Friday, 30 July 2010

Refuse to be called Christian?


Gothic novels featuring vampires or horror aren't my choice of holiday reading. I didn't see the film 'Interview with the Vampire' though I was aware it was based on the American author Anne Rice's series of novels about Lestat (a vampire). My lack of interest in her particular form of dark fiction means that the fact that 12 years ago the author converted from atheism to Christianity had failed to grab my attention. Until today.

Alison Flood, in an article for the Guardian, picks up on Anne Rice's post on her Facebook page that she has decided to "quit being a Christian" because of negative attitudes by Christians to birth control, homosexuality and science. What interests me most about this is that Anne Rice declares that her faith in Christ is still central to her life. She writes,
"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 10 year, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
I agree with Anne Rice that "Christ is infinitely more important" than Christianity. Many Christians are very unlike Christ. I know. I'm one of them.


My question is, can someone be committed to Christ but refuse to be called 'Christian'?


Commitment to Christ comes high on my list of ways to define what it means to be Christian. Is part of the cost of commitment to Christ, having to accept that Christian believers include a great many fat-heads and sinners as well as some very peculiar saints? I might think some of them are profoundly wrong on many issues. I have the freedom to say so, but I don't have the freedom to choose who belongs to the Christian community, the body of Christ in all its diversity. Any more than I can choose my blood relatives. 


Trying to stay loyal to Christ, without the support of other Christians is a lonely, difficult task. I couldn't do it. I hope Anne Rice continues to be committed to Christ. Trying to be so, while standing aloof from her brothers and sisters in the church, where will that lead her next I wonder?

4 comments:

  1. I have read some of Anne Rice's books but not the vampire ones. She has read some other ones which have a Christian theme: Christ the Lord (The Road to Cana) is on the shelf waiting to be read; Christ the Lord (Out of Egypt) and there was a wonderful one about Castratis whose name escapes me. I can understand her disillusion with the church but perhaps she isn't aware that there are other branches which are not quite so rigid.

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  2. Thanks for commenting Ruth. I plan to find one of Anne Rice's books to read - perhaps one of the novels about Christ. I agree that her disillusion with the church is understandable, but it'll be sad if she can't find a branch of the Christian family to which she can contribute and which could help her faith in Christ to grow.

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  3. I have some sympathy with Anne Rice (of whom I was previously unaware - thank you for bringing her and the Guardian article to my attention).

    Some "true" Christian people contact me from time to time. They (appear to believe they) know all the answers. For them, real Christians are people like Michael Nazir-Ali, with crystal clear answers. Christianity is of God and is good, Islam is of the devil and is to be despised (along with people like Rowan Willams). The line taken by some of those contacting me has evolved over time. I am less likely to be told now than 30 years ago that (in effect) Protestants are right, Catholics are wrong.

    Having said that, I myself am guilty of feeling comfortable with some dividing lines. Last year I heard what was for me a fascinating presentation by retired palliative care consultant Robert Twycross: http://www.hospice-history.org.uk/byoralsurname?id=0111&search=t&page=0 Talking of preparedness for death, he distinguished between people for whom religion is "life escaping" - it gives them black and white answers to a whole series of questions - and those for whom religion is "life engaging". The latter admit to doubts and to not having a definitive answer to many key issues. In Robert Twycross's experience, those belonging to the former group are among those who struggle most as they approach death - despite perhaps having spent a life-time declaring (in hymns or in person) that death carried no fear for them.

    I find myself instinctively suspicious of those (including so-called new atheists) who appear to believe they have a monopoly of the truth. Many churches are ill at ease with those of us with questions.

    Karen Armstrong helpfully (for me) addressed some of these issues in her review of Tariq Ramadan’s "Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism" in last weekend's Financial Times:
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/85ac8582-9b62-11df-8239-00144feab49a.html She concludes:

    "Initiation involves far more than an intellectual acceptance of a position; it has to reach a level deeper than the cerebral, so that we lay aside habitual modes of thought, abandon self-serving certainties, and realise how little we know about one another. If we cannot work assiduously to cultivate a profound sense of the unique sacredness of every single human being, we will enter a moral void. To begin their personal initiation, perhaps, readers should meditate on some of Ramadan’s words and make them their own. They would do well to start with his dedication of the book: “To the semi-colon”, which “in a world of simplified communications and simplistic binary judgments ... reconciles us with the plurality of propositions, and with the welcome nuances of the sentence and of complex realities.”"

    Not having even heard of the book, I am not in a position to make a considered judgment of it. I realise that Armstrong is a hate figure for many Christians.

    I like the prayer which follows, sent to me recently by a friend. Apparently it is said every week by members of the Isaiah Community http://www.isaiahcommunity.org/ at St John's, Waterloo, in London.

    May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

    May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for economic justice for all people.

    May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, hunger, homelessness and rejection, so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

    And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in the world so that we can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.

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  4. Thank you Graham for your thoughtful comment. I especially like the prayer used by the Isaiah community that you quote. I'm interested Robert Twycross' distinction between those for whom religion is 'life-escaping' and those for whom it is 'life-engaging'. One reason I'm committed to following Christ is that I see in him something truly 'life-engaging'. In the gospel accounts he never seems to give people easy answers, his most devastating criticisms are for religious leaders and he demonstrates profound love for the marginalised. I could go on...On a different tack I think the day we stop asking questions or having doubts at times is the day we die. It's human to be like that and doesn't make someone any less Christian (or Muslim, Jewish etc.)

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