our modern sin

Koinonia asked me to comment on Anne Rice’s renouncement of her church, and I thought I might post it here in the hopes that my friends might catch any glaring problems before it goes up there!

Anne Rice has left the church again.  Raised in “an old fashioned, strict Roman Catholic” home, Anne left the church when she was 18 and became an atheist.  Her godlessness fueled her writing career, and she became famous for such erotic, gothic novels as Interview with the Vampire and The Queen of the Damned.  In 1998 she had a religious awakening and announced that she was rejoining the Catholic Church and henceforth would “write only for the Lord.”

Until last week, when Anne made two posts on Facebook which changed her religious status to “It’s Complicated.”  Anne wrote:

“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 outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

A few hours later, she elaborated on her decision:

“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.”

Anne is not the first person to leave the Roman Catholic Church, but her reasons are illuminating for those who seek to reach this generation for Christ.  The RCC was morally corrupt during Luther’s day, but the Reformers left the church for doctrinal rather than moral reasons.  Doctrine doesn’t matter as much in our post-Kantian world (if God is the unknowable X then we are free to believe whatever we want about him), so all that’s left is ethics.

But the ethical reasons Anne gives don’t include the obvious ones.  She isn’t targeting the moral corruption of priests abusing altar boys but is leaving the church for its alleged positions on social issues.  Two of them are indecipherable:  how is the church “anti-life” and how could a religious institution not oppose the secular in “secular humanism”?  Two seem confused and historically mistaken:  the church has supported science and includes many members who are Democrats.

That leaves the social issues of homosexuality, women’s rights, and birth control.  Of these, Anne suggests that the church’s position on homosexual practice is the real reason she is leaving the church.  In an interview yesterday on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, Anne said:  “I didn’t anticipate at the beginning that the U.S. bishops were going to come out against same-sex marriage.  That they were actually going to donate money to defeat the civil rights of homosexuals in the secular society.  …When that broke in the news, I felt an intense pressure. And I am a person who grew up with the saying that all that is needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing, and I believe that statement.”

Anne’s decision to leave the church—and the reason for it—are the logical products of modern individualism.  If you begin where Anne does—and most people in our culture do—then you will end up where she is.

  1. Individualism turns homosexual practice into a civil rights issue.  Who are we to deny anyone their pursuit of happiness?  Their marriage isn’t hurting you, so leave them alone.  I agree that we must protect the civil rights of homosexuals, but saying that gay marriage is ontologically impossible is not taking away their civil rights.  Here is one area where individualism bumps up against nature.  Homosexuals have the civil right to unite with a person of the same gender (it’s not against the law), but calling their union a marriage doesn’t make it so.   
  2. Individualism turns Jesus into a spiritual version of me.  Despite the Scripture passages which denounce homosexual practice, Anne is remarkably certain that Jesus is on her side.  She ignores the historical evidence and turns Jesus into the great defender of homosexual practice.  “In the name of Christ,” she says, “I refuse to be anti-gay.”  Anne forgets that Jesus is a historical person with actual views that can be known.  He is not merely an elastic symbol for whatever I happen to like. 
  3. Individualism liberates us to leave the church.  This is the stunning denouement of individualism.  “In the name of Christ,” writes Anne, “I quit Christianity and being Christian.”  Like a husband who divorces his wife because “I love you too much to live with you,” Anne says that Jesus is the reason she is leaving his body.  Is it possible to love Jesus if we don’t love his bride?
  4.  Individualism creates a Do-It-Yourself Religion.  I will leave the final judgment to God, but it seems that Anne did not fully convert when she found God ten years ago.  She enjoyed the comfort and peace which came from believing in God, but she apparently did not submit herself and her beliefs to God’s Word.  Jesus is not a smorgasbord, where we can take extra helpings of tolerance and skip his teachings on holiness.  We either receive the whole Jesus or we don’t receive him at all.

How do we share the gospel with people like this?  We confront their autonomous individualism.  We explain that we all struggle in this area, for we all want to play God and to project our beliefs and values upon him.  But that is precisely our problem.  Unless we repent of our autonomy, we cannot be saved.  Jesus came to save us from our sin, including and especially the sin of turning God into a divinely large image of ourselves. 

Which brings me to myself.  I also am a product of Enlightenment individualism, which means that I also am tempted to project myself upon God.  I need to ask myself whether any passages of Scripture still offend or challenge me.  If it’s been awhile since I’ve been convicted by the Word of God, I can be reasonably sure that I’m not reading it correctly.  I too easily project my lifestyle and values onto God, turning him into the great defender of what I like.  I may differ from Anne on the specifics, but at root our sin is the same.

12 Comments

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  1. I assume that anti-life would mean pro-war – at least in some cases – and/or pro-death penalty?

  2. I particularly appreciated #2. I had a long discussion about that the other night with a small group, when we examined the 2nd commandment (make no idols). The commandment seems to be against idols, and thus has no relevance because it’s a repeat of #1 (no god before me). However, idols can also be the images by which we make God in our own image and try to bend him to our way of thinking.

    So, we talked about the ways in which we make God in our own image. But we also talked about how hard that is. After all, it’s easier if God thinks like me.

    That seems to be Anne’s problem – she wants God to think (and be) like her. But the bigger problem is that I want that, too. It’s easier for me to point out where she has a wrong view of God, but harder for me to see where I have a wrong view of God.

    Where we differ most fundamentally is in our approach to the problem. She solves it by abandoning the bride (your point #3, also very good). My solution is to try to let God’s people interact with me, and all of us interact together with God, and see Him for who He is rather than who I want Him to be. But I’m still pretty sure I violate the second commandment quite a bit.

    Anyway, all that aside, I thought it was a good response.

  3. Good points, John. Marcus, the RCC is against the death penalty, and they tend to frown on wars as well. So I’m not sure what she has in mind.

  4. Ah, I didn’t know that. Thanks Mike.

  5. I’m growing tired of the increasingly old saw that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. He did point out that from the beginning marriage was between a man and a woman (Matt 19:4-5). That excludes the possibility of homosexual marriage. People (try to) wiggle around the other passages about homosexuality in the Bible but I don’t think Jesus could have been more clear about God’s intention for human beings than he was here. Jesus doesn’t condemn divorce because God wants loving, committed relationship. He condemns it because man and women were created to be together.

    Anne’s beef with homosexuality isn’t so much with his church but with him. So basically she’s saying “In the name of Christ” she is disagreeing with him. That makes no sense.

    By the way Mike, I love the approach you took with this article. Good job. Thank you.

  6. Thanks, Tim. I’m also weary of the tired formula of playing Jesus off against the rest of the Bible, as if he possibly disagreed with what the Spirit wrote through Paul, John, etc. As you know, such attempts never end in an edifying way.

  7. This is quite interesting to me. I appreciate you taking the time to post it. Remembering that she is a novelist ought to help us to better understand her raves.

    And the confession you place at the conclusion was spot on. At the root ‘the sin is the same’.

    I thought, too, I might comment on one of your replies to my recent post about boundaries…you asked how could one pastor a church while holding a centered set approach. Well the reality is I did pastor a church for 19 years with such an approach. You might remember since you were gracious enough to speak there once upon a time.

    Perhaps we will set down one day and converse about these things…until then thanks for these type(s) of posts.

  8. Sadly, [i]individualism[/i] also leads to a sense of detachment and un-belonging. This sends us searching for a love that will complete us.

    And back her pendulum swings. Here’s hoping it has a gospel-driven undulation in the future.

  9. okay . . . I got a little ahead of myself with the formatting. Sorry, everybody.

  10. Great post and discussion starter. Thanks Mike. Some observations:

    – From her FB quotes, it appears her “beef” is with the Catholic Church. I wonder how familiar she is with the Bible. I have aunts, uncles and cousins who are Catholic, and it seems to me that, in terms of authority, the Church (RCC) is placed above the Bible. They follow the Church, instead of God’s Word. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve heard stand-up comics say, “I don’t read the Bible. I don’t have to. I’m Catholic.” From my experience with Catholic friends and family members, it gets a sheepish laugh because it’s true.

    – I am curious how she can “remain committed to Christ … (but) quit being a Christian”? A Christian is one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ. How is it possible to separate Christ from Christianity?

    – Apparently, her religious awakening a decade ago was not accompanied by regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and thus her comments seem to be an indication of spiritual immaturity. She seems disappointed that being a Christian isn’t easier. Sometimes, so am I. But, as Christians, we aren’t promised an easy life. In fact, quite the opposite. Matthew 7:13-14 is just one instance of Jesus telling us how difficult it will be.

    – I pray for Anne. I sympathize with her struggles. I pray that the Spirit swings the pendulum back, and that next time her awakening takes root in her heart.

  11. Good thoughts, Rob, and an important reminder to pray for Anne that the Spirit would bring her or restore her to faith. As far as I can tell, her problem is not so much with her church but with Scripture, from which her church is taking its cues on homosexual practice. “All Things Considered” read a letter yesterday from a listener responding to their interview with Anne, and the person invited her to join one of the more liberal denominations that ordain practicing homosexuals as clergy. If the RCC (and Scripture) supported gay marriage, I doubt that she would have left.

  12. A couple of further observations on individualism:

    1: It seems individualism has made it easier for someone to leave the church than it is to get out of a cell phone contract.

    2: The idea of everyone being “good” has blurred the lines of what constitutes “being in” the church. It seems the popular notion is that we along “belong” to the church, until we decide it doesn’t work for us and then we can leave.

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