For some reason, this book grabbed me. I’ve never read any Anne Rice nor seen an Anne Rice movie, and I’m completely unfamiliar with her biography. But the idea of a Catholic leaving the church for an extended period of time then finding her way back to the church late in life seemed interesting. Also, if you recall, one of my goals this year was to do more exploration into my faith (or lack thereof).
So here we are, exploring Catholicism. I can confidently say that my exploration will pale in comparison to Rice’s exploration, which she pursued doggedly beginning in 1998 when she came back to the church after being an atheist for most of her adult life.
Rice was born in 1941 in New Orleans and raised Catholic. Some time in her early college years (around 1960) she quit believing in God. She remained an atheist for the next 38 years until 1998 after moving back to New Orleans and reconnecting with the Catholic church. Today, at nearly 70, she remains a devout Catholic and has devoted her life to Christian literature.
It’s fascinating stuff man. Check out her website and her Facebook page, it’s interesting reading. She’s really active on Facebook and posts daily. She also does a bunch of Amazon reviews. The woman has a lot of stuff going on.
Let me give some highlights. In grade school and high school, Catholicism was the only world she knew. Here is how she put it:
An extremely important aspect of all my schooling was this: we lived and breathed our religion and our religion was interesting, and vast, and immensely satisfying, and we had an unshakable sense of the “goodness” of Catholic education, and we were also aware of something else. There was no better all-around education to be had in other schools. (Kindle loc. 934-936)
However, after only a short time in college, this wonderment with religion just stopped. I mean it just stopped, for 38 years. She walks through the transformation in detail, here are her thoughts after starting college:
I was around students who knew much more of contemporary literature than I did, and who discussed subjects I’d never thought to discuss. They were hungry for learning, and there was no barrier to their learning. And they were good and wholesome people. My faith began to crack apart. All around me I saw not only interesting people, but essentially good people, people with ethics, direction, goals, values—and these people weren’t Catholic. (Kindle loc. 1563-1567)
This prompts her to sort through things. She starts to question her faith and even seeks counseling from a local Catholic priest near her college in Texas. The actual day that she walked away from Catholicism occurs in a conversation with this priest while she is sorting through all of these questions. The priest says to her:
“Oh well, if you were brought up like that, Anne, you’ll never be happy outside the Catholic Church. You’ll find nothing but misery outside the Catholic Church. For a Catholic like you, there is no life outside the Catholic Church.” He meant well when he said this. He was speaking, I think, from his experience with people. The year was probably 1960. I was eighteen going on nineteen, and, well, it was understandable what he said. But when he said it, something in me revolted. I didn’t argue with him. But I was no longer a Catholic when I left the room. (Kindle loc. 1586-91)
So this event kicked off 38 years of atheism. Be sure, Rice did not go into this lightly and she wrestled with things until she was exhausted. The church was different in 1960 and I can certainly understand how an independent, rebellious young woman would question her church. Plus, her high school sweetheart was not even remotely religious.
Stan Rice, whom I married in 1961, was one of the most conscientious people I’d ever met. He was positively driven by conscience and thought in terms of harsh absolutes. His life was devoted to poetry and, later, to painting; art for him had replaced any religion that he ever had. He scoffed at the idea of a personal God, and scoffed at all religion in general. He did more than scoff. He felt it was stupid, vain, false, and possibly he thought it was evil. I’m not sure on that. (Kindle loc. 1668-71)
Stan Rice died of cancer in 2002.
Her 38 years of atheism are not the focus of this book. She talks about them some, but mostly to tie them into the exit from and re-entry into Catholicism.
I can’t recall why she moved back to New Orleans in the 1990s. But upon her return she was in an atmosphere with family and friends who were mostly Catholics. She notices this:
To my amazement, these churchgoing people completely embraced Stan and Christopher and me. They didn’t question my disconnection from Catholicism. They said nothing about the transgressive books I’d written. They simply welcomed us into their homes and into their arms.
This was as shocking as it was wonderful. The Catholics of my time had been bound to shun people who left the faith. Indeed one reason I stayed clear of all Catholics for three decades was that I expected to be rejected and shunned. (Kindle loc. 1996-2000)
So her belief in atheism starts to wain:
AS I’VE EXPLAINED EARLIER, my faith in atheism was cracking. I went through the motions of being a conscientious atheist, trying to live without religion, but in my heart of hearts, I was losing faith in the “nothingness,” losing faith in “the absurd.” Understand, we were living contentedly in New Orleans, among secular and Catholic friends and family. There was no pressure from anyone to do anything about this issue, this matter of faith. (Kindle loc. 2240-2244)
Then, one day in 1998, she goes back to church.
I remember vaguely that I was sitting at my desk in a dreadfully cluttered office, hemmed in on all sides by rows and stacks of books, and that I had little sense of anything but the desire to surrender to that overwhelming love. I knew that the German church of my childhood, St. Mary’s Assumption, was perhaps six blocks away from where I was sitting. And perhaps I remembered my mother’s words of decades ago. “He is on that altar. Get up and go.” I know now when I think of those moments in 1998, I hear her voice. I see her dimly, rousing us, telling us to get up and get dressed and “go to Mass.” What confounded me and silenced me in 1998 was that I believed that what she’d said so many years ago was precisely the truth. He was in that church. He was on that altar. And I wanted to go to Him, and the impelling emotion was love. (Kindle loc. 2363-70)
She still had a lot of work to do on the path back and she goes through this for the last third of the book, which I found most interesting. She enthusiastically throws herself back into studying her religion and engages in some serious Bible study.
What struck me most is how improbable it was that this woman would embrace Catholicism again. She just came off almost four decades of atheism living amongst academics and artists. The church is not very accepting of her gay son Christopher (at one point she asks, “How was I to become a card-carrying member of a church that condemned my gay son?” loc.2415). She married a man who never believed in God. And she strongly believes in secular humanist values. But the last third of the book explains it well, it’s very genuine and heartfelt and I understand better now.
So here she is, a Catholic. And she is committed to loving others and finding God in all people. Here is how she puts it:
I am a baby Christian when it comes to loving. I am just learning. So far were my daily thoughts from loving people that I have a lifelong vocation now before me in learning how to find Christ in every single person whom I meet. Again and again, I fail because of temper and pride. I fail because it is so easy to judge someone else rather than love that person. And I fail because I cannot execute the simplest operations—answering an angry e-mail, for instance—in pure love. (Kindle loc. 2912-2915)
Wow. That’s raising the bar. That’s something to shoot for.
There’s more in this book. These are just some excerpts that I found interesting. Anybody exploring their faith or digging into Christianity should grab this book. It has a lot more than just the Catholic perspective.