Margaret Atwood says religion isn't the problem... human beings are

In her keynote address at the Restorying Canada conference, Margaret Atwood muses on how religion has affected our notions of utopia and dystopia, in fiction and in real life.

Margaret Atwood was one of the keynote speakers at Restorying Canada in May 2017.  The session, which also included Christian ecologist and author Leah Kostamo, was called 'The Future of Religion in Canada: Utopia or Dystopia?'

Atwood was suffering from a cold that day, but that didn't deter her at all. In fact, during her talk, she included a reading of a sermon from her novel The Year of the Flood, which is part of her acclaimed MaddAddam trilogy. She even sang an original hymn from the book.

She also shared her convictions on the role of religion and of human error in the development of societies:

"I sometimes hear the view that the world's ills are due to religions. Some people have that view. I do not agree with that view because atheist regimes have done a good job of oppressing and murdering people too. It is true that Christianity has got some dark moments. And it's had some dark moments in Canada. Dark moments of various kinds. But I don't think you can put that down to a religion. I think you can put that down to human beings behaving the way they unfortunately sometimes do - whatever religion or non-religion they may happen to have."

Many utopian tales were written in the 19th century; they presented creative visions of an ideal existence. Atwood cited several examples, among them:

News from Nowhere, by William Morris

A Crystal Age, by W. H. Hudson

The Coming Age, by Bulwer Lytton

Looking Backwards, by Edward Bellamy

But Atwood says that World War I put an end to that trend.  People stopped writing utopias and started writing dystopias, in part because both the Russian revolution and Nazi Germany were presented to the world as utopian.

"'Make 'fill-in-the-blank great again.' That's today's version, by the way," says Atwood, with her trademark dry wit.

I would describe utopias and dystopias as a kind of yin/yang arrangement. In which every dystopia includes in it a little utopia, and every utopia contains a little dystopia. And that dystopia usually takes the form of "those people". You know, those people that you have to do something about before everything will be wonderful.

"One thing that has happened over the past 77 years, which is the number I have been on this planet, is that the centre of Christianity abdicated. I think a lot of people left the church who were the stable centre and that created space for more extreme people to come in and create a power base for themselves."

Click LISTEN above to hear Atwood's full arguement.