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07/30/2010

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I'm always a little surprised at those who think their personal opinions about who Jesus was and what he taught are more authoritative than those of the communities which have been thinking and praying about it for 2000 years.

Indeed. Particularly irritating if they're famous.

The Church isn't good enough for such people. LOL!

Well, I think this is pretty sad. I was reading Called Out of Darkness in May and I loved the first part because she described her upbringing in and her love of the Catholic Church in her childhood and it was, in many ways, like reading about my own childhood in the Church. She captured something about the Church that's hard, I think, for people who were not there to understand.

As I got a bit further in the book, though, I got a little irritated with some of the things she said and I could tell there was going to be more to come and eventually I just started reading something else.

You could see that which led to her leaving almost from the beginning, but I have to wonder if it had to be that way. Because her son (her only other child died at the age of 6 from leukemia) is a homosexual, she had trouble accepting the Church's teaching about homosexuality. Well, sometimes it takes time to come to terms with things like this. I know that after my re-conversion, there was a lot of junk in my life and the Lord was very merciful in showing me my errors in small doses. Being in the public eye, she probably did not have that luxury. I'm sure she came in for a lot of flack from "good Catholics" who tried to straighten her out in less than charitable ways. So, I don't know, but I'm going to pray for her.

AMDG

All I could think of was Groucho. Put your post and hers together, and you get "I won't belong to any Church that will have me as a member."

It is sad. It must require even more humility to re-re-convert than to re-convert, especially for a famous person. Her chances of doing so seem slim. I will join you, Janet.

I've tried to read a couple of her "dark" books, but they were pretty unreadable. Not so much for what she was writing about (I've managed to get through worse) as for the way she wrote it - prose so clunky that you'd really have to *want* to read the book to struggle through it. Then I tried to read one of her Life of Christ books, and found that was pretty unreadable too. It was in any case so closely based on apocryphal writings that you'd get the same content with more style by reading M. R. James's The New Testament Apocrypha. So no, I wouldn't recommend giving her writings another shot. I certainly won't be.

I'm in complete agreement with you, Janet, but at the same time I can't help seeing something ridiculous in her saying, basically, that she's the only *real* Christian. It wouldn't have quite the same effect if she were just adopting Ditchkins-style atheism or something.

It sounds like she hasn't really faced her own sinfulness: otherwise she probably wouldn't feel so much like she would be lowering herself to be counted as a Christian.

The difference between her and Groucho is that she's saying something more like "I won't belong to any Church that will have *him* as a member."

The phrase "get over yourself" comes to mind.

I won't say I'll never pick up one of her books, but I'll say there are a whole lot of higher priorities. Like M.R. James. I have a book of ghost stories that someone gave me for my 12th birthday, and one of them is by him, though offhand I can't remember which. I picked up a ghost story collection a few years ago that has several more. I didn't know he was such a scholar but I'm not surprised.

I've read loads of supernatural fiction (I used to do book reviews for a couple small press journals dedicated to the subject) and must say I was never much impressed by Rice's work. I got about 100 pages or so into two of her books, Interview With The Vampire and one other, and gave up on both. I found her very overrated.

I don't agree. I read both of Ann Rice's 'Life of Christ' books (Out of Egypt, and The Road to Cana) and thought they were 'good bad books' - that is, no literary merit whatsoever, but page turners, and a populist way of imagining the early life of Christ which could aid in devotion. I didn't read her autobiography. I am very sorry she has left the church. Yes, she may be being quite irrational: a friend of mine parodied her view on FB, writing, 'I refuse to be anti-gay, I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be rational. I refuse to abandon secular humanism'. Quite funny, and there are other such parodies around. But, unless I am hopelessly mistaken, there is a real devotion to Christ in her two 'good bad' books about her life, and the fact that she wasn't able to develop a more mature faith after returning Christianity, and so eventually left the church, is pretty sad, in my op.

I meant, 'about his life' - Freudian slip, some will say!

The turgidity of her prose counts for nothing, of course, when set against whether her writing or her example leads any one soul to or from Christ, and of course it's sad that she's more attached to her imagined Christ than to His Church, but to the question "Anybody want to recommend that I give her another try?" the only answer I can give is "No."

Far from being a "page turner", I found Out of Egypt a book that required will-power to get to the end of the page, let alone to turn it (and I generally have a very high tolerance for clumsy writing in genre fiction).

It's funny how different one person's view of what constitutes a page-turner can be from another's. Not having read Rice's life of Christ books, and very little else, I don't have an opinion there, but this puts me in mind of Michael O'Brien's books. Lots of people find them very gripping, but I had to force my way through the one (or was it two?) I read. I'm totally in sympathy with the views that animate his work, but for me they just don't have the spark of narrative life in them. Likewise for...oh heck, I'm not going to be able to remember the name...very very long Italian book set in WWII...The Red Horse, maybe? What a trudge that was! Nothing in it ever came to life for me. I only pushed through because I was supposed to be reviewing it, which in the end I didn't do, because I couldn't think of anything good to say about it and didn't want to trash it. Yet some people find it a page-turner.

Rice does come across as acting purely on emotional impulses. Her gripes about Christians are somewhat understandable, but anyone who calls the Church "anti-life" and "anti-science" is not being very rational.

Somewhere on the net some months ago I read a bit of someone's memoir about coming/returning to the Church. There's no way I could find it again, of course, but I think she was a new convert, not a revert, but I'm not sure. And apparently she'd had a pretty crazy alcoholic life, and she talked about how excited she was that they, the Church, would let her in. I wonder if that was Mary Carr, come to think of it.

Karr

Yes, Mac, I read 11 pages or so of a Michael O'Brien book and could not bring myself to go on. I'd met him, not so long before the attempt, and knew he is a very nice, kind chap. In this case, it was because the dialogue was, for me, laughably unbelievable. Liking him as I did, I couldn't read his book, because it couldn't be read (by me) in a spirit of charity. And yet, as you say, I've met people who find his books to be page turners.

I don't present this as a piece in defence of my view of Rice's 'life of Christ' books, but it is interesting, as an historical note, that Richard Neuhaus liked them. He observed that she is (as I recall the phrase), 'not in competition with Dostoievsky' (ie, as I put it, 'no literary merit), but he thought they were vividly written and could make valuable devotional reading. I often disagreed with Neuhaus (eg, about von Balthasar, and about Maciel), so I don't present our concordance on this as any evidence for anything.

I had a colleague and friend who is gay and a cradle RC, and struggled with the combination. Someone said, 'he is trying to staple a Catholic identity onto an already given gay identity, and it doesn't work'. To me, Ann Rice's comments indicate a similar kind of struggle, and I have nothing but sympathy, since for me it has only been only 'good luck' (like having known intelligent practising Christians) which pushed me beyond that stage. Especially in the atmosphere of the Church in this country of the past 30 years (and it's probably worse in California), I could easily have come and gone.

I remember reading about that autobiography of a alcoholic convert, and intending to read it, and not getting there.

Ann-Marie - yes indeed, but, re-reconversion by the famous does happen. A.N. Wilson, who was widely admired as an Anglican novelist in the 1980s became an atheist shortly after writing a nasty bio of CS Lewis. He wrote in an anti-Christian way for at least 15 years. Wilson has recently returned to the C of E.

I thought "Carr" might be wrong, but I wasn't sure enough to change it, since it's the more conventional spelling. And I always go for the more conventional response.

There are few people for whom I have more sympathy than homosexuals struggling to be faithful Catholics. And I quite understand and sympathize with Rice's dilemma re her son, just not the "I'm too good for this" posture.

Well, Francesca, you were right about Maciel, I gather--I think RJN was a fan, correct? What was his beef with von B?

The reason RJN's admiration for Maciel became offensive was that, he defended him for several years, implying that the attacks were motivated by liberalism (meaning in the American context lack of faith), and then, when the truth began coming out, he backtracked and tried to deny he'd been a staunch defender of the guy. He had made an (honest) mistake, and it would have been better to say so, not to go into 'we never make mistakes' mode.

I wonder if anyone has clearly told Ann Rice that, for a Catholic, 'having faith' is holding the faith of the Church. I was received into the Church in LA in the early 1980s (I was there doing an MA in philosophy, as it happens, Paul!), and I somewhat received the impression that the faith of the Church was optional. I got that impression even from the book we used (which has since been banned, due to the efforts of something called Catholics United for the Faith). She will be surrounded both by pro-gay Catholics and hearing from conservative Catholics, and will think these are the two sides of the Church, and will probably have hoped that, eventually, her side of the Church would 'win out.' It is perfectly probable, if the people in her church are anything like the ones who ran my catechism classes, that she's never really grasped that the teachings of the Church are intended as 'objectively true'.

Well, she did go to Catholic schools pre-Vatican II, so I'm sure she heard that then.

AMDG

She certainly wouldn't be the only one of her generation to think all that had been abolished by Vatican II, or science, or something. I had the same experience as you, Francesca, as have many others. For a while I fought and argued, then eventually it just became a sort of weather that one had to put up with.

How ever, Francesca, I don't think that invalidates what you are saying. There's a good chance that she is surrounded by people who are either ill-informed or deliberately dissident.

AMDG

Yes, she may be being quite irrational: a friend of mine parodied her view on FB, writing, 'I refuse to be anti-gay, I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be rational. I refuse to abandon secular humanism'.

I find this hilarious!

I also find her lapse to be very sad and will certainly pray for her. We're all just a bunch of poor sinners, me especially - which is not just "pious talk" but something I have come up hard against on many occasions, but especially right now.

I read "Fr Elijah" by Michael O'Brien and thoroughly enjoyed it. But then, I have an Apocalyptic streak.

I loved your title for this post, btw, Maclin.

I don't understand what the statement can mean, "he is trying to staple a Catholic identity onto an already given gay identity", unless it meant "trying to be a Catholic without abandoning a lifestyle typical of current homosexual subcultures", but in the case of a cradle Catholic it clearly can't mean that. Surely they can't think that a "gay identity" is some sort of essentialist given, in a way that "child of God" isn't?

A. N. Wilson immediately came to my mind reading the Anne Rice piece. He wrote a remarkably similar rant in one of the newspapers to proclaim his decision to be an atheist. That would be twenty years ago now, and more recently he's been writing things like this.

I think a 'gay identity' can (and does) exist regardless of whether there is such a thing as 'essentially gay'. If someone primarily identifies and defines themselves as gay, they've got a primary gay identity which is constitutive of what they regard as rational and ethical in all other matters.

I'd forgotten the preVatican II education. But, even so, the woman is a novelist, ie, impressed more by imagination and empathy than by reason per se, and if she knows very many dissidents but also knows there's 'conservatives,' she probably imagines the issue as two sides, one of which she is/was on. That's probably the way most American Catholics think, no? She will have been increasingly disappointed, over time, that her 'side' was losing ground.

I hope no one thinks I'm being pious (God forbid). My dissent here is quite strong, simply because I know that I'd have retained that mind set (albeit on the 'conservative' side) if it hadn't been that my job is being a theologian, and I had to think about these things, and read, and discuss them with inquisitive students. I remember my very first year teaching, at Manchester University in 1989, the students asking me precisely which doctrines the Church or Catholics have enunciated in the past 2000 years Catholics have to believe. I did not have a clue how to answer that question.

As far as I can see, Francesca, I'm with you all the way. I know that when I started going back to Mass after a hiatus of a few years, a lot of what I'd learned in 12 years of Catholic school had gotten lost in the miasma of the late 60s and 70s.

And since she had already received the Sacraments (I'm assuming that she was Confirmed. I didn't get that far in the book, but we were confirmed in the third grade back then.), she probably would not have had to go through any kind of instruction when she came back to the Church.

AMDG

Thank you for that link, Paul.

When that great saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England, was on trial for his life for daring to defy Henry VIII, one of his prosecutors asked him if it did not worry him that he was standing out against all the bishops of England.

He replied: 'My lord, for one bishop of your opinion, I have a hundred saints of mine.'

Hmmm. Maybe Mr. Wilson ought to think a bit about who he's quoting and what the matter at hand was. ;-)

AMDG

That's right - if she had been a new convert, she would have had to say yes to 'I believe all the Church teaches', and *might* have had to decide if she acknowledges that that is the case. I have known many converts who haven't done so, but Rice would have had more of a sporting chance of giving it a think that way....

"she probably imagines the issue as two sides, one of which she is/was on. That's probably the way most American Catholics think, no?"

Yes, except that it isn't really "most". Most probably aren't really even much aware of these controversies. But yes, those who are aware often see it that way. I note with pleasure, on reading your comment, that I've pretty much stopped seeing it that way. I still use the terms "liberal Catholic" and "conservative Catholic" sometimes, as a convenient abbreviation, but I don't really see the Church as divided clearly along those lines or feel the need to engage in polemics about it, as I once did. This is partly a change in me, I suppose, but partly also a change in the climate within the Church, with the extreme "liberal" (i.e. truly heretical and heterodox) party losing ground and influence. It becomes possible to have a reasonable debate on some controversial point if you don't suspect the other side of having at bottom an agenda of dismantling the Church.

On the side-issue of essential identities, Francesca, I agree entirely that there is such a thing as a "gay identity", but to say of a cradle Catholic (that is, somebody who was a Catholic before they were even aware of the fact) that he is trying to staple a Catholic identity onto an already given gay identity, suggests a presupposition that "gay identity" is somehow more fundamental — ontologically, existentially, or essentially — than any other aspect of a human constitution. If they'd said it of a convert, or had said of the cradle Catholic that "he is trying to staple a gay identity onto an already given Catholic identity", then the remark would not be bizarre. But as it stands, it strikes me as ludicrously unreal.

No Paul, I don't agree, because, to him, the gay identity is fouundational, regardless of whether it was chronologically first.

Francesca, totally off-topic, am I correct in thinking that you have lost your cat?

AMDG

Yes I have lost my cat. This evening, the priest said the 6 pm mass for his return.

I went on holiday 10 July - 22 July. When I got back, he was gone. He often goes to people who used to be our neighbours before we moved when I go on holiday. So I was not worried for 2 or 3 days. But I kept visiting the place, and he wasn't there, and none of them had seen him. By Monday I was very worried. At 9 am Monday morning I called Scottish Society for the Provention of Cruelty to Animals. I said he was lost, and I sent them photos of him by email within a few minutes (which they said they'd received immediately). On Tuesday and Wednesday I leafletted my street and the adjoining ones. On Wednesday night I got a text from a 9 year old girl saying she'd seen him at her day care centre (a nursery). I went there at once, but he was not there. I went back the next day, and showed the picture, and the women said he'd been there Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday down to 4 pm. On Monday afternoon, they said, they'd called the SSPCA, who had come and given the cat a pencillen injection, and then *released him*.

I've been back there nearly every day since, leafletting the neighbourhood. There are colour photos in the pub, the shop, etc.

Its a very bad neighbourhood. Lots of towerblocks and guys with nasty looking dogs. Lots of people on drugs. It's about 20 minutes from where I live. I think the positive identifications are probably accurate, though of course I can't know that.

It is not just the stupidity of the SSPCA which is torturing me, it is the fact that we came so near - he was there on Wednesday afternoon, and I learned of it on Wednesday evening.

I put an add with his picture in the local papers yesterday, and had one phone call, from someone who thought she'd seen him on other side of the river, which I think is very unlikely. Tomorrow I am going for a call out on the two local radio stations.

Whether there is a "gay identity" that's given in the sense of its being something one is born with seems a "sometimes yes, sometimes no" question. Just from watching people over the years, it seems to me that there are indeed some people in whom it's pretty much an inborn thing, others who might have gone either way depending on circumstances, and some who spend some time engaging in mostly homosexual behavior for a while in youth and somehow grow out of it. Well, actually, I've never to my knowledge been personally acquainted with anyone in that last category, but it seems to have been not uncommon in the world of the English public school--Waugh, for instance, and in a younger generation Christopher Hitchens. Or maybe "not uncommon" is overstating it, since people like Waugh & Hitchens were presumably not exactly the average kid in any case--anyway, it seems to have happened sometimes.

Either way, the "gay identity" doesn't have to be intrinsic for the person to feel that it is.

Incidentally, I had not given any money to the Grampian Diocese since what could loosely be called a disagreement with our Bp 18 months ago. I had some cash with me when I went to ask the priest to say a mass - I was expecting he'd do it some time next week (you know it usually takes a while to get a mass intention said). But he said he'd do it at that mass. I offered him the cash, but he wouldn't take it. So I put it in the basket. So, unlikely poor Ann Rice (who I hope gets over it soon), I'm in.

I'm really sorry about your cat, Francesca. I'll say a prayer. I know how painful those things can be.

I'm not saying anything about 'gay identity' being intrinsic or not. I'm just saying, the guy gives it primacy, so it has primacy, for him.

Right, that was what I was suggesting.

Yes, very sorry about the cat. I will pray. My sister's cat was lost once for a very long time--months, I think--and then came home one day and never left again, so there's definitely hope.

AMDG

Well, again, to say "already given" (rather than "preferred" or "prioritized" or "experienced as foundational") - and then to juxtapose it to childhood faith as something superficially "cobbled on" - to my mind suggests that Francesca's interlocutor very definitely did imagine "gay identity" to be a uniquely intrinsic datum prior to social situatedness or personal history. Even if "gay identity" was just a sloppy synonym for "predisposition to homosexual desire", this would not be entirely unproblematic. I can only begin to imagine what Judith Butler would make of it, let alone Gerard Reve.

We had one stay gone for...I don't know, at least two years, and when we had long given her up, she just walked out of the woods one day and made herself at home again. Only thing was, for the rest of her life she was obsessed with getting up, as high as she could, which made her a real pest inside--always climbing the bookshelves. One can only imagine how she learned that lesson.

Nothing constitutes identity like putting your money where your mouth is ;)

I just realized I had failed to notice an important part of this debate: that the topic is a Catholic baptized as an infant. I see now, that does make the idea of the gay identity being somehow prior to the Catholic identity more of a problem. Still, I understand Francesca to be talking mainly about the person's subjective sense of himself.

I had never heard of Gerard Reve or Judith Butler till now, and am not sure what your reference to them means--I mean, I don't have much of an idea what they would think about...anything, really.

My interlocutor was a typical Aberdeen student, ie a conservative Protestant, and didn't mean anything of the kind. He would not even have been thinking of a given gay psychology or desire onto which childhood faith is cobbled. It wouldn't have occurred to him. He (and I) were describing the problem which this person currently had at the time of the conversation, ie, had in his 30s. The only presupposition of the conversation, which I would have thought noncontroversial, was that it is not only what happens to one which affects one, but also how one interprets what happens to one. The way this guy interprets his situation is that he is gay, and he interprets that as the most important, guiding feature of his character, and he is also Catholic, and he interprets that as a feature which must be adapted to his gayness. The preceding sentence is, I am quite sure, what both I and my interlocutor meant.


So a fair paraphrase be "he wants to remain a Catholic, but only in so far as it doesn't compromise his gay identity"? As I think I said, I'm not arguing the facts, only that your student's way of wording them struck me as bizarrely back-to-front.

Editing "would" to "so" has left "sod" as the first word of my previous comment. Any way of fixing that Mac, as it is rather an unfortunate typo in the context?

The thing that most struck me about Anne Rice's declaration (rather than Francesca's student's) was not the "anti-gay" issue (which is to some extent an issue anywhere, and something I'm somewhat acquainted with from personal experience) so much as "anti-Democrat" (Joe Biden clearly doesn't feel that his religious convictions oblige him to be anti-Democrat, so why would Anne Rice?) and "anti-science" (which just seems a depressingly superficial repetition of 19th-century canards). Or are there things going on in American Catholicism that I have no inkling of?

The attitude "I'm a follower of Christ, but I refuse to be associated with all those sinners who follow Him" is such a familiar one in these parts that it barely raises an eyebrow.

Heh. I've fixed your typo, Paul. It did make me laugh. More later--very busy this morning.

Thanks!

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I see it was Paul who postulated "cradle Catholic," so maybe that was the source of the disagreement/confusion.

Yes, Paul, unfortunately there is something in American Catholic circles that explains "anti-Democrat." Because the Democratic Party is zealously and almost completely "pro-choice," a lot of anti-abortion Catholics argue that it's a sin to vote for them. Not a totally off-the-wall argument, either, although I can't entirely agree with it because the Republicans have their own major flaws. I'm a prudential-judgment type of guy.

I don't know if this is true in Europe, but a lot of American Catholics really get off on the idea of having each other excommunicated. The "liberals" have most often been on the receiving end of that for the past 30-40 years, so they've
enjoyed getting a bit of their own back over the Iraq war etc.

Just on a point of information, Francesca's phrase was "cradle RC". ;)

Oh, sorry. Well, I'll just bow out of this now...(I mean the gay Catholic discussion, not the Anne Rice one).

I'm tentatively aware of the abortion issue being, at least to some extent, a partisan political issue over there, in a way that it has never been over here. But if Joe Biden sees no need choose between membership of the Church or the Democratic Party, why would Anne Rice feel bound in conscience to be "anti" one or the other?

I can only guess at that. She's more thin-skinned than Biden, perhaps? I don't think this indicates so much that she feels bound in conscience as that she is angry at people who say she should be. And those would mostly be laypeople. I doubt she has had any clergyman tell her she's obligated to be anti-Democrat. I take the burden of her complaint to be that she hates right-wing Christians.

I liked this piece from Robert Barron, because he evidently shares my admiration for Ann Rice

http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/August-2010/Culture-Anne-Rice-and-the-Mystical-Body-of-Jesus.aspx

Thanks, Francesca.

AMDG

Yes, that's very good. I should make it clear, if I haven't already, that I'm not totally unsympathetic to her even as I can't help scoffing at the position she's taken, at least so far as she's articulated it.

Here's a very interesting new interview in which she elaborates a bit on her decision:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-beliefs-anne-rice-20100807,0,5152082.story

Also interesting: this remark by Hunter Baker, who I'm pretty sure is Protestant, at Mere Comments:

http://merecomments.typepad.com/merecomments/2010/08/anne-rices-catholic-anticatholicism.html

What Baker said is exactly what I have thought. AR knows it the Catholic Church or nothing. It really would be interesting, if one had time, to compare AR and Mary Karr. MK probably disagrees with the Church on a lot of the things that AR disagrees with. I'm not sure where the difference lies, but I know that Karr has a passionate love for the Eucharist.

AMDG

I'm not sure exactly when or how it happened, but it wasn't long after I entered the Church that I ceased to separate it conceptually from Christ. So Rice's stance seems hopelessly contradictory to me.

Yes, I think that's just why we don't quite agree here. I can see that conceptually there is a 'continuum' between Christ and his Church, but affectively, the continuum is not - to me - always that obvious. Or in other words, true but it doesn't always feel that way. I read Rice in the interview, asking how B16 can call same-sex marriage the worst problem facing the world today when there are thousands of slaves, and, though I tend more to agree with B16 than Rice on the specific point, I can imagine being troubled in an analogous way. I have certainly been there, for long periods of my life as a Catholic.

Janet's reference to Karr made me google her. I really must read her autobio.

"true but it doesn't always feel that way"

Yeah, I can easily imagine that--that's true for me about some other things. I don't know why I took to this one so firmly. It really does feel that way to me, hence doesn't create AR's difficulty.

I thought it was a bit unfair of her to pick out that one remark by B16 and imply that he never mentions other evils. And of course she completely misses his bigger point about the confusion that "gay marriage" is a symptom of.

Francesa, You should and there are 3. If you don't read the first one,Liars' Club, you probably don't see how grace-filled the third one, Lit, is.

AMDG

You're right, Maclin, about the pope's remark. I think he said "one of" the worst, so it's not fair at all. The whole condom thing makes me batty. If people were so determined to follow the Church's teaching that they didn't use condoms, they would be following the Church's teaching in other ways that would make using condoms unnecessary. Surely it's a sin to have sex with someone, even if you are married, when you know that it might prove fatal to them.

AMDG

And I'm pretty sure he said "in Europe" (where slavery and genocide are not, just now, so much of a problem anyway). When the Pope tells the Portuguese what he thinks the problems in Europe are, why does Ms Rice have to jump up and down about him not mentioning the Sudan?

Although to be fair, most Catholics learn about what the Pope says from secular newspapers, which tend not to be too reliable, so there's no telling what she might have thought he'd said.

That's a good point. Her remarks do sound like those of one who's just reacting to superficial newspaper reports, and perhaps the general left-wing climate of opinion.

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