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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. SusanF

    The history of the capital-C Catholic church is enough to give anyone the horrors. The things they've done in the name of God over the centuries were never preached nor practiced by Christ.

    I was raised Protestant (Lutheran). I think church is a good place to raise children to learn about God. I think it is a good place to be around people with similar value systems for learning, fellowship, and support. And I love the music.

    I believe in a God of love. I do not believe in forcing people to believe my way, nor persecuting them for their own beliefs. Book burning of any kind is anathema to me but to burn someone else's holy book is just sinful. A friend once told me he believed that "any religion that teaches you to do good to others is a good religion, no matter who or what you worship."

    That said, I believe Anne Rice is a Christian, as I am. We believe in Christ and his teachings. She just no longer believes in the established Church, in which belief she joins many. I continue going to church for my reasons; she will continue to abstain for hers, yet we are united in love for Jesus.

    August 5, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Susan F,
      Which Church is the Bible speaking about...the one withouth stain, wrinkle or any such thing,....the one which is the pillar and foundation of the Truth? Which one of the thousands and thousands of ecclesial communities has the Truth? The Holy Spirit couldn't make a mistake and give out thousands and thousands of differing Truths.

      August 6, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  2. MAGGIEAB

    I commend Ms. Rice on her decision to leave Christianity. As a baptised, confirmed A. Episcopalin, as a child coming up in a true family church community it was difficult for me to walk away when I became older and became aware how the churchs' were/are involved in horrific acts and make statements which have no relivilance to the lives of people. At the time I came up in the church I remember how people were truly concerned about each other and the importance of family values and concerns. I am not a student of the Bible but, I do know what is right and wrong and most organize religions today is not what Jesus was and is about. But then, no surprise. We have become such a self-rightous, self-serving society no wonder our kids are so screwed up. I stand beside you in your decision. Your statement is that which I have expressed many times to those who have the courage to listen but most truly just do not wish to listen or respect the opions of others. To many do not question and just follow. I was raised to question, to analyze. It is easier for some to follow as oppose to question.

    What is done in the name of religion and what is spoken is two different things. I look at organized religions as the new 'Slave Masters' and the ministers the 'New Pimps.' They do not and cannot repesent the true meaning as to what Jesus is about. I wish you well and look forward to more thoughtful comments.

    August 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  3. The South African

    great stuff!!!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 6:56 am |
  4. Jesus

    It's a double edged sword. Some people in the church help make the world a better place. And other people in the church just make the world God awful.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
  5. Veronica Dial

    I am really disapointed with Ms. Rice. I heard an interview with her on CBC in Canada back in the winter and she seemed to be very knowlegeble about Christianity and how the faith worked. She also had a good understanding that, parts of the Church are corrupt, and some Christians are not nice.

    So I just don't get her pronouncement. I think what she meant to say was that she is leaving behind the organized part of Christianity. But will remain a Christian.

    August 4, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
    • NL

      Perhaps she realized that the parts of the Church that are corrupt are so many that only some Christians are nice. Seems that way in many places in the US.

      August 5, 2010 at 12:08 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Veronica Dial,
      If you leave the organized part of the Church [the Sacraments and Dogma] and stay with the part that is made up of sinners....where is your Truth?

      August 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  6. David M

    Oh how easy it seems to be for a Christian to accept unconditional grace from Christ, yet deny that same grace to the Body of Christ. The church has _never_ been perfect, but abandonment was never a stance the church fathers took as the remedy.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      David M,

      The Body of Christ [the church, small c] is imperfect due to the member’s sins. They become members of the church [Body of Christ] at Baptism, at which time they are perfected by the Holy Spirit. But it is that as time goes on, members sin; without repentance they are in danger of being cut off as a branch from a vine. Repentance is the key to remaining in Jesus Christ and Him in us.

      The Catholic Church [big C] is perfect as the Bible tells us; She is the Bride of Christ and is without stain, wrinkle or any such thing. She is the pillar and foundation of Truth.

      When people abandon the big C Church because the small c church has sin and scandal, they lose. The small c church needs the big C Church just as a sick person needs a doctor. The ‘Church Fathers and Doctors’ have explained it well.

      August 5, 2010 at 9:07 am |
    • NL

      CatholicMom-
      All religions claim to be perfect, on paper. The "children's guide overview" rendering of every religion only emphasizes the ideal situation. Muslims, Mormons, Evangelicals all claim the same and it's the same for any ideology really. I've heard it said that Marxism is a perfect political system that just hasn't been implemented in the proper fashion yet. The same for Capitalism. You may imagine that the Church is perfect, and on paper it might sound perfect, but in reality the church is made up of people, and people are flawed, and because people are flawed so is the Church. Your perfect Church is just an idea that doesn't really exist in this world.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  7. steve

    So Anne Rice calls Christians "quarrelsome, hostile and disputatious" – who thinks these comments prove her point?

    August 4, 2010 at 8:08 am |
    • OBOLARO

      If she said that about Christians, I'd love to hear what she would say about Muslims.

      August 4, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  8. Eric G

    I find that believers can fall into two clearly defined categories. They are either dillusional and believe in spite of the evidence, or they are too lazy to understand the evidence because it just does not matter to them all that much. There is no excuse for either position.

    August 3, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  9. Mark from Middle River

    Apologies for the double post.

    August 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  10. Lori

    Christianity is people following CHRIST , not people.

    August 3, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • NL

      Christianity is people following a version of CHRIST, usually defined by someone else. How many people operate as Christians in isolation? How many have come up with their ideas of who Christ was all by themselves, without reading Christian books, hearing sermons, or getting instructed in some other fashion? I've never met a evangelical Christian yet who wasn't influenced by some pastor, preacher or writer. How else would you explain the very wide range of different views of who and what Christ was?

      August 4, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  11. Reality

    One more time entering the breech and barrel of common sense!!

    Recognizing the flaws in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers, "kneelers" and "pew peasants" will quickly converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No clerics, imams, rabbis and priests needed or desired. It will be called the great "Pink Slipping" of religion and its leaders.

    As per James Somerville, Philosophy professor emeritus from Xavier University, Cincinnati,

    "The faith of the vast majority of believers (and non-believers) depends upon where they were born and when."

    It is disturbing that such religous violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of it all.

    August 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  12. Nicole

    I am not a Christian. I started following my own path at around 15 with the permission of my parents. My mother was Catholic and my father was Baptist. Both are still followers of Christianity but both respect my decision to look out and find a path that makes me happy.

    I think a person's religion is a very personal thing. Some are born into it and live it their whole lives. Some choose a different path than their family. My reasons for leaving Christianity parallel Anne Rice's. My young brain couldnt fathom why anyone would be so Anti in the human world.

    My path leads me to believe in a higher power, loving and kind yet like King Solomon, tragically decisive. And my hope in the world is that everyone finds a path that makes them happy. Whether it be Atheism, Christianity or even Paganism.

    August 3, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • CatholicMom

      I cannot think of a thing the Catholic Church is ANTI about except She is Anti-sin.

      August 3, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  13. CatholicMom

    Brian McLaren, you said……
    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.”….

    Why should one say there is any failure in what Jesus called ‘the Kingdom of God’? He would not create a Kingdom of God that is a failure. First off, there is the dimension of Jesus as himself the Kingdom of God in person. No failure there.

    The Kingdom of God which can be found in those persons Baptized is not flawed. This is the Holy Spirit residing within us; He remains in us, working through us, for the good of our neighbor until we drive Him out by gravely sinning. That Kingdom within us is flawless until we decide that Kingdom of God will no long live within us by our own personal freewill of sinning. That is not a failure of the Kingdom of God but is our rejection of it.

    Then there is the Kingdom of God, His Holy Catholic [big-C] Church. The Bible tells us the Bride of Christ is the Church which is without stain, wrinkle, or any such thing [no failure there] and is the pillar and foundation of Truth.

    All three of these dimensions of the Kingdom of God are related to each other in a very close manner. All exist for our benefit and none are failures.

    I enjoyed reading your comments.

    August 3, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  14. BradLW

    Catholic Mom:

    Hail Mary
    A prayer for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.

    Traditional version:

    Hail Mary, full of grace.
    Our Lord is with thee.
    Blessed art thou among women,
    and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
    Jesus.
    Holy Mary, Mother of God,
    pray for us sinners,
    now and at the hour of our death.
    Amen.

    Newer version:

    Hail Mary, full of grace.
    Our Lord is with you.
    Blessed are you among women,
    and blessed is the fruit of your womb,
    Jesus.
    Holy Mary, Mother of God,
    pray for us sinners,
    now and at the hour of our death.
    Amen.
    http://www.catholicplanet.com/catholic/hail.htm

    Please look up the definition/s of “prayer”; seems in this context (the "Hail Mary”) it involves “worship".

    August 3, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • CatholicMom

      BradLW,

      Thank you! Lovely! Everyone just said two Hail Marys! Both prayers are acceptable and, you know, you can also make up one of your very own, too.

      Prayer is [1] an act of addressing a divinity, or [2] an earnest request.

      Protestants are not the only ones who recite verses from the Bible…..Catholics are reciting Bible verses ever time they pray the Hail Mary Prayer.

      St. Luke 1:28, 30 And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
      St. Luke 1:42 And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
      [Douay-Rheims]

      Asking Mary to pray for us now and at the hour of our death is an earnest request. She presents her prayers to Jesus Christ, our Mediator, just like we do with our prayers for ourselves and for others.

      August 3, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
    • BradLW

      Well Catholic Mom:

      As usual, you either missed, or consciously chose to ignore, the pertinent point; in this case, "what is "worship""? It certainly is obvious that you either didn't look up the definition of "worship" or you did look it up and couldn't find a way around the obvious fact that rcc members don't just worship god, but a whole plethora of other things as well.

      You said: "We do not worship Mary; we worship God, our Father, ONLY(my caps-blw). 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?"

      The following is taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

      The word worship (Saxon weorthscipe, "honour"; from worth, meaning "value", "dignity", "price", and the termination, ship; Latin cultus) in its most general sense is homage paid to a person or a thing. In this sense we may speak of hero-worship, worship of the emperor, of demons, of the angels, even of relics, and especially of the Cross. This article will deal with Christian worship according to the following definition: homage paid to God, to Jesus Christ, to His saints, to the beings or even to the objects which have a special relation to God.

      There are several degrees of this worship:

      "In accordance with these principles it will readily be understood that a certain worship may be offered even to inanimate objects, such as the relics of a martyr, the Cross of Christ, the Crown of Thorns, or even the statue or picture of a saint. There is here no confusion or danger of idolatry, for this worship is subordinate or dependent. The relic of the saint is venerated because of the link which unites it with the person who is adored or venerated; while the statue or picture is regarded as having a conventional relation to a person who has a right to our homage — as being a symbol which reminds us of that person (see Vacant, Diet de théol. cath., s.v. Adoration, and authors cited in bibliography; also ADORATION; IDOLATRY; IMAGES; DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY)."
      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15710a.htm

      Is it any wonder that most members of the rcc don't even come close to understanding their religion?

      August 3, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      BradLW,

      I am glad you are reading the Catholic Enclyclopedia; so you should be able to quote the Truth; however, the trouble is when someone as yourself who doesn’t demonstrate much love for the Catholic Church, quotes from good sources they try to leave out crucial information to undermine the Truth, which is what you did. You mentioned nothing about latria, dulia, or hyperdulia because a person equipped with that information could better understand what the Church is teaching.
      There are different kinds of sin, just as there are different kinds of worship. There is the sin in what we say, sin in what we do, and sin of omission.

      August 3, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
    • Kate

      Catholic Mom – are you blonde?

      August 3, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
    • BradLW

      Catholic Mom:

      Please read the CE paragraph immediately above the one I cited in my first post above re "worship". You will find that not only am I aware of the three terms that you seem to think I excluded, but you will find that they are included within the specific discussion of " degrees of this worship". Had you read the citation, you would have realized this. I think I will continue to rely on real scholars.

      I had posted a much more comprehensive reply that for some unknown reason got "moderated" out. Go figure. Perhaps it contained too much "truth".

      August 3, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
  15. David Warnock

    I totally agree with ED, August 3 9:34. Not only has he read non church published information. He's thought about it.

    Most of these dialogues have two thoughts expressed, church and anti church. I am constantly amazed by how Christ was purged from Christianity. Christ was a Jew and his followers were Jews, where did they go? Why do we so seldom hear his words quoted by 'Christians"? They almost exclusively quote the old testament and/or Paul the Roman. Reading some non christian history goes along way toward explaining how this happened. Who was Paul? It should also be noted their is no christian history. There is only Jewish and roman history.

    The Christ we learned about in Sunday school is, an exclusively roman invention, designed to consolidate and strengthen Constantin's rule and subsequently co-opted and maintained by the greed and unscrupulous extremes of the catholic church.

    I challenge any Christian to read the bible for yourself before you adopt what YOU THINK it says as your personal Gospel.

    August 3, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  16. BradLW

    So Catholic Mom: are you saying that there were no followers of christ before the inception of the RCC?

    Are you saying the old and new testaments of the xtian bible are products of the RCC?

    No matter what the "tradition" of your church says, jesus did not form the RCC. Please go read some history instead of only RCC propaganda!

    August 3, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • CatholicMom

      BradLW,
      Jesus walked and taught amongst the people. He had many interested in Him. Some followed Him, some followed Him for a while, some rejected Him, and some stayed with Him to the end.
      Before He ascended into Heaven Jesus Christ met up with His Apostles and His Mother, and brought them into the knowledge and understanding of what He had taught them. He instituted the Sacraments, and their eyes were opened. Once they received the Holy Spirit they were no longer afraid because they had the Holy Spirit working through them. That was the beginning of the Catholic Church.
      The Catholic Bible as we know it was compiled, that is, all the inspired Books were compiled, the Old and the New Testaments, into ONE Bible by the Catholic Church around 300AD. Before that time the Church had the Traditions that Jesus told them to hold to and keep; they had the Pope, also, which came before the Bible; so the Catholic Church at that time comprised itself of Church Tradition, the Magisterium [Pope and Bishops], and the Bible….just as it has been for around 2000 years now.
      Thank you, Brad, for asking…..

      August 3, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      The Catholic Bible as we know it was compiled, that is, all the inspired Books were compiled, the Old and the New Testaments, into ONE Bible by the Catholic Church around 300AD. Before that time the Church had the Traditions that Jesus told them to hold to and keep; they had the Pope, also, which came before the Bible; so the Catholic Church at that time comprised itself of Church Tradition, the Magisterium [Pope and Bishops], and the Bible….just as it has been for around 2000 years now.

      August 3, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Jesus had followers before, during, and after He founded His Church.

      August 3, 2010 at 8:41 pm |
  17. Natch

    Hopefully, what Ms Rice has actually done is quit religion. To quit her faith would be a tragic loss, in my opinion. Faith trumps religion, any day of the week, and twice on Sunday!

    August 3, 2010 at 8:07 am |
  18. Jim

    Wherever Anne Rice's journey takes her in this life, she deserves prayer and for those who are called by His name to show her the love of Jesus.

    Grace and Peace,
    Jim

    August 3, 2010 at 7:59 am |
    • BradLW

      Jim:

      What good do you "know" your prayers will do for Anne? Are you going to collect data that will conclusively show that it will do Anne any good at all?

      So far, the properly executed blind studies that have been done on prayer don't show any correlation at all with respect to any benefit being conveyed to the party/ies being prayed for. Of course prayer can make the person doing the praying feel better about him/herself. Regardless of the facts, these folks usually feel that they are doing something worth their time and effort(however misguided).

      August 3, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  19. Clark1b

    over 500 eyewitnesses to Jesus' crusifixion and resurrection. so no matter how many people since then have said they know it didn't happen ... we know it did.

    August 3, 2010 at 5:08 am |
    • verify

      500 witnesses? So says Paul; but who were they all? Why weren't they named or interviewed? The Corinthians lived in Greece, doubtful that they would have been able to verify Paul's claim, so he got away with it.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

      August 3, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  20. Karen Caldwell

    Jesus is the son of God. The way of salvation is thru him and him only. Any one seeking God , really seeking the truth can read the Bible and God's truth will be revealed to him or her. God dosen't teach us to hate. Anyone claiming to be Christian and hates, does not under stand God. God tells us to despise the sin but not the sinner. People of this world have sins in their lives that they don't like to be told are sins but the word of God still states they are sins. A true christian does not hate the person but the sin only. A true christian lives his/her life to show the world God. God loves the world so much he gave his son to die for the sins of the world . The bible tells us to reach out to sinners.Each and every one of us have sinned and come short of the glory of god. Being a Christian means you have asked for forgiveness of your sins and trust Jesus to save you. Once saved a christian should tell others about Christ and try to turn them towards Christ and salvation.Being a Chistian dosen't mean you are perfect, you can still fall far short of the example Chirst set for us, but it means you strive each day to become more like Christ. Christ won people to God with love not hate.A person that hates is not a Christian and therefore not practicing Christianity.

    August 3, 2010 at 3:01 am |
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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.