(Spoilers for the basic concept behind “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but nothing that should keep you from watching it or reading on)
The new series The Handmaid’s Tale (based on the novel by Margaret Atwood) is a huge hit for streaming service Hulu. If you’ve watched it or are familiar with the concept behind The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s no surprise that a lot of the praise (and a lot of the disapproval) the show is receiving is based on the show’s obvious feminism. To wit: in the near future, a combination of man-made problems have resulted in the near-death of The United States of America, whose government and Constitution have been overthrown by Fundamentalist Christian fanatics, resulting in “The Republic of Gilead.” This, plus an outbreak of infertility has resulted in the enslavement of the few remaining fertile women as, essentially, breeding stock.
I’m not here to discuss feminism today. A lot of you out there get rubbed the wrong way whenever you encounter that word. But, whatever you opinion of the term, if you believe that women should be equal in rights, freedoms, and dignity to men, then don’t panic. You and I are on the same page.
A lot of the criticisms of The Handmaid’s Tale I’ve encountered online are fueled by the perception that this show is inherently anti-Christian. I’ll admit that the program doesn’t show the Christian faith in the best possible light, but claiming it’s “anti-Christian” is completely missing the point.
Many of the arguments I’ve encountered online about this consist of “yeah, well, this sort of thing happens a lot more often in Islamic countries.” Yes, as it turns out, at this point in human history that is the case. But if you don’t think a predominantly Christian country can do terrible things to its people, I invite you too look up human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo (which is 80% Christian, by the way). Or The Spanish Inquisition. Or The Salem Witch Trials. Or…Even if you do believe (because of your own Faith) that the abuses of religion we see in the world today are inherently worse in the Islamic world because of Islam, and not because of some rather obvious economic, cultural, and political pressures — then, congratulations! You’re using what I’ve come to think of as “the North Korea Argument” to defend your belief system. Anything bad that people following your belief system have done can be easily countered with “yeah, well, North Korea is worse.” To which I can only respond: please raise your bar a little higher than “North Korea,” okay?
And before all you Buddhists out there get smug: look up the modern history of religion and human rights in Sri Lanka. I’ll wait here for you (while I also wait for your similarly self-satisfied atheist and agnostic friends who are busy looking up “Stalin”).
The Handmaid’s Tale is no more “anti-Christian” than the Terminator films are “anti-technology.” In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s to be expected that a totalitarian regime arising in the United States might well be Christian in nature.
Spirituality may be what you believe, but religion is the principle around which you and others who believe in similar things can organize yourselves. If there is one lesson we should have learned from history, it’s this: there is nothing more powerful than a group of people working together in agreement towards a higher goal. That, and when a group of people seize power in the name of a Higher Ideal, it’s often the women who pay the bill.
God help us all.