Sunday, August 1, 2010

Charlotte Bronte, Anne Rice, and Dissevering Christianity

I decided that I needed to return to a classic this week after spending last week trying to figure out the mania behind the Twilight saga (which I determined comes down to the proverbial human longing for some hip, ethereal being to find us irresistible in spite of our obvious frailty and imperfection). So, I picked up Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre today because, although I have already read it twice, after twelve years I only recall that I liked it. Turns out, I really like it.

When it was first published, critics called it anti-Christian. In the preface to the second edition Charlotte Bronte addresses those “in whose eyes whatever is unusual is wrong” to remind them that speaking out against Christianity is not equal to speaking out against Christ. She says,
“To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns… appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is – I repeat it – a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.

“The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth – to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines.”
Have things changed so little since 1847? In so many ways, Christianity is still wrapped up in human doctrine and appearance all blended together with the creeds of Christ, and we have such difficulty separating them. I often equate pleasing the Christian subculture with pleasing Christ. But it is not so. Yet it’s so hard to separate that subculture from the world-redeeming creed of Christ.

It all reminds me of Anne Rice’s decision recently to disassociate from Christianity because of all the hypercritical, politicized ideas that have become a part of Christian subculture. She doesn’t want all the extra stuff. She just wants to follow Christ. I get that.

Sometimes, it feels to me that the only way to really separate Christian subculture, with all its narrow human doctrine and appearance, from the world-redeeming creed of Christ is to withdraw from the Church completely so that the simplicity of the gospel doesn’t get mixed in with all the rest. Yet, I’m convinced that we need each other, and so I can’t leave, messy as it may be to be part of a family, and as much as I get sucked into their ways; as much as I’m often embarrassed by them. It’s my family.

So I guess all I can do is continue spending my days trying to dissever that which has been enmeshed with Christ’s redemptive message ever since he came, ironically, to free us from all the extra stuff. I needed Bronte to put words to it for me, but that’s what I’ve been working at for some time now. That’s what she did with her novel, Jane Eyre.  That's why this novel has so much more significance to me now than when I studied it in school.  Now I understand the author.

article on Anne Rice

To help with the dissevering