Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Published 1848

Oh, joy. I get to review this book. 

First...Should you read this book?

If you are a champion of Communism or Socialism, you better read it because it is one of the foundational books of such philosophies, and you better know what you argue, just as a Christian should know his Bible. 

If you are curious...it is super short, rather empty and, in my opinion, dated. Some have considered it dull and boring. It is not riveting reading, and personally, Marx does not impress me. 

Now, for more important points:

I hate Communism/Socialism. I lump them together because they are cousins. One leads to the other, and it is all the same: another failed attempt at utopia. Both philosophies hate individual liberties, loathe freedom of anything, and despise religion, specifically God (the Creator). Furthermore, both ideologies have a very poor understanding of human nature or man. 

Marx and Engels recognized that there was a universal, distinct class struggle between two groups of people: the bourgeoise (business owner) and the proletariat (worker). The bourgeoise were considered selfish and greedy; the workers were poor, innocent, and oppressed. The bourgeoise also manipulated the governing class in order to get what they wanted and to easily control the workers. (Sound familiar?)

By publishing the Manifesto, the authors hoped to unite workers all over the world and overthrow the bourgeoise. They wanted to incite a violent, bloody revolution. Hence, they wrote this public declaration, published in many languages, and distributed it immediately. It flopped. Unfortunately, it survived and is still feeding man's confusion today.

While the authors were correct about class struggle and distinction, their terrible solution was to take the property (capital, business) away from the Bourgeoise and transfer it to the workers. Essentially, it would be publicly owned, but really it would be controlled by the State (the governing class). 

Other terrible ideas included:
  • State control of and free education for all children;
  • End of child labor;
  • State controlled distribution of the population; end of town, county, and city distinctions;
  • State control of factories and manufacturing and production;
  • State control of the environment and agriculture;
  • State control of the bank;
  • End of personal and private inheritance;
  • Heavy progressive income tax;
  • No private property; the State owns the land!

WOW! That looks strangely familiar. 

That's because my government, in America, land of the free, has adopted many of these ideas. 

So I ask you...have we eliminated the problem of class distinction or struggle, yet? Have we eliminated poverty? Have we eliminated inequality? 

No. No we have not. And we will never eliminate class struggle or poverty or inequality, especially by handing control or power to the elite group in a centralized government.

Communism has proven to be the worst thing to ever happen to society, to personal liberty, and to individual creativity. The end result has been utter destruction. It has been said that the only equality  Communism creates is the equal distribution of misery. Like Tocqueville said - my paraphrase: man has always tried to force equality, but he complicates matters. Better to preserve liberty because you cannot have equality without liberty.

Recently, my kids and I saw a theater production of Newsies, a musical inspired by the true events of the Newsies Strike, of 1899. The poor young workers were striking against the greedy, wealthy newspaper owners, who raised the price of the paper for distribution; but I was most struck by the comment made by one character who declared that it wasn't a sin to be poor; they just wanted what was fair. They were not asking beyond that - only what was reasonable. 

It is not a sin to be poor. And society will always have the poor with them. We will never have equal circumstances or equal outcomes, let alone inputs. No matter how much government has control, we will still have inequality, poverty, and class struggles; we will never have a perfect society or utopia. 

The best society is a free society. And Communism is not it.



Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther
Roland H. Bainton
Published 1955

This was a reread for me. I like this biography about Martin Luther because the author, Roland Bainton, used perfectly plain language in a coherent, sequential format. 

Luther was one of the most unyielding workers of the Christian faith. Because Bainton was honest about Luther's emotional and psychological struggles, his sinful weaknesses, and health complications, this biography caused me to truly appreciate all Luther sacrificed, risked, and ultimately contributed to the Reformation and Christianity. 


Luther Nails 95 Thesis or Disputations
on the Power of Indulgences  ~ 
Pauwels

Imagine! This one man changed the Church because he dared to speak out against what he understood to be abuses of the Roman Church. He had to have known what happened to those before him when they spoke against the same Church. But he only thought about correcting a wrong, almost as if the offenders were not aware of their offense. And to think, he got these notions in his head because he read the Scriptures. Because Luther was a professor of the Word, he had to read the Scriptures to teach it; and it was then that his eyes were opened.

It's amazing what reading the Bible can do.

Imagine, also! This one man caused a political and social domino effect throughout Europe, and eventually the entire world. This book does not focus on the time past Luther's death, but I just had to add that bit because I think it would amaze Luther to see what he did beyond religion. He changed society completely.

Luther at the Diet of Worms ~ Werner, 1877

Continuing on, this book covered Luther's entire life, from birth, 1483, to death, 1546. Everything in between is described in perfect detail, including the beginnings of the new reformed church, or Protestant Church -- meaning, a turning back to the ways of the early Church. Luther never expected or imagined he would need to reform the Christian church, but followers looked to him, and hence, he needed to research, problem solve, and form a model for the future. 

Some of the new ideas from Luther included more music and singing, which eventually changed the secular world of music; and since music was written only for the church, which was absolutely restrictive, Luther caused classical music as we know it! (OK, I added that last part. But I think one can see the connection.)

Luther married, Katharina Von Bora, an ex-nun. Bainton also wrote considerably about her life and influences, which caused me to understand what an amazing woman she was. She had to put up with Luther's troubles, and he loved her very much for her patience and goodness. Together, they give Christians a delightful picture of God's design for marriage. 

Bainton included evidence for Luther's personality, much of it sarcastic and humorous, although he could be grouchy and short-fused. Nonetheless, he loved his wife and children dearly, and set a perfect example for a godly husband and father in the home. He was a hard worker and he cared so much for the souls of others, working to educate and inform people the truth of the gospel. 


Martin Luther, Katarina von Bora and children

Side bar: Three years ago, while reading about Luther with my children, we learned that he and Katarina had six children. I have five kids, and my fourth, who was 8-years old at the time, exclaimed, "Wow! You should be glad you were not his wife!"

The stuff that comes out of that kid's mouth!

Should you read this book?

If you like Christian biographies, Christian history, or you don't mind the Christian part, but appreciate history and biographies, or anything about people who have had a major impact on the world, and if you are a fan of Roland Bainton, then this would be a good book for you.

I would read this again, but I think I'm going to look at other books written by Roland Bainton.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville


Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville
Published 1835-40

Democracy in America is almost 1000 pages long. The author, French politician Alexis de Tocqueville, visited America, in 1831-32, to study its penitentiaries and judicial system. While there, he made political and social observations, hoping to help France transition from an aristocracy to a democracy. Tocqueville also visited Britain and made similar observations, believing that France was moving toward a democracy like America, not a constitutional monarchy, as in Britain.

The County Election ~ Bingham, 1852
With the size of this work, written in two parts, you can imagine there were countless topics throughout, including liberty, equality, patriotism, social conditions and political society, elections, freedom of the press, individualism, slavery, and Native Americans. Part II covered democracy and how it affected religion, science, literature, art, education, civility, manners, and equality between men and women.

Independence ~ Meyer, 1858
For a while, I was confused what the author thought about democracy; sometimes I was not sure if he liked it or not. Then I learned that he was concerned that his nation of France may ignore the dangers of democracy, and he wanted to be sure that the country avoided these mistakes. That is why he carefully observed society during his visit to the United States because he thought the new, young  democratic nation was headed in the right direction. In fact, he wrote candidly about the drawbacks to democracy, but he believed that if applied properly - if a government and its people found the happy medium - democracy would ensure liberty and equality.

Stump Speaking ~ Bingham, 1854
Again, this is an essential work in the world of political science, especially for democratic nations, or those nations that consider themselves democratic and free. I think the author's honesty and warnings about democracy's weaknesses are relevant. But I wonder if anyone is listening anymore.

I will leave you with this...an observation that rang throughout: man would rather have equality than personal liberty, and that is what Tocqueville was concerned about. He wrote:
At such times men pounce upon equality as their booty, and they cling to it as to some precious treasure which they fear to lose. The passion for equality penetrates on every side into men's hearts, expands there, and fills them entirely. Tell them not that by this blind surrender of themselves to an exclusive passion they risk their dearest interest; they are deaf. Show them not freedom escaping from their grasp, whilst they are looking another way: they are blind -- or rather, they can discern but one sole object to be desired in the universe. 
I'm with Tocqueville. I'll take individual liberty over equality anytime! Because you cannot have equality unless you have liberty...not the other way around. 

Should you read this?

If you like political and social science, government, or American and European history (particularly France and England), and you don't mind committing to 1000 pages, then this would be worth your time.

I do not plan to ever read this again, unless my interests change; but I doubt it. I was so glad to be done with it. Whew.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Dilemmas of a Book Nerd "Tag"




Dilemmas of a Book Nerd "Tag"
(I am borrowing this from Sharon Goforth)

  • Storage: How do you store and organize your books?
In bookcases. One in my bedroom, one in my living room, and one in my school room.

The books in my bedroom include my husband's books, books of political and social topics, books about Italians, and two shelves for books on education, homeschooling, nature, and book or reading lists.

The one in my living room is organized by classic fiction, contemporary fiction, American history, ancient and other history, Christian history, poetry, biographies, plays, and children's books. All of my fiction is alphabetized by author's last name, while history I try to keep organized by time period. 



The books in my school room are living books for learning (that means NO TEXTBOOKS), and they are organized by historical time periods, or topic, such as music, poetry, geography, etc.
  • Tracing: How do you keep track of what books you read and what books you own?
I use Goodreads and Bookly. Earlier this year I bought an app to catalogue my books and spent all summer scanning them in - over 500 of them - though it took longer than expected because most of them had to be entered manually. Then, a week ago, I bought a new phone, and POOF, the library catalogue vanished. All that work could not be recovered. So I'm trying to find a way to utilize only Goodreads to keep track of those books I own, so that I do not duplicate any when I am out hunting for new books. I made a label called "own," and I must remember to remove the label if I get rid of the book, which sometimes happens. 
I just started using Bookly, which keeps track of books I've read, as well as statistics on how long I read or how long it took to read a book, and other interesting, though not important stats. (Above are some of its features.)
  • Borrow: Do you lend your books out?
There is one friend whom I swap books with because she is an ardent reader like me. She is so careful with my books and always returns them. I would rather not lend to anyone else because I hate having to ask years later for the book. A few times, I kissed that one goodbye and bought another copy. 
  • Buying: How do you buy or acquire your books?
Most books I buy used from library sales. I have purchased used books from Amazon.com for one penny. Yes, books would sell for one penny, plus $3 shipping! Obviously those prices have increased. I also shop our local used book store where books are $2 each. 

Rarely do I buy new books, like from Barnes and Noble, unless I get a gift card, or I fall in love with a book and I want a brand new copy. 
  • How do you respond to "How do you read so much" and other similar comments?
I do not know the last time asked me or if I answered them. I would probably disagree because I could read a lot more, but sometimes I have to sleep instead. I only read up to 50 books a year (and ten of those are usually children's books that I read with my kids.)
  • Next book: How do you choose your next read?
Toward the end of the year, I make a list of books - ones I own but have not read - that I want to read next year. I try to stick with it. Sometimes my next book is on The Well-Trained Mind list, and since I have committed to it, I must follow it. Unless it's terrible, then I will stop reading it and go to the next one. If a book feels like bad medicine, I may not start it at all. Sometimes I am inspired by another blogger's review of a book, and I will commit myself to read it ASAP. 
  • Travel: How do you pick which book to take on vacay with you?
I choose a short book - I have done this before: The Catcher in the Rye - and read it on the road or when we're just sitting around because that's what you do on vacation. It has to be something short and slim, not like War and Peace. Too much commitment. 
  • Annotate: Do you write in or mark up your books in any way?
Do I write in books? I deface my poor books! I argue with the author! I'll have it out with a character! I add stars and underlines and notes in the margins. I cannot read without a pen in my hand. That's why, if I fall in love with a book, I may consider buying a new copy so that it doesn't look like one of these:


  • New or back list: Which do you prefer?
Since I am stuck in the classics, I'm a back list reader. I don't know much about new authors or new titles. Occasionally, I have purchased new books as they have been released, like by Eric Metaxas.
  • Sequels: Do you read books as they are released or do you wait for an entire series to be released?
Again, I rarely know about new releases, but if books come in a series, I suppose I would read them as they were released, as opposed to waiting for them to be available at once. 

Tag people: If you feel inclined to participate, guess what? You've been tagged!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome
Edith Wharton
Published 1911

Ethan Frome takes place about the late 1800s. It is a hauntingly desperate story about a hopeless circumstance between two people who have feelings for one another, though cannot be together, of course. It is as overcast as the Massachusetts winter, which is the setting of the story.

source

As depressing as that may seem, it is still a good read because Edith Wharton, like Thomas Hardy, writes tragedy quite beautifully. We read her works, not for the same inconsiderate reason onlookers slow down to scan a car wreck on the side of the road as they drive by; but rather, it is to have empathy, to understand, and to experience, maybe even to participate. Some have said that to read literature is to live, and I have felt that way after reading Wharton, including this little book, which is under 150 pages.

source

At the shocking climax of the story, I felt that I, too, participated in the concluding horror of the lovers' desperate decision. I was definitely dazed for a while. Recently, I discovered the author was inspired to include that final event because of an actual incident that had previously happened, which made the tragedy more genuine than it already seemed.

Prominent themes in Ethan Frome include free will and fate, which struggle against each other, yet sometimes complement one another. Often we think we are in control of every aspect of our lives but soon are reminded that we simply are not. We may make decisions about the direction we hope to go, but its ending is not as we expected or desired. Other themes are adultery and fidelity. Ethan Frome is faced with the typical moral dilemma of adultery, while he is truly aware of the ramifications of infidelity, a decision that may bring momentary pleasure would also be permanent pain and destruction, not only to others, but also to himself.

Would you want to read this?

If you accept reading misfortune written in beautiful language, then you may like to read this short novel. If you do not mind a shocking conclusion, then you shall do ok. Edith Wharton is an enchanting writer, but her stories are not always happy endings; nonetheless, they are good experiences because they cause us to walk in the shoes of someone else's misfortune, that we may know and understand and have empathy for others.

I would definitely read this book again.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy
Published 1886

The Mayor of Casterbridge was my choice for a tragic novel in the Back-to-the-Classics challenge because anything I have ever read by Thomas Hardy has been either moderately or extremely tragic. I knew I could not go wrong.

source
This was rather moderately tragic, considering the long stretches of success and joy and happiness, though only temporary. The story began very melancholy, but soon after sought to correct itself. The main character, who was responsible for the pain and chaos, was genuinely regretful and sought a life of penance. Always the story was on the verge of amends and reconciliation, which was a good direction; however, there were often set backs, and happiness was brief and fleeting. 

As is typical with Hardy, the characters are complex and their lives are entangled, making the story complicated, while covering a broad range of emotions. Most of the characters are decently good at heart, or at least mean to be, and it is safe to have empathy for them, even when they make mistakes. 

But sometimes the circumstances are frustrating, which is a common response from me when reading a Hardy novel. Nonetheless, I remind myself that the author was a complicated man, and he alone created these outrageous scenarios. So why continue reading him? I suppose it is mostly curiosity of what he will make of the mess he caused. Sure enough, at the very ending of his story he said,
And in being forced to class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen, when the one to whom such unbroken tranquility had been accorded in the adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain. 
source
That's because, according to the pessimistic Hardy, happiness was momentary, interim, and insecure. Life was mostly painful, with fleeting moments of happiness. Such is the expression about the water in the glass: half empty or half full? Obviously, to Hardy, it was half empty. Or more like 3/4 empty, with a slow leak. That may be harsh, and apparently, he took offense to his philosophy of life being condemned as pessimistic, "as if that were a very wicked adjective," he declared. Maybe this is true, as it is possible to have very bad luck and poor timing and awful circumstances throughout one's life. But he certainly was obsessed about it, and I do not think it is very healthy.

Would you want to read this?

Again, this is a Hardy novel. It is well written -- such beautiful, lyrical prose. It is considered one of his very best novels, and I would agree (though not like my favorite Far From the Madding Crowd). It is melancholy, then redeeming, and even promising, but tragic to the very end. Most of all, the story, which is 400 pages, is worth your time or emotional investment because there is never a dull moment or plot vacancy or shallow characters. Let me say: if you like a lot of drama with your classics...this is for you.

I added The Mayor of Casterbridge to my personal canon and hope to read it again.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

It's So Classic Book Tag


It's So Classic Book Tag by Rebellious Writing


Rules: 
Link post to the host: Rebellious Writing. 
Answer Questions.
Tag five bloggers.

What is one classic that hasn't made it into a movie, yet, but really needs to?

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
An amazing, heart-wrenching story about what one mother had the courage to do instead of be separated from her babies. Ever! 
or Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
I do wish someone could make an updated film version of this story.
HOWEVER...What I'd really love to see is an excellent film sequence made from the entire nine-book set of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Don't change the characters or the fictional chronological order, or water it down for today's overly Twitter-sensitive audiences. I want to hear every bird song and see every flower, sky, rolling hill, lake, and waving prairie grasses, and taste every delectable dish that Laura described. I want to experience the wild woods and prairies, the horrid grasshoppers, the wolves, the devastating winter, the poverty, hunger, and every unknown and fear that Laura experienced.
I want to see all the excellent lessons Almanzo learned. I want to enjoy the patriotic Fourth of Julys. I want to hear all of Pa's songs and Ma's exemplary corrections. I want the pain and the disappointments and the trials and perseverance. There is nothing to leave out, even if her story was embellished...it is still a story, and that is what needs to be made into film.
But I won't hold my breath.
What draws you into classics?

The writing style of the classics stands out the most for me, and I find classic authors have higher standards or are technically better writers. They are beautiful writers and know how to use words to paint pictures. They don't waste words. They are careful about how they place words, as each word is used purposefully and precisely. One could even say they use words to make music, because you could read aloud and it would almost be like a tune. Or at least your tongue doesn't trip on itself. 

What is an underrated classic?

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

What is one classic that you didn't expect to love, but ended up loving it anyway?

My second reading of Persuasion by Jane Austen.

What is your most favorite and least favorite classic?

MOST: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
     or Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
          or Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
               or Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

LEAST: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

What is your favorite character from a classic?

Melanie Hamilton from Gone With the Wind

What's a popular classic that you felt wasn't that great?

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Who is your favorite classic author?

Right now, it's Thomas Hardy.

What makes a classic a classic?

Well, I've already mentioned writing style. Another characteristic of a classic is the soul of the story. It has to be a good story that makes timeless arguments about life, human nature, and our hearts. It has to tell us about ourselves. If we cannot relate to it, it won't speak to us, and we will forget it. Classics go on forever, and that is why they last for generations. 

Relating to newer books, what attributes does a book need to have in order to be worthy of the title "classic"?

So besides a strong and healthy writing style, a story that speaks directly into our souls, and longevity, a book must have the truth. An author cannot lie to his/her readers or they will not take the author seriously. A classic has truth. TRUTH. The characters must be human and the plot must make sense or have a purpose. If the truth is missing, the book will only be cheap and quick entertainment,  whereas a classic will have you going back for seconds. 

Tag Time:

Sharon @ Gently Mad
Silvia @ Silvia Cachia
Paula @ The Vince Review (No pressure, Paula. I know you said you were slowing down for awhile.)

Now check out Rebellious Writing for other fun happenings!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

I Cannot Write Right Now and Other Things

Writing drains me. It takes me days and sometimes weeks to sit down and produce a blog post. Then it takes a few more hours, over the course of a few days, to edit. It takes everything from me, and emotionally drains me. I rarely leave any thought untouched. It takes time away from reading and time away from my family. 

I look at all of these books I have waiting for me to read, and I think about what I really want to do most...

I want to read!

Yes, I want to write and discuss, too, but not as much as I want to read. It's difficult enough to find time to read on a daily basis, and book reviews and discussions, in addition, are not a guarantee via a blog. There are already thousands of book bloggers who offer so much more time and book reviews than I do. And since I am not an active blogger, I would rather focus on reading. 

I have definitively cut myself off from all of the reading commitments I made earlier in the year  (except for long term challenges like WEM, The Classics Club), which felt liberating.

Next, I purchased the Bookly app, for encouragement....


And then I started reading...a lot.


The first book I finished was Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. 5/5 stars. Excellent read, well written, and intensely intricate. The complexities of alternating circumstances and emotions kept me involved and expecting. Again, it is typical Hardy, so the ending is crushing; but this one ranks up there with his very best works.


The next book I finished was Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome. 4/5 stars. Another well written story by Wharton. When I had the evening to read, I could not wait to open to where I left off to find out what would happen next. This is a very sad and quick novella. By the time I was acquainted with the main characters and their personal stories, tragedy was upon the relationship. The ending is just as quick and devastating. It has stayed with me for weeks.


My next three books are current reads, and they are between 300 and 600+ pages. In other words, they are taking me a long time to finish. 


The first is Here I Stand by Roland Bainton. It is a straightforward biography about Martin Luther. I marvel at how God used Luther to change history and the world. This is my second reading of this book, and I am at the halfway mark.


I am still trekking through Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, for my Well-Educated Mind Reading History Challenge. It is both a burden and enlightening. It is unconscionably long, but also interesting, at times. A great example of Fair and Balanced reporting, for certain. Again, it is a second read for me, and I just started reading part II.


I am a little over halfway through Caroline Fraser's Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This one is difficult to read because Fraser shares some unfavorable truths about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the stories I have come to love so very much. This work does expose her life (as per her stories) as absolute fiction; Fraser also reveals the many complications of Rose Wilder, Laura's only daughter. And I have hardly delved into the political stuff. But it's coming!


Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, I am reading to my kids for no reason other than it has been on our bookshelf for a long time. I should finish it tonight. It is set in the time of the Great Depression, the same time period I am in Prairie Fires. In my opinion, it is not great reading, but it is narrated by the young protagonist; I cannot help but correct his grammar while I read it aloud.



Finally, I am starting this tomorrow, reading with Brona's Books for the Moby-Dick Readalong. I read Moby-Dick in 2012, and I loved the experience. Now I hope to get something more out of it. We only need to read 3-4 chapters a week, and Brona expects us to be done in February 2020. 

You see my copy...I bought this book for 10 cents from my library. It was brand new; no one had touched it. So I took it home and read it for my Well-Educated Mind Novels Reading Challenge. I read it while floating in my pool hour after hour, day after day, all summer. A few times I had to fling it out of the pool because I thought one of my kids was drowning. It was always a false alarm, and I overreacted. Each time my book took a beating, and often it became water logged; but it was the perfect place for reading such a book, after which it found a place in my heart forever. Honestly, I think it is the time period and history of such livelihood that gets me the most.

Now, what does this all mean? It means I will take a break from writing long-winded, soul-emptying blog posts. I have forfeit my smaller challenges, but I will keep reading and maybe have something to say on Goodreads, Instagram, or Facebook. Maybe. As it is, I have written too much, and I must go make dinner and wash breakfast dishes. Yeah, they are still sitting in the sink!

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood



The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood
Published 1986

Humanity is so adaptable…truly amazing, 
what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations. 

I just finished re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. When I read it in 1990, and saw the film, I was engrossed; but I did not have the opinions or worldview that I do now, and therefore, I did not have a personal response. Today I have so much to say. Where do I begin? I will write and let it flow naturally.

First of all, I could not put the book down. I thought it would make me completely angry, but instead it drew me in and would not let me go. I do favor dystopian stories, and this one was really fascinating.

The narrator, the main character, told her story in a kind of daze. She jumped between her distant and recent past, in addition to the present, recounting broken stories of her life; it worked really well, and I was able to naturally follow her thoughts, make the connections, and complete the story. Some information was missing from the puzzle, and in the end, I was left to speculate what may have happened to her. 

The main character was the Handmaid, Offred, who left behind this written account of her personal story, to preserve her history or to be used as evidence. Handmaids were young women of childbearing age, deemed immoral due to their past history of rape, adultery, fornication, or other sexual sins, and were now loaned out as property to older elite couples who were part of the new regime and unable to have children. Elite women carried the blame for barrenness, though in truth they knew that men were also liable. Infertility was blamed on environmental toxins, the overuse of birth control, STDs, and the laziness of women (and men) who no longer desired to have children. 

AMERICA'S PURITAN ROOTS

Stoney Ground by Edwin Abbey, 

Atwood set the story in present day America and carefully included only injustices and oppressions that had already been committed throughout history. She wanted her story to be believable and did not want to leave anything to the imagination. She also knew, and I agree, “that established orders could vanish overnight.” They could also happen very slowly over time, while citizens were apathetic and took their liberties for granted. 

In The Handmaid’s Tale, a group called The Son’s of Jacob overthrew the American government, removed the President and Congress, and suspended the U.S. Constitution. Women were forbidden to work, access money, own property, read, and write. The group also instituted man-made laws that perverted the Old Testament.  

Atwood was of the opinion that if any group sought to overthrow the American government – and I suppose win support without much rebellion – they would do so using religious "Christian"  fundamentalism; hence, she chose elements from 17th century Puritanism. 

Puritans contributed to early American history and self-government, but the strict religious sect came from England, 1620, and brought with them English law. However, while religious freedom was still on the hearts of the people, in 1775, the American Revolution was strongly about personal liberty. 

First, I personally do not believe Christian fundamentalism is true Christianity. A true believer has a personal, individual relationship with Christ. Anyone who follows Christ is accountable to Him alone, not to an organized religion or church. You do not become a Christian until you make a decision to follow Christ. Let us be sure it is true Christianity. 

Second, according to Pew, the number of Christian Americans decreases yearly; more people are not identifying with any religion, while there is a small and steady increase of those who claim to be Muslim. Our landscape is changing and is expected to look very different in 20-40 years. Look at Europe! That is the way of America.

Third, it is Christians who are consistently being ostracized from society because they cannot align themselves with this current culture. It is America’s Christian ideals that are being targeted and eradicated from society. It is Christians whose religious liberty is being challenged frequently, and in many cases, losing the battle. 

Finally, I will not say, “This cannot happen here,” because I agree with Atwood that we can lose our liberties, depending on which ones you mean; but I am more concerned about the changing landscape of America, especially with the influx of strict Islamic sects, whose ideology contradicts America’s basic liberties for all, especially women. 

By the way, it is becoming increasingly popular to hate America and offensive if you feel patriotic and grateful for this country. Americans seek its demise, encouraging division and its inevitable fall. In my opinion, America is certainly in a position to be overtaken, but it probably won’t be by a Christian fundamentalist group, hoping to reinstate America’s old Puritanical roots. Know what I mean?

Sabbath Eve by Alexander Johnston

THE CONTRADICTIONS OF GILEAD

Oh, this story is not anti-religion. Atwood said: “…it is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny.” Yes! Even Offred prayed to God and told Him that she knew this [regime] was not “mandated by a just and merciful God,” meaning the imposters who took over, imposing their man-made laws on the people, were not true Christians. Absolutely! That’s what I said.

Atwood understood, at least for Christianity’s sake, that people were capable of hijacking a religion. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, they twisted Scripture to legislate oppression. The Sons of Jacob could not be further from the Truth. They were liars. If anyone uses Scripture to advance himself or his ideology and never points to Christ, he is not a Christian and his agenda is not from God.

There are so many other contradictions used by the regime, and unfortunately, anyone who does not know the truth will be misinformed about real Christianity, although I am sure that was not Atwood’s concern. 

For one, Christianity does not condone sex slaves or handmaids for reproduction. Women’s bodies are the temple of the Living God, not to be used for another's selfish pleasure or agenda. That idea is not biblical, not even with the Old Testament. When Abraham’s wives used their maids for procreation, God was not pleased. See the conflict created between the two sisters and all of the brothers, not to mention the broken hearts of the maids? While God may use our sin for His good, He clearly instituted marriage to be between one man and one woman, for a reason. (Genesis 2:24) And Jesus reiterated that in the New Testament. (Matthew 19:4-6)

The hypocrisy of the regime of Gilead is deafening. The Commander took Offred to an underground community where only the elite of the officials escape to enjoy all of the forbidden sins outlawed for everyone else. When Offred asked why these places still existed, the Commander replied because “…everyone’s human.” Christians are commanded to turn away from temptation and hate what God hates and exhibit self-control. They cannot make excuses for weakness and call it “being human.” Ironically he said “everyone” is human…but, in that case, not everyone was treated human, right? Lots of hypocrisy!


Robert Duvall and Natasha Richardson meet privately

Another glaring contradiction was the lack of love. The commander asked Offred, “What did [the regime] overlook?” Offred replied, “Falling in love.” The commander argued against love because he said it did not work out, for men, who were turning against marriage and sex because they couldn’t feel anything anymore. The regime replaced “love” with arranged marriages, and the commander said it was a “return to nature.” 

But a true Christian knows that love is essential to relationships. Husbands are commanded to love their wives, and wives their husbands; parents their children, children their parents; Christians love their neighbors, and even love their enemies! But in Gilead, there is absolutely no love.

The Salvagings were not Christian. I do not know how else to say it. Something like public stoning was Old Testament Law; but Christ fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), so we no longer need to live that way. Even the American Founding was based on Judeo-Christian ideals and established more protection for criminals than for law-abiding citizens. Check out the American Bill of Rights! Clearly, Gilead rejected Christian justice. 

And the violently tearing apart of citizens with one's bare hands...that's just NOT Christian or Puritan. That's barbaric. 

Furthermore, the leaders of the regime obviously never understood Colossians 2:21-23: 
“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. 
Instead they placed burdens on the people with their useless man-made laws of morality.

NOW ABOUT ABORTION...



In her introduction, Atwood described the Aunts as the older women who retrained and indoctrinated the younger Handmaids into believing all of the lies of the regime. The author recounted the scene in the Hulu series, in which the Handmaids were encouraged to “slut-shame” a particular Handmaid who told her story about being gang raped at age fourteen. Atwood said it disturbed her because it was very real since women will “gang up on other women. Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook. Yes, they will take positions of power over other women.” The author then added in the “Historical Notes” that Gilead is not only patriarchal in form but also matriarchal in content. Yes, and women can be equally harsh and tyrannical as men.

See, this is not only a female issue. This is human nature. Men do it, too, (like gang mentality). However, it also made me think of abortion. Have women not fiercely justified their ability and opportunity - a protected right - to kill their own offspring, half of which are future women? Are they not ganging up on other (unborn) women, accusing others (their offspring of inconveniencing them) to avoid responsibility, taking a position of power over their own defenseless unborn baby? Even Offred’s feminist-activist mother claimed, “A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women.” Maybe it is a stretch, but abortion instantly came to mind. 

Today when I read or hear The Handmaid’s Tale used as an example of what would happen if abortion were outlawed, that it is the equivalent of rape and forced childbirth, it makes my head spin. There is no connection because we are still free to choose to have sex with a man or not. No one is holding us down like they did Offred. And before you remind me of rape, let me remind you that most abortions are overwhelmingly for convenience and selfish interest. Less than 0.5% of abortions a year are because of rape, while 3-5% are for fetal abnormalities and health of the mother. The rest are for personal reasons. Also note, over 85% of women who use abortion are not married. 

Access to abortion does not equal freedom. It either breaks your heart or makes you bitter. And demanding free birth control also does not equal freedom. You still have to depend on government to provide your birth control so you can have sex with a guy without requiring him to be accountable. Look, if you are not in a position to have a baby, YOU DON'T HAVE TO HAVE SEX WITH THAT GUY! Even Offred said, 
No one dies from a lack of sex; it’s a lack of love, we die from.



SOME MISCELLANEOUS THOUGHTS

During Offred’s private visit with the Commander, which he initiated specifically for friendly intimacy, he discussed the benefits the regime now provided to women, such as protection from violent men or abandonment and an equal opportunity to have a husband through arranged marriages (for those permitted to marry). Women no longer needed cosmetic surgery to improve appearance to attract men. And women need not measure their worth by income or worry about leaving their children in the care of an unkind woman. Besides, mothers never received respect, and women turned away from “the whole business” anyway.
This way they’re protected, they can fulfill their biological destinies in peace. With full support and encouragement.
UGH. 

By the time I came to the rape scene in the story, I asked myself why the author had so much animosity that she could imagine something this horrific, even violent, using the F-word a few times to describe the act. It was truly gut wrenching to read her description. I could sense her anger. Then again, I remember, this has already happened, and it is happening still today, as I think of ISIS abducting young girls to sell and purchase as sex slaves. Different purpose, similar act.

 SHOULD YOU READ THIS, IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY?

Fans of dystopian books will embrace it. Readers who enjoy infuriating stories about victims and injustice will enjoy it, too. The writing style is quite interesting for this story; it does the job. And yes, the tale is almost completely believable, thanks to Atwood's pulling together all the corruptible and atrocious acts man has selfishly imposed on his fellow man and woman. It serves as a warning that this is possible...this can happen...anywhere...because it already has and is. Man is totally wicked and all nations are temporary. Even America.

P.S. I have NOT watched the HULU series of this story. I like the book, and I want to keep it that way.

UPDATE: Article: Missing the Handmaid's Tale on Breakpoint
Why one woman won't enjoy the Hulu series because it is very true to life for other women in other countries, while in America it is used to tell Americans how to think about abortion in this country, which is my point exactly.