James Bond turned ninety years old this week. Actually, that’s not quite right. Sean Connery, the Scottish actor who will forever be linked with the iconic British secret agent, had his ninetieth birthday. Tributes came in from other Bond actors and the general public around the world.
I found this article especially interesting: Columnist Mark O’Connell notes that until the first Bond film, “cinema was the commonplace realm of jingoistic war movies, ailing backlot westerns, biblical excess, and tired thrillers.” Then came 1962’s Dr. No, which “transformed cinema itself.”
O’Connell describes Connery’s James Bond as combining “a jet-set sense of physicality and sexuality.” By the third Bond film, “the prototype was now a golden template of movement, style, physicality, sex, and design.”
An article on James Bond trivia estimates that Bond has slept with fifty-five women in his various movies (so far). The secret agent has clearly resonated with audiences: adjusted for inflation, the 007 movies are the top-grossing film franchise of all time.
A decade that changed the world
If I were to ask you to name the most pressing issues facing us today, I doubt James Bond’s influence on our culture would be on your list.
Or Hurricane Laura, which is expected to slam into the Louisiana and Texas coasts tonight as a Category 3 storm. Or the spike in coronavirus cases as universities begin the fall semester.
These are crises worthy of great concern, to be sure. However, while we focus on the headlines each day, there’s another story in the background that affects each of us in ways few of us seem to notice.
In 1960, two years before James Bond made his big-screen debut, birth control was legalized, “liberating” sex from pregnancy. Building on the success of his Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner opened his first Playboy Club that same year and became a symbol of the sexual revolution.
Supreme Court rulings in the early 1960s overturned bans on the publication of erotic literature. Helen Gurley published Sex and the Single Girl in 1962, championing open sexuality for women. Due to the post-war “baby boom,” the number of unmarried Americans aged twenty to twenty-four more than doubled from 1960 to 1976, fueling a drive for new norms in society.
In 1963, 82 percent of Americans believed sex outside of marriage was wrong even for those engaged to be married. In 2014, the number who believed premarital sex to be “always or almost always wrong” had fallen to 25 percent.
Why James Bond’s popularity is so dangerous
I don’t believe that James Bond’s appearance at the beginning of the sexual revolution is a coincidence. To the contrary, I suggest that his popularity was a significant factor in promoting this movement. As novelist Raymond Chandler noted, “Every man wants to be James Bond and every woman wants to be with him.”
The 007 films are highly entertaining with their gripping action sequences, international settings, and save-the-world plots. But they are more: as psychologists know, entertainment is a very powerful mode of persuasion.
Studies show that the more we are “transported” by a fictional story, the less we are critical of its truth claims and the more we become attached to its protagonists and live vicariously through them. Research also demonstrates that fictional narratives effectively combine cognitive and emotional contributions to attitude change. Such changes are especially persistent for us.
All that to say, if you wanted to persuade generations of movie goers to reject biblical sexuality, you might employ a secret agent who saves the world in each film while sleeping with scores of women over the years.
Stories change souls
Here’s a question I’ve never typed before: What can James Bond’s popularity teach us about promoting biblical morality? Consider this fact: stories change souls.
In Acts 3, a man born lame is healed through the power of Jesus’ name (vv. 1–8). With this result: “All the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (vv. 9–10).
When Peter was challenged to explain his ministry to Gentiles, he told the story of their miraculous conversion (Acts 11:1–17). With this result: “When they heard these things, they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (v. 18).
You and I don’t have to be a British secret agent to tell a story that impacts others. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you have been rescued from humanity’s worst enemy by our greatest hero. If you will love your Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30–31), your story will impact more people than you can know.
When the earliest enemies of Christianity “saw the boldness of Peter and John,” they “recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Will those you meet today say the same of you?