Has The Handmaid’s Tale Come to Life in a Texas Taliban?
In a recent article, I described Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as a dystopian novel answering the question, “What if the Taliban came to America?” Actually, Atwood wrote her book shortly before the Taliban formed, though she was no doubt inspired partly by oppression of women in the Islamic world.
But now, some say, the Taliban, and the Handmaids, really have arrived.
When Texas Senate Bill 8 passed, the so-called “fetal heartbeat” law, women dressed as handmaids poured into the streets of Dallas to protest. “Those intolerant Christians are at it again!”
Joy Reid asked Elizabeth Warren if she agreed with her “about the Handmaid’s Tale coming to America.” Warren did agree, adding that the new law was intended to bear “down on the most vulnerable,” on the “woman or trans person or non-binary who’s workin’ three jobs.”
So mourn not just for women not allowed to terminate unwanted infants. Mourn also for men who were once women but retain the machinery for carrying babies, which are not really babies, but who still copulate with men (or with “women” who produce sperm)! The White Queen’s achievement of believing six impossible things before breakfast has now become child’s play.
Meanwhile, the hashtag “#TexasTaliban” was trending. Stephen King tweeted, “The Taliban would love the Texas abortion law.” Eric Swalwell (D-CA) warned, “What we all feared has finally happened … a tyrannical regime is using its power to control women. #TexasTaliban.”
Let us step aside from this recent firestorm of hypocrisy, though, and look at the bigger picture. Are Christians the “American Taliban?” Does The Handmaid’s Tale really describe the Christian view of sex? Does the Gospel afflict, or save, women?
Are Christians the American Taliban?
Atwood tries to have it both ways. She says her book isn’t anti-religion. It’s “against the use of religion as a front for tyranny.” Yet the villains constantly quote, or misquote, the Bible. Later in the story, the oppressive patriarchy cites six passages from the King James Bible to justify subjugating women, including:
“I will that women adorn themselves in modest apparel”
“Let the women learn in silence with all subjection”
“I suffer not a woman to teach”
“She shall be saved by childbearing”
Annie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has cited these same verses to claim that the Bible is full of “pathological sexual hatred”; that it defines women as “male property”; and that it depicts women as “innately evil,” “unclean,” and as either “whores” or “diabolical.”
The truth is, though, no book has liberated more women than the Bible. And no person has made life better for “daughters of Eve” than Jesus Christ.
A Call to Help Women and Girls Trapped in Commercial Sexual Exploitation
A year before Atwood’s book was published, I visited a tribal town in northern Thailand with a team of Christians on “outreach.” In that village, girls were rented cheaply for sex. As our team put on a drama explaining the Gospel, I slipped behind the bamboo hut where they were performing to pray.
As I was praying for the girls in that village, a Voice seemed to speak to me in a way I have experienced only once or twice in my life: “Just as I sent my Son into the world to give His life to save it, so I send my children to this tribe, this village, to give their lives for this little world.”
I took that as a calling to try to help tribal girls in Taiwan who had been forced into the sex industry. And I met others who had heard that Voice.
Later, I began to study the big picture, learning what impact the Gospel has had on women around the world. I pored through ancient texts, along with anthropology reports, to see where women stood in pre-Christian civilizations. I happened on a United Nations study on the status of women around the world. I analyzed that data, and I studied the enormous impact Christian missions have had on women around the world.
The critics are dead wrong. The law against abortion in Texas is “Christian” not because it will oppress women, but because it is meant to save the helpless. Just so did Roman Christians save baby girls who had been tossed out to die. Just so did Christians in Thailand save girls who were tossed to sexual predators.
Missionaries created the first schools for women in many countries, opposed infanticide (which was usually of girls), stopped the burning of widows in India, set prostitutes free in Japan, and launched movements to end foot-binding in China.
In fact, almost uniquely among ancient literature, the Bible is full of godly, kind, intelligent and bold women who hear the Voice of God and accomplish great things. Many take the lead in business, love or even in saving their nation. A few lead armies. Paul’s letters often close with individual salutations to beloved female colleagues whom he obviously respects and whose ministries he welcomes.
But it is Jesus of Nazareth, more than anyone, who made this world habitable for both sexes. This includes countries that mostly rejected the Gospel, like China, India and Japan. The status of women was once lower in India than almost anywhere on Earth: some verses in the Hindu Law of Manu require that pious widows die to serve their “divine” husbands in the afterlife.
Jesus Sets Women Free
But Islam rejected Christian missions more resoundingly than India did. The Taliban represents not the worst of how religions treated women, but what much of the world was before Christ. Every new ideology, including humanist beliefs, introduces a new “sexual revolution,” which generally turns out to be a counter-revolution against the kindness of Christ.
Let our enemies not be so trite, or historically ignorant, as to compare Christians who care about the unborn with the Taliban or with other ideologies that cheapen our humanity. (Including their own.)
Jesus is the one sexual revolutionary who “came to give life more abundantly.” In opposing abortion, we stand with the man who liberated all of humanity.
David Marshall holds an undergraduate degree in the Russian and Chinese languages and Marxism, a masters degree in Chinese religions and a doctoral degree in Christian thought and Chinese tradition. His most recent book is Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels.