"The Handmaid's Tale" debuted last week on Hulu. It is the latest original series being offered on the site. The series is based on a book by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and published in 1985. It takes place in a dystopian future where the United States no longer exists, and other groups have taken control of society. In the new society, women are second-class citizens. They are not allowed to work outside the home. Only a few types of women exist in this new society. There are three types of women who are primary to the story: Marthas, who provide domestic help, Handmaids, who bear children for those who are in charge, and then the women of the ruling elite.

The purpose of the Handmaids

The Handmaids are a special class of women within the story. Due to the problems with the environment, as well as a civil war, most women in the society cannot bear children. The Handmaids are the fertile women who are left, and it is their job to produce children for the ruling elite. Each Handmaid lives with a family from the ruling elite, and ritualized sex involving the husband and Handmaid is used to produce children.

Atwood based the story on a totalitarian and Christian fundamentalist government. The story really has very little to do with Christian fundamentalism except for naming the Handmaids after some imagined biblical precedent where young fertile women are conscripted to bear children for the ruling elite.

One of the most telling features of the story is the destruction of the churches. There is very little to connect this story to Christian fundamentalism. However, there is a very strong connection to a Totalitarian government because the members of this society live under very strict rules. To violate those rules of society or to try and leave can often result in death.

What is most telling is the execution of gays, doctors, and anyone who doesn't fit in with this dystopian society.

Suppression of women and manipulation of scripture

What is most telling about "The Handmaid's Tale" is the treatment of women. They are very limited in their roles and are not allowed to work outside the home, have money, or property, and they are excluded from education.

There is really no biblical precedent for this as many of those who supported Jesus' ministry were women, and he treated them with respect. Throughout history women have often had the opportunity to have an education, as in the case of nuns in the Middle Ages. Education is often used to suppress citizens of a society, but this is often an attribute of government, not religion.

Margaret Atwood is entitled to her opinion. I read the book a long time ago as part of a fiction writing class, and I found her storytelling to be very compelling. Although the material in the book is depressing, Atwood tells a story that is worth telling. "The Handmaid's Tale" series is very well acted, and the script writing follows closely to the book.

Regardless of what conclusion the viewer comes to on whether or not this is totalitarian government or religion that has been twisted into totalitarianism is a matter of personal belief. "The Handmaid's Tale" is well worth watching. The first three episodes of the series appeared on Hulu on April 26, 2017, and new episodes of this 10 episode season will be released weekly.