On Monday, the affirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s nominee to take Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Courtroom, start. And the spectacle threatens to reignite a storm of controversy round Barrett’s faith that has been constructing since 2017.
Barrett is a religious Catholic. She has written earlier than about her belief that Catholicism should affect a judge’s jurisprudence, and Democrats mentioned her views broadly when she was nominated to the federal bench in 2017. In a second that has turn out to be notorious on the best, Sen. Dianne Feinstein declared that “the dogma lives loudly inside you” throughout Barrett’s listening to, a phrase some conservatives took to be an assault on Barrett’s Catholicism.
Barrett can be a part of a small Catholic group known as People of Praise, and that’s the place her spiritual affiliations get particularly sensitive. Some liberals argue Barrett’s membership on this group, which teaches that husbands are the heads of households and have authority over their wives, alerts that she’s going to hand down religiously motivated conservative opinions if confirmed to the Supreme Courtroom, significantly with regards to ladies’s reproductive freedom and the rights of the queer neighborhood.
In the meantime, conservatives reply that Barrett is a high-powered federal choose who can be married, so she will’t be all that oppressed by her husband, and that liberal critiques of the best way Barrett’s faith impacts her judicial obligations are nothing greater than anti-Catholic prejudice at work.
One of many weirder methods this debate has performed out since Barrett was first mentioned as a possible Supreme Courtroom nominee is the combat over whether or not or not Folks of Reward, the group she belongs to, can be one of many inspirations for The Handmaid’s Story. In Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel (and its latest TV adaptation), fertile ladies are compelled to stay as childbearing slaves known as handmaids. The group isn’t a longtime inspiration for the guide — however the story has developed legs anyway.
The wrong hyperlink between the Folks of Reward and Atwood’s story, perpetuated by a collection of complicated coincidences and uneven fact-checking, first emerged in a Newsweek article and was later picked up by Reuters. Each articles have since been corrected, however the best was livid at each. The Washington Examiner called it a “smear that simply received’t die.” Fox News noted a number of different shops have talked about Barrett and The Handmaid’s Story in the identical story.
To be completely clear: Folks of Reward isn’t an inspiration for The Handmaid’s Story, and the group doesn’t observe sexual slavery or any of the opposite dystopian practices Atwood wrote about in her novel. However the argument over whether or not or not the 2 are related displays the deeply contentious ambiance through which Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Courtroom happens — and the immense symbolic weight The Handmaid’s Story carries in American common tradition.
The Handmaid’s Story is definitely impressed by Folks of Hope. They’re completely different from Folks of Reward.
Two coincidences led to the concept of a Folks of Reward–Handmaid’s Story connection. The primary coincidence is that the Folks of Reward as soon as had a spiritual rank known as “handmaid.” As reported by the New York Times in 2017, Folks of Reward members are all accountable to a private adviser. These advisers provide steering on main life selections, together with, per the Occasions, “whom to this point or marry, the place to stay, whether or not to take a job or purchase a house, and how you can increase kids.” And these advisers was once known as “heads” once they had been males and “handmaids” once they had been ladies. They’ve since been renamed “leaders.”
The second coincidence is that when Margaret Atwood explained her Handmaid’s Tale inspirations to the New York Times in 1987, she described one in all them as “a Catholic charismatic spinoff sect, which calls the ladies handmaids.” Atwood didn’t on the time identify the sect, so when her quote resurfaced in 2020, it was very straightforward for some readers to suppose, Effectively, Folks of Reward is a Catholic charismatic spinoff sect that calls the ladies handmaids, so there you go. Accordingly, on September 21, Newsweek reported that People of Praise was one of Atwood’s inspirations for The Handmaid’s Tale.
Requested about her inspiration for The Handmaid’s Story by Politico because the controversy heated up, Atwood said she wasn’t sure which group she was talking about in 1987. Her archive of labor and analysis is on the College of Toronto, the place she will’t at the moment entry it as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. However she’s on the report as going by way of her Handmaid’s Story archives for journalists loads of instances prior to now, and through these interviews, she’s always cited People of Hope, a completely different Catholic charismatic spinoff that calls ladies handmaids.
Particularly, People of Hope is a fundamentalist group in New Jersey that some former members have mentioned behaves like a cult and which has allegedly organized marriages between youngsters. The Folks of Hope name wives “handmaids,” and when Atwood saw that word in an Associated Press clipping about the group, she underlined it in pen. It’s rumored that it’s right here that she developed the concept of utilizing the identify to start with.
In a bizarre wrinkle, the timing of the lore right here doesn’t fairly work out. Reporting for the Star-Ledger in 2017, Tom Deignan discovered that the story didn’t hit the AP till after The Handmaid’s Story got here out in 1985, which means that Atwood couldn’t have pulled the phrase “handmaid” from that legendary information article in any case. However regardless, the AP clipping in Atwood’s archives, the one which she at all times exhibits reporters, is about Folks of Hope. And whereas it’s loads believable that Atwood has indulged in a bit of self-mythologizing about her inventive course of through the years, it’s probably not that related to any questions on Amy Coney Barrett and her spiritual leanings right this moment.
The outrage over the controversy speaks to the symbolic weight Handmaid’s Story holds right this moment in American popular culture
The slippage between Folks of Reward handmaids, Folks of Hope handmaids, and Margaret Atwood handmaids is the place this entire misunderstanding originated. And it’s, in its personal method, telling concerning the world Atwood was writing about in 1984 when she constructed Gilead, her theocratic dystopia.
Atwood was drawing from the cultural norms of plenty of completely different North American charismatic Christian teams on the time, together with innocent ones. The explanation there’s a lot confusion about precisely the place she took the phrase handmaid from is that handmaid is the type of phrase a number of North American charismatic Christian teams had been into in 1984: suggestive of purity, responsibility, and female obedience to divine will.
Once more, that doesn’t imply these teams had been practising sexual slavery. It means they had been working with a really particular vocabulary, and the best way Atwood made her dystopia really feel actual was by skillfully mimicking them.
However that this slippage occurred in 2020 can be telling about how immensely fearful persons are, on each the best and the left, about America’s future — and the way highly effective The Handmaid’s Story is as a logo of what that future would possibly seem like.
Folks on the left take a look at Amy Coney Barrett and see somebody who has denounced each abortion and marriage equality in explicitly spiritual phrases, somebody who they concern will, if seated on the Supreme Courtroom, flip again the clock on each these points. They see a logo of the same fear that drove protesters to don Handmaid robes at the Kavanaugh hearings in 2018: the concern that girls are going to lose management of their our bodies, and that when that day comes, we would simply as effectively be in Gilead. So that they have linked Barrett to The Handmaid’s Story as a result of The Handmaid’s Story is now our tradition’s most potent image for the concept of a world through which ladies’s our bodies aren’t their very own.
Folks on the spiritual proper, in the meantime, see the left’s deal with Barrett’s Catholicism as affirmation that American Christianity is losing its cultural power, and that they could quickly turn out to be a persecuted minority. Articles that mistakenly hyperlink Barrett’s Folks of Reward to The Handmaid’s Story, seen by way of this lens, turn out to be examples of the left attempting to make Barrett’s faith a disqualifying mark towards her, and by extension to make all Christian religion disqualifying for greater workplace.
The outcome is an issue about two political events that more and more see themselves as pushed to the breaking level — and who believe they have no space left to interact with the other side in good faith.
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