Monday, August 9, 2010

A response to Ann Rice… and the rest of the world

Do you know who Ann Rice is? I didn’t until last week.

I was checking a major news website and saw the headline. Just four words that saddened and perplexed me: “Ann Rice leaves Christianity.” I had two insatiable questions running through my head: 1) Who is Ann Rice, and 2) Why would she do that?

I was overwhelmed with curiosity and within a second, I had pulled up the entire article. I then learned the answers to my questions.

First of, Ann Rice is an author. One site described her as "legendary." To be honest, I never read her work. Perhaps had she written for Sports Illustrated I would have known her work a little better. She is best known for writing Interview with a Vampire. She grew up in a Catholic household then became an atheist and then converted back to Christianity a decade ago. In 2008, Rice even wrote a book titled Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession.

Her reasoning for leaving Christianity was that she refuses to be “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist,” “anti-science” and “anti-Democrat.” She went on to say, “It’s simply impossible for me to belong to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” Rice added, “My conversion from 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.”

Hmmmm. Okay, a lot of different ways I can go from here. I honestly believe there is an element of truth and candor in her statement. (Especially the part about a loving God creating and sustaining the universe) But beyond that, I feel there is an overwhelming shadow of confusion in her logic.

As a card-carrying member of this infamous group I can get enraged at the fact that I was called “hostile” but that would actually confirm her rational. Furthermore, it would make me liable to judgment myself (Matthew 5:22).

I could dismiss it. Take the “you can’t win them all” attitude and brush her reasoning to the side. The problem there is that I am expressing indifference towards her soul and salvation. That would be rather un-Christian of me. We are called to make disciples of “all the nations” and that “everyone who believes in Him might not perish.” None of the six billion people on Earth are unworthy of God’s love and should be dismissed when they express their beef with Church teaching. It is times like this when we need to turn off the TV, roll-up our sleeves, start talking, and start praying.

I will take a more holistic view at her statement shortly but I first want to offer an admittedly quick and incomprehensive response to her hang-ups with Christianity. And since I am Catholic and believe whole-heartedly that Catholicism was instituted by Christ himself and is the fullness of Christian belief, I will respond as a Catholic would to these statements.

1. “Anti-gay” A few years ago a friend asked me, “don’t Catholics hate gays?” The answer to that question is NO. If an individual Catholic does hate anyone who is gay, they are committing a sin. Catholics should not hate anyone. The only thing we hate is sin. Sinners, however, ought to be loved. The challenge is to separate the sin from the sinner. If we hated sinners, we’d pretty much hate everyone because we all fall short of the bar set for us by Jesus Christ. So, to clarify, Catholic teaching isn’t to hate anyone who has homosexual desires or who has acted on those desires in their life. However, we do need to recognize that homosexual acts (much like premarital or extramarital sexual acts) are sinful.

The Church teaches in the Catechism that homosexual acts are sinful. “They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life… under no circumstances can they be approved.” (CCC 2357). The Catechism also acknowledges that it is not an easy road for someone to live a chaste life with deep-seated homosexual tendencies. We are taught, “[Men and women who have homosexual tendencies] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter.”

Maybe you aren’t Catholic and don’t put any credence in “Catholic Church teaching”. Ann Rice might call that a man-made law, not something from God. So, how else do we know homosexual acts are sinful? Scripture is one place to look to. 1 Timothy 1:10, 1 Corinthians 6:10, and almost all of Genesis chapter 19 tell us of the gravity homosexual acts. It truly is God’s law.

Notice that I have been saying “acts” and not “desires?” As a married guy, I still find other women attractive and that is natural. It is what it is. Problems would ensue, however, if those attractions turned to lust and then to adultery. Whether we are married or single, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual; we are all called to live lives of chastity which frequently means denying our impulses.

2. “Anti-feminist.” Often times Catholics are accused of worshiping a woman, Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Also, Catholicism is often accused of oppressing women. So which is it?

The truth is neither.

Catholics worship Jesus Christ who is God Incarnate. We venerate His mother and recognize that her willingness to do God’s will in her life was paramount to the plan of our salvation.

And Mary is just one of the women that we hold up as examples of holiness in our Church. Literally hundreds of women have been canonized by the Catholic Church. Many religious sisters actually ran hospitals and schools long before most women entered the work force. The Church continues to speak out against atrocities against women in places like China, the middle-east, and parts of Africa.

But one thing that the Church believes that Ann Rice may take issue with is that men and women are different. We believe that men and women are suitable partners for each other and equals but that there are obvious differences. From anatomy, to communication styles, to strengths and weaknesses, men and women are different. I think most married couples can relate to that.

The other thing that I would suspect Ann Rice might be referencing when saying Christianity is “anti-feminist” is the Pro-Life teachings taught by the Catholic Church and a good number of the protestant faiths. This is an issue I am so grateful to the Catholic church for standing firm on and I am sure will be explored in future posts. Not only do we recognize that all life must be defended but the Church also knows that women who have abortions very frequently feel emotional and physical pain for years to come. The Church cares for the souls of those women. The only times I think you will see what Rice believes to be “anti-feminist” is when there is a practice or belief that is in opposition to the family or to life. To sum it up, we are both pro-life and pro-woman.

3. “Anti-science.” I am going to quote right from the Catechism on this one. “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.” (CCC 159). In other words, God welcomes scientific exploration for in seeing the beauty and complexity of the world He created (from vast galaxies to microscopic strands of DNA), we come to a deeper understanding of how amazing our Creator truly is.

The Catechism goes on to say, “methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith.” For example, most every form of stem cell research is alright. But embryonic stem cell research (which is dependent on the destruction of human life) is not acceptable because that overrides moral law. In other words, science should help us understand God’s creation, not become little gods ourselves.

4. “Anti-Democrat.” A few months ago I read a quote by an evangelical preacher who spoke about the intersection of religion and politics in America right now. He said, “the problem is that Republicans think God is on their side all the time and Democrats think God does not choose sides.” After recalling conversations I have had with friends over the years on both ends of the political spectrum and reflecting on that comment for a while, I found there to be a lot of truth to that statement. This pastor gave an example in stating that while God may not be a Republican, He certainly is pro-life.

The reality is that there are elected officials from both parties who try to govern by Christian principals. There are also those politicians who we need to pray for... a lot!

There are planks in the Democratic platform that oppose Church teaching: We have touched on the issue abortion thus far. Historically, even Catholic Democrats (eg. Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden) have championed the cause of the pro-abortion movement. Regardless of whether Ann Rice or anyone else will admit it or not, that is simply wrong. Another issue that is making a lot of headlines recently is same-sex marriage. This is another issue that Democrats differ with Church teaching more frequently than their Republican counterparts. We can get into more topics in time but I did want to give a couple quick examples of where the Catholic Church, the Church founded by Jesus Christ (Son of God… the same God who is the author of life and created man and woman for each other) are in opposition with the Democratic Party. Before I move on, let me mention again what that pastor said, God isn't always on the side of the Republicans (e.g. death penalty).

So now that I have responded to some of the specific reasons why Ann Rice left Christianity, I want to address what I believe are some of the bigger picture issues that are in play.

First off, I want to examine her claim that, “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.” I have to disagree.

No individual person can rival Jesus Christ because He was both human and divine. I think Ann Rice and I can agree on that. Having said that, the Church was actually instituted by Jesus Christ himself. In Matthew (Mt 16: 18-20). Jesus said to St. Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” And so in time, St. Peter became the first in a long line of popes and the other apostles became our first bishops.

We know that without Jesus, there would be no church. There would be no followers.

On the flipside, God chose to work through ordinary fishermen and tax collectors to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Without them, perhaps only a few thousand people would have ever heard of Jesus Christ. God used sinners like you and me to witness to his message of love and life eternal. Those early disciples and their followers were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they risked their own lives to practice the faith and proclaim the gospel. They passed down teachings to the next generation and that generation to the next. A persecutor of early Christians, Saul who became St. Paul, became the greatest evangelizer the Church has ever seen. Guided by the Spirit, Christ's "followers” proclaimed the message of hope to all corners of the world. Like it or not, the Church is “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and we ought to thank God for those who stared death in the face with the joy knowing that they would be rewarded in heaven (Mt 5:10). Furthermore, we must recognize that we have an obligation to preserve and pass the faith on to future generations.

When I first read Ann Rice’s remarks, I thought about the definition of a Christian. In the broadest form it is one who practices Christianity or someone who is a follower of Jesus Christ. A slightly different variation I heard recently is that a Christian is “a little Christ.” That makes sense since we don the W.W.J.D bracelets and try to follow the example of our teacher and savior.

Well, if we are truly to be “little Christs,” we must be prepared to face the rejection and persecution that our Lord faced. Peter Kreeft, a writer and professor at Boston College wrote in You Can Understand the Bible that Jesus was, “hated and rejected. He never fit people’s prejudices, categories, ideologies, or set agendas.” I believe that Ann Rice wasn’t prepared to be hated and rejected by the people she knows who perhaps have certain prejudices, categories, ideologies, or set agendas themselves.

Today, I implore you to pray for Ann Rice and everyone else who has distanced themselves from the Church. Pray that she and others may come to know that walking the Christian walk is not always an easy walk but, nonetheless, a walk that is so worth walking. Pray that they come to appreciate the wonderful and beautiful teachings of the Catholic Church. Pray that Pope Benedict XVI, all the priests, bishops, and deacons in the pillar of truth remain faithful to ministering in love and in truth. Pray that all who hold and teach the Catholic faith be filled with the Holy Spirit so that all of God’s creation may come to know how much they are loved by God. Thank God for those who have returned to the faith and invoke the prayer of St. Monica whose prayers helped her own son, St. Augustine, return to the Church after a number of years of being away.

We are all loved so much that Christ bore our sins and died on the cross so that we may live. We are also loved so much that Jesus Christ built His Church so that we all would know how know Him, love Him, and serve Him. He built His Church on a followers just like you and me so that sinners just like you and me can be reconciled to God. Followers and sinners like Ann Rice.

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