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One of the most prominent elements of The Handmaid’s Tale is its portrayal of religion. Because the religious regime in the franchise is pure evil it’s easy to see The Handmaid’s Tale book as anti-religion. However, was this actually the case? Here’s a look at what Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood said about the subject.

June placing her forehead against Janine's in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 | Hulu

A question ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ author is often asked

The Handmaid’s Tale is a franchise about of an evil fundamentalist sect that takes over the United States and institutes strict gender roles. In the show, they force women known as Handmaids to wear modest red outfits reminiscent of both Puritan women’s clothing and Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter “A” from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In addition, they transform the Washington Monument into a giant Christian cross.

The villains in the franchise are associated with Christianity and, as a result, The Handmaid’s Tale could easily be seen as anti-religious. On the other hand, it could be interpreted as an attack on certain religious beliefs or sects rather than religion in general. In The New York Times, Atwood discussed if The Handmaid’s Tale book is anti-religion.

A trailer for The Handmaid’s Tale

“It depends what you may mean by that,” Atwood said. “True, a group of authoritarian men seize control and attempt to restore an extreme version of the patriarchy, in which women (like 19th-century American slaves) are forbidden to read. Further, they can’t control money or have jobs outside the home, unlike some women in the Bible.” Further, she noted that the regime uses biblical symbols. She said this is the natural result of the book’s American setting.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ author points out important aspects of the portrayal of religion in the book

Moreover, Atwood had more to say about the portrayal of religion in the book. “In the book, the dominant ‘religion’ is moving to seize doctrinal control, and religious denominations familiar to us are being annihilated,” she said. “Offred… refuses to believe that this regime has been mandated by a just and merciful God.” At the same time, she praised some modern religious groups, adding “In the real world today, some religious groups are leading movements for the protection of vulnerable groups, including women.”

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Subsequently, Atwood answered the question of whether the book is antireligious in plain terms. “So the book is not ‘antireligion,’” she said. “It is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny; which is a different thing altogether.”

What are Margaret Atwood’s religious beliefs?

This raises an interesting question: What are Atwood’s own religious beliefs? According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Atwood described herself as a “doctrinaire agnostic.” Subsequently, she defined a doctrinaire agnostic as someone who believes that certain things cannot be known.

In addition, she contrasted this with some other agnostics, who are unsure of what they believe. In conclusion, while The Handmaid’s Tale book isn’t anti-religious, it certainly gives fans lots to think about religion.