Until recently, I had put off watching The Handmaid’s Tale on HULU because I knew it would make me angry. I read Margaret Atwood’s book of the same name in the mid-1980s, and remember how the story – centered in a world run by pious bullies – made my blood boil. Now, dystopian stories of religion-based mind control hit close to home for those of us at CFI. We probably hear more true-life religious horror stories than the average citizen.
When I read the book 30 years ago, I thought some of the plot seemed a bit far-fetched. No way could things get so out of control. But as I work my way through the first few episodes of the TV series, I’m unpleasantly surprised at how plausible some of the series storylines sound in the wake of our recent elections. Three shows in, the series has already depicted: open and widespread intolerance, the objectification of women, religious fundamentalism, and massive protests.
Any of that sound familiar?
The other surprise was that the series star – Elizabeth Moss— who I think is a talented actor with solid credits to her name, is a practicing Scientologist. (Moss, by the way, is also listed as a producer on the show and identifies as a feminist on her Wikipedia page. Ok that fits.)
What doesn’t fit is that the Church of Scientology (CoS) could be a central character in The Handmaid’s Tale TV series. For decades we’ve been hearing real-life stories from ex-Scientologists that sound like they could be plots in the series. The examples below apply to both the Church of Scientology and The Handmaid’s Tale.
Ø Church makes pregnancy decision for a woman
Ø Individuals virtually held prisoners
Ø Leaders use fear and brutality to keep underlings in line
Ø It’s dangerous to contradict sacred text
Ø Anyone can be an informer
I’m sure that list could be much longer if I really gave it some thought and saw more episodes.
Moss has been a working actor since she was a kid, so she may have been feted by the CoS big cheeses from an early age and sheltered from the volumes of bad press the church has been getting for most of her life. And Scientology typically paints their apostates as disgruntled or vengeful to dodge the real issues of whether the complaints are true or not. The point is that she may not be exposed to her cult’s nefarious practices as fully as the rest of us, or if she was, the stories were probably poo pooed as the ravings of cranks.
Scientologists are not alone in being blinded to the insanity of their own beliefs, but the sheer volume of criticism and tales of mistreatment should give Moss and other high-profile scientologists pause and spark them to ask some questions of their leadership. Seems like every year it would get harder and harder to dodge the growing mountains of evidence that point to major problems in this “religion.”
It’s time to wake up.
Someone should nudge Elizabeth Moss and tell her that it becomes especially imperative to inquire about your own highly-criticized, authoritarian religion when you star in a TV series that highly criticizes authoritarian religion.
Maybe a chat with Leah Remini would help…