Anne Rice's recent denunciation of the Church has brought to the fore, once again, Western culture's disaffection with organized religion. Any quick Google search on the effects of organized religion will produce a plethora of negative, even vindictive sites to wade through. And I will be the first to lament the tragic associations of religion with all sorts of vile evils throughout history.
Yet, there is an odd hubris in Rice's actions, and many others' like hers. In the quest for a pure spirituality, "organized religion" is cast away, as though the problem is an impersonal structural impediment. Yet the difficulty is not that religions have structure, teaching, norms of practice, rules, and so on. All collective human endeavors have those marks.
The real difficulty is that, even the most saintly of us, struggles with a broken human nature addicted to the tendency to sin. Ms. Rice's attack on the perceived injustices within the Church of her recent rejection ends up becoming an attack upon her own self. Is she so pure that she is immune to the inclination to think, feel, and do things contrary to God's will? This is not a criticism but a concern--for there is not a human being on this planet who can make such a claim.
The best spiritual practices always have a communal/corporate dimension to them. We need each other. And as a followers of Jesus, who placed top priority on loving God and neighbor, Rice cannot easily dodge the importance of having companions on any pilgrimage. Alas, that is where the proposition to discard "organized religion" breaks down. Because when we get together to share, worship, pray, serve, think, create, and mark milestones we do so after an inherited or improvised order. We develop structures, basic agreed upon teachings and wise practices, appoint leaders who are responsible for various aspects of the spiritual community's life. Thus, our sins become amplified through these necessary communal structures--yet, so does the good that results.
I could make all sorts of other arguments to defend the necessity of organized religion, but at its most simple is the proposition that "no man (or woman) is an island" (Donne). And while it can be the case that "hell is other people" (Sartre), Jesus does not give us the option to love only God. We need to love other people, too. And it is impossible to love without a community in which that love can be put into practice.