Not since the Fidei defensor turned excommunicated renegade has there been such a public falling out with Rome on account of the actions of an independent thinking Anne. At 18.36 precisely on the 28th of July, Anne Rice, author of Interviews with a Vampire and one time Catholic returned prodigal, posted on her face book page the following notice:
‘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.’
The other Anne, sister of Mary Boleyn and wife of Henry Tudor, was a similarly feisty lady. A champion of the spirit of the European Reformation, Anne owned one of the first copies
of the revolutionary Tyndale Bible. This Bible was a radical and future orientated item to own, a veritable iPod of change. Tyndale’s Bible brought sacred texts previously the privileged possession of the clerical elite into the hands of the laity. English rather than Latin, the voice of the peasant rather than the court, the Aramaic and Koine Greek of first century Palestine rather than the politically corrected translation of the Constantinian Empire.
Tyndale and Wycliffe before him exploited the new technology emerging out of the fifteenth century. Gutenberg’s printing press prompted a knowlege revolution of unprecedented proportions. Scripture was released from the ‘thought police’ of the Vatican. Clerical control of the the thoughts and imagination of the faithful was severed. The printing press providing the means for mass distribution of ideas, and the bold scholarly translation of the Scriptures into the vernacular of German, English and French revolutionised sixteenth century Europe. At the centre of the firestorm in the Tudor court was Anne Boleyn with her copy of Tyndale’s Bible. Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII triggered papal excommunication and the emergence of the Church of England, independent from Rome, with the monarch as the temporal Head of the Church.
As with Boleyn so with Rice. This time the internet not ink and paper, courtesy of one Mark Zuckerberg not Johannes Gutenberg. Nevertheless a similar gauntlet has been thrown down to the Vatican. No marriage was being annulled, but questions around the efficacy of same sex-marriage informed a great deal of the anxiety which led to Anne Rice’s profile update. This issue of which marriages can be approved of by church and state is part of today’s ‘great question’ mirroring Henry’s troubled question on his leveritical marriage to his brother’s wife centuries ago.
“I believed for a long time that the differences, the quarrels among Christians didn’t matter a lot for the individual, that you live your life and stay out of it. But then I began to realize that it wasn’t an easy thing to do,” said Rice, in an interview given to the AP news from her home in California. “I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t make this declaration, I was going to lose my mind.”
The conclusion that Anne Rice came to was that she could no longer be part of a church which she perceived as anti gay, anti democrat, anti feminist, anti artificial birth control.
Since her post, over 100,000 Facebook members have become friends with Anne on her facebook page, many of whom have been long term followers of Anne through her writings on Vampires and her metaphysical fiction series, “Songs of the Seraphim.”
It makes you wonder what could have happened with the other Anne had she had the facility of engaging directly with the villeins and peasantry of the kingdom. Comments on the dissolution of the monasteries would have been extensive and spawned a number of fanpages for Wolsey, Thomas More and the Northern Rising and Robert Aske. Henry VIIIs role as temporal head of the Church of England would have been widely disputed no doubt, and the Pope’s excommunication of the King and the withdrawal of the papal legate would have occupied numerous blogs and tweets on the twittersphere. But with the traction of social media, Anne might have survived the savagery of a King desperate for a son and the violence which he meted out on his second wife in her perceived betrayal of him in failing to provide a baby boy and secure the Tudor succession.
Which raises the question about what this new form of Rice Christianity, denouncing the perfidy of Rome and its stagnant out of kilter positions on gender equality, same-sex relationships, the privileging of the unborn child over the welfare of the birthing mother might be harbinger to.
Gutenberg’s press opened up a way of sharing and expressing ideas which the political economy of the Holy Roman Empire and the Divine right of Kings never recovered from. The populations touched by the ink of the printing presses never returned to their former pre-enlightenment state. In Britain the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible emerged as a new Trinity to face down the old ‘restrictive’ practices of Rome – it heralded married priests, communion in both kinds, services in the vernacular, energised a movement towards mass literacy and saw an upsurge in vestry power.
So what of Zuckerberg and the growing band of disappointed pilgrims now identifying with Anne Rice’s disillusionment with the Catholic Church. The internet provides a new technological tool for realising virtual communities with an unprecedented means for associating, sharing ideas, providing practical support and enabling the spread of ideas internationally across generations, genders, ethnicities and ideological persuasion.
When Anne Boleyn’s fiance set his face determinedly against the Holy See – the religious and secular landscape underwent a seismic change. Whether Anne Rice’s self-exclusion from the fellowship of Rome will result in similar shock waves is not yet clear. What is certain however is that in an age of internet connectivity and virtually shaped communities, the pre-modern stance of the Roman Catholic church on issues of equality, diversity, the rights of women over their own bodies’ reproductivity and redress of paedophilic transgressions, will be exposed to immense pressures of public reflection and criticism, with alternative modes of performing its religious functions developed outside of the control of the religious hierarchy.
Thankfully, if Anne Rice continues to keep her head in the ensuing noise in the twittersphere and blogsphere, there will be at least one place where those interested in exploring Christianity can gather, abandoning the bitter misogynistic and homophobic discourses which are now perceived as commonplace in Anglicanism and embedded in Vatican house rules. It may not be an upper room, nor a Queen’s bedchamber, and only a humble page – but it could signal the beginning of new reformation – and for that only time will tell.
You can follow Anne Rice’s public separation from formalised religion and independent journey forward as a follower of Christ on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/annericefanpage.