CULTURE & ENTERTAINMENT
Fifty Shades of Grey
A Review from a Biblical Perspective
By September Grace
A note from the editor: When September told me she was going to read Fifty Shades of Grey and asked if I'd like a review, I said yes. Neither of us had read a review with a biblical perspective from someone who had actually read the book. She didn't want to read the book, but was willing to, in order to be able to give a solid and biblically based review. We at Blogos respect her discernment and appreciate her work.
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Stories have the power to change the world, and Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James threatens a cultural revision as to how we treat each other as people, especially within the context of an intimate relationship. But is Fifty Shades of Grey's influence damaging? Beneficial? Morally neutral? There are very few popular books that are one-hundred percent edifying, so why has Fifty Shades of Grey been singled out as a subject of such intense controversy?
When I started the book this summer I came into it with the goal to find at least one redeemable aspect that would explain to me why this book of all things had become such an incredibly huge phenomenon. Perhaps the writing was as poor as I had heard, but the storytelling would be good. Perhaps the characters would prove to be strong and complex. Perhaps there would be solid research, a fun side character, an interesting quirk...something.
But even with that frame of mind, the best I could come up with was, "Well, I liked the chauffeur for about a sentence."
While the easiest element to pick on is the explicit sexual content, well, it's an erotic romance. Explicit sex scenes are part of the deal when it comes to erotic romance; they create an integral part of the story's structure. These scenes do not make Fifty Shades of Grey any more "heinously evil" than the other books on its genre shelf. This isn't to say that its sexually explicit content isn't a problem; I would definitely advise steering clear of the book for this reason alone — just that it doesn't make the book special.
It's important to note from the start that Fifty Shades of Grey is a secular novel. It does not claim to present a Biblical view of love, and none of the characters are portrayed as remotely religious, let alone Christian. However, while I acknowledge it as secular fiction, I cannot acknowledge it as just fiction. James' bestselling book is not merely reveling in its five minutes of fame; it has made a clear impact on the lives of readers everywhere, as is evident in some of the following ways.
Back in 2012, Fifty Shades of Grey broke the record as the fastest selling paperback book ever , and following in its wake was a boom in the sex toy industry  and in rope sales . In the meantime, even the pro-BDSM (an acronym for bondage and discipline; dominance and submission; sadism and masochism) crowd was (and is) frantically waving their hands, saying that the relationship between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is a dangerous and inaccurate portrayal of the BDSM lifestyle . E.L. James' erotic romance trilogy has brought things that used to be discussed and practiced in secret into the mainstream, labeling them as desirable and exotic. Which leads me to ask some questions...
How does Fifty Shades of Grey treat people?
People are special. People have been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). God formed man with an artist's love and affection (Genesis 2:7). Even after the Fall "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) "We love, because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
Human beings are supposed to love each other, and we all have an innate desire to be cared for. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus places a heavy emphasis on showing love, compassion, care and respect for our fellow man (Matthew 22:37-39; John 21:15-17) and woman (John 4:1-26; John 8:1-11; Romans 16:1-2). (Also see: Matthew 5:42, Luke 10:30-37, Matthew 25:40) But none of these virtues are shown in Fifty Shades of Grey.
A sit down with Christian Grey
Given how swarms of women have sung the praises of Christian Grey (the "hero") as the "ideal man," I was expecting him to be more alluring. Stronger, or maybe even softer. Someone who was, in some way, charming and attractive. What I got instead was a character who was rich and allegedly good-looking who flaunted his power and needed to validate his own existence by manipulating and using someone weaker than him. While E.L. James refers to Grey as "in charge," he's more than that; he's controlling and possessive.
Throughout the book, Anastasia Steele (the "heroine") makes internal comments that she views Grey as "some kind of monster," laments about how she's intimidated by him, and expresses general annoyance at his super control-freak tendencies. The times she does stand up for herself and say, "No," Grey gets angry. Even when she tells him that he's scaring her, he doesn't respond except to command her to turn around so he can undress her. (A command to which she complies.)
And that's the pattern. He gets angry; he takes sex. He doesn't ask for it, he doesn't even demand it, he just leads in, orders Ana around, then begins to do what he wants to her. And she doesn't protest. As one reviewer put it, whenever conflict comes up between them, "they don't talk, they have sex." Grey takes what he wants because it pleases him, and, according to him, the desire to please him should be enough in and of itself to sustain Anastasia.
Biblically speaking, sex is intended to be the ultimate expression of intimate love and trust between a husband and wife. First Corinthians 7:3-5 says, "The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." (See also Ephesians 5:22-33) In the proper context, sex should be the husband's selfless giving of himself to his wife, and the wife's selfless giving of herself to her husband. It goes both ways in terms of mutual consent. Seeking sexual gratification through control of your partner is sex without love.
"So you'll get your kicks by exerting your will over me."It seems the only character in the book who sees Grey as less than noble is Ana's roommate, who is framed as being unnecessarily overprotective. Even Ana's parents like Grey. When Ana flies across the country to visit her mother and discuss her reservations about the man, her mother merely tells her, "Follow your heart, darling, and please, please — try not to overthink things." When Grey meets Ana's father, Grey turns up the charisma and wins the man's approval within one small talk session. They don't even take Ana's concerns into account.
"It's about gaining your trust and your respect, so you'll let me exert my will over you. I will gain a great deal of pleasure, joy even, in your submission. The more you submit, the greater my joy — it's a very simple equation."
"Okay, and what do I get out of this?"
He shrugs and looks almost apologetic.
"Me," he says simply.
-Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James
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