Claire Chretien

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The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t the pro-life Christianity I know

Claire Chretien Claire Chretien Follow Claire
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'Handmaids' next to a wall where someone has been hanged. YouTube

The following article contains disturbing content and spoilers.

June 29, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Abortion activists are putting on long red dresses and white bonnets when they protest at state legislatures. They are dressed as "handmaids" from the dystopian series The Handmaid’s Tale, based on a 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood.

Season one of The Handmaid’s Tale just finished on Hulu. It’s becoming iconic in the feminist world and has inspired advocacy against the pro-life movement. Pro-abortion rhetoric suggests opposition to abortion means one wants the world to be like the dystopia in The Handmaid’s Tale, where women are brutally abused, the totalitarian government cuts off hands, arms, fingers, eyes, and regularly hangs people.

The handmaids’ names are changed to reflect the men who "own" them – for example, June, the protagonist, becomes Offred because she’s "of Fred."

Sounds a lot more like ISIS than any American political or religious movement, doesn’t it?

I’ve grown close to both Catholics and Protestants doing pro-life advocacy. Nothing shown in The Handmaid’s Tale is remotely like what pro-life Christians believe, fight for, or want to enshrine in law. In fact, it’s so different from Christianity that it’s unrecognizable.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a post-modern, fundamentalist America called Gilead. Men run the deeply misogynist society, which is plagued by a fertility problem.

Think The Scarlet Letter meets Brave New World meets 1984 meets a little bit of North Korea.

Infertile women are either wives of powerful men or their servants. Fertile women are "handmaids," forced to undergo ritualized rape in the hopes that they will bear children for the ruling class. When they do, the father and the wife take the child from them. The handmaids are then assigned to live with another couple and do the same thing all over again, producing children who are biologically theirs for the privileged, infertile women and their husbands.

To say that Gilead "misinterprets" the Bible or just takes Christianity too far would be more than an understatement. Rape, adultery, surrogacy, and the subversion of parental rights are deeply embedded in Gilead’s society. Pro-life Christians are the ones fighting against all of these evils today.

Rape

This one is fairly obvious. Are Christians the ones encouraging rape culture by sexualizing children and telling girls that it’s normal for their boyfriend to beat them during sex? Nope, that would be the public school system and Planned Parenthood.

Parental rights

This is a big one. Offred’s daughter Hannah is taken away from her. The possibility of saving Hannah is one of her main motivations through the series.

The theocracy in The Handmaid’s Tale regularly separates children from their parents.

But social conservatives recognize that in the vast majority of cases, children do best with their mom and dad. Therefore we fight to keep families intact.

The LGBT movement and the artificial reproductive technology industry are our world’s equivalent to the state in The Handmaid’s Tale. They’re the ones subverting parental rights, either by taking children from Christian homes or allowing them to be "commissioned" and bought without ever knowing their parents.

The Handmaid’s Tale does a beautiful job of illustrating the bond between mother and child, and the anguish that separating them causes. It was difficult to watch Offred, locked in a van, screaming as she saw Hannah from afar.

The children being ripped away from their families right now are the ones with parents who love them enough to teach them about right and wrong or to protect them from predatory adults conducting unwanted medical research on them.

Adultery

This one is also fairly obvious.

One of the main reasons Christians have been vilified in the public square over the past few decades is because of our unwillingness to give the "okay" to adultery in its various forms: divorce and remarriage, "open" marriages, polyamory, polygamy.

There are debates in the Catholic Church right now about whether adultery is morally acceptable. Take a look at who’s pushing for that. It’s not the orthodox, pro-life bishops. It’s the ones whose views seem more closely aligned with secular society and not with the Bible.

The people who are pushing within the Church for acceptance of adultery actually want religion’s role in society (and the Church, of all places) to be reduced. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the big government "traditional values" movement is the one that normalizes rape and adultery. In real life, pornography (something pro-lifers have long explained exploits women and ruins sex) is helping to normalize rape. Leftist bishops and secularists are helping to normalize adultery while the pro-life ones fight it.

Yet in The Handmaid's Tale, the religious government expects men to commit adultery so that they can father children.

Cruelty and lack of justice

In Gilead, same-sex attracted people are called "gender traitors" by the new regime. Homosexual activity is punishable by death.

This sounds like ISIS again, doesn’t it?

In The Handmaid’s Tale, the handmaids are constantly reminded of their past sins and how lucky they are that the state gave them a second chance.

People who think Christianity is like this should spend a day at the March for Life or with leaders of the pro-life movement. The pro-life movement is full of post-abortive people who now speak out about the horrors of abortion. They’re welcomed and loved.

Similarly, the Church is full of converts with regrettable pasts. Look at St. Augustine and, in today’s time, people like Abby Johnson. In my experience, such people are welcomed with open arms, often by others who have undergone similar conversions.

The state forces Ofglen (Emily), who gets caught in a relationship with another woman, to undergo female genital mutilation so that she "won’t want what you can’t have." Commander Warren is sentenced to having his hands caught off after his affair with his handmaid.

That sounds a lot more like something that would happen under the watch of ISIS than the Catholic Church, which teaches that sex and sexual pleasure between spouses are a good thing.

In an early episode, the government punishes a man who raped a handmaid by turning him over to the handmaids to harm him however they’d like.

Their rage is obvious, but so is the lack of justice. Rape isn’t prohibited in this society. It’s just that only the privileged men, who have a government-assigned handmaid and make and enforce the rules, can rape and get away with it.

Surrogacy

The Handmaid’s Tale shows a world in which women don’t have control over their bodies. They’re basically the property of the state.

Pro-lifers want every human to have bodily autonomy. This is why we’re against abortion. Abortion violates the bodily autonomy of the youngest members of the human family by dismembering, poisoning, or starving them in the earliest stages of their existence. 

The children the handmaids bear are theirs biologically. The only role the wives play in the creation of the children they will claim as their own is holding the handmaid down while she’s raped. 

When a handmaid gives birth, the wife pretends to give birth too, even straddling the handmaid and pretending to moan in pain. But no amount of faking can replace the nine months a baby spends inside his or her mother being nourished by her body.

The Handmaid’s Tale shows the powerful, natural bond that parents have with their children. There is nothing in the world like it.

After Ofwarren (Janine) gives birth, we see her despair and torment at leaving her daughter, who she nursed in the weeks after she was born. Later, she sneaks out of her new home and takes her daughter, who she calls Charlotte but the "family" calls Angela. Janine is angry that Warren lied to her and said they would run away together and be a real family.

The Handmaid’s Tale sheds light on the many moral and bioethical issues surrounding surrogacy. Pro-lifers are against surrogacy because it violates natural law and makes babies a commodity. As the Center for Bioethics and Culture explains, it makes "a normal biological function of a woman’s body into a commercial transaction."

And, as The Handmaid’s Tale so disturbingly shows, it takes babies away from the only person they’ve known for the first nine months of their life.

Janine nearly jumps off a bridge with Charlotte. Eventually, she hands Charlotte to Offred and jumps alone. She survives, and then is sentenced to death for endangering a child’s life.

In the season finale, Janine’s fellow handmaids are ordered to carry out her execution. One by one, they refuse.

Their courage to rebel against an oppressive, unjust system can be an example to pro-life Christians, who every day must choose to do the same thing.

Claiming The Handmaid’s Tale depicts the type of society for which pro-lifers are fighting might make for good pro-abortion photo ops, but it’s a dishonest argument.  

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Claire Chretien

Claire is grateful for the opportunity to write about human dignity, bioethics, faith, and related issues for LifeSiteNews as a journalist and Washington, DC Correspondent. She became involved in pro-life activism while a student at The University of Alabama, where she served as the President of Bama Students for Life and directed 40 Days for Life campaigns.

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