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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. Andrew M.

    Why do we have the need to have a religion? It is for the weak. Just be a good person,

    August 3, 2010 at 1:11 am |
    • Jim

      Andrew M,

      Without a god there is no true sense of what is good or bad – it is just deciding for yourself what you want to be good or bad. Without a standard that supercedes my opinion and yours it is just (good) a floating idea that we can change. And that means what I call good is no more "good" than what a murderer calls good.

      Philosophically and pragmatically we know this to be true so the questions become, "What is truth?" and "What is "good?"

      Grace and Peace,
      Jim

      August 3, 2010 at 8:03 am |
    • Ron

      If only we could have your strength! To be able to say hateful things under the guise of a screen name... this is strength?

      August 3, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • BradLW

      So Jim:

      Are you saying that there was no such thing as "empathy" until man created his concept of god or gods?

      What about other members of the "animal kingdom" which have been shown to participate in altruism?

      How about the 2/3 of the earth's population that doesn't believe in your particular sky daddy? Do they always act immorally?

      What about all of us who don't "believe" in your sky daddy but still manage to not be arrested and jailed for our "immoral" actions?

      To some extent, I think that it is probably this type of illogical dogmatism that reminded Anne why she doesn't see any benefit to "organized xtianity".

      Someone above mentioned Bart Ehrman; please read some of his works in addition to reading your particular version of the xtian bible; perhaps it's not too late for you to learn why people like Anne make the decisions about xtianity that they do.

      August 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • BradLW

      "organized" should have preceded "xtianity" in the last paragraph of my last above post.

      August 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Kate

      Jim, it's easy. What is good, is good for the group. Humans think so, because they are social animals. It's a genetic instinct – sacrifice yourself for others, take care of your children, protect the weak.

      What is bad is to be selfish, steal, overeat, murder live for yourself first.

      Believe it or not, you will not start to murder, rape and steal pens just because you don't believe in a great big brother in the sky shaking his pretend finger at you and promising bad mojo after you are dead and punishment can't be verified.

      I don't hurt others and take their stuff because I care about them. I get the impression that the more religious people are, the more they apparently need a reason to care about other people and can't imagine giving a darn if there wasn't heavenly machine gun aimed at their head making sure they treat people right.

      August 3, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  2. CGG in SA

    Why does the author seem to think that Anne Rice needs his support to move forward with her quitting of Christianity? The whole tone of this article strikes me as arrogant. I never got the impression that Rice was quitting Catholicism versus Protestantism. I understood her to be quitting the hateful, narcissistic, self-centered, argumentative group of people who believe they are entitled to the entire world living according to their beliefs. It's like McLaren is simultaneously expressing that his opinion matters more than Rice's, while trying to tack himself onto the attention she's garnered with her declaration. In short, McLaren, who cares that you think her opinion is okay?

    August 3, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  3. Alan

    I thought Ms. Rice's statement was very interesting indeed. I consider myself a Christian, but I would have to agree with Anne that being a Christian doesn't necessarily mean following Christ's followers. If we were to do that, it would get us into all kinds of trouble and history is replete with all kinds of examples. For me, being a Christian means following Christ and His Word. It was He who said in the new testament: 'Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.' Luke 9:23 Jesus asks us to follow Him; not His followers.

    August 3, 2010 at 12:00 am |
  4. Friend of JC

    Lets get a couple of things straite, Cathlics are not Christians, Chathlics bow down to the Pope, belive he has the power to forgive sin and worship Mary. This is the polar oposite of being a Christian. A Chritian KNOWS that ONLY Jesus has the God given power and athority to forgive anyones sin, period. If this is not true God was a fool for sacrificeing his son, he would have invented the "Pope" himself and saved his son for a horrible death. If the Bible is not Gods word then why is it still around ?God himself has preserved it as he wrote it. Which brings up this point, If there is or was any way to heaven other than through Jesus why did Jesus say what he did in John 14:6 " I am the way the truth and the life and NO man comes to the father but by me " He didnt say by me or the Pope or Alla or Budha ect. God gave us the Bible for a reason. read it and live by it or suffer the consequences.

    August 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
    • Stuart

      While we are getting things "straight," and not "straite," please go back to school and obtain an education: learn history and spelling. Then you may present an intelligent thought on the web. Obviously, you are deficient in both areas; and wouldn't know a Christian if Jesus himself were standing in front of you.

      August 2, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
    • Steven

      I'm a Catholic who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, was crucified for our sins and was raised from the dead so we can have eternal life. I read and study the Gospels, attempting to follow the ways and teachings of Christ. If that doesn't make me a Christian, what does?

      August 2, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
    • Betty

      Got a little bit of news for ya, there, "friend of JC" if Catholics aren't Christian, then no one is Christian, since we were the very first ones! Please go back and study just a bit before you spout such drivel. Catholics were the very first organized religion, before everyone else decided to "break off" and form their own. Also, without us, there would be no Bible, since we're the ones who put it together. Catholicism is the oldest Christian religion, and anyone who tells you any different is lying to you.

      August 3, 2010 at 12:34 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Friend of JC,

      If you are a friend of JC then you would know about Jesus Christ’s first Pope, Peter, and how He told him ‘ I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’

      Jesus Christ also said ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” [Jesus Christ was SENT with AUTHORITY!] And when He had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” So, YES, the Pope, Bishops, and Priests have the power [they were SENT by Jesus Christ to stand in for Him, called Personna Christi] to absolve one’s sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There is a whole lot verses explaining how important it is that a priest be SENT by someone who has the power to SEND. Non-Catholic ministers have a hard time explaining how it is that they were SENT when they do not come from the line of succession of those Jesus Christ SENT.

      We do not worship Mary; we worship God, our Father, only. We venerate Mary as the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God. Jesus Christ loved His Mother! We can do no harm in using Jesus as our Perfect Model as to how to treat Mary. The Bible says that all nations will call her blessed. Why don’t you?

      Since you are a friend of Jesus Christ then you must know that the Catholic Church is His Bride. [Priests stand in for Jesus Christ, remember, Personna Christi; He was a man so that is why Priests are men and they take the Church as their Spouse.]

      So you know Jesus Christ would only have one Bride, right? So, it can’t be any of those other ecclesial communities. Those others are man-made, but the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit does not make mistakes and give out thousands and thousands of differing Truths, NO! There is only One Truth, One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

      This Catholic Church is the Pillar and Foundation of Truth. You thought it was the Bible, but the Bible tells us it is the Church!

      August 3, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  5. MK

    @Barry, I think Ghandi made a good point but missed the point. If he would have known that we're all sinners and we're all bound to make mistakes, then he should have known that Christians will never be like Christ until He returns.

    @Reality, you're funny. You think you know what's reality is.. That's funny. Very funny, actually.

    August 2, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
    • Reality

      MK,

      Actually, it is the contemporary NT and historic Jesus exegetes who have formed the reality of the simple preacher man. Said exegetes you ask? Crossan, Borg, Funk, Vermes, Pagels, Meyer, Mack, Doherty, Ehrman, Eisenman, Fredriksen, Ludemann, Macoby, Meier, Sanders, Freke and Gandy, Horsley, Johnson, Wright, Strauss, Reimarus, Holtzmann, Bultmann, Kasemann, Robinson and Albert Schweitzer. Professor Crossan's books, Who is Jesus and also The Historical Jesus- The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant are recommended as excellent starting points for your journey.

      August 2, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
    • Ron

      @Reality(?) Ahhhh yes...this post proves you are nothing more than a pitchman in a used car salesman coat. A list of references from your vast database of knowledge, and yet it has nothing to do with the original post. I see your spots leopard. Stop pretending to be an intellectual!

      August 3, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • OBOLARO

      Ron,
      Thanks for the Reality check.

      August 4, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  6. Mary Ann

    Why has no one taken on Anne's assertions? Catholic positions on hot-button issues she mentions are a lot more nuanced than she suggests. Talk about black or white thinking.
    How many people who slam the Catholic Church actually take time to read the Catechism, for example? I have come to believe that most people would rather spout off than take time to study an opposing position and present reasoned arguments. And Catholicism is a favorite target. One needs only to drop a few canards to get people clapping. It's almost comical.

    While Anne Rice and everyone else are free to go their own way, I still don't find much substance in what she says in this article. I do wish here the best.

    August 2, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  7. Barry

    Ghandi said it best (i'm paraphrasing here) " I very much like your Christ But I do not like your Christians. They are very unlike your Christ "

    August 2, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  8. Jim Bob

    Bravo, Brian McLaren! Excellent evaluation. I worship Christ, not the idolatry of church, clergy, or book.

    August 2, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
    • NL

      Problem is, every Christian I've ever met got their idea of who Christ was from church, clergy, and book. Where else would you get it?

      August 2, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
  9. Dawn

    If Anne Rice understood that the church as a whole is currently "asleep" and "lukewarm" (actually both prophecies of Jesus for these times), then maybe she would be part of a movement to awaken it and warm it up.

    August 2, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  10. OBOLARO

    Say it again:
    Simple minds are quantitative and dismissive.
    The never-ending quest to better understand is true enlightenment.

    August 2, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  11. mike

    but joe...she still believes in "your fictional character"......

    August 2, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  12. joe

    makes me respect her more.. i respect anyone that can think for themselves.. and not have to use a fictional character or a fictional book to guide them.

    August 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  13. mike

    It is so very interesting to read these "comments"..and the "rationals" behind them! Those in belief to their religions...those to their belief in their opinions. Most would agree that it is hard to disprove that Jesus existed!!...and that the gospels reflect His spoken words.(It is no coincedence that we are all talking about Him ~2000 years later!!)..."NOW"!! ..you can debate your ideas,your feelings, your logic..all day long...but in the end they are just your reflections of your life. Can I challenge you to read the gospels only..with an open mind...reflect on Him and His life. Take your time..ask questions...then take your time some more..and ask more questions.....it's just a challenge....

    August 2, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • peace2all

      @mike

      I was a christian for 25 + years... read the bible, especially the gospels of jc, inside and out(with an incredibly open mind)...

      Took on your challenge and then some....

      After doing so.... I finally woke up....

      August 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Peace2All,

      ....and?

      August 2, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
    • NL

      mike-
      Problem is it's also hard to disprove that Achilles, Gilgamesh or even Paul Bunyon lived. Luckily, nobody tries to prove otherwise because they are generally accepted as being mythical. Jesus can't be proven either, so saying that he cannot be totally disproven isn't really an argument.

      Regarding Jesus' words are you a "red-letter" Christian? Of all the Christian types out there I find the red-letter type to be the most likeable and generally easy going. Jesus' recorded teachings (in the synoptic gospels because I hardly see any similarity with that Jesus and the one in the gospel of John) are the core best part of Christianity IMHO.

      August 3, 2010 at 12:25 am |
    • peace2all

      @CatholicMom

      Hi CM..... I was wondering why it took so long for you to jump in on this article...

      Anyways, do I 'really' need to elaborate any further for you when I said...."I finally woke up.."?

      Given our history of postings...?

      Peace and respect to you....

      August 3, 2010 at 2:14 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Peace2all,
      I thought there was unfinished business ‘over there’….so while I was waiting around, I tried to respond to a really long post;…. some guy calling Jesus illiterate, saying this one and that one were hallucinating or conjuring up notions, and believing in myths and so on, but no matter how I tried, my post was rejected. I hope that when someone is waiting on me they will realize that my posts are quite often rejected.

      August 3, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • peace2all

      @CatholicMom

      I understand..... My posts, and apparently a lot of others seem to get rejected.

      Anyways, I hope that you are well... and.. always good exchanging ideas with you on the blogoshpere..

      Peace...

      August 3, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Thanks, Peace2all for the 'peace and respect'...the same to you!

      August 3, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  14. SilverChair

    Amen, Patricia Juliano and Bonita.

    August 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  15. SYLV

    As if she didn't know the rules prior to....it was nothing more than a ploy to sell books.

    August 2, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • peace2all

      @SYLV

      "The Rules prior to..."???? Please elaborate....

      And... maybe, she decided that a good part of being a christian and its dogmas were sheer nonsense.

      August 2, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  16. Ryan David

    Mark, my friend, thanks for saying so. I can't see why the Orthodox faith needs a banner, there are far too many banners already. Orthodoxy will speak for it's self, one just needs the willingness to engage their heart and mind. I'm simply saying that many are largely unaware of the richeness of the Eastern Church, which is a tragic reality. A slight interest in Church history reveals that long before Protestants split from Rome, Rome and Byzamtium split themselves, and over specific doctrinal reasons such as Church heirarcy and edits to the Nicene Creed. This division has lead each down different paths and Christian division is a tragic reality; the fact that we cannot all share Holy Communion is a witness to this truth. From an Orthodox perspective, Roman Catholics have added to the faith and Protestants have taken away – each of which are the only perspectives shared. The writers of these blogs act like Orthodoxy doesn't exist when speaking of Christianity, this is painful to me as an Orthodox Christian. I sympathise with peoples objection to Western Christianity – Roman Catholicism and Protestantism alike, if many would just engage the Orthodox Church I think they would find this is what they've been looking for all along. I do not mean to be argumentative. That may be worth saying since the conversation is electronic.

    August 2, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  17. pensimmon

    I am a firm believer in God. However, when I want to decide if something is true – I read all I can about it. The Christian Church were the ones who "picked and chose" the writings that fit the message they wanted to exert power and control. Hence we never hear about the Gospels of Phillip, Judas, Mary Magdelene and all the many others. They were the ones who decided what we should hear – and they are still preventing us reaading the other documnets of the time. How come no-one has publized the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls? And other contemporaty writings? Do the churches suppress them? They certainly aren't taught in most churhces. Maybe the Universalists – a quite enlightened group.

    August 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      The Dead Sea Scrolls can be seen at the Science Museum in Minneapolis.

      August 2, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  18. Fuyuko

    Anne is a bit of a drama queen, but I don't really say she has stopped being Christian. She just no longer identifies with conservative Christians, or some of the doctrine. I can relate. About the only thing I like about the bible is Jesus, and I can say I actively dislike a lot of the old testament, and the actions of 'God' or how the writers choose to portray him. Everyone has their issues, but Rice is hardly unique or really that interesting.

    August 2, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  19. Reality

    continued:

    Luke 5:24 not historic.

    John 8:57-58 (New International Version)

    57"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!"

    58"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"

    As per most historical reviews on Abraham e.g. National Geographic and the US Conservative rabbis of the US, Abraham did not exist putting the kibosh to John 8: 57-58.

    John 10: 31-33 is a single attestation appearing no where else in the scriptures making said passage historically unreliable.

    August 2, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
    • Ron

      You are an embarrassment to true atheist all over the world.

      You must understand this...Believers believe in a lot of insane and weird things that logically will never make sense to you. It adds meaning to their lives, and some actually apply it to their lives. Why do you care? You are like a dog who chases his tail, arguing the validity of other dogs chasing their tails. Now, point your head forward and move on.

      August 3, 2010 at 9:51 am |
    • Ron

      How about: Jesus walked on water... or the virgin birth? One of these arguments should cover what you're trying to say. How can you argue the validity of scripture when Christians have faith in the unbelievable? WHY DOES IT BOTHER YOU SO MUCH? This is an important question you need to ask yourself.

      August 3, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  20. Brad S

    For Ms. Rice to announce she has left Christianity is to assume the Catholic Church is Christian. It is not!

    August 2, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • Betty

      Hey Brad, how is the Catholic Church NOT Christian?? I want your PROOF! We believe in Christ same as all other Christians do. As a matter of fact, you wouldn't have that lovely Bible in your hand without us. You would also have no other forms of Christianity, because we were the first Christian religion, every other religion is a watered down version of ours.

      August 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Evidently you aren’t Christian either because you certainly wouldn’t be clinging to a Bible, would you, since all Bibles are derivatives of the Catholic Bible.

      August 2, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.