Journalists never quite get their arms around religious belief. Steeped in secular thought and purpose, they lack the tools to appreciate the power of faith. Books, especially highly personal ones, provide the best testimony to why God still matters in this godless age, and none better than Anne Rice's new memoir, "Called Out of Darkness." Rice, the great teller of tales about vampires, witches and the metaphysical evil lurking in the human soul, sums up her life journey like this: from total immersion in the Roman Catholic church and culture to 38 years of atheism, and finally back into the fold of the church. These abrupt swivels only make sense when she describes how her writing continually reflected and channeled the spiritual struggle going on inside her.
Rice's story is complicated by the way she consciously chooses to put on blinders regarding church policies that she regards as wrong-headed, particularly the second-pew status of women and gays. But problems in the institutional church are not her concern, she says. More important for her is how the emotional power of the Mass and the religious traditions of her childhood shine a light on God who through his son Jesus Christ implores us to love one another as He loves us.
I read "Called Out of Darkness" in tandem with two books that take an entirely different point of view about challenging the status quo of institutional religion: Sue Monk Kidd's "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" (first published in 1996) and a new release, "A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit," by Sarah Sentilles. Kidd, bestselling author of "The Secret Life of Bees," was a lifelong Southern Baptist and conventional pastor's wife when she became fully conscious and unable to cope with the sexism of institutionalized religion. Sentilles fell off the wagon on her way to becoming an Episcopal priest. Her book traces the sexism in the Christian church through the historical record and the experience of other women who have endured but is constricted by her own pain. Unlike Rice or Kidd, she has yet to rise above the flawed human institution to the spiritual promise beyond.