Fifty Shades of Devaluing Women and Men

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

According to Amazon, the best selling book and Kindle ebook of 2012 was E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. There are currently three books in the series. The series is touted by James as a “passionate love story.” Critics, however, have labeled the series “mommy porn.” What are Christians to make of this so-called “passionate love story” that celebrates Bondage, Discipline, Submission, and Masochism (pleasure from pain) (BDSM). Christians must begin by answering the question, “What does the Bible say about the value of humanity?”

In Genesis 1:26-27, we read,

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Humans are set apart from the rest of creation, and the various tools of man. We are more valuable than plants, animals, and machines. Thus, a human being does not determine his or her value or the value of other human beings. The value of all human beings is determined by our Creator. How does this truth affect the sexual relationship between a husband and wife?  Francis Schaeffer answers this question briefly in Pollution and the Death of Man,

What is man’s attitude towards the girl? It is possible, and common in the modern setting, to have a “playboy” attitude, or rather a “plaything” attitude, where the “playmate” becomes the “plaything.” Here, the girl is no more than a sex object.

But what is the Christian view? Somebody may offer at this point the rather romantic notion, “You shouldn’t look for any pleasure for yourself; you should just look for the other person’s pleasure.” But that is not what the Bible says. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have a right to pleasure too. But what we do not have a right to do is to forget that the girl is a person and not an animal, or a plant, or a machine. We have the right to have our pleasure in a sexual relationship, but we have no right whatsoever to exploit a partner as a sex object.

There should be a conscious limitation upon our pleasure. We impose a limit–a self-imposed limit–in order to treat the wife fairly as a person. So although a husband could do more, he does not do everything he could do, because he must treat her also as a person and not just as a thing with no value. And if he does so treat her, eventually he loses, because love is gone, and all that is left is just a mechanical, chemical sexuality; humanity is lost as he treats her as less than human. Eventually, not only her humanity is diminished, but his as well. In contrast, if he does less than he could do, eventually he has more, for he has a human relationship; he has love and not just a physical act. It is like the principle of the boomerang–it can come full circle and destroy the destroyer (pg. 86-87). (Emphasis mine)

Just because a man or a woman can dominate one another or just because one fantasizes about domination in the sexual relationship (an evil fantasy) does not mean that one should dominate or fulfill such a fantasy. A person who inflicts pain on another human being in a dehumanizing manner denies his or her Maker (implied in Genesis 9:6) and a person who wants to be dehumanized denies his or her Maker as well. To concede to such evil desires reveals the destroyer of human value (men and women) and in turn destroys the destroyer (men and women). Women are not objects to be dominated, even if they request such domination. In turn, men are not objects to request enslavement to, if even for a moment. In a consensual bdsm sexual relationship, no humans exist, for human value has been traded for mere mechanical, chemical sexual release. 

Perhaps a better title for James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is Fifty Shades of Devaluing Women and Men?

A woman who requests such domination devalues her husband, and a husband who fulfills such requests devalues his wife; and vice versa. If you have such fantasies, repent and believe God. You and your spouse are more valuable than mere tools for sexual release. You are God’s image-bearers. Spread forth His image by enjoying your own personhood and the personhood of your spouse. Although sin has marred the image of God in mankind, His image is still present in humanity, and is being further restored by Christ in all who believe. Run to Christ and be regenerated (reborn), justified (declared righteous), sanctified (set apart from sin to God), and eventually glorified (perfected in Christ).

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.


    • says

      William, nope, just interviews. In the interview with Barbara Walters, I heard some of the book being read. The guy has the girl sign a sex-contract. If she doesn’t fulfill the contract, she’ll be punished.

      I’ve tried to be objective, basing my opinion of the books on words the author has said about her own work, instead of what others have said.

  1. Bill Mac says

    “A person who inflicts pain on another human being denies his Maker (implied in Genesis 9:6) and a person who wants to feel this pain denies his or her Maker as well.”

    How does this square with the Christian fascination with MMA? (not that I’m disagreeing).

    • says

      Bill, I think the same about MMA or any other sport or competition. If the goal is to inflict pain (to do violence), Christians should not participate, unless such violence is necessary in order to be obedient to the Lord. An example would be serving in a just war. In a just war, Christians shouldn’t only be the best soldiers, they should be the best killers as well, while never committing murder.

      I love MMA. Christians must be careful that they don’t love the violence. One can love the sport without loving the violence. Psalms 11:5, however, is a real warning: “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” Christians who fight in MMA or watch MMA need to make sure they’re not lovers of violence. In MMA, the goal for some may be violence, but many of these men are trying to win by doing as little damage to their opponent as possible and receiving as little damage as possible. MMA is not masochism.

      • Daniel says

        “I love MMA. Christians must be careful that they don’t love the violence. One can love the sport without loving the violence.”

        I’m sorry but this just doesn’t mesh. I would have to say that either you are fooling yourself or you are really conceited. Take away the violence and you have no MMA. What are you cheering for then? The skill with which a man exerts his violence?

        “In MMA, the goal for some may be violence, but many of these men are trying to win by doing as little damage to their opponent as possible and receiving as little damage as possible. MMA is not masochism.”

        I had determined not to interact with any of your articles due to the fact that you always turn any criticism to the individual and there seems to be zero self-reflection. This, however, takes the cake.

        First, you review a book which you have never read. The irony in that statement alone is indefensible given your treatment of others. Secondly, to support your view of this book, you espouse the MMA while claiming that you watch it without loving the violence – which IS the MMA. Please don’t continue to insult the intelligence of others with such ridiculous arguments. The final sentence, “MMA is not masochism,” is enough to send anyone’s head spinning. Evidently, for a sport you love you have read very few of their statements, watched their interviews, viewed their weigh-ins, etc.

        • says

          Daniel, thanks for the comment.

          If you take away the violence by saying, “You cannot touch your opponent,” that wouldn’t just eliminate MMA. Football, basketball, baseball, boxing, wrestling, etc. would all be eliminated based on the current rules.

          You said, “I had determined not to interact with any of your articles due to the fact that you always turn any criticism to the individual and there seems to be zero self-reflection.”

          All I can do is apologize. My goal is not to practice “zero self-reflection.” I’m sorry for having justified your assumption in the past.

          You are correct that I reviewed a book that I haven’t read, which is something I don’t practice. However, my assumptions are based on the author’s own words from various interviews and her own website. I’m not going to read her pornographic book. I’m doing my best not to assume anything based on what others have said. I’ve tried to answer the Fifty Shades series abased on the author’s words outside of the book, based on how she describes the goal, content, theme, etc. of her books.

          • Daniel says

            Thank you for your response and sincerity.

            Sadly your article on this book is needed. Unfortunately the MMA may get more run on this article, although our churches are certainly full of people reading this smut and others like it. I believe the WSJ had an article the other day regarding the proliferation of “porn books” rising in popularity due to e-readers and the anonymity that is gained from them.

  2. says

    One of the things about reading and following what the Bible says is that individuals assume, because they are following the Book, that it gives them unlimited power. Not so. This is one of the reasons I have a real problem with complementarianism: Its advocates seem to think they have autonomy and answer to none but God. Sort of like the Kings of old. Not so! It just ain’t so. There are checks and balances, and a careful reading of the Bible will bear this out. The reader will find exceptions to the rule which suggest that there is a way of righting the person on an issue.

    • Christiane says

      another very transcendent perspective
      from a woman of another time who said this:
      ”womens is ‘comin up’ and they bringin the mens up with them’
      (Sojourner Truth)

      (no wonder the male gallery hollered
      ‘DON’T LET HER SPEAK . . . ‘)

      ” . . . slowly from her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had scarcely lifted her head.

      “Don’t let her speak!”gasped half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking eyes to me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above and below. I rose and announced “Sojourner Truth,” and begged the audience to keep silence for a few moments.

      The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost Amazon form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and eyes piercing the upper air like one in a dream.

      At her first word there was a profound hush. She spoke in deep tones, which, though not loud, reached every ear in the house, and away through the throng at the doors and windows.

      “I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me!
      And a’n’t I a woman?
      I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash as well! And a’n‘t I a woman?

      I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen ’em mos‘ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a’n’t I a woman?

      “Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wan’t a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?” Rolling thunder couldn’t have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, “Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.” Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.

      Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: “If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let ‘em.” Long-continued cheering greeted this. “’Bleeged to ye for hearin‘ on me, and now ole Sojourner han’t got nothin’ more to say.”

      Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude. She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the glorious old mother, and bid her God-speed on her mission of “testifyin‘ agin concerning the wickedness of this ’ere people.”

      Source: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda J. Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. I (Rochester, N. Y: Susan B. Anthony, Charles Mann, 1881), 114–17.

      Narrative of Sojourner Truth”;
      a woman who said ‘womens is ‘comin up’ and they bringin the mens up with them’ :)

  3. Jess Alford says

    Masochism is not loving one’s spouse plain and simple. It is of the devil
    and always will be. Domination is of the devil.

  4. Dale Pugh says

    First, in Jared’s defense, this article is not so much a “review” as it is a “critique.” And his criticisms are valid. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen interviews and read a few excerpts of the book. It definitely promotes sadomasochism, sexual domination, and illicit sexuality. Women are, for some strange reason, eating this stuff up. Even Christian women are lured into this kind of literature, just as some Christian men are lured into graphic pornography. In talking with these women I have come to the conclusion that they desire the deep sensuality promoted in the book. It is a fantasy created by the author that the means isn’t as important as the end.
    Second, this post isn’t about MMA, but if you love MMA, Jared, then be a little more truthful about it. It IS about the violence. There is no way around it. Listen to MMA fighters talk, watch their preparations, and watch the fights themselves. There is absolutely no way you can justify the idea that any of them are trying to get by with doing as little damage to their opponent as possible. It is a violent and brutal sport, plain and simple. It is a modern day gladiatorial exhibition. It is about inflicting pain and drawing blood. The goal is to win by doing physical damage to your opponent. The fighter may not be a masochist in the strict sense of the word, but the end result is certainly masochistic.

  5. Kevin says

    Since this was brought up, I was wondering if you might have an explanation as to why those affiliated more with the ACTS 29 group embrace the “sport” of MMA more so than maybe the average SBC person? NO hard facts, just anecdotal evidence that I have seen on many websites regardng their churches and info about the pastors’ fascination with MMA(particularly Driscoll, but many others as well). Does this have fascination have anything to do with theology, or more just “birds of a feather”(no demeaning intended here)?
    I personally have grown more and more opposed to MMA in that the sole intent is to knock your opponent out or make him submit to you(I know there are points system, but that is there for more of a backup than a primary means of settling things)… How any Christian can stand to sit and be entertained by a man who is getting pummeled in the face with blood spattering everywhere is hard for me to understand….but maybe that’s just me. The comparison to other sports wherein people also get hurt can be made to some measure, but MMA is, I believe, of a magnitude of hurt/pain/punishment/gore that is far more than boxing/football/wrestling/etc. Just my thoughts….

    • says

      Kevin, if we’re talking about physical well-being, football is the most dangerous popular sport. Boxing is second, then MMA. More people die in football and boxing, and have long-term health effects than in MMA.

      • Kevin says

        The hurt in these sports is more incidental than primary, unless of course you are talking about bounty gate with New Orleans. If we can’t agree the primary goal in MMA is inflicting hurt on the adversary, then we have different lenses by which we view the world.

        • says

          You said, “If we can’t agree the primary goal in MMA is inflicting hurt on the adversary, then we have different lenses by which we view the world.”

          I think this is a huge overstatement.

        • says

          Kevin, there’s a push for masculinity in this movement. Some associate MMA with masculinity. I think it’s ridiculous. It’s just as masculine to love the arts as it is to love sports.

    • says

      Violence and injury are, unfortunately, a part of every sport. But I have a serious problem with MMA (and boxing) in which inflicting serious injury on your opponent is the POINT of the sport.

      I, frankly, do not think that MMA is healthy entertainment for Christians. That’s an opinion, not a condemnation. But it is a strong opinion.

      • Randall Cofield says

        I think (and I smile while typing) a case could be made that anyone who habitually engages in the rough-and-tumble world of blog-posts and commenting is no more or less involved in masochism than someone who watches MMA.

        For example:

        1) The superman-punch to the kisser of the disagreeable theologian abounds in the blogosphere.

        2) Uppercuts regularly shatter the glass jaws of hyper-sensitive combatants.

        3) Lacerating elbows are often used to pummel opponents helplessly pinned to the apologetic mat.

        4) Incendiary polemic arm-bars often force our fellow pugilists to flame-out by tap-out.

        5) Powerful group rear-naked-chokes stand alone as the preferred method of brutality on a site that shall here remain un-named…

        I could go on, but then I’d ruin my acrostic…

          • Dale Pugh says

            By the way, the stats on the most dangerous sports (professional) are somewhat lacking and depend on interpretation, but the per capita stats would lean to bosing, MMA, and then football. Surprisingly, women’s softball is more dangerous than basketball or baseball. Just depends on which articles you read.
            Of course, kid’s sports tell a different story. For sheer number of injuries basketball ranks #1 there.

          • Dale Pugh says

            That should be “boxing,” not “bosing.” Unless those low riders with the huge sound systems are included as a sport. Then I suppose the use of Bose equipment would create “bosing” which is deadly to the ear drums.

  6. Bruce H. says

    A great intimacy in marriage is when each person is filled with the Spirit and full of grace and truth. It would be very difficult to enter into any of the thoughts mentioned in the post. Those things are offensive on many levels to the one close to God.

    “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things [are] noble, whatever things [are] just, whatever things [are] pure, whatever things [are] lovely, whatever things [are] of good report, if [there is] any virtue and if [there is] anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.” Phil. 4:8

    And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

  7. says

    Everyone, usually I would direct the comment stream back to the original topic, but frankly, I don’t much like discussing the original topic. Feel free to comment on either topic.