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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/24/18

Why The Handmaid's Tale is Still Important

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In August of 2017 a story turned up on the right wing media channel, the Christian Broadcasting Network - later picked up by most of the mainstream news outlets - that I seemed to have missed. They reported that for the first time in US history the White House is conducting weekly Bible classes running over one hour each and administered by an evangelical preacher named Ralph Drollinger who intends to "evangelize elected officials and lead them toward maturity in Christ." Mr. Drollinger is famously anti-gay, anti-women and anti-Catholic, which he terms a "false religion" - ironic for someone preaching "maturity in Christ". About women, he has this to say: "there is a prohibition of female leadership in marriage, and female leadership in the church. And those are clear in scripture" it doesn't mean, in an egalitarian sense, that a woman is of lesser importance. It's just that they have different roles." (Like what, Ralph? cooking and cleaning? sex on demand? )

In his BBC interview, Drollinger claims he does not "tell elected officials how to vote" but he does "teach" them how to vote. He said this: "I will put the blueprint on the engineer's seat on the train," And it will show you the right tracks to the station." He encourages cabinet members to quote the Bible in press conferences, which they are in fact doing, along the lines of the "eye for an eye" Old Testament. So who all is in this cabal? So far ten evangelical members of the cabinet, including VP Mike Pence, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (If you would like to skip my horrified response to this news item, just go to Newsweek and read their dry reporting on it. My horrified response follows.)

What's going on? Did Pence choose the current cabinet and persuade Trump to oust former members who were not die-hard evangelicals ? One has to wonder. And what is an unorthodox preacher doing wandering the halls of the United States Capital lobbying for condemnation of Americans he does not like? Do we still have separation of church and state or has that gone the way of the 4th amendment and freedom of the press? There is nothing Christian about hatred of gays, Catholics and working mothers. There is nothing Christian about hatred. period. The percentage of the US population that self-identifies as evangelical is down from 23% to 17% as of 2016. But many of those 17% appear to now be in seats of power. When I think about where this is leading, it scares the s**t out of me. Scarier yet is that, according to the BBC, Drollinger and his private group, "Capital Ministries" have "started Bible classes in 43 state capitals as well as both houses of Congress." Cue theme from the Twilight Zone.

So who is this guy? - While Mr. Drollinger appears to have obtained a masters in divinity from UCLA, I can find no evidence that he is an ordained minister in any legitimate, recognized church nor has he ever been - not even in the evangelical sects. It appears that, like many televangelists, he created his own religious organization and preaches from a privately constructed pulpit. For several years that was a basketball court. We can give that all the credibility it merits. I seriously question whether any legitimate evangelical church would support his hate-filled and repressive positions, but I could be wrong about that. His website bio is here if you are interested. Another humanist website quoted him as claiming that "Catholicism is the world's largest false religion","homosexuality is an abomination" and "it's sinful for women with children to serve in Congress." In the US Catholics, homosexuals and working mothers are all equal under the law. No state or federal law recognizes a preacher's interpretation of "sin" as having any legal weight, nor should such opinions be espoused inside any government building.

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What is going on in Washington is so frightening, dismal, and hope-defying in every aspect that it is beginning to create a portrait of a horrifying future for the non-billionaire, non-ceo 99% of the population. Just as Reagan turned greed into a virtue, this government is making the slavery of the 99% an okay thing - the new normal. The last 150 years of progress working classes fought for have already been undone by these last 6 administrations. Every current policy move from both Congress and Trump's imperial pen is designed to further impoverish the population, forcing everyone into further debt and desperation. The policy changes are violent and overt. They happen overnight without debate or input from the 350 million of us whose lives are being thrown into chaos. Every regulation and government agency we have counted on since the 1960's is being nullified and/or decimated. And the Democratic Party has lost so much credibility with its shameless criminality that it no longer has the power to stop this train - even if it suddenly turned away from the corporate bribe money and decided to represent working people again. As I write this past legislation enacted to protect the rights of women and the LGBTQ community is under attack by the Trump administration and his collection of reactionaries.

So here is the question - are we all going to wake up one morning and find that we are living, not in the US of A but in a totalitarian theocracy ? One where the billionaire class and the rightest of the right wing government officials are acting as our jailers ? Outrageous as that idea sounds, it is only remotely possible now thanks to the unprecedented level of economic inequality we have achieved. When our democracy was healthier and operated by consent of the governed rather than by corporate edict, such a coup would have been impossible. We have been on a slow train to a fascist police state since 911. The current administration has taken that train to warp speed.

Fast rewind to 1986 and Margaret Atwood's landmark novel, The Handmaid's Tale, now returned to the best seller list thanks to Hulu's brilliant online serialized film adaptation (not to be missed, by the way). Ms. Atwood denies that the novel was written as prophecy. She just observed what trends were taking hold in the US under Reagan and projected them forward. I presume she meant it as a warning, but clearly it was one none of us paid enough attention to. The totalitarian society Ms. Atwood creates is an elaborate stratified oligarchy, probably most resembling The USSR under Stalin in our experience. But it is brilliantly arrived at in small steps, beginning with the "normal" lives we are accustomed to through a subtle and logical progression to enslavement.

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For those unfamiliar with the novel, it is a portrait of a future America where the government has been overthrown by a contingent of backward, despotic Bible thumpers and renamed Gilead. In the wake of an unspecified nuclear accident or the effects of chemical pollution, the population has been rendered largely infertile resulting in miscarriages, sterility and infant mortality. In Gilead fertile women, labeled handmaids, are enslaved as surrogate mothers to the ruling elite and forced into a hideous "ceremony" where the handmaid lies between the legs of the wife while the husband rapes her. Handmaids are trained by elderly women labeled "aunts" (the only women permitted to read ) who torture and maim any handmaids who resist their slavery. Resisters of any stripe (including "gender traitors" aka the LGBTQ community, Catholics, and Baptists) are hanged on a wall as examples or sent to clean up toxic waste in the "colonies" (the Midwest in the novel) where life expectancy is 4 weeks. The novel tells the story of one handmaid who tape records a diary of her thoughts and trials for posterity. Ms. Atwood gives us some relief, in that the story is told in flashback, by a professor who lectures on Gilead in the restored democratic republic of the USA using the heroine's diary. But what she does not tell us is how many years or decades Gilead reigns over an enslaved population. How long before the people stand up and revolt.

So when I read that a wildly extremist preacher who terms Catholicism a "false religion" and believes that women must stay at home and be "subservient to their husbands" is "teaching" the White House cabinet how to govern, and "teaching" Congress and elected state officials how to vote - I want to get on the next flight to Toronto and never come back.

(Article changed on June 29, 2018 at 22:12)

 

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Lila York is a choreographer and activist. "The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media." -- William Colby (Former CIA Director) "We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything (more...)
 

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