Anne Rice quits the Catholic Church

Author Anne Rice recently decried Christianity and officially announced her exit from organized religion.

Rice was fairly blunt about her reasons for leaving the church, laying it out pretty clearly in a Facebook post. “My faith in Christ is central to my life,” Rice writes. “My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

Rice’s proclamation has of course created quite a stir,  drawing observations from everyone from Deepak Chopra to the LA Times. Rice has posted many of the letters, articles and essays on her Facebook page, where she continues to comment on the matter, and stated that “Comments pro and con are welcome.”  The responses vary from insightful and thought-provoking to grr-inducing. Though there has of course been the expected backlash,  Rice  is also getting support from some unlikely camps, including a Baptist preacher who identifies with her decision and says it was  “a great call for others to follow Christ, too.”

As the Miami Herald puts it, Rice just delivered a wake up call for organized religion.

You go, girl.

Religion is supposed to bring one into harmony with the universe, but somehow organized religion, with its eternal entanglement in political power struggles, seems to lead time and again into conflict. Organized religion definitely has a knack for holding up hate in one hand and love in the other, for committing heinous acts in the name of religion, for masking hatred with morality; The Taliban, the Inquisition, abortion clinic bombings, witch burnings, The Crusades and Westboro Baptist Church serve as just a few examples of this. The hypocrisy in the system goes all the way to the Pope , who does, incidentally resemble the Emperor in Star Wars. 

Which isn’t to say that organized religion doesn’t strive to do good. There are a lot of good Christians. There are good people and bad people in any organization, faith, race, religion, class, culture, restaurant, bar, or parking lot. And in a way, the dual nature of organized religion, with its life/death love/hate mantras, only echoes the dual nature of the universe itself. But one has to admit a discord in a system that preaches not to kill, not to hate, not to judge, yet does just that, and with a fair amount of enthusiasm to boot.

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads ‘Please God, save me from your people.’  

I think a lot of people confuse spirituality and God with religion, when really, they’re entirely different things, and there is no single right choice, just the right choice for an individual. Everyone has to find their own way, their own beliefs, and I applaud anyone who realizes that their path is not the brightly lit, billboard-plastered highway of the masses, but the quiet footpath that leads down an unknown forest trail. For that, truly, is the sacred journey.

“I quit being a Christian,” Rice writes. “I’m out. In the name of Christ, 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.”

 Amen.

Celebrant Work

The vast majority of my experience as a celebrant comes from honouring rites of passage within my community, and for folk who are pagan. That, to be honest, is very easy to do, and anyone with ritual experience and confidence would not struggle to act as a celebrant for a fellow pagan in a pagan context.

The difficult job is when you have folk who are drawn to the pagan ways but not actively pagan themselves, and/or friends and family who aren’t at all pagan. Last year I buried a friend – while she, and our mutual friends were pagan, most of her extended family are Christians, but they wanted to honour her beliefs – which I thought was tremendously brave and honourable of them. Many folk, in a time of grief, would turn to what they know and trust. I’ve also attended, and led handfastings where there was a significant non-pagan element.

It creates some interesting challenges. Not least being that you have a whole load of people who don’t know what to expect, or wear, where to stand, when or how to join in etc. The more information these folks get in advance, the better. Non-pagan people, presented with a pagan ceremony, (especially an upbeat one) can be surprisingly willing to respond with costume and energy, which is far more fun than finding they’ve all turned up as though dressed for church (I’ve seen that happen too.)

I thought I’d share some things that have worked for me in these situations.

1) Plenty of advanced warning and information, and think about how you want folk to dress as that really informs how they relate to the event.

2) See if members of the family can be involved – and give them bits of script to make it easy for them. Planned family/friend involvement makes it less scary for those who don’t know what to expect.

3) Explain as you go. Most druid rituals avoid dedicating people to any deity in particular. ‘Spirit’ is a good word, and you can invite people to relate to that in whatever way makes sense to them. You only need to throw in a few words of explanation – especially at the start, to reassure and settle people, but it makes a world of difference.

4) For anything other than funerals, consecrate the circle with water. Get a child to do it if you can and sprinkle liberally. The ensuing chaos and laughter usually gets people to unwind.

5) Make sure everyone has a chance to join in, and frame it in an easy, unscary way. A chance to drink the health of the people undergoing the rite of passage is perfect – at weddings, funerals, child naming – any rite. Or give people easy things they can do, like strewing flowers, cheering. Avoid anything that may make people feel self conscious.

Every circle has a different vibe, and a lot of it comes down to intuition on the day to find how to work with it. Ritual performed for non-pagans is very much about performance, presence, a little theatre (but not too much), and enabling people to engage. You may find you get a lot of enquiries afterwards.

The Inherent Mother

This is the story that made me really want to get writing on Real News of relevance to Pagans:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10786279

OK, it’s a commentary page rather than a News story. But it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while, and I find it hard to believe that I’m alone.

As pagans, we take the idea of the Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone pretty much for granted – it’s one of those things you learn right from the start, in the first (and fifty-first) Paganism 101 book.

The only time I’ve seen an alternative, in fact, is in a recent issue of Sagewoman magazine, suggesting an addition to the tripartate Lady – the Queen. This is the stage of womanhood after childbearing and rearing, but before menopause, when a woman really starts to live her life for herself. A lovely idea, and one I’d embrace wholeheartedly, if it were applicable.

But how many of us ladies have encountered a lack of place in such a system for us? (I know some gentlemen friends who feel similarly excluded from the God role, whether as homosexual, transgendered or simply for the same reasons I’m going into here, just from a male perspective – but I don’t think I’m equipped  to discuss that, so will leave it to one of the chaps. Hopefully they’ll be able to read this post regardless. As last time, I promise it won’t turn into a feminist rant.)

I’m a woman in my thirties, who has yet to feel any broodiness or longing for a child. I won’t discount it as a future possibility, but from childhood myself, I never really saw it as something I’d want to do. As with the women in the article, there are a variety of reasons, and with the efficacy of birth control, I count myself fortune that I can continue with my life without any small attachments as yet.

This doesn’t mean I’m some sort of uncaring harridan, the old-school spinster type. I have a loving partner, pets and busy life with many friends I care for deeply. I am not beholden to my career either, simply to living my life as fully as I can, with my faith as a strong part of that.

However, as the BBC discovered, some women cannot take such a lifestyle choice quietly. I know of like-minded ladies who have been openly confronted with such wisdom as ‘if you don’t have children, you aren’t a proper woman’. Their fitness to BE women is actually questioned because they take the option open to them not to be mothers – and this is before their faith even enters the argument.

Even in the 21st century, women’s roles are still tacitly assumed to be limited to their gendered skills – specifically Jerry Hall’s famous quote. In pagan circles, as we struggle for recognition in the modern world while endeavouring to recognise our ancestry, there is still only the Maiden, Mother and Crone. What place in there for me?

When placed in ritual, I’ve seen the confused faces as roles are assigned and realisation dawns. I’m usually planted somewhere between the Maiden and the Mother (presumably No-longer-a-Maiden-but-Not-a-Mother-Yet).

Men don’t seem to have this problem in society generally – there’s no stigma against a ‘confirmed bachelor’ – but in pagan rites you somehow aren’t so confined. You may be Brother, Son, Warrior, Lover… the comparative workings of your loins are not (necessarily) up for public debate.

But there are options – we’ve all seen them. Acting as Priestess, you’re effectively ‘mother’ to the group as a whole (whether you are in daily life or not). We’ll all be Maidens and Crones, but are also fully able to act as Carers, with all the responsibility that this conveys, without having actually given birth ourselves.

I certainly understand the importance of mothers – both in actuality, as a central point of our being, and in the larger, global sense of Earth and Goddess. But can we not also be Women, strong in heart, mind and body, without a small person to confirm it?

I know my Goddess can.