Author Anne Rice said last week that she was ‘quitting Christianity:’ The once-lapsed Catholic wrote that she was could no longer accept her religion’s teachings on homosexuality, feminism, politics and birth control.
“In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian,” Rice announced on her Facebook page.
Can you leave Christianity and keep Christ? Can you be spiritual without being religious?
Anne Rice says she quit Christianity in the name of Christ. That’s not quite the same thing as being spiritual without being religious; I’ll try to address both questions.
Quitting Christianity for Christ’s sake puts Rice in colorful company. it was Nietzsche, after all, who insisted that “the last Christian died on the cross,” but only because he thought Jesus’ teachings so incoherent that no one could follow them in any meaningful way. Ultimately it’s a semantic question. If by “Christianity” we mean anything that devotees of Jesus do in his name, then it’s an oxymoron and Rice’s ambition to follow Christ without Christianity is impossible. Whatever you do in the name of Christ, that’s your Christianity. If by “Christianity” we mean the specific dogmas embraced by the various Christian churches, then Ms. Rice is doing no less — nor any more — than any schismatic in church history who thought his or her vision was purer than orthodoxy.
A more evocative question is whether one can be spiritual without being religious. Again semantics are inescapable. Does “spiritual” have to do with supernatural essences, i.e. with spirits narrowly understood? For these folks spirituality equates to accepting supernaturalism, which some will say underpins any true religious commitment. (Of course this opens the door to another pie fight over the definition of “religion.” Is religion what we believe about the supernatural, or shall we follow Paul Tillich and say that any ultimate commitment — even, one supposes, following American Idol — can be our religion?) In the same way many bandy terms like “spiritual” so loosely that it’s difficult to know what the “S word” means.
As an atheist, I sometimes have difficulty persuading exceptionally broad-minded people that I am both non-religious and non-spiritual too! (Note: as a declaration of atheist principles, “I am not spiritual, honest to God!” does not work.) To quote another wild-eyed German (the anarchist philosopher Max Stirner), “Man has not really vanquished Shamanism and its spooks till he possesses the strength to lay aside not only the belief in ghosts or in spirits, but also the belief in the spirit.” (Stirner died in 1856, so please pardon his sexism.)