Home > Called Out of Darkness(13)

Called Out of Darkness(13)
Author: Anne Rice

Most of my new friends took sexual experiment rather casually. All girls were cautious in these times; pregnancy was the ever-present threat. Contraceptives could only be got from doctors and by married people. There was no birth control pill. Young women did not slip into affairs easily, but their reasons for this were practical, and they were as intimate as they felt it was safe to be, and they weren't tormented by notions of sin. They knew a great deal more than me about sexuality, and their attitudes seemed wholesome and natural.

My ignorance of sexuality, in fact, became something of a running joke.

But the lust for the modern world was infinitely greater in me, I think, than the desire for sex. I ceased to believe that the Catholic Church was "the One True Church established by Christ to give grace." Those are the words of the Baltimore Catechism, and we were too far from the world of the Baltimore Catechism and things were working entirely too well.

I couldn't understand why so much vital information was beyond my Catholic reach.

I had at the time a spiritual director, a Paulist priest, at the church in Denton, Texas, and this man was fairly young, quite intelligent, and generous in trying to help me through what had become a nexus of utter pain.

We had many conversations on various matters, probably more about my sexual desires just to kiss and embrace a young man than anything else. But we also talked about my doubts. And doubts were beginning to tear me apart.

I remember at one point, a decisive point, the priest suddenly realized what he had not realized earlier: that I had grown up going to daily Mass and Communion, and had gone to Catholic schools almost all my life. He'd assumed apparently that I did not have that kind of old-fashioned upbringing. When it came clear to him that, indeed, I had come from that milieu, he said rather dramatically, "Oh well, if you were brought up like that, Anne, you'll never be happy outside the Catholic Church. You'll find nothing but misery outside the Catholic Church. For a Catholic like you, there is no life outside the Catholic Church." He meant well when he said this. He was speaking, I think, from his experience with people. The year was probably 1960. I was eighteen going on nineteen, and, well, it was understandable what he said.

But when he said it, something in me revolted. I didn't argue with him.

But I was no longer a Catholic when I left the room.

Those few remarks had pushed me right over the edge.

It wasn't his fault.

But he had hit on something which I couldn't abide - the idea that my upbringing condemned me to be a Catholic forever, no matter what my heart and conscience told me was true.

My heart and my conscience were telling me to leave the church, to explore. My heart and my conscience wanted information. My heart and my conscience were in love with the wide world. Whether there was true knowledge out there, beyond the pale, I wanted to discover. I hungered for experience, for risk. And I also believed mightily in the life of the mind, and the life of the artist, though what kind of artist I might be, I didn't know.

The church had become for me anti-art and anti-mind.

No longer was there a blending of the aesthetic and the religious as there had been throughout my childhood.

Desperately I sought to escape the sense of sin that seemed to dominate every choice facing me. I lost faith in Hellfire.

Or to put it differently, faith in Hellfire simply did not hold me firmly, as faith in God had once done. I left the church.

I stopped going. I stopped being a Catholic. I stopped arguing with people about being Catholic. I stopped getting upset if they made fun of my church or the pope. I simply quit.

I quit for thirty-eight years.

The real tragedy however was that I quit believing in God. I think about this a great deal. People ask me why this happened; sometimes they indicate that my loss of faith must have been precipitated by some emotional or social event.

There was no emotional or social event. This was a catastrophe of the mind and heart.

I could not separate my personal relationship with God, and with Jesus Christ, from my relationship with the church.

As I mentioned, I'd stopped really talking to God a long time ago. I hadn't felt entitled to talk to Him in a long while. I'd felt far too demoralized to talk to Him. I just wasn't the Catholic girl who had a right to talk to Him. I harbored too many profane ambitions. And now faith in Him was giving way. I think I had to stop believing in God in order to quit His church, and the pressure to quit became intolerable.

Whatever the case, I left it all.

I think I can safely say I never put my dilemma before God. I never knelt down before Him and said, "Please help me with this." I failed to perceive Him as a source of creative solutions to one's personal problems. I failed to see Him as a Person of Infinite Compassion. My religious mind was an authoritarian mind, and once I found myself at odds with God, I couldn't speak to Him. I couldn't question Him.

Instead I made decisions about Him. And they amounted to rejection of His existence, and a determination to face the world with a new courage which seemed right.

The church, with all its rules about sex, the modern world, and books and matters of dogma, had become absolute proof to me that God didn't exist. The idea of God belonged to the utter falsity of Catholicism. If an edifice like that was a pack of lies - and it had to be a lie that one could burn in Hell for all eternity for masturbating or kissing a boy, or reading a novel by Alexandre Dumas, or an essay by Sartre - then there was no God.

There just couldn't be a God. A God would never have made a church so unnatural and so narrow, and so seemingly fragile - vulnerable to information, that is - as the Catholic Church. People who believed in God believed in churches, and churches told you lies. Not only did they tell you lies, they made you tell lies. They taught you how to tell those lies when you were a little child.

I had grown up telling lies for the Catholic Church. Let me give one example. If those outside the church criticized the Inquisition and its torture of heretics or Jews, we had a standard Catholic answer, and it was this: The Inquisition was only going along with the times. Indeed the Inquisition never really executed anyone. It was the secular state that did the executing.

That, I think, is a first-rate Catholic lie.

But Catholics of my time were taught quite a number, and their goal was always the same - to gloss over the failings or corruption of the church and bring the subject of the discussion back to the church's perfection.

As I lost my faith in God and in this church, these many lies seemed proof to me that I was moving away from false-hood and into truth.

Also I'd come to realize what most Christians realize sooner or later - that millions were born and grew up and died without ever knowing anything of Christianity, and that seemed to prove that Christianity was only one man-made sect making grandiose claims that could not be true.

In my heart of hearts, I believed this finally: there was no God.

The cure for the agony of my religious upbringing was to face this fact, I felt, and to journey on bravely in spite of it, and to learn what was good and interesting and challenging from the teachers of the modern world who had long ago rejected God, out of necessity, yet never ceased to care bravely about the fate of human beings. And this caring was key. The secular humanists I knew did care. They were conscientious people.

In sum, outside the Catholic Church, one did not find a sinkhole of depravity. Quite to the contrary, one found articulate people who made complex and refined distinctions about how to be a good human being.

After a few months of dismal grieving for my faith, I began to feel a new relaxation, and a new passion for life.

But I felt a certain bitter darkness too. The world without God was a world in which anything might happen, and there would never be justice for the millions who died at the hands of tyrants, or the poor who suffered in the neglected parts of the world. The world without God was the world of the Cold War in which "the bomb" might drop at any minute - and civilization might be annihilated, leaving behind a polluted and silent earth.

One had to face this. A third world war was likely; the end of civilization was likely. We believed this strongly in the 1960s. One couldn't run to an outmoded idea of God for comfort. One had to be strong; one had to construct meaning in the silence in the wake of the departure of God.

And so began my journeys through the secular world of America in the 1960s, and so began my flight from the realm of faith and beauty and harmony which had been my childhood. So began my struggles with a harsher discipline than that which I'd left behind.

It is ironic perhaps that I did not subsequently become sexually liberated or wild. Solitary sex relieved the tension I felt, but I remained an extremely conservative well-controlled woman who refused to be intimate with anyone until she found the person with whom she wanted to spend her life.

This was Stan Rice, the boy from high school, who came up to Denton to go to North Texas State College in 1960, and who followed me to San Francisco in 1961. I went back to Denton to marry him in that same year. For all the agony over sex, this was the love of my life. We married as soon as we could because this marriage represented the highest commitment we could make to one another. And we remained married for forty-one years until his death in 2002. I've never been with any other man, but Stan Rice.

So much for sex. So much for all that agony. So much for all that day-in and day-out misery of those crucial years.

There's more to the story in that I later became a nationally famous pornographer for a series of fairytale erotic books written under the pen name A. N. Roquelaure - but that was in the 1980s, and those books contain imaginary characters and imaginary realms.

As for my great desire to read forbidden authors, I was still in my first few years of college severely disabled as a reader, and could only make it through the short stories of Jean-Paul Sartre, and some of the works of Albert Camus.

Of the great German philosophers who loomed so large in discussion in those days, I could not read one page.

But I understood Camus' famous The Myth of Sisyphus and I understood his concept of "the absurd." I read his novels The Stranger and The Plague. And I took from these works Camus' urgent faith that we live a moral and responsible life even if nothing is known about how we got here or where we're going, that we make the meaning, that we stand for values which we can't deny.

I got it. It was as rigorous a discipline to believe in the ideas of Camus as it had ever been to be Catholic. In fact, being an atheist required discipline very like that of being Catholic. One could never yield to the idea of a supernatural authority, no matter how often one might be tempted. To think that a personal God had made the world was to yield to a demonic and superstitious and destructive belief.

Stan Rice, whom I married in 1961, was one of the most conscientious people I'd ever met. He was positively driven by conscience and thought in terms of harsh absolutes. His life was devoted to poetry and, later, to painting; art for him had replaced any religion that he ever had. He scoffed at the idea of a personal God, and scoffed at all religion in general.

He did more than scoff. He felt it was stupid, vain, false, and possibly he thought it was evil. I'm not sure on that.

The point for me was that he had intense personal values.

And he understood that I wanted to be somebody, and he believed that I should. Though he deplored my sloppi-ness, lack of discipline, inability to read or study, and general disarray and confusion, he believed in my intellect and in my passions and he found me interesting, more interesting apparently than anyone else.

Never did he question my capacity or my intentions to have a full rich committed life. And I believed of course in his full committed life.

He was a model of personal discipline, a great reader of anything that he chose to read, and a model student, as well as being the most interesting and attractive person that I ever met. He was a great poet, and early on, he became a great reader of his poems before audiences large and small.

We worked our way through college together, and nothing could have shaken our dedication to getting an education or living in a world of ideas and books. Stan's parents had not gone to college and he wanted to be in the college world. I was right with him on this. The fact that we might someday have jobs at a university, that we might make our living in the world of literature, this was our dream.

Part of our marriage was fierce intellectual argument and we often frightened people as we tore at each other, and shouted at each other, and insisted on various abstract points.

But in general we had a wonderful time.

I think our marriage was as free of gender inequity as any marriage I knew. It wasn't entirely free, and certainly other people pressured us incessantly to conform to gender-specific roles. If I went on a diet, mutual friends adamantly reminded me that I must still "cook for Stan" so that he got proper meals. People went so far as to say I shouldn't make as good a grade in a class as Stan was making. One male friend furiously insisted that I "admit" Stan was more intelligent than I was. People in the main were far more interested in him than in me, and I existed in his shadow, especially when he began to write and to publicly read his works.

But in general, the jarring remarks of others didn't penetrate the gender equality we maintained. We were both working; we both had dreams. Indeed the preservation of my personal dreams was probably essential to maintaining Stan's admiration, and vice versa.

Stan was an English major, went on to get a graduate degree in English, and went right into teaching at San Francisco State, our alma mater, and was soon put on tenure track, on the strength of his abilities as a teacher, and his poetry which commanded terrific respect. It was highly exceptional for a graduate of San Francisco State to be accepted there as a full-time teacher, especially if one did not have a Ph.D., but Stan was accepted and he became one of the youngest professors on the faculty, and he continued to teach at San Francisco State until 1988.

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