Religion and Paranoia in The Handmaid’s Tale

I have just finished watching the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale on SBS. Based on Margaret Attwood’s 1985 novel, it is set in the Republic of Gilead in what was once the United States. The birth rate has dropped dramatically and some fundamentalist Christians called the Sons of Jacob seized control. The few fertile women, who are left, including the narrator Offred, are kept as handmaids to have children for the leaders of the new regime. This is based on Genesis 30 where Jacob’s wife Rachel cannot have children, so she arranges for her handmaid Bilhah to have sex with her husband and have children for her.

Offred says she is 33 years old (Margaret Attwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, Vintage Books, London, 2010, p 153). How Messianic. When she was seven or eight years old, she saw a documentary about World War II, 40 or 50 years earlier (p 154-155). She would have seen this documentary around 1985 to 1995. This means The Handmaid’s Tale was originally set between 2010 and 2021, or about now.

The production of the television series began in April 2016, when it looked like Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President of the United states. After Donald Trump’s election, many on the Left are saying that The Handmaid’s Tale has become more relevant, as though this is the sort of thing fundamentalist Christians want to do to women.

Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred, has said that after Trump’s election, “But then in my country things got very, very relevant, much closer to home than we could have ever anticipated.”

Some have accused The Handmaid’s Tale of inciting hatred against Christians;

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Delusionary Hysterical Fear of Christian Theocracy

The Handmaid’s Tale Is Hate Speech

However, in a New York Times article “Margaret Attwood on What The Handmaid’s Tale Means in the Age of Trump” Margaret Attwood has said that the book “is not “anti-religion”. It is about the use of religion as a front for tyranny, which is different thing altogether.”

Margaret Attwood had a cameo in the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale

In the same article Attwood wrote, “The control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet.” This would mean secular regimes, not just religious ones. The handmaids system was set up to deal with the fertility crisis and declining birthrates. This begs the question, how would a secular totalitarian regime have responded and treated the few remaining fertile women?

Attwood also wrote, “So many different strands fed into”The Handmaid’s Tale” – group executions, sumptuary laws, book burnings, the Lebensborn of the SS and the child-stealing of the Argentine generals, the history of slavery, the history of American polygamy .. the list is long.”

“I must confess that the face-hiding bonnets came not only from mid-Victorian costume and from nuns, but from the Old Dutch Cleanser package of the 1940s, which showed a woman with her face hidden, and which frightened me as a child.”

The many (not just Christian) influences on The Handmaid’s Tale are also explored in the New York Times article, “Margaret Attwood Annotates Season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale”

All these influences went into The Handmaid’s Tale and resulted in a form of fundamentalist Christianity which does not resemble any existing Christian group. They are not Catholics because they execute Catholic priests(The Handmaid’s Tale, p 53). They are not Baptists, which make up a large portion of the Religious Right, because they are fighting the Baptists in the Appalachians (p 92). They do not sound like Protestants at all because they have banned the hymn Amazing Grace (p 64). No one ever actually goes to church. They have machines which play recorded prayers for people (p 175-176). Who are these people and how could there have been enough of them to take over the country?

Christian groups do not usually name themselves after the Old Testament Patriarchs. Just because someone did something in the Old Testament, Christians do not try to copy it today. The whole idea of Jacob having sex with Rachel’s handmaid showed a lack of faith in God and not trusting in His timing. It seems odd that his group would call themselves the Sons of Jacob since four of the sons of Jacob had handmaids for mothers.

In an article “Margaret Attwood on Christianity, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ and What Faithful Activism Looks like Today” Margaret Attwood says the Sons of Jacob are not really Christians,

“I don’t consider these people to be Christians because they do not have at the core of their behavior and ideologies what I, in my feeble Canadian way, would consider to be the core of Christianity, and that would be not only love your neighbors but love your enemies. That would also be ‘I was sick and you visited me not’ and such and such … But they don’t do that either. Neither do a lot of people who fly under the Christian flag today.”

If The Handmaid’s Tale had been based on the beliefs of an existing Christian group, there would something for women to worry about. The fact, that Attwood had to invent a religious group and incorporate many non-Christian influences, suggests that The Handmaid’s Tale is not that relevant in Trump’s America.

Furthermore, in an article “Handmaid Tale lunacy that Trump wants theocracy” Rich Lowry writes,

“The president doesn’t want to impose his traditional sexual morality because, for starters, he doesn’t have any to impose. His critics are mistaking a thrice-married real estate mogul who has done cameos in Playboy videos and extensive interviews on “The Howard Stern Show” with [Puritan leader] Cotton Mather.”

Elisabeth Moss is also a Scientologist. She says the fictional abuses of the Sons of Jacob are relevant to contemporary America, while ignoring the real documented abuses of her own “church”.

I would like to thank Xenu Overlord  of the Galactic Federation for my Emmy wins

The Handmaid’s Tale is not real. It is upmarket science fiction satire, a feminist 1984. Nevertheless, perhaps the series was bad timing. The United States have become a deeply divided society. Both conservatives and progressives  are mistrustful and increasingly paranoid. They demonize the other side  which they think is out to oppress them. Conservatives think it is inciting hatred of them. Progressives think it is a dramatization of the right’s women’s policy. It has arguably only made this situation worse and feeds their paranoia and political delusions.

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Nazis, Atlantis and Ancient Aliens

Nazi beliefs on Atlantis and how former Nazis contributed to the ancient aliens theory.

The genesis of the ancient aliens theory can be traced to the medium Helena Blatavsky (1831-1891), founder of Theosophy, who wrote in her book The Secret Doctrine (1888) that spirit beings from Venus had come to Earth in the distant past. (Jason Colavito (editor), Theosophy on Ancient Astronauts, JasonColavito.com, Albany, New York, 2012, p x-xi)

Helena Blatavsky

Blatavsky also claimed that humans had evolved through several “root races”. These included the Hyperboreans who did not have physical bodies and lived near the North Pole, the Lemurians who lived on Lemuria in the Pacific which sank after they practised race-mixing and the Atlanteans in the Atlantic. After Atlantis sank, the survivors emigrated to the Himalayas where they founded Shambhala. They were followed by the Aryans.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was a revival of interest in the occult in Germany and Austria. In Hitler’s Monsters, Eric Kurlander writes,

“From cosmopolitan Berlin to Catholic Munich, from Saxony to Schleswig-Holstein thousands of Germans flooded to seances, astrologers, tarot readers, parapsychological experiments, occult bookstores and even esoteric schools and university courses.

The occult revival was not confined to Germany, of course. We have ample evidence of similar trends in France, Great Britain and the United States. But the sheer size and diversity of the occult marketplace in Germany and Austria suggests that it tapped into a mass consumer culture that was unique in depth and breadth when compared to other countries. Berlin and Munich alone were home to thousands of spiritualists, mediums and astrologers who appealed to tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of consumers.” (Eric Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters, A  Supernatural History of the Third Reich, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2017, p 14)

A lot of nonsense has been written about the supposed influence of the occult on Hitler and the Nazis. There was some influence, but not as much as the more sensationalist books on the subject claim.

A more “Aryanized” version of Theosophy developed in Germany and Austria, known as Ariosophy. They believed the Aryans had lived on Thule or Atlantis in the North Atlantic. Its capital was Hyperborea. After Thule/Atlantis sank, its survivors escaped to the Himalayas (Hitler’s Monsters, p 16)

Hitler appears to have read the Ariosophist journal Ostraa before World War I. It contained many later Nazi themes, such as the importance of Nordic blood, the significance of the swastika and the evils of Jews, race-mixing, socialism and liberalism (Hitler’s Monsters, p 3-4).

However, Heinrich Himmler was the true believer. Peter Longerich writes,

“Central to Himmler’s vision of the world was the restoration of a de-Christianized, Germanic environment, which with the help of myths of Atlantis and Tibet was to be linked to long-lost examples of sophisticated cultures and via the Cosmic Ice Theory/ astrology/astronomy to the history of the cosmos.” (Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012, p 285)

“Himmler was also attracted by the myth of Tibet – the idea that was widespread in a variety of versions, that in the mountains of Tibet an advanced civilization had once existed, possibly the product of an original advanced race that had sought refuge there from a global catastrophe. In Himmler’s view it was clear that the civilization in question must have been connected to the legend of ‘Atlantis’, and the stranded ruling class of Atlantis had spread out from there to Europe and East Asia. The connection that Tibet was the ‘cradle of humanity’ accounts for Himmler’s speculations about the common roots of European (in particular Germanic), Asian and other elites.” (Heinrich Himmler, p 281)

In 1935 Himmler founded German Ancestral Heritage (Deutsches Ahnenerbe) to research Nazi theories about the prehistory of the Aryans.

Symbol for the Ahnenerbe

After the war SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Ernst Schafer was interrogated by the Allies who wrote that he said, “Himmler mentioned his belief that the Nordic race did not evolve, but came directly down from heaven to settle on the Atlantic continent.” (Heather Pringle, The Master Plan, Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust, Hyperion, New York, 2006, p 150)

This sounds like the ancient aliens theory.

During 1938-39 Schafer led an SS sponsored expedition to Tibet looking for evidence to support Nazi theories about the origin of the Aryans. (Christopher Hale, Himmler’s Crusade, John Wiley and Sons, New Jersey, 2003)

Himmler found support for his belief in a northern Atlantis in the Oera Linda Book or Ura Linda Book. This supposedly ancient chronicle first appeared in 1867. It claimed that Atland or Atlantis had been in the North Sea and had sunk in 2194 BC. The survivors went on to found other civilizations. Even though the Oera Linda Book has been dismissed as a modern forgery, it has been called “Himmler’s Bible”.

During the 1970s there was a renewed interest in the Oera Linda Book  when Robert Scrutton relied on it for his books The Other Atlantis (1977) and The Secrets of Lost Atland (1979).

Both Hitler and Himmler believed in the world ice theory which was developed by Hanns Horbirger (1860-1931) after he had a dream. This was the theory that the universe consisted largely of ice and Earth once had several moons. When one of them crashed, it caused the sinking of Atlantis and the survivors escaped to South America (Hitler’s Monsters, p 150-152).

Hanns Horbiger

One supporter of the world ice theory was SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Edmund Kiss (1886-1960). In 1928 Kiss travelled to Bolivia and worked with an  Austrian-born amateur archaeologist Arthur Posnansky who believed that the local Aymara people did not build Tiahuanaco.

Gate of the Sun at Tiahuanaco

Christopher Hale writes,

“Although Tiwanaku is less than two thousand years old, Kiss and Posnansky proposed on the basis of some flimsy astronomical calculations  that it was a South American Atlantis built by an elite refugee race, abandoned fifteen years ago after calamitous volcanic eruptions and floods.” (Himmler’s Crusade, p 119)

When Kiss returned to Germany, he wrote several novels about the world ice theory and the Nordic survivors of Atlantis in South America. Himmler liked them (Himmler’s Crusade, p 120).

There were plans for Kiss to lead an SS expedition to Bolivia, but it was cancelled when World War II broke out.

Another proponent of the world ice theory was Obersturmbannfuhrer Rudolf von Elmayer-Vestengrugg whom Eric Kurlander describes as “rabidly anti-Semitic and [an] SA leader” who believed the Aryans had founded Atlantis (Himmler’s Monsters, p 153). According to Atlantipedia, after the war he used the pseudonym Hans Schindler Bellamy and wrote on Atlantis, Tiahuanaco, the world ice theory and spoke at the 1975 World Congress of the Ancient Astronauts Society in Zürich. He co-authored two books on Tiahuanaco, including The Great Idol of Tiahuanaco which Erich von Daniken cites favourably in Chariot of the Gods? (Erich von Daniken, Chariots of the Gods?, Corgi, London, 1971, p 34-35)

One of the early proponents of the ancient aliens theory was Robert Charroux. In his 1973 book The Mysterious Past he repeated the Ariosophist belief that Atlantis was Thule in the North Atlantic, its capital was Hyperborea and its inhabitants were Nordic-looking (Robert Charroux, The Mysterious Past, Berkley, New York, 1975, p 25-26)

Robert Charroux was a pseudonym for Robert Jospeh Grugeau (1909-1978). Grugeau was Minister for Cultural Affairs in the Nazi puppet state, Vichy France (Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun, Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity, New York University Press, New York, 2002, p 117).

The most famous ancient aliens book was Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken. In The Space Gods Revealed Ronald Story writes about the publishing of Chariots of the Gods?,

“The manuscript was accepted by Econ-Verlag in early 1967. The publisher hired Wilhelm Roggersdorf, a screen writer and film producer who knew the public’s tastes to edit it. The work as published is said to have been extensively rewritten by Roggersdorf.” (Ronald Story, The Space Gods Revealed, New English Library, London, 1978, p 18)

Wilhelm Roggersdorf was a pseudonym for Wilhelm Utermann (1912-1991). Tom DeLonge and Peter Levenda write,

“Erich von Daniken’s editor on Chariots of the Gods? was Wilhelm Utermann, a well-known Nazi author and editor who published dozens of Nazi-themed publications during World War II under the NSDAP imprimatur and worked on the staff of the Volkischer Beobachter: the official Nazi newspaper,” (Tom DeLonge and Peter Levanda, Sekret Machines, Gods, Man and War, Volume One: Gods, To the Stars, Inc., California, 2016, p 228)

In other words, it looks like the most influential ancient aliens book was largely written by  a former Nazi.

Hermann Oberth

Hermann Oberth (1894-1989), the father of modern rocket science, worked on the Nazi rocket program at Peenemunde and later at NASA. According to Eric Kurlander, Oberth was “esoterically inclined” and “fascinated by parapsychology and ‘Thulean occultism’ ” (Hitler’s Monsters, p 267). After the war Oberth wrote articles about UFOs for Flying Saucer Review and Fate Magazine.

In the 1970 documentary Chariots of the Gods? Oberth endorsed the ancient aliens theory, saying, “I believe that it is possible for unknown foreign beings of a superior intelligence to have visited our planet at a remote point in time.” ( 4 min)

Another Peenemunde scientist was Otto Muck (1892-1956). In 1954 Muck published The Secret of Atlantis arguing that Atlantis was destroyed by an asteroid in 8500 BC.

(The Peenemunde scientists were not necessarily hard-core Nazis, but if you were in London with the V-1 and V-2 crashing down on you, I doubt you would have appreciated the distinction.)

Josef Blumrich was the author of the book The Spaceships of Ezekiel which argued that the prophet Ezekiel saw a UFO which I have addressed here. According to The Spaceships of Ezekiel Blumrich was born in Austria in 1913. He worked on the design of the Messerschmitt 110 and other planes for Gothaer Waggonfabrik between 1934 and 1944 and served in the German army in  1944 and 1945. In 1959 he emigrated to the USA and worked for NASA.

Frank Joseph is arguably the most prolific author of books on Atlantis. He was also the editor of Ancient American magazine.

Frank Joseph today

Frank Joseph’s real name is Frank Collins. He was a member of the National Socialist White People’s Party in the 1960s. After he was accused of having a Jewish father, he broke away and founded the National Socialist Party of America in 1970.

Frank Collin (Frank Joseph) in the 1970s

In 1979 Collins was convicted of child molestation and spent three years in prison.

Posnansky’s theory about the dating of Tiahuanaco was also cited in Atlantis: The Lost Continent by Charles Berlitz (Charles Berlitz, Atlantis: The Lost Continent, Macmillan, London, 1984, p 66, 150, 17, in Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock (Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods, Arrow Books, London, 1998, p 69, 82-92) and in the Ancient Aliens episode “The Mysteries of Puma Punku”. There is no mention of Posnansky’s Nazi associate.

In Himmler’s Crusade Christopher Hale observes the parallel between Himmler’s beliefs  and the theories of Graham Hancock,

“A new development came in the 1990s. There was a popular upsurge in what came to be called ‘alternative history’, and books like Fingerprints of the Gods revived a fascination with ancient lost civilizations. No one is talking about Aryans, of course, but the idea remains the same. Long ago, at the end of the last ice age, there existed a superior godlike people. Their destruction by flood led to the scattering of their culture across the globe and the seeding of the great civilizations from the Nile Valley to the Andes.” (Himmler’s Crusade, p 380)

No one is suggesting that Graham Hancock or people who watch Ancient Aliens are Nazis. Back in the 1970s I used to read a lot of books on Atlantis. It never occurred to me there was anything racist or supremacist about the idea of white survivors of Atlantis bringing civilization to South America and elsewhere. It was just interesting and entertaining. It did not turn into a Nazi. The Nazis di not invent the Atlantis or ancient aliens theories, but some Nazis and those who worked with them have been responsible for propagating them.

See also my follow-up post Hans Bellamy and the Nazi Influence on Atlantis and Ancient Aliens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I won’t vote in the gay marriage plebiscite

From September 12, the Australian Government will be spending $122 million on a voluntary non-binding plebiscite on gay marriage. I believe that God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6) and the Bible says homosexuals are sinners (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-11), along with everyone else (Romans 3:10-12, 33). However, I have decided the most Christian thing I can do is not to vote at all in the upcoming plebiscite.

Those Christians and conservatives, who want a referendum or plebiscite on gay marriage, seem to assume that there is still a silent majority out there who agree with us and we would be vindicated in a referendum. All the opinion polls show this is not the case. It looks like we are going to lose. Even if we did win, the next ALP Federal Government is going to introduce gay marriage legislation so it will all be for nothing. The majority of Australians have no problem with homosexuality and gay marriage and they think we are intolerant bigots, no better than racists, for opposing it.

This does not mean we should change what we believe in order to accommodate and appease the prevailing social narrative and say that homosexuals are no longer sinners. We are all sinners. If I say homosexuals are sinners, I’m saying they are just like me.

The challenge for Christians is to keep proclaiming the eternal truths of the Gospel, that we are all sinners and we can all find forgiveness and new life in Jesus, to a post-Christian culture which no longer shares our values and thinks we are intolerant and even dangerous.

This is much the same situation which the early Christians faced in the Roman Empire. They showed grace and forgiveness to those who hated and persecuted them and eventually they won over the Empire.

A lot of the case against gay marriage is not so much a defence of traditional marriage, but is concerned that gay marriage will be used to attack freedom of speech and freedom of religion, which I have discussed here and here. Jesus told us to treat others the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). If I don’t want gay activists to use the law to deny my rights, then I should not use the law to deny them their “right” to be married, which is one reason why I won’t vote at all.

While many Western Christians seem outraged at the threat that they may be persecuted, our persecution is trivial compared to what Christians are already experiencing in Third World countries. They overlook that the Bible tells us that it is normal for Christians to be hated and persecuted (John 15:18-25, 1 John 3:13). It is an opportunity for us to become more Christ-like (Luke 6:22-23, Romans 5:1-5, James 1:2-5).

I agree that traditional moral values and the institution of marriage are in trouble, but lobbying the government to pass laws is not the Christian solution. In the 18th and 19th centuries there were periods of moral decline similar to our own. The churches responded by repenting of their sins, praying and God brought revival, and social and moral transformation (2 Chronicles 7:14). When the West experienced a similar moral decline in the 1960s and 70s, evangelical Christians in the United States responded, not by repenting, but by forming the Religious Right and sought to impose Christian values through legislation. The reputation of the Gospel was damaged severely.

Jesus told us to take the plank out of our own eye before we take a speck of dust out of someone else’s (Matthew 7:3-5). According to some reports, the divorce rate among Christians (including nominal Christians) in the United States is equal to or even higher than the divorce rate among non-Christians (Andrew Comiskey,  Strength in Weakness, InterVarsity Press, Illinois, 2003, p 51), and 68% of Christian men, including 50% of ministers, view pornography regularly. Instead of repenting and dealing with the sin in the churches, many Christians are more interested in legislating the morality of non-Christians. Do we really think Jesus is impressed by this?

I don’t want to vote for gay marriage. I don’t believe in it and it won’t necessarily won’t make difference. Gay couples can already register their relationships and enjoy all the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples. They just cannot call their relationship a marriage. Any gays who want to get married are presumably already living together and doing it. I assume they are not saving themselves for marriage. 10 years after gay marriage had been legalized in the Netherlands, only 10% of gays had got married (Bill Muehlenberg, Strained Relations, Freedom Publishing, Melbourne, 2011, p 99). Gays make up about 2% of the population, so in practical terms nothing much should change if gay marriage were legalized and around 0.2% of the population had a gay marriage. If the media did not go about it, we probably would not notice.

At the same I do not want to vote against gay marriage. Jesus did not give his disciples a political agenda called family values which we are to impose on others. He gave us a Gospel, good news that we can all find forgiveness and new life in himself. It is more important that non-Christians hear and understand this, than it is that heterosexuals maintain their monopoly on marriage. However, they do not want to hear this because they think we are bigots.

As I have discussed here, many Christians have made idols out of their marriages. Their sense of self-worth and wholeness is not based on their relationship with Jesus, but on being married. They expect gays to remain single and celibate while single adult Christians are regarded as second-class Christians who have something wrong with them. This may explain why some Christians do not seem to care if the Gospel suffers as long as gay marriage is banned.

Maybe, it would be better if Christians lost the gay marriage debate for the sake of the Gospel. More Christians would wake up to the fact that we are no longer a Christian nation, we do not own the culture, we need to repent of our sins, rather than pass laws against others, and work on showing humility and grace to an increasingly hostile post-Christian society so they will understand that we are not bigots if we say we are sinners who need forgiveness and new life.

So I won’t vote at all.

More of views on Christians and homosexuality can be found here.