Monday, October 24, 2005


... impressed with silly celebrity conversions. Too many have led to embarrassments for Christendom. [UPDATE: 11/4/05 catch a committed Catholic's perspective at Amy Wellborn's open book "Christ the Lord, for you"]

For example, Jane Fonda, Eldrige Cleaver, Bob Dylan, Charlie Scheen, Shannon Daugherty, Brittany Spears, and Glen Campbell (check these and others out at Famous Adherents); but Ann Rice risking the loss of a huge piece of her vampire readers is certainly impressive. And then to write a fiction on the seven year-old Jesus coming out of Egypt with mom and dad, that's even better.

I'm not naive enough to think this is the real thing; we won't know for sure for a few years, if even then. From Newsweek via MSNBC ...
After 25 novels in 25 years, Rice, 64, hasn't published a book since 2003's "Blood Chronicle," the tenth volume of her best-selling vampire series. [...] " What's up with her? "For the last six months," she says, "people have been sending e-mails saying, 'What are you doing next?' And I've told them, 'You may not want what I'm doing next'."

We'll know soon. In two weeks, Anne Rice, the chronicler of vampires, witches and—under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure—of soft-core S&M encounters, will publish "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," a novel about the 7-year-old Jesus, narrated by Christ himself. "I promised," she says, "that from now on I would write only for the Lord." It's the most startling public turnaround since Bob Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" announced that he'd been born again.

Rice knows "Out of Egypt" and its projected sequels—three, she thinks—could alienate her following; as she writes in the afterword, "I was ready to do violence to my career." But she sees a continuity with her old books, whose compulsive, conscience-stricken evildoers reflect her long spiritual unease. "I mean, I was in despair." In that afterword she calls Christ "the ultimate supernatural hero ... the ultimate immortal of them all."
Any serious believer has to give a hearty AMEN to that! But so many celebrity conversions are all talk at first, and then they find out the cost of discipleship ... then we find out their real stuff.
To render such a hero and his world believable, she immersed herself not only in Scripture, but in first-century histories and New Testament scholarship—some of which she found disturbingly skeptical. "Even Hitler scholarship usually allows Hitler a certain amount of power and mystery."

She also watched every Biblical movie she could find, from "The Robe" to "The Passion of the Christ" ("I loved it"). And she dipped into previous novels, from "Quo Vadis" to Norman Mailer's "The Gospel According to the Son" to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins's apocalyptic Left Behind series. ("I was intrigued. But their vision is not my vision.")

She can cite scholarly authority for giving her Christ a birth date of 11 B.C., and for making James, his disciple, the son of Joseph by a previous marriage. But she's also taken liberties where they don't explicitly conflict with Scripture. No one reports that the young Jesus studied with the historian Philo of Alexandria, as the novel has it—or that Jesus' family was in Alexandria at all. And she's used legends of the boy Messiah's miracles from the noncanonical Apocrypha: bringing clay birds to life, striking a bully dead and resurrecting him.
Something about all this has the ring of a Da Vinci Code experience versus a Jehovah Code experience, but let's give her the benefit of time to show her true self.
Rice's most daring move, though, is to try to get inside the head of a 7-year-old kid who's intermittently aware that he's also God Almighty. "There were times when I thought I couldn't do it," she admits. The advance notices say she's pulled it off: Kirkus Reviews' starred rave pronounces her Jesus "fully believable." But it's hard to imagine all readers will be convinced when he delivers such lines as "And there came in a flash to me a feeling of understanding everything, everything!"

The attempt to render a child's point of view can read like a Sunday-school text crossed with Hemingway ... in the novel's best scene, a dream in which Jesus meets a bewitchingly handsome Satan—smiling, then weeping, then raging—Rice shows she still has her great gift: to imbue Gothic chills with moral complexity and heartfelt sorrow.
Being a life-long sceptic and cynic I have my doubts; being a Christian compels me to wait and see what fruit this tree bears.

Let me know how you feel about celebrity conversions, if you have any.

RELATED: Kicking Over My Traces

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