MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Anne Rice, author of the best-selling novel "Interview with the Vampire" and several more, last week made a splash with another piece of writing, this time on Facebook.
Today, Rice wrote, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ, as always, but not to being Christian or to being part of Christianity.
It wasn't the first time Rice went public about her religious views. She's written extensively about her Catholic upbringing, her atheism and later, her return to Catholicism and to God.
Anne Rice joins us now from her home in Southern California to talk about her recent decision. Welcome to the program.
Ms. ANNE RICE (Author, "Interview with the Vampire"): Thank you, I'm glad to be here.
NORRIS: Now, you wrote on Facebook that it's quote, simply impossible to belong to a group that you describe as - again quoting here - quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and deservedly infamous. How difficult was it for you to sit down at a computer and actually write out those words?
Ms. RICE: It was very difficult. It was very painful. But I've always been public about my beliefs, and I've always been public about wanting to make a difference and about the fact that my books reflect my beliefs. And frankly, after doing it, I felt sane for the first time in a very long while.
NORRIS: So was this an impulsive act? Was there one thing - or a series of things in particular - that pushed you over the edge, to say, I'm out?
Ms. RICE: There were certainly some last straws, but no, this is something that had been going on, really, almost from the beginning of my conversion, in 1998.
From the beginning, there were signs that the public face of Catholicism and the public face of Christianity were things that I found very, very difficult to accept. But I went along for a long time, believing that it was okay; this would work out. The most important thing was devotion to God, devotion to Christ, embracing the orthodox truths of Christianity - that this is what really mattered.
And over the years, as I continued to live as a Christian and study as a Christian and to pray as a Christian, more and more social issues began to impinge on me.
NORRIS: And I think I know what you might be talking about, but perhaps you could spell those out for us.
Ms. RICE: Well, I didn't anticipate in the beginning that the U.S. Catholic bishops were going to come out against same-sex marriage, that they were actually going to donate money to defeat the civil rights of homosexuals in a secular society. This is not something I ever foresaw.
I certainly knew that the Catholic Church was not going to marry gay people or accept gay clergy or sanctify same-sex marriages. But that they would go into the secular culture to defeat same-sex marriage in Maine or in California, that was something that I simply had not foreseen.
And when that broke in the news, I felt an intense pressure. And I am a person who grew up with the saying that all that is needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. And I believe that statement.
NORRIS: In the Christian faith, there are some, particularly in Catholicism, who say that doubt is actually an essential part of faith, to always be questioning and to engage in sort of a robust debate about what faith means. How much did you wrestle with that before you actually decided to leave? And did you think about actually staying within the church and fighting from inside -instead of stepping outside of the actual church?
Ms. RICE: I did think about that, and there were times when I even publicly mentioned that. But I found that the kind of Christianity and Catholicism that was presented to me was one that did not invite debate and did not respect debate, and did not want it.
NORRIS: Is there something that you'll miss about the ritual, communion, a particular...
Ms. RICE: Oh, I miss the Mass terribly. I miss very much going to the ritual. I miss the Eucharist. I miss taking communion. But holy communion is a communal meal, and I no longer belong in that community.
NORRIS: Your son, Christopher, is also a best-selling author, and he's also a gay rights activist. How instrumental was he in your decision? Was he top of mind, as you were thinking about this?
Ms. RICE: Well, Christopher really wasn't instrumental in what I did, ever. I mean, Christopher is a very tolerant person, and he accepted my return to Christianity and really never argued with me or opposed me in any way on it. So I can't say that that played a role.
You know, I was known as a gay writer long before Christopher was born - not long before, actually. He was born in '78, and I published "Interview with the Vampire" in '76. But from the beginning, I've had gay fans and gay readers who felt that my works involved a sustained gay allegory. I didn't set out to do that, but that was what they perceived.
So even when Christopher was a little baby, I had gay readers and gay friends and knew gay people, and lived in the Castro district of San Francisco, which was a gay neighborhood. And so my experience with gay people long preceded Christopher coming out of the closet and becoming a gay novelist.
NORRIS: Early on in your writing, particularly in writing the vampire novels, you said that those were written from an atheist point of view, and that it would be difficult to write from that point of view once you returned to Christianity - and Catholicism, in particular.
Now that you've stepped away from the church, does it - what does that mean for your writing? Does that mean that you might, that readers might be seeing something different from you, that you might be returning to some of your early ideas or early themes?
Ms. RICE: Certainly, I will never go back to being that atheist and that pessimist that I was. I live now in a world that I feel God created, and I feel I live in a world where God witnesses everything that happens. People do not suffer and die without God seeing that and knowing about that and that in God, we have the hope of all answers and all explanations. That's a huge change from the atheist I was when I wrote the vampire novels.
>So I will not be returning to those metaphors or those stories. I completed my work there. And I am interested in new themes, new characters, new stories now, and I think my work will continue to reflect the optimism.
NORRIS: Help me understand this, then. How did your return to Catholicism shape your writing, and how might this decision to step away, this repudiation, influence your work now?
Ms. RICE: I'm not sure that see, we have to differentiate here between a conversion to Christ and a belief in God, and a conversion to organized religion. Theyre really very different.
I'm not going to go back on my belief in God. I'm not going to go back on my faith in him. That's what changed for me in 1998. I found what the characters in the vampire novels were looking for. They were groping in the darkness. They lived in a world without God. I found God, but that doesn't mean I have to be a supporting member of any organized religion.
I think there will be a burst of energy following this statement. I feel it already.
NORRIS: What are you working on right now?
Ms. RICE: I'm working on a third novel with a hero, Toby O'Dare, in a series called "Songs of the Seraphim." And certainly, a great deal of this pain and this agony will go into that novel.
There's a new freedom to confess my fears, my doubts, my pain, my conflicts, my alienation - that perhaps was not there before. You know, I don't really like disappointing all my Catholic friends. I don't really like disappointing all my Christian friends and contacts. I really don't like it. It's painful. But I did what I felt I had to do.
NORRIS: Anne Rice, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much for making time for us.
Ms. RICE: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's the novelist Anne Rice, talking about her announcement last week that she has, in her words, quit being a Christian.
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