It is oddly unfitting that Valentine's Day is also when the film "Fifty Shades of Grey" is being released and marketed aggressively. One of the marketing tools being used for the film is a little Teddy Bear holding not roses or a box of chocolates but handcuffs. Another is jewelry: For example, jeweler Janet Cadsawan is selling a "double handcuff necklace" for a mere $150.
The movie is pornography of a particularly vile type. It celebrates things -- abuse, rape, violence against women, manipulation, male domination -- our culture claims to protest.
"Fifty Shades" is based on the best-selling book of the same name. The book and movie go beyond mere graphic depictions of sexual intimacy, which are, of course, pornographic and exploitative in their own right. As commentator Richard Swier notes, "It is a story of a girl being sexually molested, over and over again, by a male figure with all the power, all the control. It is the classic abuse scenario." The movie features horrific scenes of violent sexual abuse, to the point that the female star of the movie, Dakota Johnson, says she doesn't want her own parents to watch it.
Her costar, James Dornan, is equally appalled at what he has done. “I had to do stuff to [Dakota Johnson] that I would never choose to do to a woman … I’m a dad.” As reported by writer Samuel James, “Dornan tells one interviewer that he went to a ‘sex dungeon’ in preparation for his role, and that when he came home afterwards he was careful to shower before touching his wife and infant child. Asked about Fifty Shades of Grey’s popularity, Dornan provides the article’s money quote: ‘Mass appreciation doesn’t always equate to something good. Think of Hitler! But I think, in this case, it must. It simply must’.”
Consider this: Not only are the stars of the film sickened by it, one of them even acknowledges that popular appeal is not the measure of morality, using the apt analogy of Hitler’s mass approval! But then he says that “in this case,” such cultural popularity “must” make the film acceptable.
This is horrendous: Mr. Dornan cannot live with the notion that what he has done is execrable, so desperately coats it with a moral patina – the approval of the people – he admits is no justification at all. How pathetic!
He suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-19) because radical sexual autonomy is now society's summum bonum. When combined with an ethos of moral relativism animated by the denial of an infinite, personal God Who has revealed His moral will clearly and with finality, this autonomy has led to growing chaos, and growing darkness - including the massive erosion of the American family.
In reports being released this week by FRC's Marriage and Religion Research Institute, we learn that just 46 percent of U.S. teenagers ages 15-17 have grown-up with both biological parents always married. In the African-American community, "only 17 percent of black teenagers reach age 17 in a family with both their biological parents married."
Marriage is in crisis. Human dignity, whether through promiscuity, pornography, homosexual behavior, or whatever other deviation from God's standard for sexual intimacy, is being degraded. Is there hope?
Yes, in part because the conscience is not wholly dead: Even Ms. Johnson and Mr. Dornan, who willingly subjected themselves to what Yale cognitive scientist Joshua Knobe has called "animalization," have sufficient shame and horror at their own acts that she, on the one hand, does not want her parents to view them and he, on the other, cannot bring himself to touch his own little baby after immersing himself in a den of moral and physical filth.
In these admissions is a small sparkle of light, which is good news for followers of Jesus. Christians should take note that "the works of the law (remain) written on the heart" (Romans 2:15). That should give us a clue as to how to make public arguments during an era of moral disarray. However sophisticated moral rationalizations might become, just about everyone recognizes that one’s own decency and that of one’s family and children still matter. Christians in the public arena must remember that. Appeals to the conscience matter.
This also provides an entry point for us to share the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ. Shame is grounded in guilt, and guilt grounded in rebellion to a holy God was paid for on Calvary’s cross, a claim vindicated by an empty tomb.
With God, there no shades of grey, no "variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). His truth is always the same, and resonates in all but the most calloused of hearts. That's good news for troubled marriages, broken hearts, and a wounded culture.
Rob Schwarzwalder is the Senior Vice-President of the Family Research Council.
Publication date: February 17, 2015