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feature: religion & spirituality
January 26th, 2009

Called Out Of Darkness

An excerpt from Anne Rice's memoir on her spiritual journey back to faith

 
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Called Out Of Darkness book cover

I came out of childhood with no sense of being a particular gender, and no sense of being handicapped by being a woman because I didn’t believe I was a woman or a man.

Let me say briefly, because it’s too painful to relate in any detail, that I learned all about gender in adolescence, even as I moved against gender distinctions and refused to accept gender limitations.

Plunged into a coeducational high school at fourteen, I soon caught on that there were tremendous liabilities to being a girl. There was no such thing as gender equality. No one had yet spoken the word “feminism,” and my view of life soon involved negotiating my way through a minefield in which “good girls” could be destroyed. A raft of activities could result in one losing one’s reputation, and at the very worst, one could get pregnant, have to give up the baby for adoption, or one’s entire life might be destroyed.

I passed through these adolescent years, with considerable misery, and with some happy experiences, but the lessons—that girls were responsible for keeping boys in line sexually, that good girls never gave in until the marriage night, that brides, pure as lilies, ought to want husbands who had acquired a little experience, that housework was noble and important, that marriage was to be desired over the single state, that one should have as many children as God chose to send to one—these lessons made little or no lasting impression on me. I remained a person in rebellion, and continued to gravitate to subjects beyond my immediate milieu.

I needn’t linger on the blunders or trials of this period, except to say that religion became mixed up with it.

I think I lost my intimate conversation with God during this period. I think I stopped talking to Him and looking to Him to help me—long before I lost my faith.

My deepest convictions transcended gender. The God in whom I believed transcended gender. Reason and conscience and heart told me these things. Yes, God was He, but He was infinitely bigger than a man. God belonged to the wild and rambunctious female saints as surely as He belonged to the male saints. God’s Blessed Mother was more important perhaps than any other person after God. And she was a woman, and a uniquely powerful woman. Not only was she uniquely powerful, she was uncompromised. In sum, power and blamelessness coexisted in her. God was immediate and absolute. Mass and Holy Communion were for everyone, old and young.

By the time I entered Texas Woman’s University, I had earned and banked money for the entire first year’s room and board and fees. I welcomed the genderless world of TWU, not because I knew it was genderless but because it was a serious place.

I wanted a meaningful and significant life.

I was already deeply in love with a high school boy named Stan Rice, but as he had his senior year to complete in Richardson, Texas, and did not seem to be in love with me, I was on my own. It’s worth noting that my militant Catholicism had discouraged him. I couldn’t engage in kissing and hugging because it was a mortal sin. I had committed a mortal sin in kissing and hugging him quite a lot, but I think the grief and the sense of catastrophe on my part, my misery over all of it, understandably put him off.

There was also much talk in my late childhood of people “reading themselves out of the church.” If you asked too much, read too much, questioned too much, you would wind up outside the church and it would be your own damned fault. I took that to heart, as I took everything I’d been taught as a Catholic. But I was hungry for knowledge, hungry for information, hungry for facts. …

The church had become for me anti-art and anti-mind. No longer was there a blending of the aesthetic and the religious as there had been throughout my childhood.

I stopped going. I stopped being a Catholic. I stopped arguing with people about being Catholic. I stopped getting upset if they made fun of my church or the pope. I simply quit.

I quit for thirty-eight years.

The real tragedy however was that I quit believing in God.

There was also much talk in my late childhood of people “reading themselves out of the church.” If you asked too much, read too much, questioned too much, you would wind up outside the church and it would be your own damned fault. I took that to heart, as I took everything I’d been taught as a Catholic. But I was hungry for knowledge, hungry for information, hungry for facts.

As I roamed in the library and the bookstore at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas, I began to lose heart.

Sexually, I was in an agony of strong desire and impossible curiosity. It was a mortal sin to have solitary sex; to kiss; to do anything basically except to have conjugal relations in marriage which were entirely open to procreation. So this was an undercurrent of constant pressure and pain.

I wanted to read all the books I saw in Voertman’s Bookstore, near the campus. I gazed at big thick trade paperbacks, with rich interesting covers, and names on them like Kierkegaard and Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Immanuel Kant, and Aldous Huxley, and I wanted to know what was in those books. I wanted to read Nabokov’s Lolita, even if it was a scandal. I wanted to see tantalizing and condemned foreign films.

I was around students who knew much more of contemporary literature than I did, and who discussed subjects I’d never thought to discuss. They were hungry for learning, and there was no barrier to their learning. And they were good and wholesome people.

My faith began to crack apart.

All around me I saw not only interesting people, but essentially good people, people with ethics, direction, goals, values—and these people weren’t Catholic. They negotiated their moral decisions with considerable thought but without the guidance, it seemed, of any established church. I liked them. I was learning from them, learning from fellow classmates as well as teachers, something which had not happened to me earlier in the purgatory of childhood where it seemed other children were monsters with precious little to teach.

Most of my new friends took sexual experiment rather casually. All girls were cautious in these times; pregnancy was the ever-present threat. Contraceptives could only be got from doctors and by married people. There was no birth control pill. Young women did not slip into affairs easily, but their reasons for this were practical, and they were as intimate as they felt it was safe to be, and they weren’t tormented by notions of sin. They knew a great deal more than me about sexuality, and their attitudes seemed wholesome and natural. My ignorance of sexuality, in fact, became something of a running joke.

But the lust for the modern world was infinitely greater in me, I think, than the desire for sex. I ceased to believe that the Catholic Church was “the One True Church established by Christ to give grace.” Those are the words of the Baltimore Catechism, and we were too far from the world of the Baltimore Catechism and things were working entirely too well.

I couldn’t understand why so much vital information was beyond my Catholic reach.

My heart and my conscience were telling me to leave the church, to explore. My heart and my conscience wanted information. My heart and my conscience were in love with the wide world. Whether there was true knowledge out there, beyond the pale, I wanted to discover. I hungered for experience, for risk. And I also believed mightily in the life of the mind, and the life of the artist, though what kind of artist I might be, I didn’t know.

The church had become for me anti-art and anti-mind. No longer was there a blending of the aesthetic and the religious as there had been throughout my childhood.

I stopped going. I stopped being a Catholic. I stopped arguing with people about being Catholic. I stopped getting upset if they made fun of my church or the pope. I simply quit.

I quit for thirty-eight years.

The real tragedy however was that I quit believing in God. I think about this a great deal. People ask me why this happened; sometimes they indicate that my loss of faith must have been precipitated by some emotional or social event.

There was no emotional or social event. This was a catastrophe of the mind and heart.

I could not separate my personal relationship with God, and with Jesus Christ, from my relationship with the church. As I mentioned, I’d stopped really talking to God a long time ago. I hadn’t felt entitled to talk to Him in a long while. I’d felt far too demoralized to talk to Him. I just wasn’t the Catholic girl who had a right to talk to Him. I harbored too many profane ambitions. And now faith in Him was giving way. I think I had to stop believing in God in order to quit His church, and the pressure to quit became intolerable.

Also I’d come to realize what most Christians realize sooner or later—that millions were born and grew up and died without ever knowing anything of Christianity, and that seemed to prove that Christianity was only one man-made sect making grandiose claims that could not be true.

In my heart of hearts, I believed this finally: there was no God.

And so began my journeys through the secular world of America in the 1960s, and so began my flight from the realm of faith and beauty and harmony which had been my childhood. So began my struggles with a harsher discipline than that which I’d left behind.

It is ironic perhaps that I did not subsequently become sexually liberated or wild. Solitary sex relieved the tension I felt, but I remained an extremely conservative well-controlled woman who refused to be intimate with anyone until she found the person with whom she wanted to spend her life.

This was Stan Rice, the boy from high school, who came up to Denton to go to North Texas State College in 1960, and who followed me to San Francisco in 1961. I went back to Denton to marry him in that same year. For all the agony over sex, this was the love of my life. We married as soon as we could because this marriage represented the highest commitment we could make to one another. And we remained married for forty-one years until his death in 2002. I’ve never been with any other man, but Stan Rice.

So much for sex. So much for all that agony. So much for all that day-in and day-out misery of those crucial years.

There’s more to the story in that I later became a nationally famous pornographer for a series of fairytale erotic books written under the pen name A. N. Roquelaure—but that was in the 1980s, and those books contain imaginary characters and imaginary realms.

It’s pointless to describe my whole life as an atheist, or to attempt a personal memoir here of how I became a published writer.

What matters for the sake of this memoir is that I learned in college all I could possibly contain about the modern world. My learning was disorderly, haphazard, at times daring, obsessive, and full of gaps and blind spots. But I sought freely the answers to my questions.

I wrote twenty-one books before faith returned to me. And in almost all these books, creatures shut out of life, doomed to marginality or darkness, seek for lives of value, even when the world tells them they cannot have such lives. …

These books transparently reflect a journey through atheism and back to God. It is impossible not to see this. They reflect an attempt to determine what is good and what is evil in an atheistic world. They are about the struggle of brothers and sisters in a world without credible fathers and mothers. They reflect an obsession with the possibility of a new and enlightened moral order.

As we rolled into the 1970s, I continued naturally and unconsciously to ignore anyone who ever sought to define me as a woman, because I didn’t feel like one, and I made the tragic mistake of saying casually, “I don’t like women,” which I would never do now. I wanted to separate myself from a class of beings who were being treated essentially like dirt, at the very moment in history that they were gaining unprecedented freedom and rights.

I couldn’t see the larger picture. I didn’t understand feminism in a fair or reasonable way. I was fleeing from being a woman; and feminism invited too much pain.

I was in graduate school when my daughter became sick. Two years later, after her death before her sixth birthday, I became a writer.

It was practically an accident, and yet it was the most deliberate thing I ever did. The book was Interview with the Vampire.

The novel was an obvious lament for my lost faith. The vampires roam in a world without God; and Louis, the heartbroken hero, searches for a meaningful context in vain.

But for the purposes of this narrative, what is also important is that the book was a flight from gender, a flight from the world of which I couldn’t make any sense.

I wrote twenty-one books before faith returned to me. And in almost all these books, creatures shut out of life, doomed to marginality or darkness, seek for lives of value, even when the world tells them they cannot have such lives. In all of these works, gender doesn’t matter. What matters is the personality of the individual, and his or her desires. Historical settings are of huge importance, and they are used much like the speculative settings of science fiction writers, to establish a matrix in which ideas can be tested and explored, to establish a laboratory in which experiments in loving and suffering and persevering can be completed with success.

Let me suggest one reason why the books found a mass audience. They were written by someone whose auditory and visual experiences shaped the prose. As I’ve mentioned over and over in this book, I am a terrible reader. But my mind is filled with these auditory and visual lessons and, powered by them, I can write about five times faster than I can read.

Somehow this led to my developing a style which sought to make real for the reader the acoustic and iconic world in which I’d been formed as a child. Almost all of my key learning had been imprinted on the right side of my brain.

These books transparently reflect a journey through atheism and back to God. It is impossible not to see this. They reflect an attempt to determine what is good and what is evil in an atheistic world. They are about the struggle of brothers and sisters in a world without credible fathers and mothers. They reflect an obsession with the possibility of a new and enlightened moral order.

Did I know this when I wrote them? No.

But the research I did for them, the digging through history, the studying of ancient history in particular, was actually laying the ground for my return to faith.

The more I read of history—any history—the more my atheism became shaky. History, as well as Creation, was talking to me about God. The great personalities of history were talking to me about God.

Excerpted from Called Out of Darkness by Anne Rice Copyright ©2008 by Anne Rice. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

This excerpt was done in partnership with Catholic Digest. A different excerpt from Anne Rice’s Called Out of Darkness is available in the print edition of their February 2009 issue.

 
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The Author : Anne Rice
In 2005, Anne Rice startled her readers with her novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and by revealing that, after years as an atheist, she had returned to her Catholic faith. Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana followed. And now, in her powerful and haunting memoir, Rice tells the story of the spiritual transformation that produced a complete change in her literary goals.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Alycia

    I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.

    -Anne Rice

    July 2010

  • V

    Wow.
    Wow.
    Wow.

    Frankly, this is the best writing that I’ve personally ever read by Ann Rice.

    I think I must own this book. Her self-knowledge focuses her native talent, and it blooms in richness. I’m impressed.

    She needs a hug!

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