Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
My lovely wife came to me a few weeks ago and told me about a book, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” She told me that the ladies at her work were just raving about it. What really caught my attention was when she told me that the ladies at work were keeping it secret from their husbands that they were reading it. One of them asked my wife, “If you read it, would you tell your husband?“
She said unflinchingly, “Of course. We don’t keep secrets from each other.”
She came home that day and told me about the trilogy that has swept the women of the world by storm. So much so that it has become the fastest selling paperback in history. It is a story of erotica, sadism, masochism and is being called “mommy porn.” But there is a lot more than that. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve seen this book around a lot. I mean, a lot. Not just in the hands of “regular” people. But I’ve heard Christians discussing it. I don’t have any hard and fast statistics to share with you, but I’ve seen and heard enough online and face to face chatter to let me know that Christian people are reading this book. What gives?
My wife asked me if it was okay for her to read it. I told her she was an adult and she could make her own decisions. I told her to read it if she wanted to. She said she wanted me to read it with her so that we could share it together and talk about it together. At the time, I was reading Joy Wilson’s book for a review for Provoketive, so she read the trilogy by herself. She seemed to enjoy it and the characters and from time to time I would read over her shoulder and say, “What in the crap?” She would say, “You’ll see when you get there.”
During that time, Provoketive writer Jordan Hageman wrote an article called, “Fifty Shades of Truth“ which I highly recommend for your reading. It is thought provoking and very heart felt. In it, she notes that she did not read the book, and for very good reasons. Thank you, Jordan, for writing that article. I applaud you for having the courage to do that. She makes the point that some people may read things like that and may have a problem with what our spouses should look like. We may read something like Fifty Shades of Grey and compare what our spouses look like and think, “Why doesn’t my spouse walk and talk like that?” It can be a deceptive problem for a lot of people.
Listen, I’m the man who committed adultery while he was a pastor. I did a solid job for eight years and then fell in the ministry. No one is above temptation. I know that. Sin is crouching at the door, ready to take any of us.
That’s why I was so intrigued by the phenomenon of this book. This book has created an amazing surge of emotion in our culture – that’s why it has captured our attention.
Let me start with a little history. E. L. James, the author of the trilogy, is actually named Erika James. She is from West London and lives a very reclusive life and has been married for 20 years and has two teenage sons. Her book started as a fan fiction story of the Twilight vampire novels online and morphed into the novels you know today. In a sense, I get her. I love that about her. After I fell from ministry, I started blogging online anonymously about my story. People began to read my story and reaching out to me for help. It was there that Jonathan Brink from Civitas Press found me and asked me to write something for him.
We live in a different age of publishing. An age where people can write online and be discovered like never before. If you have a story that has meaning, you can reach people. In that sense, I understand the appeal of E. L. James. She had an immediate audience. I didn’t have anywhere near her audience, but I can say that I understand what it’s like to be discovered like many people in today’s market.
So let’s cover the actual book review first. Spoiler free, in case you’re thinking about reading it. I only actually read the first book of the trilogy. My wife filled me in on the other two books. Honestly, I don’t think I could have read the other two. After reading the first one, I kinda figured out basically what would happen.
(I’m not real good at reading or reviewing this kind of novel since it is the only kind of book I’ve ever read or probably ever will read, so please forgive me.) Anastasia Steele is a college graduate who meets Christian Grey, a millionaire dude, during a college newspaper interview. They hit it off and she learns about his dark past. He’s into some kinky masochistic stuff and wants her to sign onto it. She’s pretty naive about it all (she’s never been with a man) and just wants to be with him. Together, they go back and forth and learn about love, life and give a little both ways.
There. That’s my synopsis. Yeah, there’s some sex in there too. I’m trying to be family friendly.
About the writing. It’s not so great. There are a lot of bad metaphors. A lot. I’m a published writer, but I’m not Hemingway. Heck, I’m not even close to anything you could pull off of the juvenile section at your local library. But the author is repetitive in her metaphors. Over and over. There’s not a lot of plot. But there is some good story. The two main characters are well developed, but the sub-characters aren’t. It’s not the best fiction I’ve read, but heck. It’s sold a lot of books.
You want a real review? Read this one by Rowan Petting. Petting has written and read a fair share of erotica for a very long time.
In fact, Petting gets to the real heart of the matter. Petting states several things that are germane to why people love this book at all: the fantasy they relive has less to do with sadomasochism than the tale of a self-effacing, clever young woman who beats off all competition to win the unobtainable male.
Further, Petting says that the success of this book has to do with the format in which it comes. The fact that it first came out on ebook/Kindle is monumental: This is not just because so many millions of copies are being read on Kindles where prying eyes cannot discern that the vicar’s wife is perusing escapist smut. The actual reason is far more fundamental: the core readers discovered the book online and their enthusiastic electronic chatter – and that alone – brought it to the notice of publishers.
Here we are in a crisis moment, though. I haven’t seen too many Christians speaking up about this book. However, in my own little bubble of a world, I know that there are a lot of Christians reading this book. So what are we supposed to do? Is it okay for Christians to read this erotic novel?
Well, darnit. I read it. I wish someone else was writing this blog.
Let me start with this. A book is never just “a book.” It contains ideas, thoughts and emotions. It is written to convey the feelings of an author. It is the hope of the author that you will feel something. James’ book will definitely make you feel something. It may arouse you, disgust you, or make you hide your face in shame. But it will do something to you.
Isn’t it amazing the effect words have on us? I’m amazed the effect this book is having on our culture. There seem to be two extremes, but aren’t there always? One extreme seems to make you feel like a pervert for reading it. The other makes you feel like you’re sexually evolved for having experienced it. I don’t think either is true. Yeah, it’s a book that triggers an emotional response, but each of us is still ultimately responsible for our emotions.
Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t just about sadomasochism. There is a further developing story beyond all the “naughtiness” as my mother would say. After I got past the first few chapters and the poorly written metaphors, I realized where the author was going and saw a story. Would I put it in the church library? Heck no. Recommend it to my kids? Of course not. Would I recommend it to someone who has a problem with lust? Absolutely not.
Let’s look at the two sides of the moral argument. First, there’s the Christian liberty argument. Some would say, “I’m free in Christ to do what I may. All things are freely done in the marriage bed. There are many other things in this culture that are much worse for me to look at on television/movies/internet that can invade my mind. I know my boundaries and a book isn’t going to harm me.”
The opposite argument is this: “As Christians, we aren’t to let any kind of impurity into our minds or hearts. Letting lust into our minds is the first step into the wrong direction. Playing with any kind of fire is a way to get burned.”
It’s all challenging. I would add something that some random seminary professor said to me a decade ago: “Know what your people are watching, reading and doing.” That doesn’t mean you have to read every novel or watch every movie that comes out. But be aware what the rest of the community is doing. You may not like what everyone else in the Christian community is doing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be aware of it.
It comes down to the age old question: “How far are we supposed to separate ourselves from the culture? Are we supposed to? Do we stop watching television? Stop watching movies? How far do we remove ourselves from it all but remain part of the world?“
A good question is this: “Why are so many people interested in this book?” An even better question for the Christian community is, “Why do so many Christians seem to be reading this book?” It would seem that a lot of Christian people are reading this and hiding it from their significant others.
Those are a lot of questions raised by one book. They are all questions that have been raised before and they all deserve to be asked again.