and credibly argue that the church is out of touch with the Human Person or Society.

I do not know how anyone can read Fides et ratio and credibly argue that the church does not hold human reason in esteem.

I do not know how anyone can look at the Vatican supporting and funding Stem Cell Research, or the even the briefest list of religiously-inclined scientists and researchers and credibly argue that Christianity is “anti-science.”

Anne Rice wants to do the Life-in-Christ on her own, while saying “Yes” to the worldly world and its values. She seems not to realize that far from being an Institution of No, the church is a giant and eternal urging toward “Yes,”, that being a “yes” toward God–whose ways are not our ways, and who draws all to Himself, in the fullness of time–rather than a “yes” to ourselves.

I think the "yes" to herself is in Rice's "I refuse" which she repeats as if she were chanting a litany.

This is so sad, because, having been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt and bumper sticker, I know how fruitless that kind of trying to be Christian without being "religious" truly is.  That's such a popular mantra these days.

But I must remember the approach that Pastor Doug took with me and be gentle with these seekers as he was gentle with me.

Earlier this week, I read one of my favorite passages in My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers.

If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine . . . —John 7:17

The golden rule to follow to obtain spiritual understanding is not one of intellectual pursuit, but one of obedience. If a person wants scientific knowledge, then intellectual curiosity must be his guide. But if he desires knowledge and insight into the teachings of Jesus Christ, he can only obtain it through obedience. If spiritual things seem dark and hidden to me, then I can be sure that there is a point of disobedience somewhere in my life. Intellectual darkness is the result of ignorance, but spiritual darkness is the result of something that I do not intend to obey.

Newman, Clifford Longley, Conscience and Contraception

The forthcoming Beatification of John Henry Newman has provided an excellent opportunity for various liberal writers to claim him as their very own, the one whose doctrine of conscience provided opportunity for dissenters from Catholic moral teaching to claim him as their champion.  This has always seemed to me to have been based upon a misreading of Newman’s contribution to the Catholic understanding of conscience, an understanding which would no doubt have surprised the great man himself.

Well known writer on Catholic affairs and doyen of the liberal party in the Catholic Church, Clifford Longley, seems to have recognised the foolishness of calling John Henry Newman as a witness to the liberal account of ‘conscience’ where contraception is concerned (The Tablet, 29 May 2010).  He acknowledges the obvious, that no one knows “what Newman [died 1890] would have said about Humanae vitae [published 1968]”.  But his assertion that no one knows what Newman would have said about the standing of Catholics who dissent from long-standing authentic Church teaching on contraception is by no means so obvious.

I will return to Longley’s treatment of Newman later.  For the moment let us concentrate on the logic of his article where contraception is concerned.  In essence he is saying this:

  1. There was widespread rebellion in the Church among priests and “prominent lay people” against Humanae vitae.
  2. The bishops responded reflexively with the heavy hand of discipline.  Some priests were suspended for “criticising the encyclical”, and a doctor was “refused Communion for having prescribed contraceptives”.
  3. The bishops felt “uncomfortable” and looked for an easy way out, a way out provided by what Longley now knows to have been a mistaken appeal to Newman and conscience. People were to be left free to follow their own “conscience” in the matter.
  4. But the dissenters didn’t want to be left in peace.  They wanted the Pope to admit he got it wrong and to change the teaching.
  5. We know the Pope got it wrong because the Pope had been “advised that a natural law argument was untenable”.
  6. The Pope rejected this advice, not so much because the advice was wrong, but because he wanted to “avoid discrediting church authority”.
  7. The result of the Pope’s misguided desire to protect church authority was that church authority became even more discredited.

In the US in the 1950s and 1960s there were Catholic dissenters from the Church’s teaching about the moral wrongfulness of legally enforced racial segregation.  In 1962 85-year-old Archbishop Francis Rummel ordered full desegregation of New Orleans parochial schools for the following autumn.  That decision occasioned widespread dissent from “prominent lay people” including leading Catholic politicians.  Letters of "paternal admonition" were sent to the dissenters.  One of those dissenters, Mrs. Gaillot, mother of two children in Catholic schools, received a letter which was a "fatherly warning" of automatic excommunication if she continued promoting "flagrant disobedience to the decision to open our schools to ALL."  Her response: "If they can show me from the Bible where I am wrong, I will get down on my knees before Archbishop Rummel and beg his forgiveness."

The point here is that “prominent laypeople” do not always get it right, that the appeal to private judgment (interpretation of the Bible, the natural law) is not the prerogative of journalists, priests, laity, and others, and that the bishops of the Church do well when they, with courage, defend the Church’s teachings.

Of course I am not suggesting a moral equivalence between segregation and the use of the contraceptive pill.  They are very different moral issues.  This is a nuanced argument to show that the authorities to which Longley appeals (personal opinion, “conscience” of individuals, high placed individuals) have often been wrong.  But where the interpretation of the teachings of Christ and the natural moral law are concerned, the Pope (and the Bishops teaching in unity with the Pope) teaches with the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord and God.  Moreover, in specific circumstances he enjoys the charism of infallibility.

But perhaps the most egregious error in the Longley piece, egregious because of its extraordinary arrogance, is the attribution of base motives to the Pope and the idea that he, the Pope, had been corrected (“advised that a natural law argument was untenable”) but stubbornly went his own way.  The suggestion here that the Pope was motivated not so much by the truth in the exercise of his Holy Office as Supreme Teacher, but by a political imperative to protect the Church’s reputation as the authority where Catholic teaching is concerned.  They had advised the Pope that he was wrong and that should have been the end of the matter.  Here the opinions of the dissenters on the advisory committee are raised to the level of Holy Writ, of infallible teaching.  This probably would have come as a surprise to some of those persons because, while they were asked by the Pope for an opinion and gave it, I have no reason to believe that they all thought by virtue of being in a majority on an advisory committee they had the guarantee of truth.

The Pope was faced with the need to consider traditional Catholic teaching in the light of new developments in contraceptives, specifically the oral contraceptive pill.  In the light of the Church’s constant moral tradition the Pope provided that teaching having first sought and taken advice.  To suggest, as Longley does, that the Pope was governed by a desire to protect the Church’s teaching authority even though he knew better, represents detraction at its worst.  And it is none the better for it having been so self-righteously asserted without a skerrick of evidence cited in support of it.

What lies behind the Longley piece is the ineffable sense of the infallibility of the liberal ‘intelligentsia’.  “We are right and the Successor of St Peter has got it wrong!”  And this in 2010 when we have abundant evidence that the prophecies of social misery that Pope Paul VI (Humanae vitae n 17) warned about have come to pass!

Indeed contemporary attempts in the UK to impose contraception and abortion based sex education on the young are a graphic reminder of the Pope’s warnings:

Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favouring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

At the beginning of his article, Longley indulges in a remarkable piece of intellectual sophistry.  Both progressives and conservatives are guilty of what he calls the “fundamentalist fallacy”.  This “fallacy” he describes as “an assumption that a sort of infallible magic belongs to the words on the page”.  But nowhere does Longley provide any evidence at all that the various interpretations of Newman are based on any such assumption.  Both sides are attempting to understand what Newman meant when he said what he said.  But Longley smugly positions himself as intellectually above all the “others”, although he singularly fails to tell us what is his preferred hermeneutic and why it is better than everyone else’s.  Is it that Longley believes that since the author is dead his words can be made to mean whatever we would like them to mean in our present time?  He doesn’t say.

So why not let Newman be allowed to speak for himself on the matter of conscience:

Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will. (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, section 5 on Conscience)

Newman may well have been writing in the nineteenth century, but his words are even more apt in the twentieth century.  Humanae vitae may not have been around for Newman to have been able to consider it.  But the fundamental teaching of the Church on contraception certainly was, and was widely accepted throughout the Christian world.  It was not until 1930 when the Anglicans proposed a weakening of that teaching that the Catholic moral position on contraception was seriously challenged.  So Newman would undoubtedly have supported the Catholic moral teaching and would have been surprised that anyone would have thought to associate his name with dissent from it.

Finally, Longley attributes cowardice to the English bishops who settled, he says, for an easy life by allowing people to make their own decisions in the matter.  He sort of excuses their alleged moral cowardice by saying they really didn’t have much choice.  “Sackings of hundreds of dissenting priests and the excommunication of thousands of dissenting laity would have been a disaster for the Church.”  A disaster?  Really?  Why so?  Did not hundreds of dissenting priests and thousands of dissenting laity leave anyway?  And despite the moral failings of Mediaeval Christians at the time of the Reformation, the Church still continues her faithful witness to the truth.

When Jesus taught about the graphic reality of the Eucharist, that we would be eating his flesh and drinking his blood, “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66).  And when in 1968 the Vicar of Christ reiterated the Church’s moral teaching on contraception, many Christians drew back and no longer went to Church.  To be sure in a sex obsessed, hedonistic, and selfish culture the words of the Church seemed to many to be “hard”, just as the words of our Lord on divorce (Matthew 19:10) and the Eucharist were seen as “hard” sayings.  When Jesus noticed that many drew back from him he asked the Twelve whether they wished to go as well.  Simon Peter, who it could be reasonably said speaks for faithful Catholics now as then, said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Clifford Longley’s contribution to muddled thinking notwithstanding, Newman remains an intellectual giant whose teaching on conscience continues to challenge us all.  And if Newman reminds us that not every opinion of every Pope is right and to be followed, he does not dissent from the need for a person’s conscience to be informed by the Gospel as it is presented to us in the authentic and universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church.  And if “infallibility” does not attach to every opinion of a Pope, then a fortiori neither does it attach to Clifford Longley’s opinions when he dissents from authentic Church teaching.  For which, Laus Deo!

Gore on Artificial Contraception

It is an unfortunate — but not altogether infrequent — occurrence to find a "traditional Anglican" who believes that his faith permits the use of artificial means of contraception despite the difficult moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is supposed (by the ignorant) that our acceptance of the courageous teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and reinforced in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the doctrinal standard proposed by Anglicanorum Coetibus) would be, at least, a novelty, a rigorous discipline beyond what has been required in the past.  But it is important to understand that with respect to this now controversial point of moral teaching, the Church of England, and her daughter Churches throughout the world, followed the tradition of the Church Catholic from the earliest days.  Only with the Lambeth Conference of 1930 did the Anglican Communion begin to depart from the ancient doctrine, and, in retrospect, it may clearly be seen that this moment was the beginning of the rapid descent of the Anglican Church into modernism in the 20th century.

The extract below, from a pamphlet by Charles Gore, theologian and sometime Bishop of Oxford, and authored shortly after the disastrous Lambeth Conference, fairly reflects the teaching of the Anglican Church until the first half of the last century.  It is precisely the teaching of Humanae Vitae, and with or without reunion with Rome, it is that commended to all Anglicans as having "divine sanction".

It should be noted that the human infirmity that makes this teaching so difficult (especially given the pressures of the modern world and the prevailing culture) and the resulting accommodating attitudes that rationalize artificial contraception are no less prevalent in the Roman Catholic Church as they might be in Anglican churches.  Evidence suggests that there is a general disregard for this hard doctrine in much of the modern Church.  This reminder of our traditional moral teaching is offered only as a education to those who maintain that birth control is an acceptable practice in Anglicanism.  It is not and it never has been.

* * *

The fact is that our Lord, though He must be acknowledged to have given one specific law to His Church—on the indissolubility of marriage—on the whole abstained from legislating for His community, as, for instance, Plato legislated for his ideal community in The Laws. He gave the Church moral principles both in His teaching and by His example; and He founded (or refounded) the Church, to which, or to the ministers of which, He gave the power of legislation and spiritual discipline with a divine sanction. ('What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven': 'whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.') Certainly the earliest Church, as pictured in the Acts and the Epistles, knew that it possessed these powers, and confidently used them. I am not raising the difficult question of infallibility in their exercise. Even Innocent III at the height of ecclesiastical idealism admitted that 'it sometimes happens that the Church looses one whom God has bound, and binds by the judgement of the Church one who in God's sight is free'; but I see manifold reason to believe that in the case of Birth Prevention the 'very strong tradition in the Catholic Church ' has been in the right, and has divine sanction. It is a practice which it has rightly judged to be unnatural, like other sadly common misuses of the sexual organs.

There is nothing really more astonishing than that in the course of nature a spiritual power so great as the production of a new personality, destined for immortal life, should have been entrusted by God to that in man which is so easily misled and misused as his sexual instincts and powers. But so it is. And the propagation of the species is in the order of nature judged to be of such importance that man is, like the lower animals, induced to it, with all its attendant pains and cares, by a desire more passionate and a pleasure more intense attaching to the sexual act than to almost any other kind of human action. But the justification of the pleasure lies primarily in its direction towards the end of propagation. This is assuredly the lesson of biology and the lesson of Holy Scripture and of Church tradition. Mankind in its wilfulness has been always seeking to separate the pleasure from its end by different kinds of practices which have been condemned by the Church as unnatural.

Now it is true that the sexual intercourse of married people has other recognized ends than the production of offspring. The Church has always declined to say that this is the only end. And it has never prohibited such intercourse when the laws of nature make generation improbable or impossible. But it has said steadily or constantly that this is the primary end of marriage, and it has condemned as unnatural and as a sin the attempt by any devices to separate absolutely the satisfaction of the physical desire from its chief end. The methods provided by Birth Prevention are not wrong because they are mechanical. But legitimate mechanism should tend to promote the ends of nature not to obstruct and defeat them. The Church has regarded Birth Prevention as sinful because, like other sensual practices commonly called unnatural, it is a deliberate enterprise taken in hand to separate absolutely the enjoyment of the sexual act from its natural issue. It is thus to be reckoned among the 'unfruitful works of darkness.' I must add that the Church has always and rightly bidden us have regard in our individual conduct to the general effect of what we are proposing to do. We are not allowed in judging of any matter to isolate our private interest from the general interests of the kingdom of God.