Friday, February 13, 2009

Thinking back on "The Handmaid's Tale" - it remains just a tale

I read Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale, back in the 80s. (There was a truly crappy movie version - even with big talents like Faye Dunaway and Robert DuVall, it went to a quick and well deserved oblivion).

The novel's strength is Atwood's skill as a writer. She really nails the eccentricities of the fundamentalist/televangelist extremes of American Christianity. In the book's "Republic of Gilead", the authorized butcher shop is called All Flesh, and the leaders give everything a Biblical title, no matter how far the stretch to make the name fit.

The central fact of Handmaid life is a literal reading and grotesque application of Genesis 30:3, - all too evocative if you've ever had a fundy come at you with an out-of-context, misapplied Bible verse.

Atwood also paints some powerful scenes. In a horrific irony, an abortionist and a Catholic priest are hanged together as violators of the fundamentalist order.

The book's weakness is that it is a work of secular paranoia. It carries water for the folks who really believe that a bunch of fundamentalist Christians are about to take over the wonderfully tolerant Euro-American world and start the new Dark Ages. Just google some of Michelle Goldberg's stuff in the British press for some truly crazy examples - she writes in a stream of stereotypes and slogans, unable to find evidence to support her bizarre attacks on Christianity.

In the real world, Christians are infinitely more likely to suffer persecution than to inflict it. Visit Voice of the Martyrs or barnabasaid and you will find concrete examples from all around the world. And you need not limit your research to Christian sources. No less than the Times of London documented the widespread persecution of Christians going on right now.

Persecution of Christians is no longer limited to Communist or Islamic lands. There is an excellent blog post up this week at Cranmer's Curate*, in which Julian Mann writes,

Christians are falling foul of the growing dogmatic commitment to equality and diversity in the secular West. Christian prayer and evangelism in the workplace are now seen as serious sins against the new morality...

Of course, the post-modern establishment in the West is singling out Christians. And no, they will not treat Muslims or Hindus** or tree-huggers in the same way.

In the western world, Christians are the primary threat to their secular hegemony.

Recent examples include a British nurse who barely kept her job after offering to pray with a patient. In Scotland, grandparents (the husband in his mid-50s and his wife in her 40s) were caring for the child of their drug-addicted daughter - and social workers deemed them "too old" in order to hand the child over to a homosexual couple.

All of this is foretold in one of this Morning's readings:

Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. II Timothy 3:12-13

The Handmaid's Tale remains a work of stylish fiction. The truth of God's Word continues to be validated, even by those who despise it.

*h/t Anglican Mainstream
** really ironic, since the places where women live under conditions closest to The Handmaid's Tale are primarily Muslim or Hindu!

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