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Book: Called Out Of Darkness

October 11, 2009
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This isn’t an RIP book, but I saw it in the library and had to read it. This is a completely fascinating book if you are at all interested in questions of faith.

Anne Rice was raised in a very traditional 1940s/50s Catholic New Orleans. Growing up, she went to Mass nearly every day and for quite awhile wanted to be a nun. She found profound beauty in church and the rituals, even though it was all said in Latin and she was a very poor reader, and so absorbed everything she knew from her surroundings and her mother (not from books, not from studying her catechism, etc.).

She was a profoundly religious little girl. She was also a highly unusual little girl. She was named Howard Allen when she was born. She says that this was because her mother thought that this was a good idea. Of course, she hated the name and changed it to Anne on the first day of school. Her family went along with it and she was Anne from then on. Little Anne also felt estranged from her fellow classmates and from the child population as a whole. She hated being a child. She did not identify with children, and moreover, she didn’t identify with being a little girl (or a little boy, for that matter). She describes herself as ‘genderless’ growing up.

Once she reaches college, her faith starts to crumble as she meets more people who were not raised Catholic, and sees that they are good people, as well. She becomes involved in secular humanism, and moves further and further from the church and from God. Finally, she breaks with God completely and becomes an atheist.

However, as seen in her books, she struggles with this break of faith for the next thirty-odd years. She continues to collect religious iconography, and becomes secretly obsessed with the life of Christ. She writes about creatures and people outside God, on the fringe — always out the outside, looking in. And slowly, in the late 90s, she begins to return to her faith.

Finally she decides to ‘go home’ and resume her Catholic faith from childhood. She does so completely — becoming extremely devout and orthodox. However, she talks about retaining a near-ignorance of modern Catholicism and the religious politics of the late 90s. She has to do research to find out about the pedophile scandals — she knows nothing of this. She knows nothing of the Vatican II. She didn’t even know that Mass was now said in English. Therefore, she didn’t know that despite her extreme devoutness and orthodoxy, her views and hopes that someday women could be ordained, and that the church would embrace ALL people, gay people included — she had no idea that these ideas would be considered revolutionary.

What’s fascinating at the end is that even though she now completely devotes herself to Christ and to the church, she says (in a roundabout way) that the reason she can remain in the Catholic faith is because she ‘ignores’ the political problems of the modern church. She believes that God knows all the answers, and so she doesn’t have to. I actually find this quite comforting, and can see how, for a socially liberal person who is extremely devout religiously, this could be a way to continue on the path. She remains devoted to God, without worrying about the politics. I wish I could do this more. I remain conflicted about this practice, but I also believe that religion should be deeply personal and it doesn’t really matter how one person chooses to practice, as long as it works for them.

Anyway. I had many thoughts while reading this. I was totally thrown by Rice’s description of having such a difficult time reading, all the way through adulthood. She says over and over how much she struggled with reading (I couldn’t quite tell if she liked reading but had trouble with it, or if she didn’t like reading either way), but then later goes on to say how much she longed to be a part of the literary world. There are many seeming contradictions, or at least puzzling coinciding statements, throughout the book. However, the fact that she could barely read all through elementary school, and continued to struggle with it in college (purposefully choosing lecture courses where she would not have to read much) — while at the same time, pursuing a career as a writer, and becoming such a smashing success as a writer… I found this hard to wrap my brain around.

I learned to read so early (started to learn by 2, was reading the paper to find out TV listings, etc., by age 4 1/2, etc.) that I literally cannot remember not knowing how to read. It comes as naturally as breathing. I remember a quote I read somewhere, “For me, to see words is to read.” That’s how it is for me. I can’t NOT read. So to try to imagine this world Anne Rice describes, of learning solely through acoustics — where books were a prison, not a wide world of possibilities — this is completely foreign to me. She says at one point that she can write about five times faster than she can read. I can sort of see how this would make sense, if she is writing the words she ‘hears’ in her head — but it’s still puzzling.

The way the book is written is slightly puzzling as well. It’s a memoir, and clearly a very personal one, and perhaps difficult to write. Anne Rice is a very complex person, and her views on religion are both extremely simple but also fascinating in how she processes her belief in God through the Catholic faith. She operates within a bubble much of the time, and apparently has, most of her life. Again, I can’t imagine this (although I am slightly envious of this).

In the end, I really enjoyed her descriptions of how she came back to her faith, and what it means for her. She takes it very, very seriously. I respect that very much. I was not raised with any particular faith at all, so I do not have the advantage (or disadvantage) of having a faith to ‘come back to’. I’ve been searching my whole life for a Home. While I know that I could not become Catholic (in part because I CAN’T divorce the political from the religious), reading her descriptions of the deep comfort she found in the Gospel, in the stories from the Bible, and of her experiences in church — I can see a little better how to just experience these things, without getting too hung up on the other stuff. I too am very interested in the life of Christ — if nothing else, it’s a damn good story. I am also very interested in the Madonna and in religious art. I actually really enjoy going to church and certain religious music can bring me to tears. So I appreciated her descriptions of her experience.

I’m curious to read her Christian books. I might have to try one. Not because I’m particularly Christian, but I like her writing and it sounds like she did a ton of research in order to bring Christ to life in her novel. It’s an interesting subject, and having read this book, I can only imagine how much emotion and heart she would bring to it.

On a personal note, I took the BeliefNet “What Religion Are You” quiz and I came back with 100% Unitarian-Universalist. I also matched highly with Liberal Quaker, and New Age/Neo-Pagan. Yep. That pretty much describes me to a T. I have *just* enough of a Christian background to like the Quakers (and I’m a pacifist, which matches with Quakers too). I like the UU Church because you can be anything — even atheist — and be a Unitarian. You can study any religion you like, and question everything, and still have a single spiritual home. That really appeals to me. And I’m a nature girl, and am not unfamiliar with lots of New Age/Pagan beliefs.

So maybe I have a spiritual home after all. Stay tuned; we were going to go to the UU Church tomorrow but tomorrow actually is going to be *really* busy, so we’ll try again next week.

Anyway — this was a good book. Very thought-provoking. It almost reads like a personal essay — it’s rather unpolished in places. It’s definitely a memoir. It was highly enjoyable.
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