Aug. 11, 2010 -- Anne Rice has never been one to mince words.
These days, from her home near Palm Springs, Calif., Rice regularly posts reviews of books, records and movies on Amazon.com. She also maintains a very active Facebook page -- on which she recently posted something rather incendiary.
"Today I quit being a Christian," Rice wrote. "I'm out."
She went on to call Christians, as a group, "quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and deservedly infamous."
"I reached a point where I felt that I couldn't be complicit any longer in the things that organized religion was doing. I really saw it as a fairly simple repudiation, you know? I was exonerating myself," Rice said in an interview with ABC News. "I was saying, 'Look, when you -- when you see the persecution of gay people by the Mormon Church or the Catholic Church, I'm not part of this. I'm out. I don't support this anymore. When you see the oppression of women. I'm not part of it. I'm stepping aside. This follower of Christ is not part of that Christianity.' That's really what I thought to say."
Anne Rice: From Catholic to Atheist to Committed Catholic
Rice was raised in a strict Catholic household in New Orleans, but she became an atheist at age 18 and identified that way for most of her adult life. In fact, her vampire novels were written from an atheist perspective.
"My vampire characters are always talking about the question of, 'We don't know anything about God. We don't know anything about the devil. What are we doing? What -- you know, is life worth it? Can we live a meaningful life?' I thought I was talking about the way things were. That there was no God. That there was no devil. And that it was tough. It was hard. We were living in a basically meaningless world where there were no answers and never would be. We would die without ever really knowing why we had been here."
"I mean the vampire for me was perfect metaphor for the way I felt," Rice said. "Like a lost soul roaming in the darkness without God. And I poured a lot of my despair and my unhappiness and my grief for my lost faith into those books."
In 1998, she says she experienced a conversion.
"That sudden realization that I truly believed in God, that I was not an atheist, that maybe I'd never been an atheist, that I'd believed in God and I wanted to go home through the doors of my childhood church. The Catholic Church was the only church I'd ever known. And I -- I knew there would be complications. I knew it would be difficult. I knew there were probably things that the church taught that I would find very hard, but at the moment of that conversion I was really convinced that it would all work out," she said.
For the last 12 years, she lived as a committed Catholic, surrounded by religious statues, artwork and hundreds of Bibles. Instead of writing about vampires, she switched to writing about Christ and angels, in books like "Of Love and Evil," the latest in her "Songs of the Seraphim" series, which comes out this fall.
She said even though she knew she might struggle with the church's stance on social issues, she wasn't prepared for how frustrated she would become.
Anne Rice: 'Several Last Straws' With Catholic Church
"I think there were several last straws. The pope going to Africa and saying that condoms were not a good idea in the fight against AIDS. I found that outrageous, embarrassing, humiliating, frightening. The bishop of Phoenix, Ariz., Thomas Olmsted, publicly condemning a nun Sister Margaret McBride because she OK'd a life-saving abortion for a dying mother in a Catholic hospital," Rice said.
"The fact that my church, which I had supported over the years as -- you know, private -- how shall I put it -- I know. I supported it. Let's say that. I put my money where my mouth was. And that church then spent millions to come in to the state of California and deprive gay citizens of their civil rights to same-sex marriage? That was shocking. That was humiliating. That was the last straw. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles paying $660 million to the victims of clergy abuse? What does that say about organized religion? And finally, the pressure built up, the toxic anger built up, the confusion built up and I thought, 'I have to get out this. I want God to be the center of my life and somehow I'm in bed with the devil.' Trying to get up and get out," she said.
Part of her frustration, she said, came from the fact that her son Christopher is gay.
"I was for gay rights long before Christopher was born," Rice said. "But of course, it makes me sensitive to what is going on."
"I mean, it causes great moral discomfort when your church is calling homosexuality gravely disordered. And when they're spending money, maybe money that you, yourself contributed to fight -- to support Prop 8 [California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage], I mean, I can't emphasize how demoralizing that is to me. Why millions of dollars in church funds spent on persecuting these people publicly. I don't get it. I think it's wrong. I think it's evil," Rice said.
"I think the persecution of gays is evil. I think it's evil," she said. "I think it's gratuitous and it's evil."
To be clear, Rice said she is still a follower of Christ. She said she reads the Bible and prays every day just by herself. She said there were aspects of being an active Catholic that she would miss.
"I will probably miss the ritual, the liturgy, going to Mass, going to holy communion, but I really couldn't go anymore," she said. "I was too angry. I was too confused. That clergy abuse scandal, the defensiveness of Catholics about that scandal, their anger at not wanting to hear about it, not wanting to know what had happened with priests abusing people sexually and then being transferred to parish -- from parish to parish, I mean all of that was too much. I was -- I was sitting in church in a beautiful environment with beautiful music wanting to pray and I was too angry and too confused to be there. I had to leave. It was coming between me and God to be in that church. And the church should be the place that helps you get close to God."
Rice said her anguish over this decision will work its way into her books.
"It's tragic, but when you find yourself lying for God, something's really wrong," she said. "And for me to go on saying that I was a Catholic and for me to go on being in that church, or in any church, really, worrying about what they teach and what they do socially and what they might do politically, et cetera, et cetera, that was lie. I can't do that."
Anne Rice: Critics Speak Out
In the meantime, her announcement has generated an enormous response in newspapers, on blogs and on cable TV.
In a country where a growing number of people -- now 17 percent -- say they have "no religion," Rice's story touched a nerve.
Though Rice said the e-mails and Facebook messages she's received have been overwhelmingly supportive, she's had critics.
In a statement Aug. 6, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called Rice's decision a tragedy.
"Anne Rice started as a believing Catholic; then she quit the church; then she rejoined the church; now she has quit again. All of this is amusing as it is sad, and would be of no interest to the Catholic League save for her parting shots at the Catholic Church," league president Bill Donohue said.
"I'm familiar with Bill Donohue and the Catholic League," Rice said. "I received many wonderful, generous e-mails from the priests that I've known over the years. Many kind, generous e-mails that just say, 'We're praying for you. We hope you come back. We hope you change your mind.' And I'm very moved by that response and I take it more to heart than anything said by Bill Donohue and the Catholic League."
Rice said there are plenty of people involved in organized religion who are doing positive things. But she said that she -- like a growing number of Americans -- is out.
"I did what I felt I had to do for my conscience, but. obviously, this has implications for the group. Let's hope and pray something good will come out of it."