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.
Jeremiah 8:12 – Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.
SBMS: Suppressed Blushing Mechanism Syndrome
Last night (as I drifted off to sleep) I thought of inserting (somewhere) one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes … but I forgot:
“Man is the only animal that blushes. And the only animal that needs to.”
And we’ve lost the ability. Once we’ve lost our ability to blush (to admit our shame), where does that leave us?
Ouch! The truth of what you were saying kept me reading and then scared me.
Believe me, it was scary to write. It’s so much more fun to talk about “those people out there” than it is to talk about “this person in here.” I’ve been a part of this whole mess.
I think (I hope) I’m blushing.
Yes, I can’t even stand the thought of paying money to the theater and movie producers to watch the movie to make up my own mind about what it contains. The only thing I know to do is to continue to non-judgmentally minister to the poor in our midst and learn from those who have been abused and down-trodden.
Also, not all movies are primarily entertainment, just as not all paintings or plays or musical compositions are primarily entertainment. Sometimes there is actual content which must be attended, however distasteful. I do not know which category 50 Shades of Gray falls into, but I don’t feel the need to find out.
I completely agree that not all movies are mere entertainment; and I also believe that entertainment by itself isn’t bad. It’s the addiction to entertainment we must avoid.
I think Fifty Shades of Grey says much about us.
I knew my wife had ventured into the book at the suggestion of a friend. She wondered why the female character would subject herself to actions of an abusive, ‘seemingly dominating male,’. She said it sounded like a lot of crap to her, and put it aside. Kudos to a wife I believe shows a lot of class.
Not knowing the storyline, I asked if I were like the main male character, ‘what would she think about that?’ With a typical, no nonsense response, she said, ‘we wouldn’t be dating, engaged, or married–ever!’
Of course, I’ve heard the abusive relationship is disguised behind a wealthy, good looking young man. (It would have failed had the man been an old, fat, bus driver).
We disguise our shame behind brown paper bags.
And, the worst thing is, we live in an age of overwhelming sexual violence. How can we tolerate this, even when dressed up with rich young men?
We must be insane.
Wow, Sam, what an insightful observation! I had not noticed the relationship between the degeneration of sex and the exploitation of the poor before this, but it only makes sense. Power involves both exploitation and objectification of others for the sake of personal gratification.
The most graphic biblical example of fifty shades occurs in Judges 19. The chapter is not just thrown into the narrative for shock value. We must understand it in light of its context. This involves the summary section in Judges 17-21. The section is bounded by the fatal words, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25 ESV; referenced in 18:1 and 19:1).
The introduction to the section illustrates these statements mean. The people have become disconnected from family (Judges 17:1), from covenant (17:2-4), and from worship (17:5). Even the narration itself imitates this uprootedness. Rather than leading us through an introduction, conflict, and resolution, as we would expect, the text meanders from one atrocity to the next. The book ends in ambiguity. By the time we finish, we are not sure whether to laugh, cry, or scratch our heads.
Judges 19 is the most tragic illustration of Israel’s moral relativism. Its similarity to the Sodom affair in Genesis is deliberate, and the irony lies in the way Judges 19 ends. Where the LORD prevented Sodom’s men from pursuing their plans (Gen. 19:1-11), God’s chosen people carried out the act because they could.
Judges 17-21 records Israel’s death whimper. Had God not called a young peasant woman
named Hannah to pray for a son to give back to the LORD (1 Samuel 1:1-11),
Israel would have ceased to exist as a definable people.
Judges 19 is indeed one of the most horrific chapters in Scripture. There are no good guys in it.
What amazes me in all of this, is God’s enduring love. Despite all they did and didn’t do, and despite all WE do and don’t do, God remains faithful. And he can changes our hard, unashamed hearts into soft, ashamed-and-then-forgiven (and thus no longer ashamed) hearts.
All our sin begins with pride. That’s why God loves the poor in spirit.
Sam, I love this post. (Actually I love all your posts.)
My mind and heart are so perplexed at the world we live in right now. And then again it’s not surprising at all.
If find myself groaning “Come back soon, Lord…come back soon.” Because I don’t know how much more of this destruction of dignity and integrity and wholeness this world can handle. I worry about my kids growing up in this world. And I feel the pull to all things mind numbing as lines once clearly seen in Christianity are now getting more blurry by the day.
A Christian pastor I follow online recently came out as gay. She’s been married to a woman all along. She ironically quoted the same verse about the sins of Sodom to justify why same-sex is okay and not a sin. People are applauding her. I don’t get it and I don’t feel at all equipped to speak. But I do want to ask her so many questions, I want to understand how she rests in that thought, not from a place of judgement, but truly to see. I want to understand what she does with thoughts of knowing her body was designed to fit with a man’s, that she cannot create life with a woman, that she bares the image of God as a woman and there is something holy that happens when we see it in sync with the image of God in a man. I do realize people struggle with this, and some from the very beginning of their lives. I want to be sensitive to that. But does that really justify it as okay? I don’t think so. It’s baffling that it is so prevalent anymore though. It’s everywhere. What goes on in my kids’ schools is appalling (and unfortunately it’s not appalling to them – it’s normal)!
Anyhoo…I just wanted so share that because your blog has kind of answered some questions for me, I think. 🙂 I think it’s a sign of the progression of sin…the appetite. “Pride. Pride leads to greed, excessive ease, and injustice. (And illicit sex as well.)” If you have more thoughts on the subject, I’d love to hear. Most churches seem to be quiet on this subject and I’d love to have more to share with my kids to give them eyes to see.
Thanks for your encouragement; it means a great deal.
I love the fact that you groan, “Lord come back soon!” That shows a heart touched by God, a sense of the prophetic.
I know that forbidden sex (including homosexuality) is rampantly approved nowadays. It’s
always been practiced, but nowadays it is publicly approved. It all comes from the same issue: WE ARE PROUD. We are too proud to obey God. We think we know it all.
So nowadays people say that God didn’t mean to prohibit all kinds of sexuality. It’s exactly (EXACTLY) like when Satan said to Eve: DID GOD SAY NOT TO EAT….. Our first step (in pride) is to question if God really said it or meant it.
(I read one book by a pastor in favor of forbidden sex–including homosexuality–and he basically said, “Everyone deserves a cuddle.” What nonsense. God knows what’s best for us. We don’t let our four year olds play in the streets do we? We prohibit it because we LOVE them.)
Thanks for your comment.
Sarah Taylor Ko
I like the way you pointed out the guilt of Sodom in the end was remembered as a lack of care for the needy. I never noticed that before. I feel like, whether condemning it or watching it, we get caught up in sensationalism of all sorts, but God keeps his eyes continually on the poor, and that’s where mine should be too.
Have you heard of “fan fiction?” My daughter loves some of them…ordinary people can continue story lines to end famous books the way they want to, or place them in different time periods. I read that “50 Shades…” started as fan fiction for the Twilight movies (you know, where someone powerful/supernatural (vampire) loves you, even though you are not special or popular, and is obsessed with you/wants to kill you, and only you can save him for himself.) I can see the appeal because it’s based on the truth. There IS someone all powerful (God himself!) who, unbelievably, loves us and wants to marry us (“Your husband is you Maker…”)
Modern Christians (and I guess modern non-believers) all think SEX is the big issue. The real issue is who is god? Us or God? It’s a question of pride. Can we bow to the real God?
If God is God, then he has all kinds of stuff to say to us about how we should behave. To begin with, we need humility; and out of humility will come grace for others (especially the poor).
I knew of “fan fiction” but I hadn’t heard that 50 Shades began that way.
And I love your closing line: There IS someone all powerful (God himself!) who, unbelievably, loves us and wants to marry us (“Your husband is you Maker…”)
Sarah Taylor Ko
You are always so focused Sam, I love that about your writing. Even care for others, especially the poor, comes from humility and relationship with God, caring about what He cares about.
I guess I’m trying to work through why so many women are drawn to this story (vampires and brutal men.) I think it highlights not just the obvious pride (accomplishments, money, sexuality and power over others,) but also the shadow side of pride I think many women struggle with…what seems like selflessness, and constantly giving in to others comes from inverse pride of being afraid to be found imperfect, thinking it is possible to be perfect in the first place, and wanting a strong figure to desire them in spite of their imperfections….
You just offered an EXCELLENT insight.
I’ve had the same question: why are so many women attracted to this kind of story? And your insight … well, it has a sense of authenticity. An inverse pride … and wanting to be desired in spite of imperfections.
Thank you for that great observation.
God, please reveal yourself to us so we no longer desire the things of this world that are killing us.
I always am drawn to your posts by the first things you admit, which is the “we” of if, not the them. Mankind blushed and then tried to hide their shame with a fig leaf, but God later covered their shame with garments. Jesus became our shame. He covers us with his garment of righteousness. The thing I ask myself, “Can I do this while abiding in Christ or walking in the Spirit”?
We should stop pointing the finger at others sins because Jesus called it when he said, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
We are ALL guilty until we come to accept the One who came to take away our guilt. If we feel guilt, we are seeing the flesh. Too many of us (me too) try to overcome our sin by being better, or trying hard to avoid sin, when all we have to do is abide in Christ. It Is Finished! Amen!
Your posts are always encouraging, transparent and honest.
I’m glad you like the “we” over the “them.” We (you and I) share that. I dislike leaders who build a false image (a fig leaf) of their perfection. Their families (and my family!) knows better.
Let’s just learn to be real and help each other…and be wiling to BE helped.
Thanks again for your encouragement; I am helped.
Pride comes before Destruction. This is what sex without restraint visits on society-destruction. But human nature does not change. Whatever people believe affects the way they behave. Western society believes we have evolved and that we are basically animals. So we behave like animals, refined cultured sophisticated animals.
It’s like the downward spiral of Romans 1 as God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts and then eventually actually approve of behaviour they know deserves the righteous judgement of God. God has given Western society over, it is under the wrath of abandonment. It’s like God has said Ok you want to live without Me, there you go…see how you get on…..
Although the animals and mankind were created on day 6 in Genesis 1, the difference between animals and humans is that the Spirit of God breathed into man. Without the Spirit of God humans become sophisticated animals and yet believe the lie…to be like God. Dignity and Depravity is our reality but fallen man is stuck in the Adam and Eve complex of Shame, hiding, fear, blaming….Fallen man has to live out of this Adam and Eve complex. Fifty Shades of Grey is simply the natural consequence of what total freedom without restraint results in. Are we surprised? This total freedom without restraint has not only destroyed the very foundation it was built on (God’s Word) but narcissistic self absorbed individualism cannot see further than its own nose, so like the Broken Walls of Jerusalem, the Barbarians of false religion are coming with another form of destruction….Dehumanising Legalism called Sharia. We reap what we sow period.
Gaddafi said that the West will die in its pleasure….and because history repeats itself murderous totalitarianism is threatening to fill the vacuum. And the Church? It exists in a private sphere that resembles a spiritual Indian reservation or Bantustan set up by the architects of secular society’s apartheid. So local church’s lacks a substantial engagement with their community and especially the public arena. As a result of total freedom without restraint, there is a vast epidemic of sexual brokenness out there. Probably not too encouraging for some of you out there but the Church needs to repent of its spinelessness.
Pride desensitizes our hearts to all kinds of bad behavior. We don’t even like to call it “sin” anymore; it’s just a wound, or bad parenting, or and illness.
That’s why we also hate the word, shame (and you can read all kinds of secular–and now Christian–authors who despise any kind of shame).
You can not pretend that the wealth gap did not happen without the full support and defence of the mainstream Christian church. Now, if you’re claiming to be part of some smaller dissaproving sect of Christianity then I suppose that leaves you personally technically blameless, but then why aren’t your ilk more vocal against your mega-church brethren? If you just distance yourself without actively trying to effect change, then you are culpable.
Either I egregiously mis-wrote this article, or you didn’t read it closely.
I meant to say (all along) that the problem is us–not “them” out there–but us. And that includes me. I am very much a part of the baby-boomer generation that I’m critiquing here. I do not mean–in any way–to shift the blame to someone else.
I mean WE (including ME) are prideful, greedy, addicted to ease, and unjust in our care for the poor. I mean WE (including ME) thought we’d do far better than our parents and have done worse.
Honestly, I don’t think the original mainstream church was as guilty (they didn’t like us Jesus people and protesters). The mainstream church only became culpable as WE took over its leadership.
I don’t mean to say “You guys out there need to change;” I mean to say, “Us guys in here have to change.”
Did I really write this article in the same, self-righteous, “you guys out there” tone your comment so perfectly exemplifies?
I read your entire article, plus I read all the comments up to this point, and I have only this to say,; the messages from the “churches” today are so weak and LAME as to have ZERO impact on those spoken to. Today, young women in our churches look for young men to date and perhaps marry, but the “pickins” are slim to none. Our generation has spawned a poor crop of men. They are FULL of pride (which proceeds) destruction), and they have virtually no respect for God’s rules or laws. I am told that the guys these young women try to date in church, are every bit as “handsy” as guys who don’t go. We, as a society (the church as well as the not-church” will continue to come unraveled until we decide to OBEY God on matters of sex and pride. The “world” now sets the standard, and the “church” sits on its hands and prays. No call to repent, no call to obey, just the call to pray. In 2 Chron. 7:14 God calls for SO MUCH more than prayer.
Great points. (And I know you read the article; you always do; was my last comment that snarky?)
As Scripture (and common sense) teaches, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Alas. And so far, our society’s fruit is mostly pride, selfishness, and exploitation (financially, sexually, and relationally).
We need prayer, we need repentance, we need obedience; and, mostly, we need God’s supernatural change of our hearts. Which means, we need humility. Only God can do what we most need (but we need to cooperate with him).
I live in Estoina. Our country is a really small one and we only have a million inhabitants, but our land has been wanted throughout the history by different nations: Danish, German, Russian and the list goes on. We have managed not to fade away through slavery, occupation and deportations. Our country then became independant. We sang ourselves free (there is also a short film about it singing revolution)-God heard us and liked that we did not use violence. We were free at last. But to my horror..I notice, what has changed….We have the words “May God keep His eye over us..” in our hymn-now some think this should be taken out. It makes atheists feel irritated. We fight against a class called “religion studies” in school, allthough this is not for making christians out of our kids, this class introduces all various kinds of beliefs. There are many more examples. And it all comes down to one thing- we used to be more religious, now we have lost ourselves. And the majority demands that the minority of christians is still in their corner and does not “bother” the “others”. Everyone ran a storm for this film “Fifty shades of gray”. If you havent seen it, you are urged to go to the cinema as soon as possible. If you say, it is not for you, they look at you weirdly, as you were some ghost from 19th century. The masses try to influence you…But the problem is. People do not see it….”If your eye is crooked, your thoughts will be crooked”. It all starts with the eyes. Bible distresses this. So sadly the modern “entertainment” has to be weighed carefully before consumed, or it may make you see double or nothing…even if you think the film was crap after watching it! So it is all a co-assistant to deterioration. God is getting even more angry up there. And people think they are now entitled to do what they want in Estonia, they have forgotten their “slavery in “Egypt”” and forgotten what He did for us. It makes me so sad:( And makes me wonder what punisment we will receive…