A Christian Review of Anne Rice’s Called out of Darkness
I was pleased to have Anne Rice’s latest release sent to me for review. Her spiritual auto-biography, Called Out of Darkness: a spiritual confession, is available for purchase through Amazon.
Welcome Catholic News readers! Feel free to drop a comment. You may be interested in my own book series, Birth Pangs. Take a look after you finish the review!
Anne Rice begins her book by laying out in careful detail what her early life was like. It was a life that was thoroughly drenched in the Roman Catholic Church and culture as it was practiced in New Orleans. She attended Catholic schools and had Catholic friends. At one point, she wanted to be a nun. She delighted in the architecture of New Orleans and her Catholic surroundings.
However, she fell away from all this after high school. Though the seeds had been planted earlier on, in college she came into contact with people who loved learning, were smart, and cared about doing the right thing- all without religion, Christianity, or Catholicism. Anne reports that the controversies and strict moral teachings of the Catholic church weren’t primarily what drove her away from the faith. It was instead a disconnect between her and God, an inability to separate her relationship with the church with her relationship with Jesus Christ.
In a section on page 124 she says,
The church had become for me anti-art and anti-mind. No longer was there a blending of the aesthetic and the religious as there had been throughout my childhood.
Desperately I sought to escape the sense of sin that seemed to dominate every choice facing me. I lost faith in Hellfire. Or to put it differently, faith in Hellfire simply did not hold me firmly, as faith in God had once done. I left the church.
I stopped going. I stopped being a Catholic…. I quit for thirty-eight years.
I could not separate my personal relationship with God, and with Jesus Christ, from my relationship with the church. As I mentioned, I’d stopped really talking to God a long time ago. I hadn’t felt entitled to talk to Him in a long while. I’d felt far too demoralized to talk to Him. I just wasn’t the Catholic girl who had a right to talk to Him. I harbored too many profane ambitions.
I really enjoyed these frank and honest thoughts. I spend a lot of time talking to atheists and nonChristians and a lot of them were Christians at one time. They too could not separate their personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ from the relationship with the church. Incidentally, there are an awful lot of Christians who have this struggle, too. If you read my blog regularly, you will see that I speak to this fairly often.
Anne’s journey back to the faith was embodied in the novels that she wrote. If you don’t know, Anne is the author of the series of vampire books, beginning with Interview with a Vampire. Since I haven’t read these books, I merely report what Anne says about them in her spiritual auto-biography. After a long discussion about the appeal of her books and what drove her to write them, she says:
What matters here is this:
These books transparently reflect a journey through atheism and back to God. It is impossible not to see this. They reflect an attempt to determine what is good and what is evil in an atheistic world. They are about the struggle of brothers and sisters in a world without credible fathers and mothers. They reflect an obsession with the possibility of a new and enlightened moral order.
Did I know this when I wrote them? No.
But the research I did for them, the digging through history, the studying of ancient history in particular, was actually laying the ground for my return to faith. (pg 147)
This was one example of something in Anne’s autobiography that I really resonated with. As an author myself, I appreciate how the story one writes is in some measure the story that one lives. But history contains the description of the stories of other lives apart from mine and I personally have never been able to discount these stories just because the people lived long ago. Anne says,
The more I read of history- any history- the more my atheism became shaky. History, as well as Creation, was talking to me about God. The great personalities of history were talking to me about God. (pg 148)
Modern atheists seek to dismiss these stories in one way or another. Perhaps the clearest example would be Richard Dawkins in his Delusion where he insists that all of the great minds of the past would have been atheists if only they had been allowed or if society had been different, i.e., if they had been born today. I find it difficult to read the works of those like Newton or Pascal (to name just two) and not come away with the view that these men had thoughtfully considered their faith. Besides, how does one explain Francis Collins on that view?
Can we really make our own experience of reality the measure of reality? I say no. I say we must consult a broad base of experiences, past and present, and give them all due consideration.
I believe that Anne puts her finger on one truly significant ‘story’ from history that absolutely must be given its proper due. In her own words from page 148,
I was seeing patterns in history that I could not account for according to the theories of history I’d inherited in school. I was seeing something in the survival of the Jews in particular for which there was no convincing sociological or economic explanation at all. … If any one “thing” in all my studies led me back to Christ, it was His people, the Jews.
I think a lot of people would be confused as to why this might be the case. I believe that Anne does a great job of communicating the reasons, through fiction, in her books telling the story of Jesus through Jesus’ own eyes.
Because it is so important, though, let me say a word or two of my own. Consider this: according to Roman and Jewish histories, the Jews of the first century were a feisty bunch, to say the least. Pontius Pilate had to put down riots on a number of occasions because he offended the religious sensibilities of the Jews and the Jews successfully retaliated with letters to Rome complaining. The Jews would prove to be so troublesome that finally Rome dispatched its legions to utterly decimate the Jewish people and its principal city, Jerusalem, and topple its religious center- the temple. This happened about 70 AD. The Jews were dispersed to the four winds.
Time has come and gone, and the Romans are gone, the Babylonians are gone, the Persians are gone, the Philistines are gone… the Nazis are gone… but the Jews remain.
Out of this fiercely monotheistic population, a population emerged which believed that a man was really God. The severity of this blasphemy can only be appreciated by reading Josephus and other accounts of the Jews of the first century. The Jews were literally the last people on earth that would have tolerated the idea of a man being God, and by ‘not have tolerated’ we mean ‘violently and bloodily resisted.’
As CS Lewis says,
The Jews were the most unlikely people to make up such a legend. Lewis writes: “This is difficult because His followers were all Jews; that is, they belonged to that Nation which of all others was most convinced that there was only one God – that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this horrible invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people in the whole earth least likely to make such a mistake. On the contrary, we get the impression that none of His immediate followers or even of the New Testament writers embraced the doctrine at all easily. (God in the Dock, “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” pg 158)
Also from Lewis, but now in his book Mere Christianity:
Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.
There are those who dismiss any account of a miracle in the books of history without a thought. But here is a miracle of a different sort with documentation that is even better than those for the miracles of Jesus: out of the nation least likely to believe, or even tolerate, the idea that God became man, is precisely the nation where it occurred. This is a miracle. It is also an undeniable fact of history. It requires explanation, but only if you know your history at all do you recognize that need.
Anne has grasped the significance of these types of argument and her portrayal of the incarnation in her biographies of Jesus is vivid and spot on. You may read my reviews of each here: Out of Egypt, Road to Cana. (Road to Cana more explicitly addresses this question of the Jews).
Anne recounts her own fascination with the Incarnation in her auto-biography. In one example, she says, “My own writings took me again and again and again to God. In The Vampire Armand, the talk of the Incarnation of Christ is relentless.” She describes herself as being ‘Christ haunted.’ (pg 176 and 177)
Her autobiography concludes with her ‘surrender.’ I wouldn’t want to deprive the reader of my review of the pleasure of reading about the final steps of her return to the faith by giving it all away, here. It is enough to say that I believe that many people will be encouraged and strengthened by her experience and recommend the book!
Now, one of the things that I learned in this book is that Anne doesn’t consider herself much of a reader. So, if she finds this review, on account of its length she may not see these final paragraphs. I have saved a complaint for the end. I have overwhelmingly positive feelings for Anne and if she does read these words I hope she will receive them in the spirit they are offered.
In her final chapter of the book she begins to discuss her ‘path into the knowledge of the contemporary church.’ Frankly, I agree with much of her analysis in the chapter. In the nicest way that she possibly can (and she really tries to be nice) she expresses her concern that the Christian community in our country is obsessed by ‘gender, sexuality, and reproduction.’ She wonders if perhaps these are ‘secular areas’ like the stars are ‘secular areas’ and the stars do not for that reason cease to be ‘the lamps of Heaven.’ Might it be the same for gender, sexuality, and reproduction?
She offers it as a suggestion: “And a suggestion is all it is.” (pg 244)
As the product of the sexual liberation of the 60s and 70s- and the divorce that came as a consequence- I can attest to the fact that experimentation in the areas of ‘gender, sexuality, and reproduction’ does not come without a price. As a religion teacher, each year I discovered that a solid half of my students were living in broken relationships- and each year I taught between 180 and 200 students. And this was at a Christian school!
Even if I granted that there have been Christians that have handled these matters with less than charity (for it is certainly true) a great concern about these areas need not be a legalistic obsession. I saw with my own eyes the lives of so many little ones who were broken into pieces because prevailing societal norms about ‘gender, sexuality, and reproduction’ were given full currency. I saw it in the lives of so many students and I live with its effects today, working as hard as I can to learn the lessons from history so as to ensure that my own children do not endure the brokenness that I endured.
Only a couple of weeks ago a former student contacted me because his parents were moving towards a divorce. He is devastated as well as angry, because his parents are Christian and he sees how vividly the New Testament, and Jesus himself, rejects divorce. In light of such experiences and observations, I have trouble seeing these societal experiments as innocuous. While there are many examples where I think Christians could handle it better, I believe that our ‘obsession’ is understandable, and we cannot say we are concerned about people’s souls while standing aside as those souls are slashed and beaten as the consequences of society’s experimentation.
I do not want one of conservative Christians to read what I just wrote and say “Well, I can write Anne Rice off, now!” What Anne says in this final chapter contains much of value. The fact is that people do have trouble disassociating God from the Church and the Church should take this into account when it acts, knowing that in driving people away from the Church, they can drive them away from God.
I fear that in an already long review I cannot cover all of the ground that a good long conversation could more appropriately handle regarding such matters, suffice it to say that I think that Christians ought to pick up this book be strengthened by the story it contains, and listen with respect as an ‘outsider’ now come in shares her perspectives.
Anyone interested in seeing just how creatively the Author can bring a person back to faith will be interested in this account of one particular author documenting her return.