Trump Nominating Amy Coney Barrett as SC Judge is Reminding Many of 'The Handmaid's Tale', Here's Why
Amy Coney Barrett is part of a Christian group called 'People of Praise' which is being linked to Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Much is being said about US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court Judge nominee Amy Coney Barrett whom he nominated on Friday to fill up the vacancy following the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Barrett, 48, is currently a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, for which she was nominated by Trump in 2017.
But while the conservative Barrett has been speculated to be Trump's choice for SC for a few years now, the nomination brought a wave pf fresh chatter about Barrett's textualist and conservative views as well as her mysterious religion, which many are now claiming might have inspired author Margaret Atwood's award-winning novel "The Handmaid's Tale".
The Handmaid's Tale depicts a dystopian, totalitarian society where women are treated as properties of the state (essentially as sex slaves and quite literally baby-producing machines). And since Barrett's name was announced as a potential SC judge, speculation and rumours about her religion started doing the rounds. Barrett, who is known as the "intellectual heir" of hardline conservative SC judge Antonin Scalia, is a part of a small Cristian group called "People of Praise".
Founded in 1972 by Kevin Ranaghan, The People of Praise is an ecumenical Christian fellowship that lays down certain rules and regulations for its nearly 1,700 members. Spread across the US, Canada and the Caribbeans, the parachurch organisation is open to any baptised Christians - both Catholic and Protestant.
With several similarities to Catholic Charismatic Revivalism and Pentecostalism, the conservative community, much like the rest of the Catholic Church, does not allow women to assume top positions, despite allowing them the right to higher education. It also teaches that husbands are the heads of a family and that wives are controlled by the heads of the family.
The Handmaid connection
The reason those familiar with Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" is because "women leaders" in the People of Praise (the highest position women could hold withing the sect) were formerly called "handmaids". These "handmaids" were incharge of imparting traditional and feminine values to women about home and family life and basically act as enforcers of gender rules which advocated indoor work, household chores, husband and child care as a woman's tasks while outdoor work, heavylifting and procuring food and money were a man's.
The name was adopted by the group in 1971 and was based on English translations of the Bible in which Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was described as the "handmaid of the Lord".
But is People of Praise an inspiration for the 1985-written 'The Handmaid's Tale'? No. Despite sharing the same name "handmaid" for women, sex slavery and forced childbirth and child abduction are not part of the People of Praise's rituals and practices. Neither are the other dystopic details mentioned by Atwood.
But even if the People of Praise did not directly inspire the Gilead, the cultural significance and symbolicism of the award-winning novel in the US is bound to lead to some comparisons.
Critics of Trump's decision to nominate Barrett claim that Barrett's religious affiliations may affect her judgments, especially when it comes to women's reproductive rights and queer rights. She has previously been known to side with the anti-abortionist movement.
Social media, however, is flooded with reactions and speculation. When one person said that the "prescient" Atwood had predicted the future, she said, "Sorry about that".
Sorry about that... https://t.co/iaBsMNBGD8— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) September 27, 2020
But while the current situation in the US is close to the symbolism of The Handmaid's Tale, it would be incorrect to say that the novel was inspired by the People of Praise.
In fact, Vox clarifies that the Handmaid's Tale is actuallt inspired not by the "People of Praise" but by the "People of Hope", another "charismatic Christian spin-off sect" that, in Atwood's own words to New York Times in 1987, described as the book's inspiration. And while there is still some confusion regarding her real source of inspiration, she herself has always cited 'People of Hope' as the inspiration to her book.
In truth, in 1984 when Atwood's book was written, the US has littered with several such fringe groups that followed Charismatic interpretations and offshoots of Catholicism and used the word "handmaid" to describe women as feminine, subservient, obedient servants of God. The success of Atwood's award-winning saga of a theocratic dystopia lies in the seamless intertwining of fact and fiction with existing faith systems and religious as well as socio-cultural practices and beliefs.