All around us we see evidence of the way in which belief is institutionalised and abused. Consider Atwood's portrayal of religion in Gilead
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Jonathan Newcombe January 2003-01-15 All around us we see evidence of the way in which belief is institutionalised and abused. Consider Atwood's portrayal of religion in Gilead Many modern day beliefs have been used as excuses for war, or as a way of suppressing groups of people. In 'The Handmaid's tale' Atwood has taken abuse of belief and religion to the extreme, using it to create a worrying futuristic dystopia where all laws are based on extracts from the bible and the texts have been twisted to suit the more powerful members of society. It is impossible for handmaids, or many other members of Gilead to check the authenticity of the extracts that rule their life as they are forbidden from reading and the bible is kept locked up. In 'The Handmaid's tale' free will is nothing more than a memory, different Christian branches are at war with each other. The bible is used to justify the regimes and practises of Gilead and sexuality has been suppressed into something shameful and dangerous. Chapter two offers the reader their first decent example of how religion is used within the society of Gilead.
The odd thing about the battles is that they are taking place with different branches of the same religion. 'Angels of the Apocalypse...are smoking out a pocket of Baptist guerrillas'. 'Five members of the heretical sect of Quakers have been arrested'. It is possible to read more into the news reports than meets the eye. The Baptists are relying on guerrilla warfare that is commonly the form of warfare used by under-developed countries that aren't looking for war. There is also a fair amount of irony in the sense that the report claims that the Quakers are heretical or sacrilegious when the reader knows that the society of Gilead is based on sacrilege. This may suggest that Gilead is fighting these other branches of Christianity to stop them from demonstrating to the world, and more importantly to the people of Gilead that their society is based on twisted truths. In chapter fifteen, just before the ceremony the commander reads several extracts from the bible. The Bible the Commander reads from is locked in a brass bound leather box; this is a practice that was widespread during the Dark Ages.
Gilead demonstrates a total lack of tolerance for other religions, not only do they battle with other branches of Christianity, but in chapter thirty-one we see how they react to other religions. Gilead justifies deporting Jews by claiming they are 'sons of Jacob and therefore special' the reader learns about how Jews were given the choice to emigrate or to convert. The reader is also told how people who pretend to convert are treated 'raids at night, secret hoards of Jewish things dragged out from under beds...' and hung for their beliefs. Gilead is a completely totalitarian society that mirrors many of the fascist views held by the Nazi's. It is odd that this society should choose to make an example of Jews though, considering their own religion is based on the Jewish faith and many of the extracts they use to govern come from the old testament. However, Jews don't take obscure references from the Old Testament as literally as the powers in Gilead, and it is likely that an alternative faith was deemed threatening. Atwood uses religion to its greatest possible literary power by exploiting it and demonstrating what the reader doesn't think would ever be possible. Religion is at the core of Gilead and appears to be all that is left of America.
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