Utter Heartbreak: A Response to ‘Fifty Shades Darker’
There are times to be heartbroken.
The release of another Fifty Shades film is definitely such a time. The tidal wave of vile filth that has wreaked havoc on our culture over the last six years through author E.L. James’s bestselling books of sexual perversion is now about to foment new unspeakable horrors as the second salvo in this tale of sadistic abuse — Fifty Shades Darker — hits theaters this Valentine’s Day weekend.
Five years ago when Fifty Shades of Grey, the book, became a runaway bestseller, I began writing an angst-filled article about this destructive phenomenon. But I couldn’t bring myself to finish it at the time, being mindful of Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of [wicked men] in secret” (Eph. 5:12). In all candor, the content was so defiling that I did not want to draw any more attention to it.
Yet while parts of this fictional story itself happen “in secret,” there’s nothing secret at all about its widely-publicized, wicked plotline that has seduced millions. It was for this reason that I, with great sadness, published an article two years ago when the first Fifty Shades film was released. Significantly, the film adaptation of book one became a box-office sensation in 2015, grossing $571 million worldwide,1 and when Universal Studios released the first official trailer for Fifty Shades Darker last September 15, it gained an astounding 114 million views within 24 hours, breaking the all-time record set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens.2
It is regrettably no exaggeration to state that the Fifty Shades books and films have exploded into the public consciousness like few other cultural trends of the past decade. And now that the second installment of this fantasy novel word-porn has been adapted into a full-throttle visual assault for voyeuristic movie-goers, it behooves us to carefully consider what’s at stake once again.
The bad news is — as bad as the first book and film were — this second act of the trilogy is more insidious than the last.
The “Fifty Shades” Plot in Brief
Here’s a brief sketch of the first and second book and movie’s plotline.
Fifty Shades of Grey follows the life of Anastasia “Ana” Steele, a 22-year-old college graduate and impressionable virgin who becomes smitten by 27-year-old Christian Grey, an attractive and wealthy young businessman.
Steele begins dating Grey, but in time, he insists that, for their relationship to proceed, she needs to sign a non-disclosure agreement about their activities (which she does) as well as a more in-depth contract (the subject of much tension in initial book and movie) in which she consents for Grey to engage in deviant sexual acts and various sadomasochistic routines with her.
After giving her virginity to him, she permits Grey to physically abuse her in his “red room of pain” because she is so desirous of being with him, consoling herself that she has reformed him to an extent by convincing her attractive beau to approach some of their physical encounters in a more intimate, rather than grossly perverted, way. At the end of Fifty Shades of Grey, however, Christian goes “too far” with Ana, which prompts her to leave him.
The Fifty Shades Darker plot is even more dangerous for the naïve. When Christian suggests that the two get back together on Ana’s condition that his “binding rules of submission” for the relationship are set aside in favor of her giving consent to what does and does not occur during their physical encounters, Ana agrees. Yet what must be understood is that Christian’s sadomasochistic treatment of Ana does not cease in this second chapter. While what occurs may be less brutal and be done with a marginal level of consent, Grey continues to behave perversely toward Steele in their intimate trysts and also acts manipulatively toward her in their tumultuous professional relationship.
These points notwithstanding, at the end of Fifty Shades Darker, when Christian — with engagement ring in hand — proposes to Ana in his fancy boathouse decorated with flowers, she agrees to marry him; for her beast now smiles at her more often and shows the flashes of a caring “romantic”!
What’s abundantly clear in the unfolding plot is that Grey’s lewd cravings have not changed; he has simply curbed them enough to keep the woman he desires in his web. The monster that is Christian still lurks inside. Though Ana wants to believe that she’s the one drawing the lines of what’s acceptable or not in her relationship with Grey, her words betray a different reality: “His magic is powerful, intoxicating. I’m a butterfly caught in his net, unable and unwilling to escape. I’m his . . . totally his.”3
A New Chick-Lit Nadir: First Vampires, Now Perverts with Secret Torture Chambers
Author E.L. James, a middle-aged British woman, admits that these works of erotica are a spin-off of the popular Twilight series, and that they are intended as fantasy romance novels for relationship-starved women.4 Tragically, tens of millions of women have fallen for James’s debauched and despicable drivel.
In Twilight, it was this non-sensical reasoning: “He’s a vampire; but it’s okay. He can suck my blood, because we love each other.”
The Fifty Shades plot goes down a much darker hell-hole: “He’s a loathsome sexual pervert who wants to abuse me in his secret torture chamber, and I’m sworn by oath not to tell a soul, but it’s okay. He’s a dashing, well-heeled hunk who wears a nice suit and buys me fancy gifts, so his demeaning abuse of me is worth it, because I get to be with him. Oh, and when I push back at his gross perversity — and he gives me a little space — it shows that he’s a good guy after all. Hurray!”
A Startling Trend: From Back Alley Smut Shops to Mainstream
Twisted, erotic literature like this has existed for centuries. Yet such works were largely distributed underground to small groups of deviants. What’s vexing about Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels is that they have sold more than 125 million combined copies worldwide, surpassing the Harry Potter series to become the fastest-selling paperbacks in history.5
Even more lamentable is the fact that Universal Pictures is bringing this pandora’s box of fantasy porn to the silver screen this week in more the 3,000 theaters. And contrary to the spinmeisters in Hollywood, there will be no “Happy Valentine’s Day” message to be found in this horror film — only woe of despicable proportions.
The filth that was once only available in sordid back-alley smut shops and other dens of ill-repute is now being openly championed by culture-shapers and embraced by the masses.6
This startling trend is not without devastating consequences. Millions of desperate women across the world have been swallowing this poison up like candy, imbibing warped fantasies of intimacy and fulfillment. In believing this lie, they’re degrading their own self-worth and welcoming senseless pain and suffering. And with this heinous erotica now coming to a theater-near-you, I can only imagine the horrible effect it will have on large numbers of men, as it fuels their lustful appetites to become abusive and predatory monsters.
The Marquis de Sade — history’s most famous sexual pervert — would be proud. In his controversial work, Juliette (which was banned for a time from public sale in France), the Marquise relished in condoning “secret” wicked sexual acts, as similarly portrayed by the characters in the Fifty Shades trilogy:
True wisdom, my dear Juliette, does not consist in repressing our vices, because since these vices constitute almost the only happiness in our life, to wish to repress them would be to become our own executioners. But it consists in abandoning ourselves to them with such secrecy, and such extensiveness that we may never be caught out. Do not be afraid that this may diminish their delight: mystery adds to the pleasure. Moreover, such behavior ensures impunity, and is not impunity the most delicious nourishment of debauchery?7
No Time to Swoon: Sounding a Wake-Up Call
God help us! Have we no shame? As men and women made in His image, is there any level of depravity that we will flee from and denounce?
Lest the slick packaging of evil being unleashed at the local box office seduce us, we need a wake-up call, and this reality-check by Fox News movie critic Justin Craig should jolt us:
The difference between ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’s’ enigmatic heartthrob Christian Grey and Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who imprisoned and sexually abused three women in his home, is a slick gray suit and a few million dollars. . . . The only reason Christian Grey has become a recent icon in popular fiction — albeit a trashy one — is because he is filthy rich. Being a wealthy, debonair playboy has overshadowed being a manipulating sexual predator and has inexplicably made a seemingly quiet, sexually repressed audience swoon.8
This is no time to swoon, dear people. It is a time to be utterly heartbroken and humbled before a holy God.
Let me be plain: Because we are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, every one of us possesses a fallen sin nature that renders us black with iniquity. Thus any one of us can be ensnared into the bondage of sexual sin.
Moreover, any one of us bought by Christ’s redemptive blood can yet be wretchedly double-minded. We can be emboldened with virtue in one breath, and fall prey to vice in another. Apart from a resolute commitment to flee from temptation, enabled by the Holy Spirit, we can succumb to deviant thoughts and behaviors.
Think Lot with his daughters. David with Bathsheba. Amnon with his sister Tamar. And the list goes on and on.
Christians can, indeed, in moments of self-serving lust, act like moral reprobates.
A Scriptural Response to Sexual Sin
What then is our hope? How can we avoid such a sordid and despicable lot?
Here are five points to consider.
1. We Must Truly Fear God and Hate Evil
If you are a blood-bought child of Christ, you must live in the fear of God when sexual sins lay crouching at the door. Only those who truly fear God will conquer such temptations.
Scripture is clear: “[B]y the fear of the LORD men depart from evil” (Prov. 16:6). God’s word further teaches that “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil . . .” (Prov. 8:13).
Commentator John Gill adds this: A man who fears God “will shun every avenue, every bypath, that has a tendency to ensnare into it, taking the wise man’s advice, ‘Enter not into the path of the wicked’” (Prov. 4:14, 15).9
The fear of God is our dire need. All too often we want to flirt with sexual sin, rather than hate it. We thus must cry out to God to give us hearts to truly fear him and to despise the sins of the flesh. Without this, we can easily plunge headlong into destructive perversion.
“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” (Prov. 10:27).
Oh that this would be our testimony!
2. We Must Make No Provision for the Flesh
Sin is a slippery slope that often starts with a seemingly small compromise before it then consumes and destroys.
With heartfelt care, James lays out the pattern for us: “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren” (James 1:14-16).
The key is for us to never yield to the first fleeting look or sordid thought. Paul writes: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14). We must “flee fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18). We must “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).
We must confront sin with the “Black Flag” and give “no quarter to the violators of our homes and firesides!”10 Only then can we escape the moment of temptation when it comes.
3. We Must Be Done with Secret Sins
The Marquis de Sade famously wrote that “True wisdom . . . consists in abandoning ourselves to [our vices] with such secrecy, and such extensiveness that we may never be caught out.”11
This is a lie from the pit of hell. While one may hide their sexual sins from every man on earth, the God of the universe sees them for what they are.
The Prophet Jeremiah blows the cover wide open: “‘Am I a God at hand,’ saith the LORD, ‘and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?’ saith the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’” (Jer. 23:23-24).
Scripture is plain: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3). No sin we commit is hidden from God, and He will one day hold us to account for them. Solomon writes: “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Eccles. 12:13-14).
While we may not flaunt sexual vices, as the Fifty Shades story does, our secret sins are no less serious. They pave the way for destruction. Pastor Stephen Hopkins put it this way: “Secret sin is a breach in the wall. It is an invitation to invasion.”12
Dr. George Grant keenly elaborates on this theme:
It is the exceptions that will determine the rule of your spiritual life. Do you have a secret sin? Everything in your life may be in order, but that secret sin will eat away and fundamentally alter all that you are and all that you do. It’s that one little exception, that tucked away secret sin, that one unfought battle, that will be your undoing.13
Do you want your life to be destroyed? Do you want your pet secret sin that you wickedly cherish to bring reproach and ruin to you and your family?
If not, first acknowledge this: “Thou [God] hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance” (Ps. 90:8). Then repent and forsake your hidden vices.
King David, who famously sinned in secret with Bathsheba, gives us a prayer that out to be close to our hearts:
Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Ps. 19:12-14)
4. We Must Forsake Phariseeism and Doubleminded Hypocrisy
As Fifty Shades Darker hits theaters this week, it’s easy for Christians to respond with moral outrage. I’ve done so here in this article. It doesn’t take much to be agitated to denounce the moral bankruptcy and destructiveness that it represents.
Scan Facebook, and you’ll see pledge drives which appeal to believers to solemnly commit that they will not darken the door of a theater to be assaulted by the lurid escapades of Christian Grey and Ana Steele.
The vocal solemnity is warranted. The National Center for Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) has a sobering meme hitting social media that pictures Ana Steele with these pointed words: “Humiliated, degraded, coerced, battered, entrapped, manipulated, abused, isolated, tortured, controlled, threatened.”14 I’m grateful for this unvarnished reality-check as well as for another grave warning issued by the NCSE:
. . . the entire Fifty Shades franchise, glamorizes and legitimizes both sexual and domestic abuse. In real life, women in these situations don’t end up like Anastasia — they end up in a woman’s recovery agency, on the run from their abuser or, sometimes, dead.15
The outrage and stern warnings are good, but they’re not nearly good enough. This issue should be personal for all of us — not just for “the other guy.” It’s high time that we confront our Pharisaical hearts and the “shades of grey” we conveniently defend: Oh, we’re not as wicked as our brother, because we don’t do this. We’re not so depraved as to do that.
The words of Jesus are an indictment on such smug, self-justifying thoughts:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matt. 5:27-28)
Dear brothers and sisters: It’s time to set aside our hypocritical, self-righteous façades and deal with the ugliness that lies deep down. Let’s stop kidding ourselves and be done with the heinous sexual sins we secretly cling to.
We must confront our Pharisaical duplicity. There must be no secret caverns that we cultivate. We must not placate our sin, for doublemindedness will ultimately undo us.
However much we think we “have it together,” while such sexual sin persists below the surface, our spiritual equilibrium is fundamentally wrecked. “A double minded man is,” indeed, “unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).
The answer is this: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. . . . Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:8,10).
5. We Must Embrace Christ’s Atonement and Make it the Ordering Principle for All Our Thoughts and Actions
My last point is a lot to chew on, but it goes to the heart of sadomasochism. If you are an unbeliever reading this article, you are resigned to a form of it, however hard you try to act to the contrary.
R.J. Rushdoony expresses this in better words than I can muster:
What sadomasochism points to is, that man requires atonement. And his self-atonement, sadism and masochism, is fearfully destructive.16
What is sadism? In sadism, what a man does is to lay his guilt on others and to punish them. . . . In masochism, the reverse is true. The masochist puts himself in a position to suffer, or he will be beaten first before committing fornication or adultery or whatever the sin is, in effect to say, “You see, I’ve paid the penalty. Now I’ve paid the price for sin.”. . . Sin and guilt require atonement because man is God’s creature. . . . And because of that sadomasochism is basic to every man outside of Jesus Christ.17
Lost man’s only hope of escaping sadomasochism is Christ’s atoning blood which He shed to redeem him from his sinful bondage. Rushdoony explains:
[U]nless we set forth the doctrine of the blood atonement of Jesus Christ, there is no peace. A society will be in perpetual war; people will be sadomasochistic. Alternately, some of them [will be] bearing unwanted burdens and bringing punishment upon themselves, or trying to punish others, because they have not known the atonement of Jesus Christ.18
The bottom line is this: We must be in Christ and be a new creation for there to be any true peace and basis for overcoming perversion. We must be rescued through Christ’s atonement and make it the defining principle of our lives. No lost man or woman can escape the bondage of sexual sin apart from this.
Scripture teaches us that without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sins (Heb. 9:22). The good news is that Jesus gave his life to accomplish such an atonement, and if you confess your sins, He will forgive you of your guilt and wash you whiter than snow.
The Apostle John’s words are as true today as when they were first written: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). This is the hope of the Gospel.
If you are reading this article today, and you haven’t come to Christ to find forgiveness from your sin and freedom from its loathsome guilt, let today be the day of your salvation.
Conclusion: It’s Time to Clean House
It’s time for us to be utterly heartbroken — not merely with the evils of the Fifty Shades franchise, which make for an ‘Unhappy Valentine’s Day’ — but with the wretchedness of our own sexual sins.
It’s time, through God’s divine help, for us to put off the old man, and put on the new (Rom. 6:6) — to walk as becomes a child of God:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. (Rom. 6:12-13)
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4:17-24)
Let’s be done with our overly-high opinion of ourselves and clean house.
- Box Office Mojo: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=main&id=fiftyshadesofgrey.htm. Accessed February 2, 2017.
- Mia Galuppo, “‘Fifty Shades Darker’ Dethrones ‘The Force Awakens’ as Most Viewed Trailer in First 24 Hours,” The Hollywood Reporter, September 15, 2016. Accessed February 2, 2017.
- Ana’s line in: E.L.James, Fifty Shades Darker (New York: Vintage Books, 2012).
- Craig Harrison, “Fifty Shades Of Grey’ Trailer Out This Month; Author EL James’ Book Has ‘Twilight’ Connection?” KDramastars.com, July 9, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2017.
- Total trilogy sales reported by Alex Stedman, “‘Fifty Shades’ Spinoff ‘Grey’ Copy Reportedly Stolen From Publisher,” Variety.com, June 10, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2017. For Fifty Shades outpacing the Harry Potter series, see: Paul Bentley, “‘Mummy porn’ Fifty Shades Of Grey outstrips Harry Potter to become fastest selling paperback of all time,” DailyMail.com, June 17, 2012. Accessed February 2, 2017.
- Former BBC journalist C. J. Grace had the brazen audacity to claim that “the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy . . . is in many ways extremely traditional in the family values it promotes.” C. J. Grace, “Fifty Shades Films Support Family Values and Kinky Sex,” HuffingtonPost.com, February 1, 2017. Accessed February 2, 2017.
- De Sade in Juliette, as quoted in R.J. Rushdoony, To Be As God: A Study of Modern Thought Since the Marquis de Sade (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2003), pp. 14-15.
- Justin Craig, “‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ review: Mediocre plot, bland characters, twisted subject matter make for bad movie,” FoxNews.com, February 10, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2017.
- Excerpted from John Gill’s A Body of Divinity.
- Quote from “Stonewall” Jackson to J.E.B. Stuart in the film, Gods and Generals (2003), directed by Ron Maxwell.
- De Sade in Juliette, as quoted in R.J. Rushdoony, To Be As God: A Study of Modern Thought Since the Marquis de Sade (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2003), pp. 14-15.
- Excerpted from a sermon given by Stephen Hopkins at Burnet Bible Church, August 24, 2014.
- Excerpted from audio message by Dr. George Grant, “The Servanthood Lessons of Haggai.”
- Quote excerpted from the National Center for Sexual Exploitation’s Thunderclap page: https://www.thunderclap.it/en/projects/52480-fifty-shades-darker-is-abuse. Accessed February 2, 2017.
- Excerpted from a lecture by R.J. Rushdoony, “The Problem of Guilt and Restitution,” delivered at Park View Baptist Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
- Excerpted from a lecture by R.J. Rushdoony, “The Atonement.”