Fifty Shades of Shame

Now that a movie is being made of the blockbuster novel Fifty Shades of Grey it seems appropriate to comment on it.

First, Janie B. Cheaney in the September 8, 2012 issue of World magazine had some of the best comments on the work.  She said that what pictures are to men words are to women.  Everyone knows that picture pornography is not as popular with women as it is with men.  From what Cheaney says we men can get an idea of just how powerful the “mommy porn” genre is, and we know better than the mommies it is addressed to just how devastating and debilitating pornography can be.

I can’t tell you how many men have said to me, both inside and outside the church that they are “addicted to porn.”  I always want to say what man isn’t?  I came to this conclusion twenty years ago when a St. Louis seminary graduate told me that Nagel used the following illustration for the Greek word katanoeō.  The word means to observe attentively, to fix one’s eyes or mind upon something.  Nagel said that’s what happened automatically when you were walking down a sidewalk and happened to spy a Playboy opened at the centerfold.  A man could not but look attentively, and it would take much resolve to look away.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said during a 1964 trial over public obscenity, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that” (

We’ve been living under this rubric ever since.  Talking once with a brother pastor who is also trained in the arts, I mentioned something about how art and pornography are easy to distinguish.  He, showing he had spent much more time and thought than I had in considering this subject, demurred along the lines of, “It’s more complicated than that.” I didn’t pursue it then, but since I have stumbled upon a work by the painter Courbet entitled Atelier.  It is a19th century painting with a nude woman; her backs to you, posing for artists busy at their canvases, beyond them are bystanders looking on.  They are looking at the woman differently than the artists are.

This says something about their being a distinction between artist and voyeur, but not enough to think one can always look at visual nudity or read about it with impunity. There is danger here. There is also danger in thinking that all men’s problems with lust would be solved if all women wore habits and all women’s problems with lust would be solved if novels were as chaste as Jane Austen’s. There is still greater danger in thinking true sexual satisfaction can result from vicarious experiences either pictorial or written.              Legitimate appetites can be satisfied.  Illegitimate appetites cannot.  That is why the addict has to have ever more, then different, and then more perverse.  This is why the homosexual craze once exhausted of its forbiddenness and offensiveness will inevitably give way to pedophilia and bestiality.

Someone said that it doesn’t really matter how far down the human mind is pushed, just as long as the spring is not sprung.  The problem is human minds differ.  What will spring one will not spring another.  It could be that a nude painting from one of the masters could spring a mind; it could be that one steamy passage in a biography could spring another.

There is no shade of shame in the human body or human sexuality.  These two are creations of God and with Word and Prayer are to be received with thanksgiving. However, it is amazing how quickly and easily Satan can twists these so we are shamed before we even realize it.  The death of Adam and Eve wasn’t experienced immediately in their dying but in their realizing, to their shame, that their sexuality was no longer under their complete control. Their rush to get fig leaves and hide their nakedness from each other shows this, but as we know the leaves were no solution.  It would take a whole tree, the Tree of the Cross, to solve this.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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