Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Truth has nothing to do with the number of people it convinces"- Paul Claudel

Since learning of Anne Rice's decision to leave the Church (again), I have given it enough thought to write a few cursory words. I am no stranger to Rice, having read Interview with a Vampire, Memnoch the Devil, The Vampire Lestat, and one other book that seemed to me like re-reading Interview and Lestat again. Also, during Lent 2009 I read Rice's autobiography, along with Joe Eszterhas' Crossbearer and Justin Catanoso's My Cousin the Saint. Rice's book was easily the most forgettable of the three. Proof of this is that I wrote nothing at all about having read it at the time. It was literally unremarkable. When writing about her Catholic childhood in New Orleans the book was good and quite interesting, but there reached a point in the book (after her Mom died and they moved from New Orleans) that was like listening to someone recite the story of their life to in a monotone voice, speaking vaguely, yet still trying to give their story some coherent form and a little meaning. Then again, like the Twilight phenomenon, her books are not great literature and always have a kind of turned-in and disembodied feel.

Of her books that I have read Memnoch the Devil is easily the best and most interesting. Nonetheless, the point of her autobiography was I never left. I just drifted away. She also makes a big point about disagreeing with her secular humanist friends. We know now that she had no such disagreements, except that she is not an atheist. To believe in Christ and arrive at all the same conclusions as people who don't would certainly cause more than a little cognitive dissonance in any person's mind.

Her litany of disenchantment is a familiar one, which is easily guessed. Apparently, it has been her mission for the past ten years to change the Church. But, alas, she is throwing in the towel. Having read her autobiography and now her announcement that she is leaving, it seems to me that she was out to convert, not be converted. I will always be dumbfounded by people who leave because they come to the realization that Christians are fallen, sinful people. I dislike bumper stickers generally, but I always pronounce a silent Amen when I see the one that says, "A Christian isn't perfect, just forgiven." It seems to me that leaving for this reason is simply a refusal to accept reality because such a realization only proves the Christian thesis (that we are sinners in the hands of a loving God who sent His Son "as expiation for our sins" [1 John 4:10]).

I would like to draw attention to a post by my dear friend, Fred, on la nouvelle théologie: Selected Questions from Anne Rice's Facebook page, to which he provides answers to questions posed by Rice during the month of July. To give you an example, back on 11 July 2010, Rice asked: "Regardless of your own personal beliefs, what would you say is the most important message of Christianity?" Before proceeding to Fred's answer, I am compelled to point out that this is an incoherent question, which is a key to unlocking the incoherency of this whole episode. I mean, how could you hold something to be "the most important message of Christianity" that was at odds with your personal beliefs? The result of this kind of incoherence is quite predictable, as is always the case when faith is divorced from reason. Anyway, being more gracious than I am, Fred responds: "God became man." I would make explicit what Fred leaves implicit- "for us and for our salvation." He then links to a 1978 Assembly with Don Giussani, What Is Christianity? How we are born in that question.


It bears pointing out that truth needs no apology. What Christians sometimes fail at is conveying the truth in a compelling and loving manner. How we say something is at least as important as what we say. Undoubtedly, there are many voices today, especially in this era of so-called new media, who speak the truth with little or no love, thereby reducing faith to morality. On the other hand, there is certainly no small contradiction in Rice's self-righteous condemnation of millions of believing, practicing, faithful Catholics, who endeavor to conform their lives to Christ by bearing their crosses daily, walking with joy towards their destiny, who do not insist that He conform to them, for being too judgmental. As with any such declaration, Rice's makes me sad for her and for her son, to whom she really believes herself to be so loyal. After all, to truly love another means to love his destiny.

Also, it is quite a non-Catholic attitude to make a hard and fast distinction between Christ and His bride, His Body, the Church. Separating yourself from it is to separate yourself from Him. When any member leaves it inflicts a wound on the Body. So, I certainly pray for her return. My my prayers will be the all the more fervent because of the very public and defiant way she left, which means that returning (again) will require her to eat a large helping of crow with a slice of humble pie à la mode for dessert and quite likely would mean the complete loss of her credibility. What is my credibility compared when to Christ?

I think it appropriate to end this post the same way it began (referring to the title), with a quote from a great and truly Catholic writer, a woman who fully embraced the truth, Flannery O'Connor: "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." This is the same sage writer who also observed that by encountering Christ, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd."

2 comments:

  1. I have been thinking about this topic a lot over the past days, having read Rice's conversion story and written a review for IS. I really like your "take" which is one of the more balanced and charitable ones out there.

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  2. Thanks. I don't mind admitting that it was a difficult post to write. I really tried to just stay out of it, but I actually felt I needed to write something given the amount of coverage her public announcement generated and the number of people she is able to influence. Of course, a post on my little blog isn't going to turn the tide, but it is a response that I hope charitably shows the flaw in her stance.

    It was reading Fred's post that moved me to write. Now Fred is thinking, "Oh, great. Blame me."

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