For FAC readers, I wrote the following for Asbury Seminary’s Seedbed. But I thought I’d contribute it to my own community before it was published. In short: a preemptive review of the soon-to-be released film Fifty Shades of Grey, and why nobody who call themselves human should see it.
Fifty Shades of Hell: A Personal Letter to the Human Race
Dear Men of the Twenty-First Century,
As a husband and a son and a father of two sons, I am writing this as an open letter to anyone who identifies himself under any of these titles and for all who identify themselves as human. I must confess that you may not be interested in the subject matter, because it is about love and Valentine’s Day, but I assure you it is has plenty of nightmarish scenes and is cast full of Halloween’s shadows. It should potentially, therefore, strike a chord of interest for readers of an array of tastes.
It’s about the upcoming Valentine’s Day release of the film Fifty Shades of Grey and why humans must refuse to watch it, just as humans must refuse to watch pornography. It’s not that I think this film will be particularly pornographic. I frankly know very little about it. When asked to write this letter I proceeded with research about as ambitious as a snooze button. I watched exactly one movie trailer and read exactly two paragraphs from a Wikipedia article. Nonetheless, I am utterly convinced that my judgment of this film, as well as the book, is as informed as if I had compared it with every pornographic film and book ever imagined. There are simply some things that must be judged by their cover–some things that reduce to pure appearances and by all appearances deserve a preemptive No!
But again, it’s not that I think this film is going to be particularly pornographic. I just think our culture is particularly pornographic and that this film is a particularly consistent expression of our culture’s belief that “sexuality” is something that can be and ought to be “expressed.” Any “expression” of “sexuality” is always already a perversion of sex. Discerning the difference between what is essentially sex and what is essentially not is as self-evident as the difference between ray and shadow. It only becomes a confusion when trying to distinguish between shadow and shadow, because the singular shape of hell appears in many amorphous shades.
Humans were not designed to have sexuality. Humans were designed to have sex. This is the difference between a sensation and a conversation, a sneeze and a duet, the image of a lone man (Gen. 5:3) who rules over his wife (Gen. 3:16) and the image of God shared by two who together rule over the world (Gen. 1:26-28).
Beasts are designed to express their sexuality through sex. Humans are designed to express love through sex. Sex can serve either as the purest analogy or tragic parody of love. This is why pornography is the most outrageous form of beastiality. Pornography turns humans into beasts.
All forms of sex that are self-directed, that seek only gratification, deface the soul of another. There are many other ways to do this, but sex is the most conceivably personal context in which to dehumanize another person. The person who has sex to gratify himself is simply having sex with an object, or perhaps with a sensation, or perhaps more simply with himself. Pornography trains you to use others to have sex with yourself. It begins with an appetite, proceeds with consumption, and never shares toast in the morning. Keep feeding it and soon the whole world becomes a screen, people flatten out into pixels, and you become ruler in the fantasy of a one-human universe.
Beasts’ appetites lead them to this type of sex. Men’s appetites do too. But beasts have an excuse. They are beasts. Men do not have an excuse. They are men. But when men treat women like beasts, they become what they eat. Historically, Christians have understood these appetites as the greatest proof of original sin, the common privation of humanness that must be transformed to restore God’s essential human design. Today, appetites are part of the aggregate of one’s identity, which the world cheers forth to express in all its aggregateness. The idea that something is actually wrong with me is actually the only wrong idea. Jeremiah announced the judgment of a people who no longer knew how to blush (Jer. 8:12).The modern world has announced a judgment on blushing.
This was accomplished in part by the term we invented to sanctify the appetite for sex called sexuality, which a person can now “express” because it is now something a person “possesses.” Some people posses a sexual appetite for children and express themselves by possessing children. This is the inhuman logic of “sexual expression,” but it is nonetheless entirely logical. Sexuality in abstraction from sex itself, and therefore in abstraction from another willing human subject, is simply an appetite for sex itself, which is precisely what turns human subjects into humanlike objects and sex into beastlike consumption.
I’m sure women are guilty of this as well, those who look at men with the eyes of a Medusa and the longing lips of a Praying Mantis, but I can only speak on behalf of men as a fellow man who has less-than-human appetites but a healthy fear of full moons.
I suspect this movie will be about as grey the other side of a full moon. Some things really are just plain black and white. Eclipses are like that. The other side of the moon is always an eclipse. This movie is a dark expression of hell itself, which always comes as a seduction to become something other than human by treating others like something other than humans. It rejects the command to love your nearest as you love yourself. You love yourself as a subject. To love others in that way requires you to share their shoes long before you share a bed.
The litmus test for humanness is empathy. It may be the litmus test for heaven too. God did wear human shoes, after all. But it hurts to be empathetic in a human world, sometimes because you feel the pain of another and sometimes because you refuse to consume another to numb your own. Jesus began his ministry fasting in the desert and ended his ministry dying on a cross. And it was a long walk from the beginning to the end. Heaven hurt like hell for Jesus in a world with such a particularly acquired taste and such thinly-soled shoes.
Hell is a place where everybody lives to find pleasure and avoid pain. It is the worship of one’s own body, the denial of everyone’s soul. Hell has hollow eyes and scythe-shaped teeth. It is always empty and always eating. Wolves don’t eat until they are full; they eat until there is no more food. This is not an appetite for life; it is an appetite for death. It is the appetite that turns everything it eats into poison.
The fact of sexual appetites means something has to die, either the appetite itself or the thing it seeks to consume. But the pain of self-giving hunger will eventually turn pain into love. That is why the truest symbol of love is a crucifix. Love’s desire for the other is precisely the desire to preserve the other for the sake of the other’s self. Love does not seek to consume and absorb. It seeks to marry and hold hands. Love longs to open its heart, not to open its mouth. Its desire is to become vulnerable to another, which is the antithesis of the desire to control. It is active passivity and passive activity. Lovers have sex because they love each other. It is their way of saying “thank you,” which is not the same as saying “pass the meat.” It is not two expressions of sexuality. It is one expression of a union. Sex is always a consummation of what is already fully there: a mutually identical self-donation and openness in the interpenetrating, inter-subjective harmony of a wedding. Sex is simply the special analogy of love designed to become transparent unto itself. It’s called marriage, and it is dangerously analogous to the One who created it.
But the taste of self-gratification will eventually turn all things bitter and your gratification will become your hell. Beasts have sex because they hate their sexual frustration, but they never stop being frustrated. Sex is always a consummation of what is always hatefully empty. It is self-expression. It is a life that has immortalized emptiness as its god and when the paint dries will live forever in its image.
It is possible to devour the whole world and lose your soul.
Don’t let this movie whet your appetite. Learn from my mistakes. Be a man. Take up your cross.