Forward to the "Handmaid's Tale"?
by Jay Rothermel
Has it been a quarter century since the publication of Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale? Written at a time when many radicals were prophesying the advent of a totalitarian religious state to match the supposedly totalitarian USSR, it spoke directly and reassuringly to those whipped into panic by Reagan and Thatcher's reelection victories. The novel said to middle class radicals: yes, you are right; but in the long run these theological weirdos will pass, and the time of our rule of sanity and rationality will come.
Atwood is not a revolutionary in the way Marge Piercy is. But The Handmaid's Tale did pack a revolutionary wallop for those who read it. My companion at the time, a militant feminist, swore by the book as a kind of pick lock for the world of Operation Rescue, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Oral Roberts up in his prayer tower. As a woman, she had no illusions about what the political implications of Christian Fundamentalism were for her gender. With Atwood's novel, there was no need to imagine: the whole ghastly and rebarbative scenario was given voice. No wonder, under the pressure of an oncoming ice age of fundamentalism, my companion and many of her sisters mobilized to get out the vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988. George H. W. Bush [though back then we called him George Bush and Ann Richards famously said he had been "born with a silver foot in his mouth"]? Why, who knows what would happen if that man were elected?
I have been thinking a lot about Atwood's depiction of the future recently because so many people today are painting pictures of a luridly dystopian North American Christian Dominion. The calamity that will presage this disaster for the republic is the electoral defeat of Barack Obama in 2012.
Ryan C. Ebersole makes the strongest arguments for this case in his recent online article, "Rick Perry and the push for American theocracy." Ebersole is clearly alarmed by the situation, by this obvious threat to "the governance of the nation."
........ imagine an America ruled actively as a theocratic nation. Gays and lesbians, at least 20 million people in America, would be put to death or at least imprisoned. Abortion would be outlawed even if the mother's life were at risk. Religious freedom would be thrown out the window. The state would censor media to enforce some one's interpretation of Christian-consistent content. The teaching of evolution and the study of evolutionary biology would be banned as blasphemy. Books ranging from "Catcher in the Rye" to "Harry Potter" could be banned nationwide.
Feminists and other women's rights activists perhaps need to bring Mr Ebersole up to speed on the question of abortion. A concerted bi-partisan assault on choice has been going on for four decades in the United States, part of a general assault on the rights and living standards of working people. The fact that a majority supports choice and has not been afraid to demonstrate that fact militantly and repeatedly has preserved legal abortion's formal status for now. But economically, a majority of women in the United States cannot afford an abortion and do not live within driving distance of a provider. This is the product of a course established by Democrats and Republicans alike.
As for Mr. Ebersole's concern about the teaching of evolution and the study of evolutionary biology, I think he would find a very unwelcome home for these militant stands in the Democratic Party. While many who vote Democrat pay lip service to scientific literacy and scientific pedagogy, they are few on the ground in election season. So too with the question of banning novels like "The Catcher in the Rye." It is today, and has been for decades, banned, unbanned, and re-banned, along with the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut. If you seek theocracy, look around.
According to Mr Ebersole,
.... prominent politicians, including Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, have forged ties with controversial fundamentalist Christian groups. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising group to have worked its way into the political arena is the New Apostolic Reformation which demands nothing less than world rule by fundamentalist Christians.
This line of thought has been used to justify discriminating against LGBT citizens and women, among others.To better understand this theocratic push, one must understand the term dominionism. This concept proclaims that Christians have a divine duty to rule and to rule according to Biblical principles. It is derived from a sect called Christian Reconstructionism which advocates replacing American law with laws supposedly straight from the Bible (executing homosexuals, stoning adulterers, among others). The dominionism movement, which has drawn support from a range of extremist sects, appears to be just as political as it is theological.One prominent political figure who seems to be caught up in the dominionism movement is the latest Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.....Perry's August 6 "The Response" event at Houston's Reliant Stadium was perhaps the most telling example of how much his extreme brand of Christianity factors into his politics. Promoting this fundamentalist-Christian event with a gubernatorial decree, Perry pushed the bounds of the separation of church and state.This event was intended to "call upon Jesus" to help combat our "financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters" as well as, of course, the increasing acceptance of homosexuality. Among the participants in this prayathon were the American Family Association - a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group that compares gays to Nazis and wants to recriminalize homosexuality, and the International House of Prayer, a group known for pushing Uganda's "kill the gays" bill. Also participating were various pastors with bizarre religious beliefs including one that tied Japan's economic downfall to imperial demon sex, one who claimed that Oprah Winfrey was the precursor to the Anti-Christ, and another who claimed that the Statue of Liberty is a demonic idol.These pastors all belong to the New Apostolic Reformation, which subscribes wholeheartedly to the ideology of dominionism. Many of them view Rick Perry as their ticket into power.....Back in 2009, a pair of "prophets" from this group, Tom Schlueter and Bob Long, visited Rick Perry in Texas. According to "prophesies," they said, Texas was the "Prophet State" that will lead the United States to a Christian theocracy, and Gov. Perry was a big part of the plan. Apparently, Perry has bought into their "prophesy," as his "Response" event was stacked with NAR members.
We need to be careful of collapsing before the juggernaut of this dominionism through the overuse of impressionistic conclusions that flow from - ahem - liberal astigmatism.
As Marxists, we know that classes and not ideas determine human actions in the last analysis. I suspect in his own pragmatic way, Rick Perry knows this as well as Barack Obama. Perry's "The Response" event, like so many other revival meetings, is an attempt to activate and motivate individuals electorally, not as a martial phalanx. All the talk about Oprah being the Great Harlot, about criminalizing homosexuality, is an excellent example of making the eagle scream, but not much else. Today there are more openly gay people in the United States than ever, and getting them back in the closet is not going to be a question of theocratic legislation, as though it ever was before. As for Oprah Winfrey, I think for the dominionists she is an object of hate and contempt because she is the same race as Barack Obama; because she is rich, insufferably smug, and arrogant; and because there are no well-known, popular, and wealthy Jews for this crowd to go after. As ever with right wing populism's Jew-hatred, scapegoats can always be found for carefully groomed resentments.
The real source of such resentment and maddened anger in the broad middle layers of US society is not religion. These dominionists did not get out of bed and accidentally read the Bible upside down or listen to the wrong AM radio station on the way to work. The real source of anger, and the echo repeated back to dog-whistling racist politics today, is Uncertainty, Anxiety, and Misery. These three horsemen have a material basis: decades of lowered wages, longer hours, privatization of the social wage, union-busting, immigrant scapegoating, and racism. Each is told to find the solution to their problems with a new credit card, or a home refinancing. But that pool of securities has dried up, and the rich prefer today to stand-pat and hold on to their cash instead of hiring and loaning.
Many of these workers and middle class elements hear the right wing preachers and say: Well, there is no other alternative in sight, so I might as well try this. In fact, the audience of these Perry rallies, like the Tea Party rank-and-file, are seeking ways to mobilize themselves collectively to find a solution. Unfortunately, they are being mobilized to support financially and electorally Republican candidates, which means workers supporting these groups, just like those supporting various Democratic Party vote-catching gimmicks, are objectively working against their own interests.
That situation will end, and the domonionists Mr Ebersole is so concerned about will decrease in volume, when a rising socialist movement begins to gather steam in the United States. The militancy we saw in Madison, Wisconsin in the early part of 2011 was a foretaste of this.
The greatest obstacle to a component of a movement for world socialism being built in the United States can best be summed up by quoting a few of Mr Ebersole's conclusions:
....There are several theocracies currently in existence around the world. These include Iran and Saudi Arabia. These countries enforce archaic, often barbaric, versions of religious or pseudo-religious regulations as law.Now imagine an America ruled actively as a theocratic nation.... Is this a nation that we as Americans want to become? If not, perhaps we ought to watch more closely who we vote for."
Yes, for Mr Ebersole and his cothinkers it all comes down to voting . Everything will be fine if we do exactly what we did four years ago: vote for Barack Obama, then sit back and let him take care of our problems. At the rate Mr Obama is going, we may wake back up and find ourselves living in our car, if we still have one. "Fight or starve" is quickly becoming a perscription, not just a slogan.