Would I care more about 50 Shades, if I were Evangelical?

Would I care more about 50 Shades, if I were Evangelical? February 13, 2015

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Over in our Evangelical Channel, a brief post by Samuel James, entitled “50 Shades of Self-Loathing” has gone mega-viral. In conversation with an Evangelical friend, I’ve learned that some Evangelical energy has put into promoting a “boycott” of the movie.

The Evangelical community is very exercised about 50 Shades of Grey, and I’m trying to figure out why we Catholics seem less so.

It’s not as if bishops have not spoken out about the film and exhorted us to holiness. It’s not as if Catholic pundits and writers haven’t recommended other ways for people to spend their money, their time, their love than wasting it on what, by all accounts, is a movie only worth watching if it is streamed, and even then…not really.

It’s not as if some Catholics aren’t suggesting 50 Hail Mary’s prayed in reparation for 50 Shades.

There is some Catholic engagement, but it doesn’t seem particularly energetic, next to the Evangelical side of it. Here at Patheos, our resident Sexpert, Dr. Greg Popcak, has certainly dived into the tainted waters, but to nothing like the sort of interest the Evangelical writer received.

Why is the movie so much less vitally-worrisome for Catholics? Why don’t we seem to care about this insipid phenomenon as passionately as does a large swath of US Christians?

On Facebook, I notice what I would call a “moderate” amount of interest among the Catholics. I saw a few posts trying to instigate a “boycott”, but that seemed to peter out as other Catholics rolled their eyes and said, “how is it a boycott if you never planned to see it? It looks like a dumb movie, anyway.”

So, among Catholics, the issue of a movie that glamorizes bondageand separates the act of coitus from either love or procreation — became an argument about pedantics. Ultimately, there was more dismissiveness than outrage. On the issue of vapid, degrading bdsm, most Catholics seem untroubled, unmoved and unimpressed. Why is that?

Perhaps Catholics are generally less easily shocked by public prompts to titillation, because what we love and believe is regularly — rather boringly — degraded by artists who are either seeking attention or out of ideas. We’ve endured “Piss Christ” and images of Mary made with elephant dung, or of a topless female Christ, serving at the Last Supper. We’ve had to put up with Madonna crucifying herself every few years at her concerts.

In truth, a percentage of Madonna’s fortune can be traced directly to her deliberate provocation of Christians and their outraged attempts to get her to fall in line. Pushing 60 years of age, she’s still at it, because she knows her bait. She’s become Catholicism’s own Norma Desmond: “I didn’t get small, the sins got small…”

Perhaps we are less troubled by the release of 50 Shades because we are used to examining our consciences, and speaking our sins out-loud to another, and that means we are intimately familiar with our own darkness. It means nothing human is either foreign, or particularly shocking, to us. Routinely confessing our own sins — sometimes the same sin, again and again — we understand our frailty. We understand that Original Sin is always a part of the world, therefore boycotting a movie, or banning pornography, or working tirelessly to take away anything harmful, sinful or tempting will not protect us from damaging ourselves and others; it cannot banish from the world, or our souls, the infinite possibilities of lurid, degrading, unhealthy imaginings that will arise — sometimes unbidden, sometimes invited — within our own minds.

A thought is a thing; all sin begins in the mind.

Or perhaps we are simply, more Roman than we realize. The world and all of its furies and follies has passed before of Peter and the Church for these 2,000 years; we have seen it all and learned not to expend more energy than needed on passing trends, because their impact is mostly illusory. Flinging ourselves into the Outrage du Jour will only insure that when we really must engage, we will not have the stamina to see a battle through to the end.

That’s what I’d like to believe, anyway. It sounds so much better than the alternative possibility: that although Catholics have the opportunity to attend daily Mass in every time-zone, the Evangelical Christians are more involved, day-to-day, with their faith; that when they go online, what they seek out — whether it’s politics, or entertainment or interior design — they filter through a hyper-alert faith perspective in a way that only super-engaged Catholics do.

Without the Flesh-and-Blood Presence of the Word Incarnate at their disposal, our Evangelical friends are tremendously engaged with the words of faith, and they bring them into all they do, all they read and write and see in a way that most Catholics — let’s be honest (and I’m not talking about the 3% of Catholics who go online looking for specifically Catholic sites) — simply do not.

Of course, as desirable as that might sound, such behavior comes with its own very real, and dangerous risk: that theology might become entwined with (and then confused with) ideology — something which never really ends well.

In that case, perhaps there is a self-protective element to our nonchalance about 50 Shades of Grey. Perhaps, as Romans, we’re just figuring “more illusions and passing temptations from old Scratch,” and figuring we’ll just attend to our own sins.

Whatever the answer, it seems Catholics are just not as engaged with the day-to-day angst out of Hollywood and Washington as other Christians. We cannot be counted on to bring page-views-and-internet-fury in any predictable way. We are having enough trouble not killing each other over whether the Mass should return to Latin and the brocaded chasuble, or embrace hip-hop and be all the shizzle.

Kathy Schiffer talks to Steven Greydanus
about what makes a great family-friendly film

Michael Novak:
Why Saint Valentine Helped Lovers

Rebecca Hamilton:
10 Reasons not to see Fifty Shades

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