50 Shades of Confusion

 
Helen Thorne | February 9th 2015

It started life as a self-published book. Written by an unknown author, in the world of erotic literature, 50 Shades of Grey looked set to languish in relative obscurity. But then everything changed. A publisher, a massive marketing campaign, caused it to rocket in popularity. Women read it in their droves – a few men too – and now, in just a few short days, the film will be hitting our screens. The hype is almost palpable. How will the steamy scenes of 2012’s must-have book be rendered in 2015’s must-see film?

50 Shades of Grey has changed so much in our society. Erotica isn’t new, of course, but 5 years ago we wouldn’t have seen such books being openly read on buses and trains by so many. We wouldn’t have heard people audibly discussing the plotline in coffee shops. We wouldn’t have known women planning to go to the film with their mum, their sister, their daughter … We do now.

Some would have us believe that such a shift in culture is a step of liberation: a sign that women are beginning to break free from the sexual oppression and repression that has dominated centuries past. But in truth there is little that is liberating about a story that culminates in a woman tied-up and beaten for sexual pleasure …

So what, as Christians, are we to make of this film? Should we watch? Should we ignore? Should we condemn?

No Surprises

First things first – let’s not be shocked that 50 Shades exists. Ever since the fall, people have wanted the gifts of God more than they’ve want God himself. We live in a society where it’s often considered weird to be celibate, boring to have just one sexual partner and repressed to avoid the more adventurous options for sexual highs. Many want to indulge in God’s generous provision of sexual pleasure without any regard for the context for which sex was first designed. Romans 1:24 reminds us that when people worship created things rather than the creator, God gives them over to such desires.

And we live in a society where there is brokenness and loneliness. People have been wounded in relationships and are seeking solace in fantasy. It can feel so much safer to live life vicariously through fiction than face the traumas of a rocky marriage, isolated singleness or a hurting world.

Faced with such evidence of the fall, films like this don’t need to surprise us. Nor are we called to ignore them. Such truths should pain us and fill us with compassion. 50 Shades of Grey should galvanise our efforts to bring light into darkness, compassion to the wounded, hope to those living without the Lord. Surely we want better for our friends than a story of tainted love and wounding sex …?

No Compromises

But much as we might want to respond in love and grace to those who are lured by the story of Ana and Mr Grey, how close should we actually get to the film?

Many Christians read the book. Plenty are planning to see the film. “What harm can one movie do? Everyone else will be going! It’s just a bit of fun! I can talk about it better if I’ve seen it myself” we muse.

Of course, we need to keep things in perspective. God is not going to delete anyone’s name from the Book of Life on the basis of them watching a film. But our spiritual health is at stake and believers everywhere need to be on their guard.

Paul, when writing to the Colossians, emphasised 4 things:

  • We’ve been raised with Christ (3:1) – that’s no small gift. To have been forgiven the past is an awesome act of grace. We are royal children, no longer dead in our sins. That is our identity. That is the place from which we now choose how to act. We need to ask ourselves if 50 Shades fits that identity well…
  • We’re called to set our minds on things above not earthly things (3:2) – that’s no small calling. No longer are we to go with the flow of culture but instead we are to see all things through the lens of Christ’s work on the cross. What are our priorities: Purity or fantasy? Growth in Christ or a night out that will fill our minds with images that will doubtless recur?
  • We’re called to put to death sexual immorality, impurity and lust (3:5) – that’s no small battle. The very things the film is likely to inflame are the things that God calls us to war against. Will going make us love our husband or wife more faithfully? Will watching encourage the beauty and celibacy that singleness requires?
  • We’re called to live differently from the way we lived before we were Christians (3:7-8) – that’s no small act of witness. How can an unbelieving world be bowled over by our purity and want to know more about a holy God if they see nothing different in our lives at all?

The coming days offer an extraordinary opportunity for Christian growth. As the trailer hits our screens, as the chance to buy tickets drops into our inbox, we each have a choice to make... Let’s make choices that help us – and those around us in church – grow in Christ. Let’s make choices that show true love. Let’s show an unbelieving world how good the radical purity of Christ truly is. And let’s not kid ourselves that 50 Shades can offer us anything better than the Kingdom of God. After all, Mr Grey, for all his handsome and winsome ways, can never love Ana – or us – with anything like the passion, intensity, fullness or eternity that we find in Christ at the cross …

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:10-11

 

Helen Thorne is the author of Purity is Possible: How to live free of the fantasy trap

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Sue

11:27 PM GMT on February 9th
Thank you Helen, a very helpful & godly perspective. I didn't read the book, & hadn't planned to see the film either, but your blog has provided me with an articulate response, should someone ask "why not, it's only a 'harmless' piece of fiction? " or "come on, stop being so priggish" :)

Ros

12:54 PM GMT on February 10th
It was never a self-published book. It was fanfiction and then it was published by a small press and then a big publishing house picked it up.

I know that isn't the important point here, but it would be good to get the details right.

Ju

1:36 PM GMT on February 10th
Thank you Helen, thought-provoking and helpful as always.

I think there is also another concern when it comes to the area of manipulation and abuse - I keep reading articles both from people who identify as part of the "BDSM community" and those who work in the area of women's welfare, that the domination portrayed in the book (and presumably therefore in the film too) is not BDSM at all*, but manipulation and abuse.

Restored have two helpful blog articles here:
http://www.restoredrelationships.org/news/2012/08/17/fifty-shades-grey-adoration-or-abuse/
and here:
http://www.restoredrelationships.org/news/2012/08/22/fifty-shades-grey-myths-abuse/
to help people concerned about this side of things. These related specifically to the book, rather than the film.

*I feel bound to point out I have no experience one way or the other, but that those who are part of that community would maintain that the "submissive" partner actually has all the control, and that is far from the case in 50 Shades.

David Gordon-Watkins

2:18 PM GMT on February 10th
Thank you Helen for your typically, thoughtful and very helpful critique of a film which many may be tempted to view, to their detriment.

Martyn Link

2:27 PM GMT on February 10th
Thanks for this Helen, an important issue that we don't hear enough about. I wrote a blog article in the style of CS Lewis Screwtape Letters on the topic of pornography a couple of years ago and it seemed to help a few people:
https://martynlink.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/memo-satans-10-year-strategy-for-pornography-dated-june-1990/
Blessings,
Martyn

Kriss

4:09 PM GMT on February 10th
Thanks for such a helpful blog, which has helped me think through what I can say from a Christian perspective if friends at work or at school are talking about the film. I feel I know now as much as I want to know about the book's content, to now be able to use it as a chance to be positive about the Biblical view on sex if it comes up in discussion.
As a GP, I see a lot of those you describe as "wounded in relationships", and your blog certainly rings true. Thanks!

Liz

8:54 PM GMT on February 10th
Thank you for this blog I have been married to the same man for 41 years and we have a great sex life, I am sorry for women who allow men to abuse them in the way this movie portrays
Seriously let's pray that women and men will feel sick at the movie
Our God is all powerful in control and has the victory over sin

Ellie

5:36 PM GMT on February 17th
Yes Helen!
Thankyou so much for reminding us of the treasure there is to be gained in Christ, and that nothing in this world compares, least of all seedy encounters between the sheets (or pages).
I will continue to recommend others to read Purity is Possible above 50 Shades. your book was very helpful to me.

Miriam

12:54 PM GMT on February 19th
Thanks for your helpful thoughts on 50 shades, and for your book, which I am just reading in a coffee shop! It's hard sometimes to step back and see things as they are, and I am definitely a hippo (read the book if u don't know what this means!) not only about me but about society; I tend to despair rather than act. Really admire you for speaking and writing about these things.

Phoebe Wickliffe

8:45 AM BST on April 19th
Thank you Helen, this is the best Christian article I've read about this book so far.
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Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne is Director of Training and Resources at Biblical Counselling UK and an experienced counsellor. She formerly worked with London City Mission and has written Purity is Possible, Walking with Domestic Abuse Suffers and 5 Things to Pray for Your City. She attends Dundonald Church in Raynes Park, London.

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