The Handmaid’s Taleis a novel. The story below is not. It is true, and it happened in 1990, but its reverberations are still being felt, and are maybe stronger and deeper now than when they burst into view. Margaret Atwood’s fictional vision was directly relevant to it — as well as that of another novel which became its mirror image. Read on to understand why.
It begins with a showdown at Silver Bay, involving witches versus demons.
I. Gilead Meets the Goddess
New York Yearly Meeting gathers at Silver Bay, a resort complex on Lake George, north of Albany. Silver Bay is a lovely and peaceful setting, to which many New York Quakers return as pilgrims each summer seeking rest and renewal among Friends.
When the yearly meeting gathered in July of 1990, rest and renewal seemed in short supply. The 1980s had not been easy for New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM).
While many other unprogrammed yearly meetings were growing, New York’s membership declined by about ten per cent; the body struggled to meet its budget; and worst of all, its annual sessions were wracked by chronic wrangling, over doctrine and morals. An effort to rewrite its Faith and Practice, pending since 1977, dragged on abrasively throughout the decade; by 1990, this process had become so acrimonious that the Yearly Meeting put it on hold for a year.
In its travail, New York had become a kind of field laboratory for an ongoing experiment in institutional Quaker ecumenism. Unfortunately, in the latter years of the 1980s, many of the results of this test had not been promising, and never more so than at its 1990 session.
Stone raises the curtain on a well-established phenomenon particularly at the liberal end of this constituency. Yet it’s one that is hardly ever remarked on, except in passing: the pervasive influence of pop psychology and the morphing of “spirituality” (also previously known as “religion”) into a kind of therapy equivalent.
Usually it was great going to Meeting in San Francisco in 1976. The meetinghouse was then on Lake Street, directly overlooking the bay. Through a big window, we sat and followed sinuous gray bands of fog streaming up from the ocean and making the Golden Gate Bridge towers vanish and reappear like some gigantic friendly ghosts waving vast outspread cable arms.
In today’s NYTimes (09-28-2015, the front-page article on the pope’s visit quotes a so-called expert in “Catholic Studies”:
<< “I was frankly taken aback at how savvy [pope Francis] was,” said Stephen Schneck, the director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America. “He was clearly aware of all the very divisive issues for Catholics in American public life but talked about them in a way that didn’t give ammunition to either conservatives or progressives in the United States to use in their political wars.”>>