If you haven’t yet heard of the Fifty Shades trilogy, you probably don’t spend much time on the internet. The series is so popular that when I put the number 5 into Google, it autofilled “50 shades of grey.” For those of you so fortunate as to have avoided the books so far, let me summarize the first for you in the words of noted news source Wikipedia:
Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James. Set largely in Seattle, it is the first installment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism (BDSM).
So let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: these books are not wholesome. They are “explicitly erotic,” featuring all kinds of…sketchy practices. And not just implied filth–graphically-described filth, stuff so bad I can barely google the novels without feeling the need to scrub my brain. From a Christian perspective, I just don’t know how you can excuse that.
Now, I generally won’t take a stand against a book I haven’t read myself. I wholeheartedly support Harry Potter as an innocent fantasy series because I’ve read every word. I wasn’t even willing to condemn The Da Vinci Code until I read it–now I’m glad to warn people against it.1 So when a reader asked me to write about the book, warning Christian women away from it, I said no.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I can’t tell people not to read a book that I haven’t read, and I can’t read that.”
But last week, I mentioned this exchange to one of my kids. “You can’t hide from the truth,” he said.
“I’m not afraid that these books will expose some truth that threatens my nice little Catholic world,” I said. “I’m afraid of what they’ll do to me. I knew The Da Vinci Code wouldn’t destroy my faith, so I wasn’t worried about reading it. I’m not as confident that these books won’t affect me.”
“Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t going to destroy your faith,” he said, giving me a kind vote of confidence.
“Alex, it’s not that I think I’m going to read these books and suddenly abandon my life of chastity for some wild S&M fantasy. I just refuse to put myself in a situation where I’m walking up the aisle to receive communion and a graphic image of bondage sex presents itself to my imagination. I’m not hiding from anything, I’m protecting myself.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wasn’t enough just not to read the books. I may not know everything about these books (thank God!), but I know enough to take a stand. Since I haven’t read them, I guess I can’t exactly tell you what to do. But I can say that I wouldn’t read them for ten thousand dollars and that I really, really hope no Christian women do.
In case you’re on the edge, here’s why I won’t read these books:
- They’re pornographic. People who like them call them mommy porn. These aren’t even the books’ detractors–these are their fans! Men who watch porn think they’re porn. The only people who seem to insist that the books aren’t porn are people who want to believe that reading these books isn’t unchaste.2
As these books prove, something can be pornographic without having images, and it makes total sense that women would be more drawn to words than images. While many women claim that the books have revitalized their sex lives, marriage is about so much more than sex. It’s about love and honor and chastity and seeking holiness together. So I don’t care what Fifty Shades has done for your sex life, it is not great for your marriage. This isn’t just harmless fun–pornography damages marriages as well as souls. Someone’s getting hurt.
They’re not just erotica, they’re bondage erotica. If I can’t even handle good old Mr. Darcy, why on earth would I want to read about a wealthy, experienced, powerful man getting a young virgin to sign a contract consenting to God knows what? Because yeah, love is all about escape–ha–clauses and signing on the dotted line. I know from reading articles about the book that there are safe words, whips, straps, and a “red room of pain.” I don’t even need to read the graphic lines to have a serious problem with the image of sex and “love” that the books present.
And yet apparently Christian Grey is such an attractive character that women are falling head over heels for the sick man. This kind of fiction skews our idea of love to be about pain and domination. I don’t care what happens with the love story–I refuse to make that kind of man my standard, as so many women seem to have done
- It’s terrible writing. From what I’ve heard, it’s not even very well-written. I mean, it evolved from Twilight fanfic. That’s right–an author so devoid of ideas she sponged off of Twilight. The books, evidently, are so full of misused words, trite language, and broken record clichés (“my inner goddess) that even the most undiscerning readers can’t help but cringe. Honestly, I wouldn’t be interested even if they weren’t porn.
So I’m not going to touch those things with a ten foot pole. And I feel a lot more comfortable, after all the research I’ve been doing,3 in saying that they have no place on a Christian bookshelf. Even if they’re not smut, they’re too close for Christian comfort.
I’m not condemning you if you’ve read them. Maybe my imagination is just more vivid than most, and that’s the problem. Likely I’m much more of a prude than most. But I’ve got to ask: would you blush if your pastor (or mother or Sunday School teacher or friend from church) saw you reading them? Would you snatch them from your child if she flipped to a page at random? Do you honestly feel that these books are good for your soul?
Maybe I’m missing the mark, but when St. Paul says “flee immorality,”4 I take him seriously. So when I see those books, I’m happy to turn and run. And I’m hoping you’ll join me.
- If you’re strong in your faith, read it if you must. It’s not filth, it’s just lies. I understand that it’s fiction, but the Church is my Mother, and when someone writes a book all about how your mother is a liar and a murderer, sticking it in the fiction section doesn’t make it more palatable. [↩]
- There are advocates of the book who reject the term “mommy porn” because they find the term condescending. “I’m a big girl and I read big girl porn, goshdarnit!” [↩]
- God help me, I had to close some of those websites really fast. [↩]
- 1 Cor 6:18 [↩]