Beloved horror novelist Anne Rice passed away on Saturday following complications from a stroke. The author of a litany of modern vampire classics like Interview With a Vampire, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned had a devoted following for her rich, gothic, frequently steamy tails of the glamorous undead. But while Rice was deeply preoccupied with darkness as a subject, she was also haunted by Jesus and spoke often and candidly of both her love for Christ and disappointment with Christians.
You’ve probably heard the Mahatma Gandhi quote: “I like your Christ, but not your Christianity.” This was Rice’s attitude. Though raised Catholic, Rice spent much of her life as an atheist. That changed in 1998 when she returned to her beloved New Orleans and, along with it, the Catholic Church, with which she suddenly found a deep bond. As she would write in her memoir Called Out of Darkness:
In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from [God] for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point. No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from Him. No question of Scriptural integrity, no torment over the fate of this or that atheist or gay friend, no worry for those condemned and ostracized by my church or any other church should stand between me and Him. The reason? It was magnificently simple: He knew how or why everything happened; He knew the disposition of every single soul. He wasn’t going to let anything happen by accident! Nobody was going to go to Hell by mistake.
In 2005, she wrote Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a fictionalized account of Jesus’ childhood. But in 2010, she posted a lengthy statement on Facebook declaring that while she still loved Jesus, she no longer wanted to be identified with American Christianity.
“Today I quit being a Christian,” she wrote. “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 ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
Shortly thereafter, she released a clarifying statement, saying that while Jesus was still central to her life, “following Christ does not mean following His followers.”
“My faith in Christ is central to my life,” she wrote. “My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.”
Later, in an interview with Alice Cooper for Billboard, Rice confirmed that she was still in love with Jesus, but not with church. “Though I’ve moved away from institutional Christianity and organized religion — and all its theological strife — my devotion to Jesus remains fierce,” she told Cooper. “My faith blazes in my vampire novels, and in the Witching Hour series, and even in the erotica I’ve written.”
I believe our capacity to love, to know pleasure, to want to live lives of meaning — all this reflects the existence of a loving and personal Creator. I dream of all things human being reconciled in our ethical institutions and moral institutions; I dream of all of us being redeemed in every way. This is why the story of the Incarnation is so important to me, the story of Jesus being born amongst us, growing up amongst us, working and sweating and struggling as we do, and dying amongst us before he rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. I write about outsiders seeking redemption in one form or another and always will.
Rice was 80 when she passed.