I’m not surprised that bondage/sadomasochistic sex is practiced. I’m surprised that we are no longer embarrassed. Everyone has embarrassing behaviors (especially thoughts), but we practice them behind closed doors. If we must perform our shameful acts in public, we disguise them, like wrapping brown paper bags around our open beer bottles.
I had not heard of Fifty Shades of Grey until someone emailed me an article from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation about a real-life man who practiced BDSM. (He later arranged the strangulation of his wife after she refused to participate in his sadomasochistic sex fantasies.)
Since then I have read a score of articles about Fifty Shades of Grey with differing slants:
- Most secular articles were in favor, essentially agreeing with the movie producer, who said, “People are not that prudish anymore;”
- A few secular articles were opposed; one article basically read, “Finally! An issue leftist feminists and right-wing Christians can agree upon;”
- And all the Christian articles basically said, “Just don’t do it. Or read it. Or watch it.”
But thousands of people read the book in public—no paper bags—and tens of thousands of people publicly watched the movie. Its opening weekend brought in $81.7 million dollars, the second-biggest February opening of all time (ironically, second only to The Passion of Christ).
Amazingly, 68% of the movie’s attendees were women, even though—in the words of one article—“In the final analysis, it is always women who suffer most at the hands of violent sex.”
How did we get here, where our private disgraces are now brazenly displayed on our rooftops?
The Bible and banned sex
Christianity isn’t squeamish about sex (despite what Fifty Shades of Grey’s producer thinks). The Bible openly describes all kinds of illicit sex: Judah’s daughter-in-law seduces him, David commits adultery with Bathsheba, and David’s son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar.
The Bible admits these acts, it just doesn’t excuse them. They are deemed appalling.
The only place in Scripture that shameful sexuality is publicly acceptable is in Sodom (the city infamously known for its citizens wanting to rape Lot’s male houseguests and where Lot unbelievably offers his two daughters in their place). To us, Sodom means unabashed, illicit sex.
But notice how Ezekiel describes the sins of Sodom hundreds of years after its destruction:
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ez. 16:49).
Did you notice what Ezekiel’s sin-list lacks? He never mentions forbidden sex!
The real source of Sodom’s sin is simple: Pride. Pride leads to greed, excessive ease, and injustice. (And illicit sex as well.) Does Sodom’s sin remind you of anyone? It reminds me of us.
We are prideful
Baby-boomer are perhaps the proudest of all generations. We arrogantly, willfully, and stupidly disparaged our parents, claiming we could do everything better (while denying our arrogance). After some of us became believers, we considered our own Christianity better than our parents.
I once asked dozens of baby-boomer Christians if they ever repented to their parents for their prideful rebellion and (worse) their own sense of Christian superiority: Not One Had. Instead we proudly birthed the mega-church, a monument to our pride and a place we could hide.
Paul Krugman (a Princeton economist) noted that before World War II, the highest executive’s pay rarely exceeded ten times the lowest employee’s pay. Since we baby-boomers took charge, executive pay is now two to three hundred times (up to a thousand times!) more. He said,
For a generation after WWII, fear of outrage kept executives’ salaries in check. The outrage is gone … [It is] something like the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, a relaxation of the old restrictions of disgrace.
In other words, we lost our shame.
Cruise ships can’t be built fast enough; five star resorts are exploding; we drown ourselves in movies on our home TV’s, mobile phones and tablets; and we’re too tired to read books except titillating drivel like Fifty Shades of Grey. (I’m told even the author admits that it’s rubbish.)
We’ve come to prefer fantasy over reality. We lose our souls to mind-numbing entertainment.
Maybe the best commentary on our media addiction is Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. He claims our problem isn’t the dictatorships of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four but the self-medicated bliss of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
G. K. Chesterton said,
Meaninglessness comes not from weariness of pain, but from weariness of pleasure.
And then there’s justice
My generation was rightly ashamed of the world’s injustice to the needy. We swore to do much better. Instead we’ve done much worse. We are now only ashamed of any shame that restricts our voracious appetites. We’ve abandoned the Biblical description of a just person:
“He raises the poor from the dust and he lifts the needy from the ashes, and he makes them sit with princes” (Ps. 113:7-98).
How many of us listen nearly as much as we talk? How many of us give twenty percent (or more) to the needy? No! We prefer to raise ourselves up and to seat ourselves with the mighty.
Why are we surprised at the success of Fifty Shades of Grey? It’s a book about us. Maybe our only surprise should be that it took so long for someone to take it out of the brown paper bag.