Fifty Shades of Let’s Get Serious

Fifty Shades of Let’s Get Serious June 6, 2012
Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey

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.

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  • Thanks for speaking clarity into this nonsense, especially as a publisher. Money cannot trump morality or we are all doomed both within and without the church.

    • Amen. And entertainment is never merely entertainment when it provokes lustful imaginations. Sexual sin is just as dangerous to the soul as it is enticing to the mind and body. We cannot blindly justify our enticements and expect to come out unscathed.

  • Amen. Great post, Joel!

  • Thank you for boldly calling us out to a higher standard.

    You’re right: “This isn’t about being prudish. It’s about being holy.”

  • Hear, hear!

  • Sandra

    I haven’t read the book, nor plan to. I am thankful, though, that you’re reminding those of us who claim to be wholehearted followers of Christ that just as He is holy, so, too, we’re to be holy in all we do. Entertaining ourselves with the sin that Jesus died to forgive and free us from is tragic and will have its consequences. Christ-in-me would never willfully choose to break the heart of His Father. Christians, do we know who/whose we are…?

    • “Entertaining ourselves with the sin that Jesus died to forgive and free us from is tragic and will have its consequences.”

      Wow. That’s a sobering way to put it.

      • George Minerva

        That is the line that caught me. “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” God, root it out of me. I feel the tiny tendrils that will eventually work their way into my heart, rending it useless for your glory. Thanks Joel

  • Ashley – Embracing Beauty

    I couldn’t agree more! I wrote a post about it too if you’re interested.

  • Great post. I agree, I wrote a post about it as well, if you are interested. Looking at this from a non-believer’s perspective as well.

  • Annette – carinskarin

    This is such a needed post in our worldly wishy-washy troubled place. I want to become more like Christ not more like the world.

  • B H

    Human erotica has been around for literally thousands of years. It’ll be around thousands more. Of all the world’s problems, few can be blamed on “dirty” pictures and books.

    These Western/Christian notions of the taboo don’t even exist in some cultures; thus, it’s not remotely universal.

    Your energies are probably best placed elsewhere. I tend to focus on love, compassion, and patience myself. Poorly-written fiction… not so much.

    But… to each his own.

    • I agree that my energies are best focused in pursuing holiness through worship and prayer, love and service. Part of that expression of love and service is to encourage fellow believers on the same path. The fact that pornography is as old as time does not invalidate the effort.

    • JP

      “Of all the world’s problems, few can be blamed on “dirty” pictures and books.”

      ALL of the world’s problems begin and end in sin,and no sin is a “small” sin, according to God.

      As to the argument that only US Christians care about smut – NOT so. I think you are only thinking about European Christians, which as someone who has BEEN to Europe, and seen the awful state of what passes for the Body of Christ there, that is not something I would use as an example to follow.

      In fact, your comment shows a propensity to judge things as you see fit, rather than as God judges. Do you love the “freedom” to dabble in sin more than the Savior that died to give you freedom from it? Or are you merely someone who loves an idol they call Jesus that bears little resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible?

  • Richard J. Maloney

    I totally agree! Smut like this is killing our country, our children! Look at some of these HORRID quotes I found:

    “His left hand is under my head and his right hand doth embrace me … stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.” 2:6-7

    “My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.” 5:4

    “The joints of thy thighs are like jewels.” 7:1

    “We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts … But my breasts [are] like towers.” 8:8-10

    Let’s ban the Book of Solomon! Fifty Shades of Solomon! There are clearly references to fetishism, orgasm, and incestuous comparisons between the speaker and her sister! Polygamist Solomon’s masturbatory fantasies don’t belong in Scripture.

    • A few points of reply:

      First, I’m not advocating banning anything. I’m addressing the willing choice people make in a free and open market. I don’t support censorship. I support self-control. The post above clearly advocates nothing except that Christians follow the Scripture’s call to holiness, which excludes indulging sinful lusts.

      Second, the place of the Song in Scripture is not incongruous with the call to holiness. Sexual desire, expression, and fulfillment are not wrong in themselves and can within the sacrament of marriage be sanctifying. The outline of human sexuality presented in the Song is God’s outline. The question isn’t whether it belongs in the Bible; the question is what a person does with the book and why.

      Third, as with any other passage of Scripture, the Song can be misused. If a person is prone to lustful imaginations, there’s nothing compelling them to read the Song and they should probably refrain from turning its lyrics over in their mind. If you’re using it — or any other sexually explicit portion of the Bible, and of course there are others — to incite lust, then that’s a misuse of the text. Close the book and start praying.

      Finally, Christianity is not against sex. It’s against unruly passions of all sorts, sexual or otherwise, that would prevent or distract from growing holiness and thereby union with God.

  • I have not read the book — was warned away by reviews and reaction of some friends. But I found this article about a librarian’s reaction to it interesting — thought you might as well.,0,7776944.story

  • Oh, wow, I’m all teary with thanks for this post! I wrote a poem lamenting the tragedy of this phenomenon, and more Christians hearts need to break over all the implications. Here’s a link to my thoughts. May God heal our hearts and our land.

  • I have tried to stay away from this series and reading anything about it, but your post title caught me! Great post Joel. The one comment above that struck me was “Porn is different than erotica. Porn is visual, this isn’t!” – My brain cannot even wrap around this statement. While men are visual, women are just as visual, we are just emotionally-charged, instead of physically charged. Reading just about anything, be it a comic strip, fiction/non-fiction, a news article, (it doesn’t matter), create visuals and emotionally-tied images in our heads… visuals that may or may not be accurate, but what we’ve created nonetheless. Phil 4:8 comes to mind of what we SHOULD be filling our minds with instead!

    • The porn/erotica distinction frankly stumped me too. The word “pornography” comes from pornea (sexual immorality) and graphia (to write). Narrowly defined, then, pornography isn’t visual, it’s literal. But graphia can also mean to paint, which is why an icon painter is called an iconographer. But whether it’s visual or literal is beside the point. As you point out, it’s what you do with it in your mind and heart, and Fifty Shades hardly passes the Phil 4.8 test.

  • well said. Thank you.

  • Kristi

    These books were great and have allowed me to think openly about intimacy rather than thinking of it as something dirty. Intimacy between two loving individuals should be celebrated and cherished by those individuals and not locked away in some never spoken of reality. Sex and intimacy are not dirty words but rather an expression of love.

    • “Great” hardly works as an adjective for Fifty Shades. Surely, you recognize that not all expressions of sex and intimacy are equal. Some warrants discussion, and some clearly not. That’s Paul’s point above: that sexual immorality should never be named among believers. If you give a rip about holiness, then you’d better look to more edifying for help in thinking about sex and intimacy.

  • MikeBaiLee

    Is reading about sexual immorality in and of itself sexual immorality? No more then reading a murder mystery makes you a murderer. You’re better off without sexual stimuli but in the end it’s just another bad habit; however one that will weaken us spiritually.