7 Myths About 50 Shades Among Christians

We’ve already covered a lot of ground on the Fifty Shades trilogy by E. L. James.  We interviewed Tim Challies on the theology of pornography, held a roundtable discussion with Megan Basham, and Janie and I have recommended resources in her review and my post, Sexual Integrity Resources for Teens.  I promised you a review of the book, but on further reflection, the subject matter is so dark and the plot so thin that I find it’s not worth rehearsing.

Instead, I’ve put together a short list of myths I think are common among women, even Christian women, regarding the books, and I’ve tried to shine a little light on them.

  1. Fifty Shades is bad, therefore no Christian should ever read it.  This myth doesn’t take into account that a book may be read for numerous reasons, including 1) entertainment and 2) apologetics.  Per the first one, 50 Shades is clearly pornography and as such ought never be read for entertainment.  However, for someone like me hoping to bring gospel light to netherworlds of secular literature and movies, to refuse to read the book could also be sinful, just as a policeman who refuses to do surveillance work in a brothel may be shirking his duty.
  2. Sex is natural, therefore reading graphic descriptions of sex is ok, too.  Death is also natural, as is malaria, obesity, and about a thousand mutations of the stomach virus.  Genesis tells us that we live in a good world, a world designed by God, that is fallen.  We are separated from God by our sin, and corruption (from death to sickness to our own deficient moral inclinations) is rampant.  The world as it is today is filled with things that can hurt us, and sex is one of the sharpest blades we’ll ever handle.  Like the common kitchen knife, it can be helpful or–if used unwisely–sex can cut to the bone.  I can’t rehearse here all the reasons pornography hurts us, but one clear reason is that it stirs desires that it cannot satisfy, like offering a starving person only the smell of food.  Another is that it offers that arousal with no cost.  Sex in the real world always involves a giving, not just a getting.  It involves relationship and friendship and intimacy, but pornography separates the reader’s arousal from those noble, sanctifying contexts.  Finally, it goes against the sexual integrity called for in the Bible.  When a reader becomes aroused reading another’s sexual exploits, she experiences lust in her heart and mind, which is itself a pollution and separates her from God.
  3. I enjoyed 50 Shades for reasons other than the BDSM and sexual encounters.  Certainly, individual readers will have different reactions to the text.  Those who have read mildly pornographic novels before may have less of a reaction than novices.  However, here’s a quick reality check as to whether the porn played a role in your enjoyment: If all the sex of this book were replaced with long, multiple-page descriptions of a surgeon’s scalpel or the characters’ bathroom habits—say, a character’s experience of recurring diarrhea—would you still find the book as endearing or entertaining?  Would you be willing to wade through that to get to the love story?  If not, then you are reading it for the sex scenes at some level.
  4. The story is redemptive, therefore it’s good.  A book like 50 Shades is filled with characters that are made in God’s image, and as such, despite their sin, they will always display some good.  In this case, both characters despise the BDSM (bondage/dominance/sadism/masochism) that Christian Grey is oppressed by, and both of them are introduced sympathetically by the author–we are supposed to root for them to overcome it or find some middle ground.  So, no, this isn’t the worst possible book that could be written about female subjugation.  As one reviewer pointed out, the characters could have relished the total subjugation of women like the Marquis de Sade.  That said, a story may very easily glorify something evil while trying to exalt something noble, and it may spend so much time portraying the problem–in this case the BDSM–that readers find it just as captivating as the characters’ struggle against it.  (And I just read that there will soon be Fifty Shades underwear–how much would you bet it’ll be BDSM-themed?)
  5. I used the story to spice up my own marriage.  This one is probably one of the most deceptive.  Certainly, judging by the 50 Shades babies on the way and the underwear line in the works for do-it-yourself-ers, readers tell themselves they aren’t just passively viewing porn.  Christians may argue they are fueling the fire of their God-ordained marriages and being more fruitful, to boot.  I won’t deny that some good comes from romantic stories, perhaps even these.   My husband and I often watch romantic movies like Sleepless in Seattle, and they often remind me of how I ought to treasure our relationship.  However, that kind of romantic empathy is perfectly legitimate; it’s something the Bible itself invites readers to.  See Song of Solomon or Ruth.  But nowhere does God’s Word invite us to empathize in the detailed experience of the sex act itself, something that is clearly destructive.  Aren’t there ways to spice up a marriage that don’t involve such unsavory means?
  6. What I read is private and doesn’t hurt anyone else.  First of all, if you warp your own mind, it will affect the people in your life negatively.  Your husband may not appreciate being compared to Christian Grey, for instance.  Beyond that, numerous studies have shown a link between consuming sexually suggestive media and acting out sexually risky behavior, especially for teens, increasing instances of pregnancy and STDs.But even if you avoid these pitfalls, here’s the other catch.   When you purchase these books and loan them from the library, you tell publishers, “This is what we want, please make more!” You tell retailers like Costco (which now carries the book) and Barnes and Noble and city shops that you want to see more BDSM on the shelves.  You tell librarians to stock them, making them available on the public dime to tweens and teens.  And of course, you put money in the pocket of movie-makers. Do you really want your fifteen-year-old daughter or niece reading this?  Or watching the movies? Well, guess what? You can’t lock your kids in the YA section of the library and think they’ll stay there.  They are watching what adults read, and they are reading it too–but they are being shaped by it in ways you’ll never be. If this is their adolescent reading, what will it take to titillate them when they’re all grown up?
  7.  Christians who tell others not to read Fifty Shades are being legalistic.  It would be legalistic or judgmental if we said that only people who follow the rules are loved by God.  But it’s not not legalistic to say something is harmful. Or to say that those who revel in pornography grieve the Holy Spirit, hurt themselves and others, and need the Lord’s healing grace.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

If you are a Christian who struggles with written pornography, talk to your pastor or a friend who can help you apply the entirety of Biblical truth to this part of life.  Or if you really don’t have a trustworthy Christian friend, you can email me at emily@redeemedreader.com and I’ll do my best to find someone in your area who can help.  You can also check out our sexual integrity resources.

Finally, if you feel the Holy Spirit convicting you in this area, you might read this Bible passage about the Prodigal Son and God’s forgiveness. No matter how far you’ve strayed or how ugly your sexual fantasy life has become, it’s never too late to come home.

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  1. Melissa Deming on August 17, 2012 at 6:46 am

    thoughtful piece. was shocked to see a couple hundred copies of 50 Shades of Gray at Costco recently, They were artfully stacked with the other books, but on their own attention-getting pallet. Anybody could have walked over and picked them up – even tweens or teens. I thought it incredible inappropriate marketing.

    • Emily on August 17, 2012 at 10:04 am

      It is shocking when you realize that we have numerous safe guards in place to keep explicit movies out of kids’ hands, but zero safe guards when it comes to books. We don’t even have a ratings system like the MPAA to help give parents some idea of what’s in a book.

  2. Pat in TX on August 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    I have rather mixed emotions about your coverage of this series. I suppose I have limited exposure to what is popular in the culture, but I had never heard of this series until you started covering it. I did notice a short mention in a secular women’s health newsletter the other day, but it was from a “women discovering their sexuality” perspective and would not have attracted my attention at all had I not noticed the title being the same as what you were covering. I am not sure I appreciate having been introduced to this; is it being promoted to Christian women in particular? Are the women in your churches passing them around?

    I decided early in my marriage that I was not interested in reading romances, etc; I wanted my romantic thoughts to be about my perfectly wonderful but normal husband, not some “perfect” guy with a script writer! I also eschewed women’s magazines because of all the negativity I read there, and I did not want my thoughts toward my husband and children to be always negative. I probably would not mind a romantic movie, but my husband does not care to watch movies so that is not how we spend our date nights.

    Generally I love your blog. I gain insight, knowledge, and sometimes just renewal; it is easy for me to lose a little of the enthusiasm homeschooling after 19 years and I do so want to be as fresh for my 6 yo as I was with my 25 yo. I frequently turn to your book reviews for my 14 yo daughter, whom I cannot keep in books, and my 15 yo son who needs encouragement to read anything but non-fiction military plane books. I have even enjoyed, if “enjoyed” is the word to use with tears rolling down my face, the series on the death of your mom, Emily; those who have not faced the death of a loved one will certainly do so at some point. I am just not sure I wish to be exposed the the evil out there for adults.

    • Emily on August 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      Pat, First of all, thank you for your kind words. I’m very grateful that our blog has been beneficial for you. I also really appreciate your perspective here. If you aren’t faced with the issue, you’re very blessed, and I think it’s fine for you just skip the coverage. We aren’t all called to the same mission fields. Sadly, most of the arguments in this post I have actually read on Christian blogs. In my own church, I’m told on good authority that there are young mothers reading the series, and we actually had one Christian reader say she had enjoyed the books and that they been recommended to her by someone in her church. (See Casey’s comments in our Tim Challies interview on 50 Shades.) I’ve also had a friend tell me that she’s used our coverage to minister to missionary friends in Singapore. I hope that helps with why we chose to write about it, and what we hope to accomplish by it. And I hope you’ll keep reading! Many blessings.

  3. Janie on August 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    I thank you covered all the bases here, Emily. What’s sad to me is seeing how far we’ve fallen from God’s beautiful purpose for sex.

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