E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey sold over 10 million copies in its first six weeks here in the U.S., according to the publisher.
If you’re close to the publishing business, you know that number is high enough to induce acute tachycardia. Precious few books ever sell such quantities. But this book and its companion volumes are hardly precious, and there are some serious reasons to be concerned about the phenomenon.
I’ve now read several exchanges among Christians in the blogosphere and on Facebook about James’ trilogy. Some express concern and even moral outrage at the book’s graphic sexual content. Others are surprisingly dismissive. A sampling of sentiments from the latter to the former, include thoughts like these (paraphrased):
- Some women just like variety in their reading; a person can only handle so much Nicholas Sparks.
- If you haven’t read it, you can’t call it pornography.
- It’s just a book. Lighten up.
- Porn is different than erotica. Porn is visual, this isn’t.
- Sex with one’s spouse can get boring. It’s about time women had access to the same sort of stimuli that men do.
- The characters get married in the third book so the prenuptial prelude is okay.
- It’s acceptable for some people, even if others don’t like it; so don’t judge people who enjoy the stories.
Some of these are obviously erroneous and contradictory, and I’m not going to deal with them in any systematic way. I mainly want to point out that Christians have offered these rationales for reading books that any previous generation would have called smut. Something’s wrong here.
I’ve got my past, and you’ve got yours. Nobody’s claiming to be sinless. There are shameful things in all of our lives that we are called to repent of and get beyond. But it seems as if we’re now caught looking for reasons whereby we can gratify our lusts without the consequence of guilt or shame or worse.
We’re called to something better than that. This isn’t about being prudish. It’s about being holy. I’m as poor at living that out as anyone, but that’s the calling of a Christian. That’s what we walk and work toward. And part of that calling is curbing our passions and starving our lusts, however challenging that might be and however unsuccessful we might be at times.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul tells us, “Flee from sexual immorality.” He tells us in Colossians 3 to “[p]ut to death . . . what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire.” And in Ephesians 5 he says that “sexual immorality and all impurity . . . must not even be named among you.”
Let’s get serious. Are we working toward Paul’s standard? Or are we leaning on an unsatisfactory view of Christian liberty to excuse our sin? We can do better than this — and we’re called to something much better than this.