Letter of Complaint
This letter was sent to Prof. Scheiber Sept. 4th, 2007. He shared it with other members of the Department.
Dear Professor Scheiber:
As I mentioned to you a few weeks ago, I am adamantly opposed to the selection of The Handmaid’s Tale as the Common Text, and would get back to you with my objections. I was going on vacation when I last wrote, and have just returned.
My objections to The Handmaid’s Tale fall into two general categories. First, I object to the novel’s boorish and vulgar language, and offensive sexual descriptions. Second, I object to the book because it is preposterous and bigoted. I believe it was chosen for its politically correct indoctrination value instead of its literary merit. I elaborate on these objections below:
Boorish, Vulgar, Offensive
“I move my hips a little… I hope they get hard at the sight and have to rub themselves against the painted barriers surreptitiously.”(p.22, First Anchor paperback edition, 1998)
“The Commander is fucking, what he is fucking is the lower part of my body…” (p. 94)
“Women kneeling, sucking penises, or guns, women tied up or chained or with dog collars around their necks, women hanging from trees, or upside down, naked, with their legs held apart, women being raped, beaten up, killed. Once we had to watch a woman being slowly cut to pieces, her fingers and breasts snipped off with garden shears, her stomach slit open and her intestines pulled out.” (p. 118)
“Fuck that shit.” (p.118)
“Fucking pigs. Fucking bleeders.” (p. 180)
“Does she mean (sex) on all fours?” (p. 205)
“…someone had written Aunt Lydia sucks… The mere thought of Aunt Lydia doing such a thing was in itself heartening.” (p. 222)
“…cocks like three-week-old carrots.” (p. 222)
“Does he have a pony whip, hidden behind the door? Will he produce boots, bend himself or me over the desk?” (p. 231)
“Big scallop shells covering the tits.” (p. 235)
“What’d you do wrong, laugh at his dick?” “It’s like screwing on the altar or something.” (p. 243)
“You’d have three or four good years before your snatch wears out…” (p. 249)
“There is something reassuring about toilets. Bodily functions at least remain democratic. Everybody shits.” (p.252)
How, out of all the marvelous books ever written, your Department came up with this book as THE ONE that you are requiring my daughter and all freshmen to read, is a mystery to me. Its selection speaks very poorly of the quality of the Department.
Preposterous, Bigoted, Politically Correct
In the Guinness Book of World Records, 1994 edition, under “Murder: Government Sanctioned” one finds:
Communist China, under Mao: 63.7 million
Communist Russia: 40 million
Nazi Germany: 7 million
Communist Cambodia, under the Khmer Rouge: 2.4 million.
What do all these murders, of over 110 million people, have in common? They all occurred in Godless, totalitarian states. There’s not a “theocracy” among them.
But the figures are incorrect. Legalized abortion in the United States since 1973 has eliminated approximately 48 million unborn human beings. And according to the New York Times Almanac, about 55 million abortions take place each year world wide. Communist China, with forced abortion, probably holds the record here too.
Apparently Guinness got wind of their error, but instead of correcting it, the entry disappeared. It is not in recent editions. Like in 1984, the information disappeared.
Planned Parenthood is our nation’s largest corporate killer of the unborn. It spearheaded the effort to overturn abortion laws. Its founder, Margaret Sanger, began her career with a magazine whose masthead read "No Gods, No Masters." So the ideological origins of legalized abortion in our country are Godless too.
One can see the creeping effects of this atheistic-materialistic mentality, what Alexander Solzhenitsyn called “the calamity of autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness” in the United States. Before contraceptives were legal or easily available, the plea was, “We just want our contraceptives, to lead our little private sexual lives…” This has since segued to mandatory (contraceptive based) sex-education, taxpayer funded contraceptives and abortions, not allowing a pharmacist to practice if he or she won’t dispense contraceptives, legally requiring pharmacies to carry the “morning after (abortion) pill,” requiring insurance companies to cover abortion, etc. As Pope John Paul wrote in Veritatis Splendor, sec.101 “This is the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism… if there is no ultimate truth to guide… political activity… ideas… can easily be manipulated for reasons of power… a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.”
As an example, the news media treats abortion as a non-issue. Though there are more unborn Americans killed in a single day than U.S. soldiers have been killed in the entire Iraq war, the news media will focus on a soldier killed instead of the 3500 or so daily surgical abortions. Stalin was right: “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”
This same neglect is evident in the St. Thomas English Department’s Common Text program. Since about 1990, the common theme of Common Text selections has involved discrimination of some sort: racial, sexual, imperialistic, etc. But none of the required readings has focused on the fatal discrimination suffered by the innocent unborn. The Department has either missed, or purposely ignored, the proverbial “elephant in the living room.”
In documentaries on the Nazis, it’s been mentioned that the concentration camps were often on the outskirts of small towns. Apparently, the citizens knew, but nobody said or did anything. Life went on in the town as usual. The citizens were either too afraid, or they actually agreed with what was occurring: their silence implied consent.
This is similar to the “dystopia” in which we live. At the Planned Parenthood on Ford Parkway, many unborn children are killed each day, tens of thousands over the years. Next door, at the Dairy Queen, customers cheerfully lick their cones and munch their burgers. And at the closest Catholic University, what is the response?
One would think that the English Department might require a “text” such as Bernard Nathanson’s The Hand of God. In it, Dr. Nathanson discusses how he co-founded the National Abortion Rights Action League, aborted perhaps 50,000 unborn, including his own child, but eventually converted to the Catholic faith.
Or the English Department might require A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Solzhenitsyn, as an example of how a Godless state ends up murdering and “grinding down” its own citizens. It could follow that up with his stirring 1978 Harvard address, "A World Split Apart."
Another possibility might involve focusing on the theme of how sexual immorality leads to disorder and death. The Common Text might be Euripides’ The Bacchae, in which the King is undone by his lust, or Chaucer’s Man of Law Tale:
“Foul lust of lechery, behold thy due!
Not only dost thou darken a man’s mind,
But bringest destruction on his body too,
In the beginning, all thy works are blind
And in their end are grief. How many find
That not the act alone, but even the will
To set about it can deprave and kill!”
Or Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
But no, instead the English Department requires the students to read a book that demonizes the “religious right” in the most bigoted fashion, and seeks to arouse fears of what the world might look like under a “theocracy” without pornography, contraceptives, or abortion! What??? Has the “regime” taken over the English Department, and is the regime omitting books that would challenge its ideology and requiring books that insidiously support its ideology and vilify the opposition? Is it seeking to “re-educate” the students to moral relativism? So it appears.
The late Jesuit and university professor, Fr. John Hardon, wrote that “The purpose of Catholic education is to instruct the human mind in order to motivate the human will, so that the will conforms to the will of God.” It’s hard to see how The Handmaid’s Tale meets this criterion.
You have said The Handmaid’s Tale is not anti-Catholic. Let’s see:
The “regime” won’t let women “control their own bodies,” via abortion or contraception, a charge often leveled at the Catholic Church.
In the regime, men are in charge and the women have no voice, like surprise, the male hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
The most oppressed women in the book must dress in a habit, like a Catholic nun.
The regime espouses “traditional morality” and “family values.”
The regime does not recognize homosexual acts as healthy sexual development.
The regime does not recognize divorce. (Is there any non-Catholic religion that doesn’t recognize divorce?)
The regime doesn’t allow artificial insemination or fertility clinics.
The regime does not allow pornography, or fornication, or sanction prostitution.
The despicable Aunt Lydia is described as “like... the saints, of darker ages… she was angular and without flesh.”
It seems if one just substitutes “Catholic Church” for “regime” in the above cases, the shoe, as they say, fits. That is the intent of the book.
The fact that a priest was put to death does not by itself imply that he opposed the regime anymore than Stalin’s killing of Trotsky implies that Trotsky was anti-communist. Nothing good or bad is said about the priest.
As a parent, I feel betrayed by the University of St. Thomas’ English Department. I am wasting my money, and my daughter is wasting her time reading books such as The Handmaid’s Tale. Life is finite, and there are so many wonderful books. Why not read the great authors first, and save the, relatively speaking, literary non-entities for later or never?
I have looked at the course catalogs of a few other Catholic schools. The entry level courses at Christendom College and the University of Dallas include such books as the Iliad, The Odyssey, Oedipus the King, Orestia, The Aeneid, Poetics etc. and move on to those by Cicero, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton, Austen, Mary Shelley, Dostoyevsky, etc. So the tradition of going to college to read the literary giants lives on. I would be most pleased if my daughter’s finite time was spent reading books and authors such as these. I implore your Department to refocus itself and spend more time reading books in the classical Western tradition. And implore you to drop The Handmaid’s Tale as the Common Text, or at the least, drop it as mandatory reading.
Michael W. Bird
P.S. The author writes that “Romania, for instance, anticipated Gilead by banning all forms of birth control…” I am the father of two children adopted from a Romanian orphanage. It seems the English Department thinks that it was wrong that they were conceived and born if they weren’t “wanted.” I and they would disagree.