Noted vampire author and Catholic Anne Rice recently announced that she was quitting Christianity in the name of Christ. She intends to keep her beliefs but is so put off by the Catholic hierarchy’s teachings and public pronouncements on feminism, child abuse and human sexuality that she will no longer adhere to any particular sect or denominational affiliation within the broader church. There is already a National Public Radio interview and several blog responses at the Washington Post.
I admit that I have a very mixed reaction to this kind of announcement. I personally have been a bit of a spiritual wanderer in my day. I was baptized in the United Methodist church, raised Moravian, convinced Quaker, married by a Catholic priest, tried to be in the United Church of Christ for a bit, began a Zen Buddhist practice and settled back down as a Quaker (and Buddhist) again.
I know that there is some irony to my agreeing with David Wolpe, who makes the request in his blog response to “[y]oke your spirituality to a system. Be religious.” I hear in Wolpe’s admonition an echo of Karl Rahner’s thoughts on the church. Rahner advised that it was allowable to leave the denomination or faith in which one was born and raised, but that this should be an absolute last resort. From Rice’s words of frustration it seems like it may be the absolute last straw for her. Of course, Rahner, and I presume Wolpe as well, would rather hear that she’d left the Catholic church for another established church.
What might it mean to be Christian without identifying with Christianity in any of its varied and conflicting forms? Is religion only about an inner spiritual feeling–a purely vertical “I-Thou” with the divine–or is there a necessary community component to it? I can’t help but feel that the latter is true. There must be some horizontal, Earth-bound relationship among believers for “religion” to happen. Falling back on Rahner again, I see this more as a move out of the Visible Church and into the Invisible Church. Or, to quote Max Carter quoting a Quaker advice, “Christianity is not a notion but a way.” If it is a way, then can we believe it without being involved with it even in its messy, shameful progress toward enlightenment and salvation?