A Handmaid’s Tale is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion for Christians
A Handmaid’s Tale is becoming, for American Christians, what the Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been for Jews. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 novel tells stories of women living in a hellish American theocracy. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion claimed to be the minutes of a secret Jewish conspiracy meeting, held late in the 1800s.
Protocols was written as slanderous propaganda, intended to justify hatred. Whatever Atwood intended, that’s become the role A Handmaid’s Tale increasingly plays here — especially now that it’s a hit Netflix show.
In the nineteenth century, the market for paranoid anti-Semitic fantasy blossomed. Then an unscrupulous author created the notorious Protocols. It purported to be the actual handbook of the Jewish conspiracy. Millions who wanted to hate the Jews believed it. Some were already Jew-haters. Others formed their very first impressions of Jews by reading the slanderous Protocols.
The book was a masterpiece of creating fear and hatred. It treated readers to an inside look at the conspiracy, confirming their darkest suspicions. Translations inspired assassinations. Hitler endorsed it in his autobiography. Henry Ford distributed the book in the United States. Though debunked long ago, it remains in print around the world. In 2002, Egyptian television aired a series based on the book. In 2003, a television series based on the book ran on Iranian and Jordanian stations. Doubtless both will survive in reruns as long as an audience for bile remains.
A Handmaid’s Tale
A Handmaid’s Tale was composed as speculative fiction. Atwood published it as a cautionary tale of how very wrong things could go. She meant the story to seem plausible, at least to people unfamiliar with Christianity. She skillfully portrayed just how bad she thought everything would be if fanatical Christians took over the country.
The book won literary and science fiction awards. It became a feminist classic, even inspiring an opera. Countless college professors assigned it. There it may have lured countless young women into paranoid feminism, while it likely drove multitudes of disgusted young men into the consolations of the alt-right’s version of masculinity.
Finally, thirty-two years after its publication, Handmaid really hit the big time. A celebrated, award-winning 2017 television adaptation catapulted the book into popular American political culture.
Like fans of the Protocols who insisted the work’s truth was obvious, because they could see evidence of Jewish conspiracy all around them, Handmaid’s adherents saw in Donald Trump’s populism the rise of theocratic “Gilead.” Celebrities chimed in with dire warnings. At the Kavanaugh hearings, protesters dressed in “handmaid” costumes to declare that he represented the coming theocracy.
Like believers in the Protocols, Handmaid fans think they see something the rest of us don’t. They also think that they have to save the world from it.
The Darker Side
It would be easy to laugh off the 1985 novel’s new political propaganda role. Certainly, this Halloween’s “Sexy Handmaid” costumes add an element of farce. There’s a darker side, though. Just like Protocols, Handmaid imputes malicious motives to a religious group. And like Protocols, its promoters give it all the force of a journalistic exposé.
The greatest poison in both of these works is the suggestion that your neighbor (if Jewish or Christian) serves a movement that wants to oppress you. They hold beliefs that lead directly to tyranny, should they ever get the power. They may not know it themselves, but that doesn’t matter. They’re Jews or Christians, and you know what those people really want.
The effect is insidious. Once you think your neighbor’s religion commits him to oppress you, you can’t be friends with him. You must fight his faith however you can. He might be a good guy, but he’s one of them, and you know what they want. He may say he’s not interested in enslaving you. Isn’t that just what one of “them” would say?
Worse, your country has tens of millions of serious Christians. And they have political power. They elected Trump! They’re rolling back abortion freedoms! They’re oppressing trans people! They even put a sex abuser on the Supreme Court! These Christians are building Gilead right in front of your eyes.
The Self-Styled Resistance
In this way, a self-styled “resistance” finds an imaginary future tyranny to “resist.” Meanwhile, we who’ve been identified as the danger to society have to figure out how to refute that we have secret, nefarious goals. After all, if the continuing success of Protocols among the world’s anti-semites is any indication, we might be dealing with the slanderous Handmaid’s Tale for a very, very long time.