Fifty Shades of Freedom

In June, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force drafted a recommendation that “clinicians screen women of childbearing age for intimate partner violence (IPV), such as domestic violence, and provide or refer women who screen positive to intervention services,” extending the call to include even those “women who do not have signs or symptoms of abuse.”[1] Given the subject matter (and the popularity) of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, one might wonder if anyone is really in a position to judge the behaviors that constitute abuse. Indeed, according to guidelines set forth by both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Medical Association, the nature of Grey’s relationship with Ana establishes a clear case of abuse.[2]

Yet millions of readers simply cannot (or will not) make the connection between the abusive nature of Grey’s “love” for Ana and the real-life consequences that kind of love incurs. In a culture that equates love with abuse, how on earth can we as Christians reasonably introduce the truth? Do I think you should read the book? By no means. Rather, I would ask that you skip the book and pick up your Bible because active engagement in the Word prepares the mind for active involvement in the world (Romans 12:2). Only Scripture can prepare us to make a reasonable defense (1 Peter 3:15).

Over the past couple of days, we have examined the explosive popularity driving the Fifty Shades trilogy, and why we as believers should be concerned. Today I want to take a look at how we can engage a culture that views the world through a Grey shaded lens.

A PARADIGM FOR GREY AREAS

Ultimately, the apostle Paul set forth the best paradigm for responding to the Shades dilemma. Notice his engagement with the people of Athens (Acts 17:16–18:1). Following Paul’s model, we can speak to the readers of Grey in the following ways:

Engage yourself in the work of the gospel. We first find Paul in Athens as he waited for Silas and Timothy. But his wasn’t merely the activity of ministry; his very soul was engaged in the work of the Gospel—so much so that “his spirit was provoked within him” (Acts 17:10-16). May God so break our hearts that we move forward to wrestle with the idols of our cities as well.

Engage yourself in the work of observation. Paul “saw that the city was full of idols”. That is, he watched with an air of understanding and close inspection.[3] Pay attention to those around you. Listen to what they say. What is it they most value? What potential idols do you see manifest? Money? Sex? Relationship? Observe the need and answer the call.

Engage the church. “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” (Acts 17:17) Paul went to the Jews and the devout people first. Given the pervasive nature and sales of the Grey series, we are kidding ourselves to think that it has not entered the church. Therefore, begin with believers. Begin with a call for holiness and right worship; for a Biblical understanding of the issues between men and women and the God who is sovereign over all.

Engage yourself with unbelievers. (v 18). Paul talked with pleasure-seeking Epicureans and morally upright Stoics. Because his answer to each was the Cross (verse 19), his dialogue with each transcended both the hedonistic and the ethical worldviews.

Engage them at a cultural level. Paul met them where they were: in their city, surrounded by their gods. “So Paul, standing in the midst… said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive… for I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I also found an altar… What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” Paul took note of the cultural earmarks of the city and pronounced the truth in the heart of their need. The same is true of Fifty Shades of Grey; it is a symptom of a deeper, more spiritual issue. Once we recognize the fact of it, we are better able to apply the cure.

Engage them on a literary level. In verse 28, Paul makes a literary leap: “as even some of your own poets have said…” It’s an interesting strategy; one that applies very succinctly to Fifty Shades. As the wise man said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) It’s true too. History and literature are littered with men such as Christian Grey. Faust had his Gretchen. De Sade darkly shadowed children. Byron had Augusta. Indeed, Grey appears to be the ultimate Byronic hero, taking his cue from the original who, “carried his bleeding heart all across Europe,” and was purportedly “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”[4]

Take for instance Sydney Carton, of Dickens’ fame. Both Carton and Grey came of tortured backgrounds, both lived degenerate lifestyles, both looked to salvation at the hand of a woman. Both men sought redemption. But here is where the likeness ends. For, as Grey demanded Ana’s torture to procure his happiness, Carton gave his life to save his beloved Lucy’s. One difference, and only one, lay between the two men: the Cross.

Whereas the wrecked childhood of Grey fed into an adult desire to brutalize, Carton projected the imagery of a broken man and the God who healed him. Grey looked inside and found ruin; Carton looked to the Cross and found honor. Carton, driven by love for Lucy Manette (a woman, I might add, who would never return his affection) laid down his life for her husband, whispering, “for a life you love.” Carton gained nothing and lost his life for love. It is arguably the single most romantic literary moment. Ever. Set that imagery before the minds of others, and Grey shows up for what he is—a coward who demands the anguish of another for his own satisfaction.

Then take the analogy further. I John tells us, “this is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down His life.” And, “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Carton laid down his life for the one he loved. On a cosmic level, so did Christ.

If culture is reflected in the eyes of its literature, if stories provide the intersection between the heart and mind, we would do well to avail ourselves of the crossroads. We must take up the Cross and carry it to the heart of our culture. Stories provide a unique means of doing so.

“There is something in us, as story-tellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. “[5]

Our goal as commentators of culture is to bring that price front and center, and to ultimately lay it at the foot of the Cross. For as long as man stands apart from God, he either cannot (as a pagan) or will not (as a prodigal) mourn his sin. Thus we mortals war against Redemption.

Engage them with the clear message of the Cross. (Acts 17:18). For the believer and the unbeliever both, there is no other answer we can offer. And really, is that not enough? For the Christian Greys, broken by abuse and continuing the cycle, Jesus Christ is the healer. For the obsessive Anastasia’s who equate torture with love, Jesus Christ is the Truth. And for the believers who abstain from the book, Jesus Christ is the purity that guards them. What other answer do you have to give them? Truly, I know of none.

 


[1] See the an online verson of the draft at the following website: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf12/ipvelder/draftrecipvelder.htm

[2] See Basile KC, Hertz MF, Back SE. Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence Victimization Assessment Instruments for Use in Healthcare Settings: Version 1. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2007. Online copies available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/pub-res/images/ipvandsvscreening.pdf

[3] See James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[4] Castle, Terry (13 April 1997). “‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’”. The New York Times.

[5] Flannery O’Connor, Flannery O’Connor : Collected Works : Wise Blood / A Good Man Is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear It Away / Everything That Rises Must Converge / Essays & Letters, 1St ed. (Library of America, 1988), 820.

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  • GinaRD

    While I appreciate the Sydney Carton love, it makes me violently ill to see his name even mentioned anywhere NEAR Christian Grey’s. :-)