The trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, has now sold well over 20 million copies in the United States and Canada. The total number has reached more than 31 million in the rest of the world. It’s the Harry Potter sales phenomenon all over again. We have no interest in promoting this type of degrading literature, but bestsellers do indicate, if nothing else, what our culture values. Bestsellers can be viewed as a window into understanding our post-modern culture and ourselves. James’ erotic tale with the huge number of sales makes the unstated message clear: our society has become obsessed with exploitive, self-gratifying sex and the degradation of the human person as a commodity. This book celebrates greed, profits, pride and the objectification of people. In short, sex sells and perverted sex sells even more.
If this were not true, nobody would want to want to write, read and buy what is in fact pornography. Playboy and its sister have already proven the marketing success for the lurid and the carnal. Fifty Shades of Grey recounts the sexual perversions between a young college graduate Anastasia Steele and a rich business man Christian Grey. Where are the feminist who should be speaking out about this misogynist narrative? Is sexual bondage, control, sadism and masochism what women really want? We should be asking: Why has this sexually graphic tale become mainstream fiction? The sad observation is that the majority of readers are women and many of them mothers who see the story as merely an innocuous form of entertainment and a way of spicing their sexual lives. Some, to normalize the moral deception, have called the novel, “mommy porn”. So, the idea being that if mothers are reading the story it must be harmless and fun. The book also follows the trend that for more than a generation has mocked Christian values, and so it’s no coincidence that the sexual perversions originate from a protagonist whose name is Christian Grey.
One reviewer writing for the Calgary Sun defends the book’s demeaning of the human person by quoting this advice from Christian Grey: “We are consenting adults and what we do behind closed doors is between ourselves. You need to free your mind and listen to your body.” This is the big moral lie; it’s a blind philosophy totally devoid in recognizing any evil and sin. However, the deceptive freedom embedded in the language of the story makes the lie so easy to swallow. We should never confuse silly cliches like “exploring one’s sexuality” for the truth. The sexual activities done in the privacy of the nation’s bedrooms or the pages of a novel or our television screens never just remain there: they can too easily affect the participants, their families and the society in which they live. Haven’t we seen this from the fallout of the sexual revolution which started in the 1960s? We now have the results of accepting the lie of the “need to free your mind and listen to your body”. Instead, what we have is an oversupply of this: more pornography, more broken marriages, more sexual violence against children and women, more broken families, more drug abuse, more suicides, more gang killings, more self-worship and more novels like Fifty Shades of Grey that should in truth be called, “Fifty Shades of Immorality”. But we and our society are in denial.
What’s missing in this book is that the characters are not free, but trapped by their perversions and sexual obsessions. This truth is missing because in this “Grey” nether world there’s no God except for sex, pleasure and selfishness. But human beings were created for a higher purpose: they were created for a life of virtue by developing a moral conscience. It’s St. Paul who gives us good advice here: “Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good”(Rom 12:9), and again he stresses, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1Tim 5:21). Finally we are taught, if we choose to listen, to “Hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instructions in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict him” (Tit 1:09).
In his Letter to Artists Blessed John Paul II humbly instructs artists/writers to produce works in line with these words: “I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.”
Fifty Shades of Grey is so far removed from what St. Paul and John Paul II are teaching. It’s a fictional world constructed solely on “functional considerations” with no Gospel truth and no difference between what is good and evil. We will never build a culture of life and virtue in Canada, or anywhere else in the world, if we support and populate our imagination with this degrading, sensational, immoral and Machiavellian fiction. The best thing we can do is not to buy the book, and if you have already done so, but have come to the realization that you have been used for profits and moral exploitation, why not send the book back to the author and tell her your thoughts? As in the past, the decisions we make in supporting certain works of literature, and the rest of what our culture produces, will shape the future moral landscape of Canada. If anybody wants to send me a copy of the book, we promise to quickly return it to E. L. James with this blog entry attached.