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50 Shades of Irony: The Black and White of Grey

I don't always speak up every time I see another upwelling issue in our culture — quite frankly, sometimes it's easy to become immune to what you're surrounded by daily.  But when it comes to the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, I cannot sit by in silence.  It already made 8.6 million the first day of its release, while some places (like the entire country of Malaysia) have banned it completely.
What is so compelling about the enigmatic Christian Grey (interesting name) and his relationship with Anastasia Steele (who is softer than her name implies)?  This BDSM romance has captured the hearts of women across the country, spurring on new and unnatural sexual fantasies.  The danger is that we as a culture are normalizing the perversion, turning our gaze away from truth and we as Christians are forgetting what it means to be audacious.
I believe we should not only boycott what I'm calling “Fifty Shades of Irony" but we should continue to speak out the truth with boldness — we don't need to read the book or see the movie (neither of which I ever plan to do) in order to be informed about it and understand its negative influence.  Here's why.
The film presents a warped view of sex.
For those of you who don't know, BDSM stands for Bondage & Discipline (BD), Dominance & Submission (DS), Sadism & Masochism (SM).  Sadism is the tendency to get pleasure from inflicting pain or humiliation and masochism is pleasure in self inflicted pain.  The relationship is not equal, but is consensually based on one party being the dominant and the other the receiver.
This need to dominate or to be dominated by another illuminates an underlying longing to be led, a longing that can only be filled by the Lord.  Whatever your thoughts are on this kind of role-play, mine is simple: This portrayal of sexual gratification though pain and humiliation is not sharing the deepest intimacy out of self sacrifice, gentleness, love or true passion.  It is fundamentally self serving.  Seeking to bring pain to another, even in a consensual context, seems to deviate from Scripture's truths about love and sexuality.  Hebrews 13:4 says, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous."
So, dear Christian, do not foster curiosity.
Recognize that most negative aspects of our culture are warped versions of good things.  God's blessing of sex is turned into pornography, erotica, prostitution and rape.  Freedoms turn into abuses; wisdom into intellectual pride with declarations of autonomy; innovation into a reliance on man's accomplishments.
But culture itself is not evil.  Humans are.  Our battle is not one of Christian culture vs. secular culture.  The clash is between hope and despair and the first step to this kind of epistemological humility is recognizing our deep need for God's mercy and His blessing of hope.
Romanticizing pain delegitimizes it.
In the book, Christian Grey has a Red Room of Pain where he carries out his sadistic pleasures.  These include handcuffs and whips.  In one scene, he takes a riding crop used for horses and strikes her.
This breaks my heart — we are making this kind of relationship the ideal!  This is the kind of context people flee from, are wounded by, carry emotional scars from because this kind of relationship is not based on mutual respect for another individual.  And when we romanticize pain and tell women "This is what you should want!" then we delegitimize the actual pain of people who have endured abuse.  It's just that simple.  This encompasses emotional and physical abuse, sexual molestation, rape and by extension even human trafficking.  According to Equality Now, there are over 20 million adults and children in sexual bondage being trafficked around the world, forced into servitude.  I'd like to argue that we serve them the utmost disrespect in supporting a film of this nature.
The woman's identity is found in the man's.
Anastasia Steele, our protagonist, is a shy virgin with a low self esteem, no self sufficiency, a fear of abandonment and no sexual identity.  All of these things are fulfilled in the charismatic and controlling Christian Grey.  In the trailer, Anastasia asks him, "So you're a control freak?" and his reply is, "I exercise control in all things." Interesting.
All of this is along the lines of the common "He completes me" relationship mentality which only makes me gag.  Her worth, identity and confidence are all dependent on one man, which is both deeply sexist and also dangerous for women who claim to identify with Anastasia.  Anyone who watches this film and resonates with her insecurities is now being told to find worth and satisfaction in a controlling figure who is both abusive and self absorbed.
Instead, we shouldn't be dependent on others or self sufficient, but we should recognize our own inadequacy, genuine desire for relationships with others and desperate need for the relationship with Jesus, the only one which can fulfill.
Sin supposedly leads to freedom — the ultimate lie of a fallen world.
To see this matter more clearly, look at the titles of the books themselves.  Fifty Shades of Grey.  Fifty Shades Darker.  Fifty Shades Freed.  We start with grey - between black and white, between right and wrong in the blurred "grey areas".  Then it goes darker, accepting a lifestyle of sin.  Then freedom.
Let me make myself clear.  Darkness does not lead to freedom.  Shackles of slavery do not lead to liberty.  Indulging in sin is not going to lead to victory over it.  This mindset is humanistic, individualized and part of the relative truth age in which we live.  In our postmodern world, we are encouraged to "love" in a way that is only accepting, encouraging, unprejudiced and never challenging.  For the world, this leads to a tyranny of immorality in which standards are scorned, and the tolerant are intolerant of dissension.  I laugh when I consider how Nathaniel Hawthorne might write the Scarlet Letter about today — our culture wouldn't ostracize immorality, they would shun purity.
For Christians, this often means a watered down faith that is no longer bold or audacious or proclaiming truth.  The truth is hard!  The Gospel is not easy and Jesus was culturally controversial.  Why are we on the defensive?  We should stand nobly for what is honorable, virtuous and holy.  We should strive to both encourage and challenge.  Our culture, in an attempt to accept and love all, has lost sight of the beauty in tough accountability.  I'm learning more and more that to speak the truth is loving and to love is to be truthful.

 

So Christians, stand for what is right.  This is one time when we don't need to see the film or read the book to understand the deeply rooted issues.  Boycott this movie and speak out for purity and the sanctity of marriage.  This sense of truth and hope is what we can share to the Fifty Shades culture.  They need a million shades of light, not deeper depths of darkness.
Bio: A sophomore at Wheaton College, Ciera is a unique blend of academic and artistic: she reads Kerouac and Chaucer, paints still life and modern art and loves writing poetry on her typewriter named Ernest.  As a writer and champion public speaker, she grew up hanging out with Christian music stars, artists and writers who greatly influenced her culturally-engaging outlook on life, which she writes about at www.cierahorton.blogspot.com.
Ciera Horton

One thought on “50 Shades of Irony: The Black and White of Grey”

  • Amy K

    Great post!
    I've always been anti 50 shades for many reasons but what troubled me was that - no matter how difficult, no matter how out of our comfort zone it is - I somehow realised that the Christian response to it couldn't be to just ignore it or simply dismiss it as porn.
    I think Jesus would have gone head to head with it - as He had that knack of doing in all difficult situations - and engage with it on some level that glorified God's love over the 'love' portrayed in the series. I had no idea how to do this though and I like that Christian blogs and writers have tried to do so. The problem was always that - non believers - had no interest in this standpoint and I didn't have the skill to get over that wall.
    I tweeted a lot about my opposition to it and someone sent me a link to a Christian fiction response that takes the original format of the book and then 'mirrors' it with a story about God's love taking in concepts like 'doulos' and salvation along the way.
    I've given it to some friends - the same ones that had no interest in Christian blog posts - and they've really been engaged and informed by it and have gone on to engage in real talks about faith underpinned by it. One is (tentatively) attending church.
    For me that underpins that the key in the debate is - not to preach to one another about it - but to use it as a chance to outreach. If you find the debate difficult to engage in u may find it helpful.
    amzn.to/1Ac2x9c

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