It was just about a year ago that Anne Rice—who two years earlier had chronicled her return to the Catholic church in the best-selling Called Out of Darkness; A Spiritual Confession—announced via Facebook that she was “quitting” Christianity:
I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or being a part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.
At the time Rice was writing, we were well into the summer of Tea Party unrest preceding the 2010 elections, and mainstream media were disseminating the usual mean Christian caricatures spouted in any election year. In 2010 patently false claims that Christians hate gays, women, and science had been given new force by the Proposition 8 drama in California and the identification of prominent Christians as Tea Party supporters.
Some were quick to dismiss Rice’s resignation as the result of a “re-version,” the nearly inevitable outcome of her long formation as a secular humanist. After all, in Called Out, Rice expressed surprise that it might be thought radical “for a deeply orthodox Catholic to hope for the eventual ordination of women, or for a Catholic to believe that our gay Christian brothers and sisters would soon be accepted into the fold . . . but these did prove to be radical suggestions.”
Others wondered if Rice was simply falling victim to a shoddy catechesis that had failed to fully articulate the carefully nuanced, generous, and supernaturally grounded reasoning behind the Church’s counter-cultural positions.
Certainly, both of those explanations are possible, and even likely. It is also likely, because caricatures and stereotypes are distortions often founded upon realities, that Rice had encountered the sorts of Christians who seek constantly to confront and correct others, forgetting that the key to the Christian life begins with confronting and “fixing” the self—a job for grace, if ever there was one—and found them off-putting in the extreme.
But I suspect the largest part of Rice’s boisterous resignation has to do with the dictatorship of sentimentalism, which I have described elsewhere as “the force behind ‘feel-goodism’ . . . Convinced that the people he loves cannot possibly be denied anything they want by a just God, or that the same just God would not permit deformities, illness, war, childhood abuse or any of the human sufferings common to us all, he will not participate in a church so fault-ridden and out-of-step with so generous and enlightened a generation as . . . his own.”
In 2005, in his last homily given to the College of Cardinals before being elevated to the papacy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger famously warned, “we are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” As Pope Benedict XVI he revisited that idea last September during his wildly successful visit to London, and charged that “a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good.”
In both cases, we say “rem acu tetigisti”; he has touched the matter with a needle. But I wonder if the dictatorship of relativism would be so comfortably entrenched within our society, were it not resting upon a bed of snuggly sentimentalism weaved through prosperity and mindless ingratitude. In a sense we are a Society of Eves in Eden drawing upon evidence of such giftedness and material abundance that we cannot imagine wanting something—for oneself or those we love—and not having it, without there being an injustice, somewhere.
The antidote to relativism, Ratzinger taught, is “a faith which does not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature.” And perhaps it is (in sad combination with other well-covered failings) our Church’s scandalous lack of a formal adult catechesis—designed to nurture and form her members into spiritually mature adulthood—that is behind the easy tossing-off of Eternal Truth by so many.
In her confession, Anne Rice referred to herself humbly as “a baby-Christian,” like Eve in an infancy of spiritual wondering, and I fear many adult Catholics are still very much “babies” in their understanding of the faith, and their relationship to Christ. If so, this cannot be permitted to continue unaddressed; a serious program of adult catechesis—something beyond, “now you’re confirmed, please join our youth group; we have dances! And pizza!”—must be devised and undertaken, posthaste.
This is not simply a matter of maturity; it is a matter of spiritual life and death. Imperfect reason, unassisted by adult formation, leads to the suppression of critical thinking by our feelings and desires. It encourages a headfirst dive into the waters of sentimentalism which, while shallow, are deep enough for an infant to drown in.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
Called Out of Darkness
Rice on Facebook
Proposition 8 Voters
Ratzinger Homily to College of Cardinals
Benedict in UK
Essay on Sentimentalism