A wise man once said: "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." But what if we want to love one another with a blindfold, a leather flail, and an iPod playing choral music?
As the cinematic adaptation of kinky sex thrill-ride bummer 50 Shades of Grey, its hour come at last, slouches towards its premiere tomorrow, Christian blog-thinkers have found themselves wondering if it's possible to reconcile the Gospel with the desire to watch softcore porn on a large screen.
On Tuesday, Popular Christian blogger Becky Thompson, of the encouragement and hope-themed website Scissortail Silk penned a sizzling post titled Christian Women and Christian Grey, directed at any godly woman planning to see 50 Shades. Thompson's advice: "Please, sweet friend. Don't. Just… don't."
You want to spice up your marriage? You want to save your relationship from being stagnant, or save the passion from slipping away in the day in and day out expectations of you and your husband? Don't ask Christian Grey for help. Don't watch Christian Grey do whatever he would like to Anastasia Steele and expect it to heal that deep hurt and need for intimacy in your own heart.
Only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus can speak to the places in our hearts that need to feel alive and loved again.
Thompson suggests spicing up your marriage by talking up your husband to your kids.
Wanna know what's really sexy? I'm going to begin to spice up my marriage by talking highly of my husband to my children and to others. I'm going to show him that I love him by respecting him as a man. And then? On top of all of that? I'm going to love him intimately. Yes. Intimately. Because sex was designed by God as a gift for me and my husband. It's not taboo. It's a gift that has been stolen, twisted, and turned into something that is the opposite of safe and beautiful. Which is exactly what this movie has done. It has taken the vulnerable and beautiful thing that is married sex and entertained the world with a man who uses sex to control, manipulate and introduce pain.
Thompson takes her mediation a step further by putting herself into the shoes of Christ, which is why there was only one set of footprints. She has spent a great deal of time, she explains, speculating privately about whether or not Christ Himself would have given us His opinion, His holiest of takes, on the movie:
I have thought a lot about whether or not Jesus would speak about this if He lived today. And I decided this. No. He probably wouldn't. He wouldn't waste one breath on seeing this particular movie.
Thompson is not the only writer to ask What Would Jesus Do [about a trilogy of erotic bestsellers based on Twilight fan fiction]? Writer Leilani Haywood, of Christian interest site CharismaNews, comes to a similar conclusion about Christ's interest level, but envisions a more low-key Jesus in a post titled "Why I'm Not Mad About the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Movie." Not only would Jesus not have actively campaigned against the film—that butt-paddling and throat-choking wouldn't have fazed him. Jesus was used to depraved shit:
Jesus was born into a nation occupied by the Romans. He grew up in a devout Jewish household within the lineage of Abraham. While his family was devout, faithful and loyal to God, they were surrounded by an X-rated culture where homosexuality and orgies in bathhouses were common. Landscaping and architecture showcasing genitalia was also common, according to historians.
Sexual corruption penetrated the highest levels of the Jews with King Herod's illicit affair with a another man's wife. Yet in this X-rated empire, Jesus didn't preach one sermon to the Romans. He didn't launch a picket against the Roman bathhouses or preach against participating in orgies or practicing homosexuality.
X-rated Roman orgies! If he grew up around that, he's no prude. And let's not forget that Jesus' first miracle was keeping the party going at a wedding by creating extra wine.
So going to see 50 Shades of Grey might not have been Christ's first choice of how to pass an afternoon. But do we really believe that, after walking around all day ministering to strangers, Jesus would not have enjoyed sitting in a cushioned chair, in a darkened theater, and witnessing God's creations in stunning IMAX?
I spoke with a variety of contemporary Christian voices to get to the bottom of this theological quandary.
My sense is that Christ never really sheltered himself nor distanced himself from folks who weren't moving towards interior wholeness and embodied reconciliation—regardless of whether or not they were viewed as "righteous" by the religious establishment. Simultaneously I don't ever see Christ condoning, or even accommodating for that matter, attitudes or behaviors that contributed to violence towards another human being.
But if Jesus says sex is good, but violence is bad, what about violent sex? Suddenly I get why the Pope gets to live in a house made of gold, because this is tough work. Heuretz clarified a little:
If Christ really made an option for non-violence, then it'd be difficult to assume he'd condone violent acts even towards oneself. However, the obvious exception to this is seen in his crucifixion, and in the voluntary suffering of Christ there is found redemptive meaning.
This makes sense—a man who preached non-violence might have a problem with watching another man whip his girlfriend, even if that man is ripped and bronzed like a Roman centurion. ( Unless the spanking is redemptive; could Christian Grey's sex dungeon be your Calvary?)
Jesuit priest and author James Martin points another reason why a cinematic depiction of rough S&M sex probably would not have been Christ's cup of tea or wine that he made himself: he was a victim of a great deal of violence in his lifetime:
First of all, I've not seen the movie or read the book. But, as I understand it, the plot centers on a relationship that includes some S&M. Jesus was certainly not anti-sex: after all, many of his disciples were married. On the other hand, Jesus himself was a victim of violence (including beatings and torture) and so he probably experienced enough violence in his own life that he wouldn't be so eager to see it onscreen."
Great point, Father—Jesus, almost certainly suffering from PTSD, would probably prefer alternate forms of kink, if he were alive and permitted to have sex by his parents (God) and interested in kinky sex at all. Watching someone get pinned down and slapped in the sack would bring with it a lot of baggage, and who needs that? Why not go see Paddington, instead?
But I think all of this theologizing is off-base. When I asked Pastor R. C. Sproul, Christian radio host and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, whether Jesus would attend the film, he replied only:
"Can't imagine why He would."
Any particular reason why he'd see something else instead?
"Not sure He'd be going to any movies. Sorry I'm not more help."
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]