Losing Your Religion

By Don Rollins

Losing your faith is serious stuff, no matter the stuff of your faith. Over the years, I’ve met scores of one-time believers: the lapsed, the wayward and the backslidden – folks who, for a bevy of reasons became separated from their very authority for living. Folks whose world got rocked, and something had to give.

Maybe it was the religion thing, but you know as well as I that lost faith comes in more flavors than that. I’ve seen people lose faith in a marriage. In a cause. In money. In country. In self. Whatever the object of one’s faith, whatever the catalyst, everybody has lost some faith along the way to becoming a spiritual grownup. Sometimes, more than once.

Losing your religion is nothing new. Some of the all-time greats suffered some mighty dark nights of the soul: those wonderfully, theologically unruly pagans were infamous for yanking the chains of their gods and goddesses; the Hebrew children were always getting sideways with Yahweh over one damn thing or another; the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed – they all had to buck a system or two in order to work out their own salvation. Wasn’t always pretty and it wasn’t always well-received.

Now, proletariat types like you and I more or less lose (and sometimes gain) faith in the quiet of our recesses of our private lives. Some famous folks, not so much. It was a big deal when Dylan converted to Christianity, and it was a big deal when he flew the coop for Judaism. (Hey, I still think that “Infidels” album wasn’t half bad, by the way.) And remember when Madonna made the quite the splash when she left the Catholic Church for her own brand of Judaism? Big names, big transitions.

Which brings us to Anne Rice.

Let’s just say it: Anne Rice writes really creepy, primal, sex-laced, Goth-inspired, blood-soaked, living-dead kind of stuff; she ain’t for everybody. But whatever you think of her novels, you ‘gotta hand it to her when it comes to putting your faith (or lack thereof) where your mouth is. For decades she trash-mouthed the Church (Roman Catholic, that is), but all that was forgotten a dozen or so years ago when she returned to the faith of her childhood. A prodigal-like, very public turn of events.

But, Vampire Nation, it’s time to update your Duchess of Darkness scorecard again. Yep, according to her July 29 Facebook page, Rice’s new old faith just jumped the shark: “…I quit being a Christian; 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 …”

Wow. Talk about your exit strategy.

Let me stop right here to say that, for all I know, Anne Rice may be a self-aggrandizing megalomaniac. On the other hand, she may be Mary Daly’s spirit sent by the gods to shake up American civil religion once more. I don’t know. And in no way do I mean to judge her heart when I ask, with great and humble respect: ANNE RICE, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?

C’mon, you don’t have to be a preacher to know that even the most liberal of faith traditions are just that: traditions! Sure, there’s progress to lift up and celebrate, but it’s glacial and it’s hard-won. Western religion was not primarily designed to evolve; it was designed to preserve. And, innocent and sincere as the urge to go home may be, gay folk and poor folk and womenfolk don’t start getting a fair shake just because we want to pick up the remnant of former belief. Doesn’t happen.

I say again, I absolutely get the desire to come home. All the folks I mentioned above wanted to go home. They wanted to bargain away their loss of faith in those marriages or those piles of money or even their own government. “Just go home” is a spiritual longing worthy of time and attention. But that doesn’t mean it’s prudent.

Fans of relatively obscure ’70s CIA spook films will recognize the title, “Scorpio”. Infused with Cold War-era overtones, faith in one’s nation and its ultimate goodness is tested as characters come to terms with the moral complexity that is spying. The iconic Burt Lancaster plays an Agency higher-up — a grizzled veteran of dirty work and subterfuge.

Toward the end of the film, Lancaster must wrest away from an underling his trust in his very nation – his unexamined idolatry of an America that never really was: “… You’re still looking for God’s shining face,” says Lancaster. “… You’re like a little girl in a white communion dress …”

Fellow seekers, nobody should fault Anne Rice for taking a crack at going back home. But hers is a cautionary tale about the bargains we make in the service of faith. There are worse things than losing your religion.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2010


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