Desires of a Darkened Soul
Many of us have heard by now the praises being sung for a recent movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. Controversy has arisen in regards to its portrayal of the male-female sexual relationship. The bishop of my diocese wrote an article in First Things in which he says the movie “normalizes the intertwining of sex and violence,” and the Archbishop of Cincinnati has called the movie “a direct attack on marriage.”
What is all the tumult about, and how should we as Catholics respond to people who approach us enthusiastically about the movie?
Fifty Shades of Grey is the first book of a trilogy written by Erika Mitchell under the pen name E.L. James. A few short years after its publication, this book has become a box office hit, taking in an estimated 81.7 million dollars in its first weekend alone. The main characters in the story, Christian and Anastasia (“Ana” for short), come together in what first appears to be a classic account of passion and love. But then comes a twist, which Christian himself proclaims: “I don’t do romance. My tastes are very singular.” His singular tastes are for sexual encounters that result from the desires of a darkened soul. The story’s pornographic portrayal of Christian and Ana’s sexual relationship aims to arouse erotic reactions in the audience who continues to follow the drama of this couple consenting to sexual relations that glorify dominance-submission and sadomasochism.
“Master of My Universe”
The author of the story dedicates the book to her husband: “For Niall, the master of my universe.” If we approach the story under these same terms, then we must stop and ask ourselves what sort of master Christian is for Ana. Is Christian a master who serves his bride, like Christ does for the Church? St. Paul describes Christ’s relationship to His bride:
As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:24-27)
St. Paul would be speaking empty words if we did not already have a natural desire for a relationship shaped by submission and headship. Christ reveals to us the form this submission and headship must take if it is going to bring us peace and joy. The relationship in which one person dominates, controls, and abuses the other is not the type of relationship Christ has in mind. Whether sexual or not, the male-female relationship will lead us to peace and joy only when it involves the spirit of love described by St. Paul: “Love is patient, love is kind…it does not seek its own interests…it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:4-6).
The truth is that we are presented with Satan’s twisted version in Fifty Shades of Grey. Christian and Ana’s relationship does not exhibit the love that is found in the relationship between Christ and His Church. Instead, Christian is a master like the diabolic one, who seeks to twist the male-female relationship into one of domination and violence, and Ana consents to submitting herself to this relationship.
The Catholic Reply
Let us prepare ourselves to respond to those who approach us with enthusiasm about Fifty Shades of Grey. Do not let yourself be deceived nor encourage those whose enthusiasm grows out of their own deception about love. Offer them the truth about God’s original creation, the redemption offered to us all, and the type of love which images Christ’s love for His bride. Maybe someone will be convicted by the Spirit of Truth that works through your words. Your words might be the catalyst of their turning away from sin, and if you listen with a heart of faith, you might hear the rejoicing that occurs “among the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10).
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