Religion is the prime subject in
Margaret Atwood’s award-winning novel The Handmaid’s Tale.  Atwood’s novel invokes a theocratic dystopia;
a version of the United States taken over by fundamentalist Christians. The
bible is being used in a political context to maneuver the society and attain patriarchal
supremacy. Religion is utilized to oppress women (also something from the video).
Religion is represented as a central theme in the novel because it is used to manipulate
people for political purposes, it has caused a loss of faith in people and it
has increased the protagonist’s (Offred) faith in God.

The people of Gilead are being manipulated
for political purposes with the use of the bible. The Republic of Gilead
included religious terminology in its official vocabulary as a method of
classification. While describing Rita, Offred says, “She’s in her usual Martha’s
dress … but nobody much cares who sees the face of a Martha” (Atwood 10). Rita
did not withstand any importance in the Commander’s household. She was just
there to serve. As in the New Testament, Martha “was distracted by all the preparations
that had to be made” (Luke 10:40) that she had not paid any attention to Jesus’
teachings. Martha was just a hostess and in The
Handmaid’s Tale Rita is just a domestic servant. Seeing the face of a Martha
did not raise any issues, while the Handmaids were obliged to wear the white
wings “to keep them from seeing, but also from being seen” (Atwood 9). This
shows the classification between the Marthas and the Handmaids.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

Religion is used as a tool to impose rigorous
rituals created by the Gilead regime. Salvation from the bible is
misrepresented as Salvaging, and praying is misrepresented as Prayvaganza. The
Republic of Gilead is abusing people’s faith in religion and is using it for
its own political purposes. Rituals like Salvaging, Prayvaganza, and
Particicution are utilized to create fear in people’s minds using the name of
God. Salvation and praying are such holy practices, but in The Handmaid’s Tale, they are used for public executions and mass
religious celebrations for group weddings or military victories. Offred has not
gotten used to watching Handmaid’s being hanged, which proves her reaction: “I
don’t want to see it anymore” (Atwood 318). Gilead’s way of salvation is death
since they call their mass executions Salvaging. The Gilead regime manipulates
people into thinking they are doing the right thing. When a Guardian is brought
to the Handmaid’s accused of rape Aunt Lydia reminds everyone “The penalty for
rape … is death” (Atwood 321) and also refers to the fifth book of the Old Testament;
Deuteronomy. Aunt Lydia is involving the Handmaids into a mass murder of an innocent
by brainwashing them into believing he has committed a treacherous sin.  

The government’s use of religion to
control the society is promoting to the further loss of faith in humanity. In The Handmaid’s Tale religion is
constantly used to remind women that “There are only women who are fruitful and
women who are barren, that’s the law” (Atwood 68). God has gifted women with
the ability to bring life into this world but sometimes they are helpless and
cannot get pregnant. In Gilead there is nothing wrong with men, if a woman
cannot get pregnant it’s her fault. The doctor tries to take advantage of this
opportunity and offers himself to Offred so she could conceive. This shows that
people have forgotten about the seventh commandment: “Thou shalt not commit
adultery”. It had become so easy for the doctor to ask the Handmaid’s for sex,
even though if caught it resulted in death. Offred was the Commander’s
property. This situation relates to when Mariam suffered many miscarriages in A Thousand Splendid Suns, and could not give
Rashid a son. This leads to Rashid hurting Mariam and marrying Laila. Rashid
did not consider Mariam’s feelings, she was his wife. He only thought about
having a son. This shows how women in both The
Handmaid’s Tale and A Thousand
Splendid Suns, are repressed by men. They cannot voice their feelings. Mariam
had to accept her husband marrying another woman, and Offred had to accept that
this was her reality. Although Offred refuses the doctor’s offer, he mentions
that he has “helped others” (Atwood 68). Other Handmaids have had sex with the
doctor to have babies, which proves that those Handmaids broke the seventh
commandment. These women had lost all their faith in humanity and religion. The
doctor is not trustworthy as he has can control the Handmaid’s lives by falsely
writing them off as cancerous and etc. But the Handmaid’s were willing to do
anything to give birth. They gave up on God and gave in to the doctor.

The
Handmaid’s Tale depicts lost meanings of religion. The
Republic of Gilead is using people’s faith as a way to earn money. Praying is a
free soulful act. But it has become an expense as “Ordering prayers from Soul
Scrolls is supposed to be a sign of piety and faithfulness to the regime”
(Atwood 192). Atwood is ridiculing religion and the Gilead regime. When Ofglen
asks Offred if “God listens … to these machines?” (Atwood 193) Offred says “No”
(Atwood 194). This was Offred’s small little rebellion against the Gilead
regime, but she is soon reminded of the consequences as a man is captured by
the Eyes in front of her. Religion is used to ease people into believing in the
Gilead regime as they see references from the bible. But, this also shows the inhumanity
of the Republic of Gilead as they are using religion to manipulate people. Offred
was deeply offended by the question at first. Even though she wants to be free
of the Gilead regime, she never does anything to help herself. Offred calls out
the question to be “Subversion, sedition, blasphemy, heresy, all rolled into
one” (Atwood 193). She is scared to answer a question. Offred does not to do
anything that would jeopardize her position and make her situation worse. The
Gilead regime has changed other’s faith and outlook on life, but Offred is
still a strong believer in God. She obeys the Gilead regime as someone stays
true to their religion or faith.

Offred is a true believer in God. Despite her whole life being
turned upside down she still continues to have faith in God. Offred expresses
her love for God by reciting her own version of the prayer:

    “My God. Who Art in the Kingdom of Heaven,
which is within.

     I
wish you would tell me Your name, the real one I mean …

But whatever
it is, help me to get through it, please.

Though maybe
it’s not Your doing; I don’t

 believe for an instant that what’s going on
out there is what You

 meant …

     Don’t worry about forgiving me right now …

 keep the others safe, if they are safe. Don’t
let them suffer too much. If they

 have to die, let it be fast. You might even
provide a Heaven for them.

 We need you for that. Hell we can make for
ourselves.

          I suppose I should say I forgive
whoever did this, and whatever

 they’re doing now. I’ll try, but it isn’t easy”
(Atwood 225).

This shows
what religion means to Offred. She relies on religion to survive through
Gilead. Offred is searching for God, so he can help her. She expresses all her
emotions to God through her prayers, which shows her deep connection towards
her faith and what she believes in. Gilead overthrowing the government, and
using religion as a tool to gain control has not changed Offred’s perspective
towards her religion. Offred uses the “technique of forgiveness” and thinks of
God and His love for her and forgives the ones who have hurt her to be free
(Murphy 224). Her faith in religion has strengthened since she needs God more
than ever. It is not clearly evident if Offred has forgotten the original
prayer:

“Our
Father in heaven,

Hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

On earth as it is
in heaven.

Give us today our
daily bread.

And forgive us our
debts,

As we also have
forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not
into temptation,

But deliver us
from the evil one. (Matthew 6:10)

Or she chooses to pray in her own version. But the most important thing
is that Offred prays. Even if she has forgotten the prayer, she puts an effort
to pray relying on what she remembers. Offred choosing to pray without any
obligations shows her love for God. She believes God will listen to her
prayers, and fix all the wrongs in her life.

            Offred’s faith in
religion is increasing. She imagines life to have a higher purpose. Offred
remembers God when she feels alone or needs help. It is in our subconscious to “remember
God” when we are in “trouble” (Murphy 92). After praying Offred complains to
God how she feels “unreal, talking to Him like this” and wants him to answer
her as she feels “alone” (Atwood 226). Offred is declaring her love for God,
and her need for His presence in her life. She expresses her loneliness, as it
is important for a person to “interact” with others in order to live life
healthily (Murphy 125). Offred has her own way of reaching out to God, she does
not believe in the traditional way of praying as she says, “I pray where I am,
sitting by the window, looking out through the curtain at the empty garden. I don’t
even close my eyes. Out there or inside my head, it’s an equal darkness. Or
light” (Atwood 251).  Offred stays close
to God and prays when she feels it’s needed. She does not require a holy place
to reach out to God. Offred is shown to have a personal connection with God. “Your
concept of God is the most important thing in your life. If you really believe
in a God … your subconscious mind will respond in countless blessings to you”
(Murphy 226).

Religion plays a central role in The Handmaid’s Tale. It is used to manipulate
people for political purposes, it has caused a loss of faith in people and it
has increased the protagonist’s (Offred) faith in God. The religion which
belonged to God is used as an oppressive tool to control people. Some people
continue to have faith in religion which is disguised as the Gilead regime in The Handmaid’s Tale, while some rebel
against it. In Gilead torture is justified in the name of God with the abusing
religion.