The LA Times tells us that Anne Rice, the vampire novelist, has abandoned her Catholic faith and rejected “organized religion,” and she’s doing this “in the name of Christ.” It’s hard to see how she could abandon a faith she never actually accepted, but the atheistic press is having a field day with it. They go wild any time someone abandons a traditional religion in favor of the cheap substitutes of the popular culture: sex, sports-obsession, mind-numbing sitcoms, ear-splitting music, drugs, tattoos, and a myriad of other distractions from serious and eternal questions.
Rice was a Catholic, of the “I’m a Catholic but…” variety. As in, “I’m a Catholic but…I don’t go to Mass.” Or, “I’m a Catholic but…I don’t believe all that stuff about sexual morality.” Which is to say she really wasn’t Catholic at all, but was simply claiming a label she didn’t deserve by virtue of her rejection of essential doctrines of that faith. The “I’m a Catholic buts” dominate today’s Catholic world, yet there are so few “I’m a Catholic ands.”
People are often shocked to find out that I’m a religious person. “He seems so normal,” they say, “and so rational and scientific.” How could a normal 30-something male, a computer engineer by trade, believe in a God that he cannot see, a heaven and a hell, angels, demons, healings and resurrection? Why would such a man hold beliefs that are so hopelessly anachronistic and so incurably medieval, and what’s he doing in San Francisco of all places? Maybe such people exist in the cornfields of Nebraska, but in Frisco we’re progressive, and free-thinking, and we’ve left those old and silly ideas behind in the dump, and moved on, since man’s inevitable course is progress.
They think that perhaps I was raised this way, and when they find out that I was an adult convert to the faith, they turn to one of the great idiocies of our age: popular psychology. “He must be sexually conservative because he was hurt once by a girl. That explains why he doesn’t date.” Or, “he believes in God because he’s afraid of dying. Amazing how someone who seems so reasonable could be such a little child inside.” Never mind the fact that I find the atheist concept of non-existence after death far more comforting than the judgment I will actually have to undergo. Rather than examine what I have to say, rather than give me credit for having thought out my beliefs, it’s psychoanalyses via Cosmo magazine.
It’s a hard thing to explain faith to someone who doesn’t have it, to evangelize the unchurched, to convert atheists. It’s a bit like the old optical illusion, which depicts an old lady or a young woman, depending on how you look at it. I used to only see the old woman, but one day I finally managed to see the young girl. I could switch back and still see the old woman, but if I tried to explain it to another person who was stuck with the old woman, they couldn’t see it. “See, there’s the chin, and the ear… Can’t you see it?” No matter how hard I tried, they had to discover the girl on their own, and some never did, and never will.
For all the theological arguments, which have their place, it all comes down to this bizarre human condition. We walk around, conscious beings, self-aware and intelligent, and yet we are tied down to matter, and we walk around in these bags of blood and urine and feces, ambulant colostomies with brains. Our bodies seem like glorified worms: tubes that take in food and produce waste, and I often wonder if our body serves our brain, or perhaps if it’s the other way around.
Three years ago I lay in a hospital bed in the cardiac intensive care unit of California Pacific Hospital, as the fleshy pump at the center of this fluid-bag was being eaten away by some unknown pathogen. I lay in bed writhing in pain, and when it subsided and I looked out my door, I saw fellow patients in terrible states, trying to walk as their bodies refused to comply, and I saw doctors rushing into rooms whose occupants were dying, their last hope a massive electrical shock that might give a few more beats back to that failing piece of meat.
Eventually my doctor ran a catheter into my heart to determine the cause, which thankfully was not coronary artery disease. But there is an unconscious effect to this sort of deep violation, as the most private place in my body, the symbolic seat of my emotions, was coolly probed with medical instruments and displayed on an LCD monitor. “Abnormal wall motion,” the doctor said. My disease was a virus, iatro-speak for “we have no idea what happened.”
I got out of it in one piece, but there is one thing I know with absolute certainty: the time will come when this body fails, when it goes cold and limp, and it finally decomposes. The temporality of our lives is directly connected to the flesh we inhabit.
Our time, however, is a time of somatolatry, when matter is all that matters, and the soul is perilously ignored. We work out obsessively, we cover ourselves with tattoos, we have sex as often as we can, however and with whomever we want. The other day I made the mistake of clicking on a YouTube video featuring a woman who plays a hair removal specialist on a Showtime series. In the video, the actress visits an actual hair-waxing salon, where a middle-aged woman rips the pubic hair off of a number of women, and a couple of men, as the actress looks on. “Didn’t we see you in porn?” asks the salon owner of a familiar client. “Yes, and you did my anal bleaching!” replies the girl. This is what we’ve come to, young girls whitening their sphincters (Greek student alert! From σφίγγειν, “to bind tightly”) so that they look good while being sodomized for public enjoyment. This is where forty years of sexual “liberation” have gotten us, and for all the blather about “empowerment”, I see a girl who is a hopeless slave.
I believe because I am a skeptic—I cannot believe that this container in which we live is our entire existence, nor that human consciousness exists for no reason. I believe because I care about people—whether the homeless man or the abused porn star. But most importantly, I believe because, when I was lying in bed while my myocardium was rotting, the only way I could make sense of the suffering was to know that the root of all evil and suffering is our sin; and that my Creator came here, in His own body, and suffered as well; and that all suffering brings us closer to paradise, if only we accept it.
The reason I know these things is because of organized religion, specifically, the Catholic faith which has preserved the Truth throughout the centuries. You can look at the pedophile priests and conniving bishops and reject the whole thing, but this is like saying we should abandon laws on account of corrupt policemen. God, however, has worked His wonders through human agents, for better or for worse, and even one of His own chosen ones sent Him to His death.
In the end Mrs. Rice can elevate self over selflessness, and personal interpretation over dogma—she is creating her own religion. But to do it “in the name of Christ,” a name she would never have even heard without that imperfect institution, is asinine. All I can do is the rational thing: pray for her.