Busted: Anne Rice
BustedHalo interviews the bestselling author about her return to Catholicism and the direction her writing is taking with the publication of her new book Christ the Lord
BustedHalo: Did you have a pretty traditional Catholic upbringing? You mentioned that your father was in a Redemptorist seminary. How long was he there?
Anne Rice: He was in seminary for many years. He was one of nine children and entered when he was eleven and didn’t leave until after high school. He really got a complete education in the seminary and came home very well read and a lover of classical music and really, a lover of everything that had to do with beauty.
He remained fervently Catholic all of his life. He died in 1991. The childhood I had was a lot like his in some ways. We both went to the same school, St. Alphonsus School in the Irish Channel in New Orleans. It really was what people would call the Catholic Ghetto. The whole world was Catholic. At that time parochial schools dotted all of New Orleans. They were everywhere and everyone went to parochial school. You didn’t really know anyone who went to a public school. That was completely beyond our world. The archbishop was very involved in culturally telling us what to do. If a movie came to town, we could be told it was a mortal sin to see it. It was the world of the Legion of Decency and the Index of Forbidden Books.
BH: Was there one event that led you away from the church or was it gradual?
AR: It was pretty traumatic when I broke. I was 18 and in college at Texas Women’s University, which was a secular university, very nice and quiet. I had a lot of questions about philosophy and theology, but I was immersed in a world that was secular and people who weren’t Catholic but they were very good people. I suffered a crisis of faith. I really wanted to read Camus and Sartre and Kierkegaard and explore existentialism. I wanted to see the modern world. I had grown up in a world so immersed in old-fashioned Catholicism that the modern world was suspect. We didn’t get a television until I was 12 years-old because it was going to ruin us. I don’t think my crisis was unique. I think a lot of people lose their faith at that age when they go out into the world. My father was pretty upset about it.
BH: Later in life when you writing gained so much prominence and it wasn’t explicitly Christian, how did your father react to that?
AR: He was a wonderful reader of my books and would give me much feedback and he pointed out over and over again the Catholic imagery and that I was dealing with church history in my own way. He told me that I was working my way back through the church’s history century by century.
BH: He was refusing to let you go. (laughs)
AR: I liked his feedback. He gave me pretty enlightened comments. I would always put one line in each book for him. It was a line that first appeared in my book Feast of All Saints where this person struck “one fine blow.” He thought that was unique, so every book after that somebody would strike “one fine blow” and he would look for the line and tell me where he found it.
BH: It’s interesting that unlike a lot of people who come to their faith again that you haven’t disavowed what you did in the past. How do you square with that?
AR: I see it as a journey. When I wrote Interview with a Vampire it was about the anguish of being without the comfort of God. No matter how much time I devoted to the fiction, the vampire’s charm or the pleasures he experienced, the whole thrust was asking why are we here? Why does God allow evil to happen? What do we do? The climax of the entire book was when Louis, the hero, finds the oldest living immortal in the world and asks are we children of God or children of the devil? The answer comes back, “How could we be anything but children of God because God made the devil?” When you write a book where that is the climax, you’re clearly obsessed with something. And all of the other books follow that path. There’s a zealous sincerity to them and I feel no need to repudiate them at all. Also, they have led many people back to the church, or so I’m told. I was surprised to hear that, but I hear it over and over. At a signing, people will come up and say, “Because of Memnoch the Devil (1995) I went back to the church. Your description of heaven, when Lestat the vampire hero goes to heaven.” Of course that description of heaven was based on the description we have from mystics and saints and from near death experience people in our own day. It was a very serious thing for me. If I thought my books did evil to people. If I thought they created evil, it would be a very different thing to me. But, I don’t get that impression at all.
BH: You mentioned in a recent interview that your son, Christopher, was raised with no religion and I kind of detected a note of regret in your voice over that. It sounds like your husband was accommodating with your conversion. How has you son reacted to that?
AR: My son is really good about it all. I don’t make an effort to drag him to church. He knows what I’m doing. He is actually coming to the Holy Land with us in December. He has turned out to be a very conscientious person. He is a gay man, gay activist, and gay novelist and he is greatly concerned with the quality of life for gay people and their rights. He is driven by his conscience every day. My husband was actually very similar but for him it was art and poetry. That’s what took the place of religion in his life. He got up almost every single day of his life, almost like a monk, where he would write and paint, no matter how he felt.
BH: You have said that the church’s handling of homosexuality was potentially an impediment of coming back but through talking to some priests you were able to overcome that. Can you talk a little about that?
AR: Well, it still causes me great sadness, the treatment of homosexuals in the church. I feel–and I don’t speak for the church but as one person–but I think we will see the church open the doors to gay people very soon.
I think that the message of the Scriptures is that the holiness code in which gay behavior is condemned is made obsolete by Jesus. I think we will see theology that will embrace gays as the children of God like anyone else. Yes, we’re an orthodox religion, but we do go through these changes. There’s no question about that. It’s like when Catholics in the South thought slavery was fine and nobody now would consider such an idea. We’ve been going through this long learning period with regard to gay people. It is part of the civil rights movement. It’s part of the scientific revolution. We’re learning about gender, the equality of women, the function of men and women, how gay people function. We’re taking in all of this knowledge. I think that we will expand and see that our Scripture still has authority, even if we open the doors wide and gay people receive the sacraments.
That’s my optimistic view. I feel that orthodoxy should take its time. It’s painful now for those who want to receive communion and be married, but it’ll come. And I think that people are very aware of the fact that a great percentage of our clergy is gay. That doesn’t mean they practice the gay life style, but they’re gay.
BH: A few years ago I read something by the author Pat Conroy who was raised Catholic but left the church as an adult. He said that he had left the church but the church had never left him. That there were elements of Catholicism that he carried with him. Did you feel similarly?
AR: Absolutely. I was always writing about it in one way or another. I think that the education I got in that simple parochial school was a priceless heritage. We studied church history, Bible history, the Catechism. We were very aware of the lives of the saints. I got something many Americans don’t really get, but I think Roman Catholics of a particular generation certainly got. And that was this huge, wonderful European heritage. It was invaluable. It has influenced all of my writing and I can’t conceive of myself without it.
BH: Sounds like you’ve been Christ-haunted for a long time.
AR: Absolutely. The Hound of Heaven. ‘I fled him down the nights and down the days.’ I used to say it out loud as I walked around.
BH: What is the challenge of Christianity and the Catholic faith today?
AR: To spread the word of God. To spread the story and make it clear that really, by love, and the invitation of Christ, bring about world peace and the kingdom of God. We can do it. That is the way. That is the message I see over and over again in the scriptures that you really have to start loving everybody and that is really, really hard. It’s difficult to love people who look differently than you, behave differently, act abominably, but you have to and you can love them and that is what his life was about. It’s very sad in the public square that we have such polarization in America and so many people despising Christians thinking we are preaching intolerance.
BH: I recently read the quote by Dostoyevsky, “The one in the darkness stands much closer to the light than the one who doesn’t care either way.” How has your return to faith affected your relationships with non-believers?
AR: I’ve known many, many people who are activists and passionately concerned. Who are war activists or activists for reproductive rights for women. They are conscience-driven people, and they get out of bed every morning and believe that they have to do something to make the world better. They may not be members of an organized religion. The sad thing is that they feel so alienated by organized religion. They think that we, the Catholics, are against human rights and freedom and inalienable rights that people have. That’s the sad part. That they have been driven away by bad people or perhaps not charitable people. That hurts the most. That they think we aren’t charitable and we have to change that. That doesn’t mean going along with absolutely everything everybody wants but it means loving people. And caring very much about cruelty and injustice and deprivation. We have to get our credibility back as people who love.
BH: How do we do that?
AR: Well, people have to step forward and speak up about what Christian values mean to them and they have to stay on the side of loving. I don’t think anger or wrath or demonizing the opposition gets us anywhere in this world.