A tale of the undead

RoadtoCanaABC's Good Morning America had a bit about author Anne Rice the other day that caught my attention. Rice is the best-selling American author of vampire tales who has recently written a couple of religious-themed books:

After becoming a born-again Christian, Rice stopped writing about vampires and dedicated herself to religious themes.

Rice, a former atheist, returned to her Catholic roots, and her newest book, "Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana," is her second book devoted to Christianity. The book follows Christ's life beginning with his last winter before his baptism in the Jordan River and ending with the miracle at Cana.

Oh dear. Apparently nobody in the story production at ABC knows that born-again Christian is not really a phrase to use for a Catholic.

The phrase "born again" comes from Jesus. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," he says in the Gospel of John.

But the phrase is used differently by traditional Christians and evangelical Protestants. Let's see how the Religious Newswriters Association defines the term:

born-again: Theologically, all Christians claim to be born-again through the saving work of Jesus Christ; they just disagree over how it occurs. Catholics and Orthodox, for instance, say it occurs in the sacrament of baptism, which frequently takes place when the baptized person is too young to recall it. Evangelical Protestants emphasize being born-again as a personal, transformational experience that involves a deliberate commitment to follow Christ. Because the term tends to associate someone with a particular religious tradition, do not label someone a born-again Christian. Rather let the person label themselves, as in, who calls herself a born-again Christian.

Of course Lutherans and other sacramental Christians believe that spiritual rebirth occurs via baptism. Still, the style recommendations of the Religion Newswriters Association are sound. And I don't think Rice calls herself a born-again Christian. An article in World magazine a few years ago explained that she was raised in the Catholic Church and attended parochial schools in New Orleans:

At age 18, while attending San Francisco State University, Anne broke with her childhood faith. Her apostasy, she says, resulted from exposure to a wider world: "I stopped believing that [the Catholic Church] was 'the one true church established by Christ to give grace.'" She also stopped believing in God. . . .

But in 1998, she gradually began to feel again the press of God: "I began to be more and more concerned with my relationship with God in my books. I wanted to be in the company of God, in the company of the drama . . . what we can know, what we don't know, what we believe."

She began attending Mass again and participating in sacraments. In 2000, her husband agreed to remarry her in the church: Despite his own atheism, "he was very supportive about my writing [Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt], and he was fine with me going back to the church. It surprised him, but not that much. I don't think I had ever stopped talking about God."

That doesn't sound like someone who identifies as a born-again Christian. For a better treatment of her religious views, you might read a November 2005 profile in January magazine, where she discussed her views on theodicy:

I felt I had to ask Rice about God. I know people who, having endured great tragedy, feel abandoned by God. Over the years, Rice has lost a daughter and a husband, and has had her own brush with death at the hand of diabetes. I wanted to know if she had ever felt abandoned.

"I've never felt abandoned by God, really," she said. "I felt that I abandoned him when I lost my faith as a young woman. Though I've suffered the loss of a daughter, a husband, and of course both parents, I have not ever seen these things personally. They are 'what happened.' I think it's entirely possible that God might have been very sad when my daughter died. I believe Divine Providence is the fabric of the universe. God is with the person who dies in a car accident, just as he is with the person who survives. We can't guess what his plan is. I see that throughout the Old Testament."

Rice is a fascinating woman with an interesting story to tell. Too bad some in the mainstream media are so bad at telling it.

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