Anne Rice, Christianity and the esoteric religion: more pondering

The news this week that Anne Rice has ‘given up’ being a Christian came at an interesting time for me. This is what she wrote, among other things, on her Facebook page:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

As I said below, 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. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Similarly, for all these and other reasons, I have never identified myself as a Christian. Despite some puerile and stupid glee from a few anti-Christian quarters, Ms Rice’s decision seems to have been met with praise and understanding from atheist, orthodox and heterodox Christian alike. When I first read it and the silly Pagan and anti-Christian gloating that followed, I felt I had to blog. Then I read Michael Rowe’s article “Why Anne Rice Has Never Been More of a Christian” and was happy he said a lot of what I wanted to say on the matter.

Ms Rice’s cri de coeur was relevant for me in two ways. Firstly, the emotion I sense behind her first post seems to mirror a similar feeling I have for the western magical and occult community. I have blogged on this before here and it is why in the census (and on my Facebook page) I have labelled myself as Tibetan Buddhist. The lack of maturity, sense, compassion and wisdom in the western magical and esoteric communities fairly depresses me.

Secondly, I have recently been deepening my exploration of Christian religion (e.g. Church services), tradition (the Christian cultural paradigm expressed, for example, in classical music) and mysteries (my RR et AC and esoteric Christian work). All three have yet to come together in one experience. Hey, a guy can hope 🙂

Overall I have gained deeper magic, mystery, love and service than ever before, most of it generated from my esoteric engagement I am sure. But…it is still Christianity…it is still all those things Anne Rice pithily outlines. So there is a tension within me as I deepen my Christian exploration. I love the mystery, the incarnational blessings, the ritual and especially the inherent compassion of Christian religion, but loath, detest and reject much of the social crap that goes along with it it.

Now one of the things I have always tried to instill in all the magic and magical groups I have led is compassion and service (see this post and comments thereon). Their very absence from much of the occult and magical community I suggest stems ultimately  from the formation of the fraternal and esoteric brotherhoods as distinct entities to religions from the early Enlightenment. These brotherhoods, particularly Freemasonry kept the need for communal service and charity (not compassion) but as they expanded and split, the absence of the Christian religious impetus seems to have resulted in new groups not placing these ethics at the core of their identity. Until at last we end up with the secular psychologized magical groups of the 21st century where there is no service, no charitable collection, and no compassion.

My insistence on the need for compassion in magic has of course been supported the most by peers with a Christian background. This makes complete sense and in fact I have also always, often with much friction from other members, in our magic tried to bring about what may be called a religious experience. Now of course, everyone, including me, has always said the Golden Dawn is not a religion, it is an esoteric or magical or spiritual path. Not many people like the term ‘religion’ these days as they have been more than a little burnt by the shenanigans of Christianity and the like as described above. So we are “spiritual but not religious”, a tag I have rallied against many times as it fairly makes me puke. To quote Karen Armstrong on her feelings about people identifying themselves with this label:

“I can’t stand that. Spiritual often just means some kind of wishy-washy me-ism, where I’m having a lovely experience without much discipline. You know, designer Kabbalah in Hollywood or designer yoga….Spiritual can mean, “I feel very spiritual when I look at the sunset, but I’m quite happy to slag off Islam and not to give any money to charity. I’m quite OK with the fact that we’ve messed up the Middle East and people are dying every day in Iraq-not just our soldiers but others who are dying as a result of our mistakes. I’m quite happy with the inequality of our social system.” That is not proper spirituality. Feeling is neither here nor there. You’ve got to get deeper than feeling. We know in our own lives that feelings come and go. Like Aquinas said, you can’t feel God any more than you can know God.”

Many other religious scholars also have little truck with the modern notion of divorcing spiritual experience from religious expression as they know we never re-invent the wheel, we never create Ex nihilo like God but always draw from somewhere, some communal resource, idea, paradigm or teaching. Heck, even that current paragon of all things deep and spiritual Eckhart Tolle had to study traditional religion before he could express his ideas and awareness to others.

For example, the other day I read a paper by one of the main scholars of new religious movements,  J. Gordon Melton’s From The Occult To Western Esotericism: Catching Up With Changes In The New Age Movement. In it he argues, as he has done elsewhere that western esotericism is the third religious tradition in the west. When I read this paper I pondered and sighed and paced and sighed and mused and sighed. I had read the concept of esotericism being a third western religion before of course, but this time it sunk in deeper.

Now the working description of esotericism given by Prof Melton is a lot broader and more inclusive than most magicians would allow that term. I mean, UFO cults?  Personally, no thanks (not that there’s anything wrong with that). However, he does draw on the pioneering work of Antoine Faivre, a real heavyweight dude in the academic study of esotericism. Dr Faivre identified several core characteristics and signs of esotericism. In the Golden Dawn context I summarised the presence of these characteristics in a lecture I gave a few years back:

Unity and Concordance of Religious Forms. This posits an underlying universal divinity which is given expression and manifestation through the world’s various religious and spiritual systems. All religions are seen as valid, however the divine may be expressed: as Jesus, Buddha, the Great Goddess or simply the divine within. However, it is important to be clear that this is not an attitude of simple religious tolerance and ecumenicalism, but rather a profound realization of the mystic truth behind various religious forms.

The Non-Physical Universe. In the Golden Dawn the universe and the human being is seen as being both physical and non-physical. The non-physical universe is mapped out in a cosmology derived from the Hermetic Qabalah and is essentially Neo-platonic, showing the great chain of being linking all things from the densest earth back through the realms to the unknowable One.

The divine place of Nature and Matter. Nature, in the Golden Dawn, is not only sacred but contains reflections of all the various powers of the universe within it. Similarly the human body is a microcosm, a perfect universe in miniature, capable of reflecting the highest truth and spiritual principals. Nature and the human body therefore hold a special place in the Golden Dawn – they are the summation of the entire works of God. The Golden Dawn here is explicitly panentheistic – God is both Immanent, within all of nature, and Transcendent – beyond the comprehension of human consciousness.

Correspondences. This belief is both very potent and very ancient. Each type of spiritual force is associated with a particular aspects of the material world; a colour, a divine name, a shape, a tool, an incense, a metal and so on. In magic to attract and commune with a particular blessing, the Golden Dawn will make use of these correspondences in the choice of robe, ceremony, incense etc.

The possibility of Transformation. Since the human being is a miniature of the universe, containing a reflection of all the universal powers, the Golden Dawn asserts we may develop our beings infinitely.

Now these characteristics do offer a very different religious experience to that found in and promoted by most mainstream Christian denominations (I can’t speak about Judaism). Which is what we should expect, as esoteric and exoteric Christianity are not the same, but two sides of the same spiritual mystery. The question really is this: does esoteric practice conflict crucially with exoteric Christian religious doctrine? Christianity as actually practiced and experienced by Anne Rice and us all is another matter of course. Examining the core aspects again:

Unity and Concordance of Religious Forms. Whilst some form of this understanding is at the heart of the doctrine of most Catholic (universal) and Orthodox (big ‘o’) churches, there is often little recognition of the fact in actual church practice and teaching. The most that is often found is the idea that the newer rite of Christ supersedes all previous valid religions and that other religions while they have some merit are not operating with the fullness provided by the Church. Heck, Pope Benedict even says that about all other Christian Churches besides the RC, calling them ‘congregations’ rather than Churches. (Bad Pope! No soup for you). Many Protestant sects are even worse; in fact a few would cheerfully burn MOTO readers if they could 🙂 However, the doctrine is there.

The Non-Physical Universe. Core Christian doctrine on this matter is generally absent. Like much of the world, most churches ignore the intermediate realms between the physical and the heavenly. One thing is really clear however, Nicene Christianity is not Neo-Platonic. There is no chain of being leading back to the One. God created all things, seen and unseen, out of nothing via his fiat. The difference between the two theologies is very pronounced. This does not mean orthodox Christians cannot and do not engage with the non-physical, which of course they do. It does however mean we cannot ascend this chain of being to the One by our own merits; there is a gap between us and the One that can only be crossed by the action of the One. More on this later.

The divine place of Nature and Matter. Contemporary Church attitudes to the world have changed recently, but were and often are still nothing short of woeful. However, once more core church doctrine does see matter and nature as sacred but for different reasons than Neo-Plantonic esotericism. It was created by the One and therefore is good. It has God fully within it, just as any creation has the mark of the creator within it. All matter, all flesh, all our bodies were and are sanctified by Christ’s incarnation. On the ground Christian thought and action may deny this, but the doctrine is clear.

Correspondences. Generally Christian doctrine does not deny this belief and in fact affirms it in some places. Certainly there is much use of correspondences in traditional Church liturgy and practice, though not to the same extent and with the same connection to the inner realms as in esotericism.

The possibility of Transformation. It is here we come to the crucial difference between Christianity and esotericism. Christianity is salvific where salvation from the unredeemed human state occurs via the action of Jesus Christ, or more properly our response to his eternal and continual action. Esotericism one the other hand is enlightenment based and supposes we can and are capable of redemption without salvation. Nicene Christianity will always say, in one form or another, we cannot get to perfection, restoration, enlightenment, heaven or what have you, on our own. We need God and more particularly we need God in human form. Since we require help to move from imperfection to perfection, God as perfection knows nothing of imperfection and therefore cannot help us. Hence the Incarnation.

Now I have always felt and taught, even in magic, we do need help from the divine. We cannot do this on our own. This is no doubt one of several reasons why I gravitate more to the Vajrayana rather than Thervadan Buddhism; there are lots of Vajrayana saints and beings to help along the way. But, I am equally convinced we do not need Christ. The One, the mystery, that-which-we-cannot-name is present and ready to help all of us, at any stage ,no matter who we are what spiritual tradition we are in.

What we do need, I think, religious or not is the awareness we are not actually alone, ever, that we are all radically interdependent. That we do not ever self-transform as we are One. I have spent so many years with this truth, so much daily meditation on it, it seems so self evident to me now that whenever I hear of spiritual development and magical attainment and self-improvement I get a bit confused. Once more I re-read and shiver at the words of Martin Luther King on the side bar, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny.” The paradox is that while we never transform singly, the instigation to transformation is always personal and always individual 🙂

5 comments

  1. Asher Fryer · August 1, 2010

    I have to say, in a short response to Anne Rice, that I am constantly amazed at people who will affirm ‘Christ’ while rejecting virtually everything said and done by him, all our known sources, history, culture and so on. In effect, they make themselves a nice little idol which reflects all their highest aspirations, noble or not, and call it Christ, ignoring the fact that if Christ is real he has to be known and defined in some way even to talk about him. And then, in the height of contradiction, they go on to attack all that other have made in their own image and call it ‘Christ’. Each create their own, and all deny the authority of the Church and the Bible. Ultimately, you can’t avoid this issue, or else fall into endless realms of subjectivity without real consequence.

    For example in you say, Peregrin, that “I am equally convinced we do not need Christ. The One, the mystery, that-which-we-cannot-name is present and ready to help all of us, at any stage ,no matter who we are what spiritual tradition we are in.” To my thinking, and to the actual statements in the Bible about Christ, you have just said “I don’t need Christ, but I do need Christ”. Christ is ‘the one’, exoteric and esoteric. I mean this in an absolute sense, like the Church states. I don’t deny the universality of Christian ideas, but the Incarnation is the real point, the point of necessity. But that’s a long story….:)

    A final point. Rice seems to think that Christianity is something objective that only she and others like her know. Well, it might interest her to actually read what the OT, NT and the Law of Moses actually does say. Not to mention the prophecies of both old and new testaments concerning the nature of the modern world, future development of humanity and so on. All credit to her to reject bigotry, but the fact remains that if the bible is truly the word of God, then yes, secular humanism, godlessness, atheism, materialistic science, homosexuality, witchcraft, and a whole host of ideas and practises are condemned, and affirmed as such by Christ. So much for her ‘idea of Christ’. Bigotry on the right is just as bad as heresy and blasphemy on the left. And who she thinks she is making her stand as an ‘authority’ on Christianity in such a public way is, to me, questionable at the least. Her credentials? Being a popular writer with a public face. No wonder all the Churches, secular and human, wanted to have a piece of her spiel.

    I’d appreciate feedback!
    Cheers
    Ash

  2. Peregrin · August 1, 2010

    Hi Asher,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and invite feedback.

    I hope I can be clear here. Firstly, your comment regarding needing Christ and Christ being ‘the one’. When I wrote my piece I wanted to be clear that I believe non-Christians are not automatically excluded from receiving the blessings of the One, even if under different names and symbols. I will requote from CS Lewis:

    “But the truth is God has not told us told what his arrangements with the other people [non-Christians] are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

    This is very subtle and expresses the situation well. It affirms the Reformation principle of Solo Christo. Yet, it is open to what we call “Christ”, that Mystery of being and non being, working with non Christians, under different names and images.

    Now, it is with a bit of trepidation I respond to the rest of your comments as I am sure you have heard these points of view before and have not been moved.

    OK. Your reading of what the Bible says is different to what other people say the Bible says. I know you can point to it and say what IS there, but so can they.

    There can be no definite, single meaning derived from the Bible, even if you and others think you have it. I do not believe it is possible for a pure sense of the meaning of the Bible to be delivered definitive, rock solid and true. Each culture, each generation, each group, each person has a different connotation of the words alone (the colour you see when I write ‘cerise’ will be subtlety different to the one I mean). Let alone the problems with translations, different cultural contexts between the Biblical writers and a Sudanese tribal leader and between them and a Nebraskan ballet dancer. It is here the tradition and the cultures of the Churches come in, giving teaching on the meaning of the scriptures, guiding. This happens every Sunday, with every sermon.

    So, folk like Anne Rice focus on certain aspects of the Christian tradition and the Bible and come to the conclusion that God’s loves for homosexuals outweigh any references to Biblical injunctions against them. You seem to have come to a different conclusion. I am sure you will say your conclusion is not yours, but is actually what is there, that it is not personal but Gospel. I see that, but do not agree.

    Finally, personally I do not think posting a couple of paragraphs about an important decision on Facebook is making any stand as an authority on Christianity. Her literary fans and the media spread the news virally not, as far as I can tell, her own actions. I post things like this on my Facebook page all the time.

    Thanks again for your views 🙂

  3. dirkt · August 2, 2010

    i simply don’t understand why people make such a fuss about being or not being part of any “official” religious community/current in the first place.
    heck, i like buddhist philosophy, but i don’t consider myselff part of any official buddhist school/distribution. for that i’m much to syncretic and skeptical and like to do my own thinking. so… keeping that in mind, i don’t have to comply to any views of any “official” religious institution/community/current, i personally don’t agree with, but that does not make me less a buddhist in my own understanding (i.e. spiritual identification), which btw is the only one, that counts for me 😉

    let’s cut to the point oft it. imo many people today are not anti-gay/anti-lesbian or anti-anything for that matter, because their religious believes/books tell them to (in most of them you will actually find only a few scattered sentences or paragraphs, which deal with those issues in a very casual way), but are just applying their own or others fanciful interpretations of a given religious text to “legitimize” their own cultural induced phobias and personal disklikes. what better legitimation as the devine moral imperative? because: “god” (our book) said so! – which imo is no argument at all but simply a statement of metaphysical doctrin/believe, that will cut short your reasoning process.

    as for these scattered paragraphs themselves, we have to understand that most religious texts were and are also reactions to cultural needs, behaviors and believes and parts of them (for example) are traditionally concerned with defining cultural gender roles. in case of the AT/NT, those definitions are several thousand years old and as a result deal with gender issues, that belong to a culture/society, that no longer exists and it’s hard to see, how they could apply to our modern culture without necessary modifications.

    so we’re a little bit stuck here, as these views run in a circle. one constantly enforcing the other.

    i like the faivre paradigm, but in a way it’s a bit narrow as far as definitions go because it applies foremost to a western notion of religion and especially modern neoplatonic influenced western esotericism, leaving out a whole variety of other religious/esoteric systems and experiences. also i do not think it’s very useful for the comparsion of an essential neoplatonic sytem of ideas to an aristotelean influenced christian mainstraem one to proof their similarities, because imo many of the defining faivre charakteristics simply don’t really apply to christianity. there may be a hint of them, as you pointed out, but these are not mainstream christianity’s defining features in terms of every day life.

    one definition that i personally favor and that applies to exoteric religion and esoteric tradition alike is the one given by the antrophologist arjun appadurai:

    “religion is a system of beliefs and behaviors that formulates and answers questions that are important, recurrent, and must be answered.”

  4. Peregrin · August 2, 2010

    Hi Dirk,

    thanks for cutting to the point of it – you did it very well. 🙂 Your attitude to religion and spirituality is modern and even post-modern, which makes sense and I personally feel is fine. However, the more traditional views are quite different and some folk who hold them get uncomfortable with views like yours. I don’t of course but I can understand why they do.

    Similarly with the Bible – as you say it does not exist alone, was created within certain contexts and is always read within a specific context, mirroring and being interpreted by these contexts. However, as sacred scripture I do believe it opens the doorway to the eternal which is beyond these contexts. I think some people feel this transcendant quality and then attach the sense of immutable eternal truth to specific beliefs and ideas and views they see in the text. So the text to them becomes sacred and has an eternal God given truth that is not mutable, not open to change or modification or debate. Again, I do not agree with this but respect that people feel that way about the Bible.

    OK – thanks 🙂

  5. SARA CARBONERO – PARIS HILTON JOIN KARMA BY THE DEATH OF “THE WIZARD PEPE”

    Guillermo Capellan WWPA esoteric INTERNATIONAL, warns that the death of “PEPE THE WIZARD OF MALAGA” KARMA is a misfortune to be charged with CARBONERO SARA AND PARIS HILTON for being part of a Goetia and dissemination of esoteric spells.

    “They do not know the principles of occultism, one Spanish, by famous an unscrupulous and the other American, by the despicable custom to the detriment of Cristiano Ronaldo, girls expecting results, esotericism is a very sensitive issue,” warned Zodiac

    Don Zodiac Guille. Madrid, Spain

    “DO NOT FORGET THE WITCH PEPE´S RELATIONSHIP WITH SARA CARBONERO ABOUT ESOTERIC CURSE FOR A CRISTIANO RONALDO” said GUILLERMO CAPELLÁN, esoteric from Argentina who, at the time, disqualified Brujo disappeared José Ruiz alias Pepe de Malaga. The death of Pepe de Málaga witch makes it clear who in life was José Ruiz, alleged author of the curses of Cristiano Ronaldo, and who is Don Zodiac Guille, the undisputed winner of a contest that remained in expectation throughout Spain.

    “We only have the misfortune to meet an outstanding debt to his promoter: Sara Carbonero and contracting Paris Hilton” sentenced Guillermo Capellan.

    Spain: Real Madrid Fans thank Guillermo Capellan

    (Carmen del Solar Mexdf.Independient.Press)

    SARA CARBONERO much of the interview was published about the famous model and Spanish television journalist on Sara Carbonero´s Wizard. For our part, we initiated an investigation into Pepe, the voodooists, which made boastful galas of their evil powers.

    Thus, we find out Don Zodiac Guille, Guillermo Capellan, known worldwide for The Esoteric Councilman Curses from Salta – Argentina. On these sensitive issues of global esotericism, Guillermo Capellán had an extensive conversation with a Spanish journalist, Alejandro Sanchez del Olmo, through his program on the occultisnm in Andalusia, La Otra Mirada. Sanchez del Olmo is the only privilege pressman who had in Live Capellan and at that time had already predicted the end of Pepe, Paris Hilton´s wizard.

    The difference between Capellán and Pepe de Malaga, intellect is always the one with the head of another. Pepe, limited in hiss esoteric instruction could never answer the statements by Argentine researcher. Neither knew that Capellan had prowled the “coven” that Pepe had in Malaga and then to meet his space warned “He is little thread on the reel”.

    The injunctions never existed because the Wizard of Sara Carbonero and Paris Hilton, Pepe de Malaga, had lost the secret battle of his limitations as an occultist. Guillermo Capellan kept the silent, Pepe has gone for ever and Cristiano Ronaldo broke free of a burdensome public mystifying. What holds for SARA CARBONERO? Only Don Zodiac Guille might say, “nothing good, nothing good,” said Argentine esoteric man to Mexdf.Independient.Press.

    Fans of Christian and Real got the mail of Guillermo Capellan and began sending hundreds of thousands of messages of gratitude and affection to those who, without any Sara Carbonero means, managed to gain the trust and affection of Real Madrid Club, Cristiano Ronaldo´s Club.

    Mexdf.Independient.Press @ gmail.com

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