The Sin of Margaret Atwood

My first major argument with a college professor was over the inclusion of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in our 300-level course on women in philosophy. I argued vehemently that the book was fiction and was best left for recreational reading. More importantly, the book took up slots better filled by legitimate philosophical works written by women. 

Of course I lost the argument, but I will never forget my professor’s answer: “It’s not fiction; it’s future history. Under Reagan, this will happen, and you and other young women need to be forewarned.”

My professor’s subjective and frank political response unnerved me then and continues to trouble me today. At the time, I naïvely thought intellectuals valued honesty. It was my first encounter with rank indoctrination, and it appalled me. Rather than facilitate genuine philosophical discussion, my teacher proclaimed this work of fiction as if it were a feminist Dead Sea Scroll. The neoplatonist Hypatia, the earliest recorded female philosopher, would have been angered by, and embarrassed for her.

After reading the book, It was clear that Handmaid’s Tale was also an anti-Christian diatribe. Atwood, in her novel and for the over 40 years since its writing, has demonized devout Christian women for their belief that free will, love, and the sanctity of human life are not mutually exclusive. In Handmaid’s Tale, life has no meaning without women being able to have abortions. Atwood’s procreating handmaids are enslaved women.

The truth is that Christianity empowers women through their free will, teaches them to love others as they love themself, and respects the sanctity of all human life, including lives yet to be born. It is liberating in its reverence for, and celebration of, the uniqueness of being feminine. 

Atwood never acknowledges how radical Christianity is.

Indeed, the gender politics of Christianity have been radical for over 2000 years, since God gave the Virgin Mary the choice of whether or not to bear His Son. Mary’s “yes” was consent to the Lord’s request—not the Lord’s command. Many theologians, most notably Catholics, have recognized Mary’s choice “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) as the great act of faith and trust in God that it was. As a result of Mary’s faith, Christians believe that the human race was redeemed through Jesus Christ.

Atwood has been assisted in her crusade by hundreds of academics. Professors have forced thousands of students to purchase and read Handmaid’s Tale, just as I was forced. MIT’s Heather Hendershot, writing in Film Quarterly, states that since 2017, sales of Atwood’s book have “spiked 200 percent,” spurred on by rhetoric around the election of Donald Trump and subsequent premier of the Hulu TV series. Is it any wonder two generations of young women are genuinely fearful that the dystopian world of Gilead is upon us? 

On the day the Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization came down, author Stephen King tweeted to his 6.5 million followers, “WELCOME TO THE HANDMAID’S TALE!” One wonders if King himself could have predicted that many of his fellow liberals would actually believe that Atwood’s apocalyptic eclipse of purported reproductive freedom was at hand and would result in attempted intimidation and acts of vandalism.

All of this confirms that Atwood’s influence on her young and mostly female audience is strong and must be challenged as the consciously egregious moral wrong it is. Handmaid’s Tale cosplaying zealots first regularly appeared in the gallery during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Now, since June’s historic reversal of Roe v. Wade, there have been 93 attacks against Catholic churches and pregnancy counseling centers. It is almost certain there will be more. 

Atwood, in a May opinion piece for the far-left Atlantic, called out Justice Samuel Alito. She likened him to Gilead’s Puritanesque leaders: “If Justice Alito wants you to be governed by the laws of the 17th century, then you should look at the century. Is that where you want to live?” When academia and media promote Atwood’s fiction as truth, they perpetuate Atwood’s corruption of Christian doctrine. 

Ironically, Atwood’s character Commander Fred locks up the Bible so that only he can interpret its contents, lest others misunderstand it. He becomes the tool by which handmaids are indoctrinated into Gilead’s “faith.” Atwood is guilty of the same sin, and that’s something to remember when season five of the Handmaid’s Tale Hulu series begins September 14th, less than two months before Election Day.

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About Elizabeth Fortunato

Elizabeth Fortunato is a wife and mother from New York. She has a background in liberal arts and philosophy.

Photo: Leonardo Cendamo/GETTY IMAGES