But as a matter of fact Ms. Atwood did choose a theocratic dictatorship as the setting for her lame little dystopia.
She did indeed. And thus, she obscured the larger message, which is that fertility is the most valued commodity in the world. If fertility is limited to a select few, those few will either become rulers or slaves.
I should say that I am a fan of Ms. Atwood, and consider her one of the best speculative fiction authors of the current (post-Heinlein) generation.
THAT SAID, I have always considered A Handmaid’s Tale to be one of her weakest, more puerile works, which is of course why it achieved a level of popularity with the mass market. :-)
Mr. Heinlein might similarly have claimed that his (far more compelling) dystopian novella could have been set in a socialist dictatorship. I prefer to judge the thing as it is, without reference to the thing it might have been.
Hmmmm…..that’s really not what I’m doing, here. I’m simply saying that the dystopic environment she created could have been entirely atheistic, and her underlying story line would have been essentially unchanged.
And of course the reasons the writer chose to write a work in the way they do matter in interpretation. Atwood is a thoughtful, serious writer, and her intention in AHT was not to assault any existing religious tradition in the US; she simply considered the question “If the US were to become a totalitarian state, what is its most likely path based on its history?” She did not write the work to be anti-Christian, anti-US, or any other anti; how people interpret the work is out of her control.
And of course to say “Well, if you didn’t want to be misinterpreted, you shouldn’t have written it” is the beginning of censorship, which neither of us condone.