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August 2nd, 2010
08:20 AM ET

My Take: Why I support Anne Rice but am still a Christian

Editor's Note: Brian McLaren, a pastor and speaker, is author of "A New Kind of Christianity."

By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN

Novelist Anne Rice recently made an important announcement: She has “quit Christianity.” Her choice and the reasoning behind it are far too interesting to simply be praised or blamed, agreed with or quarreled with.

Anne was raised Catholic, left the faith at 18, described herself as an atheist for most of her adult life, returned to Catholicism in her fifties, and then last week announced—via Facebook—that she is no longer a Christian.

She has concluded that she will never truly belong to the “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group” known as Christians unless she becomes “anti-gay … anti-feminist … anti-artificial birth control … anti-Democrat … anti-secular humanism … anti-science … anti-life.”

That cost of membership simply isn’t worth it. So she’s opting out.

Tell that much of the story, and you have the sort of thing the news media love to report – another celebrity break-up, if you will. But this time, the celebrity is divorcing God.

But that’s not the whole story. Really, it’s not the story at all. Anne explains that, “My faith in Christ is central to my life.” She is still “an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God.” “But,” she says, “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.”

And so, she concludes, “In the name of Christ… I quit Christianity and being Christian.”

Her brief announcement raises lots of fascinating questions. For example, when a person quits Christianity in the name of Christ, what do you call that person? If Christianity means “following Christ’s followers,” what do you call someone who wants to skip the middlemen?

Some might say you call such a person a Protestant: Anne’s reasons for leaving Catholicism aren’t terribly different from those of Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago.

But speaking from personal experience, being a Protestant doesn’t solve the problem. You can find as many “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous” Protestants as Catholics, if not more, and they enforce the same list of “antis” as boundary markers. To more and more of us, the differences between standard Catholic and Protestant Christianity seem to pale in comparison to the differences between either of them and what many of us perceive as the radically compassionate way of Christ.

I reached a conclusion very close to Anne’s in my book A New Kind of Christianity: “I do not believe in Christianity the way I believe in Jesus. I am a Christian who does not believe in Christianity as I used to, but who believes in Christ with all my heart, more than ever.”

So I do not condemn or criticize Anne in any way. I’m glad she has followed her conscience and articulated the reasons for doing so. That’s good for her, and it may be good for the church, too. Sometimes, powerful people only listen when they see enough people voting with their feet.

I haven’t taken that step myself, though I think about it quite often. (As recently as last week when I heard about the pastor planning to burn Qurans on September 11. Sheesh.)

I hang in there for several reasons. First, if I want to be affiliated with any group of human beings, sooner or later I will be associated with bigotry, intolerance, violence, stupidity, and pride. In fact, even if I stand alone, distancing myself from every other group, I know that within me there are the seeds of all these things. So there’s no escaping the human condition.

Second, if I were to leave to join some new religion that claims to have – at last! – perfected the way of being pristine and genuine through and through, we all know where that’s going to lead. There’s one thing worse than a failed old religion: a naïve and arrogant new one. In that light, maybe only religions that have acknowledged and learned from their failures have much to offer.

Third, I’ve decided that if I’m going to have solidarity with one failed religion, I might as well have solidarity with them all. So rather than surrendering my identity as a Christian, I’ve redefined it so it doesn’t mean that I feel superior to anybody. Instead, it means that as a failed member of a failed religion, and I’m in solidarity with all other failed members of failed religions … and with people who have dropped out of failed religions as well.

Perhaps it’s this truly catholic (small-c) solidarity in failure that really counts most, for Catholics, Protestants, and everybody else. Those who leave religion and those who stay can work to expand that gracious space of solidarity, which, I think, is what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brian McLaren.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (173 Responses)
  1. icon download

    I think, that you are mistaken. I suggest it to discuss. Write to me in PM, we will talk.

    October 4, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  2. pockets

    Religion is a form of mental illness. Religion poisons everything.

    August 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  3. Bill

    I love Jesus but fear (many of) His followers. The rules, the heirarchy, the wars, the hate, the divisions, the murders committed in Jesus' name is staggering! The guilt, the control, the shame taught and institutionalized in His name is horrifying! The rape and abuse committed by those supposedly doing His work, leveraging His message and His power for their gratification (or by living out the shame beaten into them) is ever so sad. THE WORKS OF COMPASSION AND SERVICE PERFORMED BY HIS FOLLOWERS IS EQUALLY ASTOUNDING. The first lesson here is that a Church is created by and operated by imperfect people, who have personal beliefs and agendas that are not always pure. The second lesson is that your relationship with Jesus and with God ultimately is one-on-one personal. The preist, rabbi, mullah or lama can't do anything FOR you but to get in the way. This relationship is not conditional upon saying the right things, voting the right way, getting an abortion, a divorce or using a condom or not. EITHER YOU HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS/GOD OR NOT. The rest is just politics.

    August 17, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  4. Harry

    Christianity has always been the same. The Word says Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Ann can surely have her opinion and change her way of life, Wether any body say's this or that does not mean anything in christianity.
    One cannot add to God's person or subtract any thing from him.
    Subjection to God will exalt a person in due time.
    God bless the dissenters of the gospel. which wii not be.

    August 15, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  5. Tom

    I think you all need to read McLaren's latest book, A New Kind of Chritianity, and get off of this Greco-Roman viewpoint of the Bible, stop reading it as a history textbook, and read it as a theological treatise.

    August 12, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  6. Dave

    This thread has been somewhat entertaining. I was pleased to see the mostly civil comments and retorts. But the more I read, I began to laugh as my mind imagined people arguing over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Millenium can pass, but human nature stays the same. We still find it all too easy to defend OUR fairy tales against THEIR'S.

    August 9, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.