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A for-profit secular sermon

The Handmaid’s Tale is hate-watch catnip for conservatives and liberals alike

Madeline Brewer as Janine Lindo in The Handmaid's Tale Hulu

A for-profit secular sermon
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One of the more interesting media surprises of the last decade has been the fact that the thing too-cool-for-it writers have always murdered Christian movies for (taking a moral and then reverse-engineering an often-underwhelming story to serve it) is now a thing that Hollywood is serving up with regularity. See projects like “Don’t Look Up” (Covid and climate-change virtue-signaling at its finest), almost anything produced by Disney in the last few years, and too many other examples to mention. The result, regardless of which side of the outrage aisle you occupy, is almost always mediocre.

Now we confront Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, to which (like almost everything else) I’m arriving late. But one of the advantages of being middle-aged, white, straight, and Baptist is that I’m not too cool for anything, and nobody expects me to arrive at anything on time. This is freeing.

I avoided the series for a while, due to the fairly new calculus of “I wonder what perspective they’ll obviously try to shove down our throats and to what degree they’ll try to shove it?” This is, of course, depressing, as is the show, but not in the obvious ways. The thing is, The Handmaid’s Tale is way too on the nose and preachy—but the characters are well-drawn, the cinematography is great, it features Rory Gilmore (nostalgic), Joseph Fiennes (as always) looks cool, and even the outrage-potential has some nuance to it. Let me explain.

If you’re looking for a show where nearly all men in power are horrible, you’ll love this show, which means that it plays very well per the social orthodoxy of 2022. If you’re predisposed to disliking Christians and enjoy a show where Scripture is distorted to serve power hungry maniacs (not all of whom are male), again, you’ll really enjoy this experience, as that motif is served up in uncomfortable (to me, due to being both a Christian and a man) droves. In some ways, if Progressive Twitter made a show, this would be it.

It works in the same way that something like The Hunger Games worked—it’s outrageous but just plausible enough to actually happen in our lifetimes.

However, the interesting thing is, if you’re the kind of person who feels squeamish about Big Government, rampant surveillance and censorship, and the concept of a few (in power) making sweeping pronouncements about “what’s best” for large numbers of people—you’ll also love this story. If you’re apprehensive about the redistribution of wealth, this might be your particular bag. It’s cautionary on all of those levels as well.

As is the case with most prestige television, all of the usual moral warning/caveats apply: as Christians we tend to be (weirdly) fine with tons of violence and (wisely) squeamish about gratuitous sex—however the intimacy in The Handmaid’s Tale is grotesque and un-erotic (which is kind of the point).

There’s even an alarmingly distressing level of “oh my gosh this could be America in five years” at play in The Handmaid’s Tale, which is either fun or distressing, depending on what kind of person you are. On that level it works in the same way that something like The Hunger Games worked—it’s outrageous but just plausible enough to actually happen in our lifetimes. The difference is that The Hunger Games was probably made for fun and commerce and The Handmaid’s Tale sometimes views like a for-profit secular sermon.

For the believer, there is a sense of sadness and helpful outrage anytime we see an image-bearer of Christ mistreated. This is a good impulse, and The Handmaid’s Tale offers these moments in droves. But I also love the Bible, so it makes me sad to see God’s Word distorted and leveraged, even in service to a fictional story. I’m wise to remember Galatians 6:7 and the fact that God will not be mocked. I think all this probably means the end of my relationship with The Handmaid’s Tale.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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