One Catholic’s Opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey

NOTE:  I’ve revised and amended my opinion of these books based on conversations and a quote from Pope Benedict I found.  Feel free to read through this post, but then go check out my second opinion.

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Well, I did it.  I read Fifty Shades of Grey .

I had been hearing a lot about it.  I saw an SNL skit about it and heard The Today Show talk about “mommy porn.”  I’ve encountered Twitter debates about the morality of the book, and seen my Facebook friends post all about it.

As a high school youth minister I’ve found myself reading and watching things I never would have chosen myself just because I want to be able to talk to teenagers about their faith using stories and examples from things they love.  That’s why I read Twilight and Harry Potter, it’s why I watched Glee (though I only made it through 3 episodes) and Jersey Shore (not even one full episode with that one).

Then, my husband sealed the deal when he came home one night begging me to read this book.  I love to read and I can be a bit compulsive and addicted to it – sacrificing things like making dinner or doing housework in favor of a good book.  My husband is not a fan of my reading addiction – he even has a special eye roll and sigh that he pulls out when he sees me sitting in the recliner with a book – so when he came home asking me to read something, I jumped at the chance for some uninterrupted and non-badgered reading time.

I knew very little about the book before I read it – just that it was a modern romance novel with some pretty explicit sex scenes in it.

The New York Times describes the content of the book saying, “The books, which were released in the last year, center on the lives (and affection for whips, chains and handcuffs) of Christian Grey, a rich, handsome tycoon, and Anastasia Steele, an innocent college student, who enter into a dominant-submissive relationship.”

That’s putting it mildly.

The sex scenes certainly are beyond steamy – some of them are pretty kinky and a few are downright freaky.  Let’s just say items like riding crops, rulers, floggers (whatever those are!), and the like are not within my comfort zone – they’re not within a lot of people’s comfort zones.  So why are these books (they’re a trilogy) sitting atop the NYT’s Bestseller List and showing up on SNL?

The Times says quotes one married woman who says:

“It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” said Lyss Stern. “I think it makes you feel sexy again, reading the books.”

It certainly worked for one friend of mine.  Her husband texted my husband telling him that he had to get me to read this book because his wife read it and they were definitely “relighting a fire” in their marriage (now I know why my husband was so eager for me to read it).

For the record, they do a lot more talking about tortuous sex than actually doing it. And yes, the writing is really that bad.

On the other hand, the book has quite a few critics.  It’s slow moving plot and overblown prose won’t win it any literary awards.  Then there are those who object to the bondage and dominant/submissive content of some of the scenes saying its degrading to women.  There’s some weird stuff in the female main character’s head about her “inner goddess” and her “subconscious” who play basically play the role of her id and superego respectively.  But the criticism that’s engaged me the most is from the Christians I know who are warning their friends off of them saying that it’s basically pornography and is would be sinful to read it.

I’m not sure I agree… Read More

Morality part 2 – Peer Pressure can be AWESOME

Note: This is part 2 of a 3 part series on helping empower teens to make moral decisions.  The series introduction can be found here, and part 1 can be found here.

As you’re probably aware of by now, I’m a Catholic.  It’s not just a fitting-in sort of label for me, like a 3rd generation 20% Irish-person around St. Patrick’s Day.  (Yeah, I said that.)  My being a Catholic is part of who I am, how I define myself, how I hope to portray myself.  I strive for it to affect literally every part of my life – the fact that I fail constantly is irrelevant here.  As I try to live out my faith and my identity as a Catholic, I am always on the lookout for that community of Catholics to share my life with – friends who share our faith, values and priorities.  I want to know I’m not alone in my challenge, and I can be there to support and lift up others who are trying to navigate the narrow road.  Having a community of Catholic men, women and families around us has been a humongous blessing & help to myself and my wife – and of course it is!

We all know how important friends are to teenagers.  This is the time of life when teens are beginning to break from their family.  They like to believe they are independent, but they are so, so far from real independence from family and parents.  (see part 1 for how important adults are)  A huge part of this break is the friends teens have.  Teens quite often list friends as more important than family.  This may or may not be the case – and that doesn’t really matter for this discussion – the apparent truth of it matters.

Read More

Oversimplified morality – in 3 parts

Working in youth ministry with junior high and high school students over the past I don’t know how many years has given me lots of things.  First, it’s given me an incredible amount of failures.  It’s given me a lot of entertainment and laughs.  It’s given me gray hair.  It’s given me headaches and sleepless nights.  It’s given me countless privileges to walk on a faith journey with a young person.  It’s given me lots of tears, stress, extra hours of prayer, challenges, successes, awesome retreats… ok I could go on.

One other thing is that it has given me a little bit of insight into the heart and ind of a teenager.  I’m not claiming to have all the answers – I’m not claiming to be very smart – I’m claiming that my experience with teens over the last 12 years has given me a little bit of insight with teens.

I hope that isn’t too much of a stretch.

Ok, why all this?  Because, morality. There are so many well-meaning people at our parish, at other parishes, and from who knows where telling me we need to do more things to teach morality to our teens – but it all sounds and feels more like “you need to crack open their heads and brainwash them into thinking this one thing that I think is the end all be all issue and it needs to be this.”

And we do morality nights – on chastity, on obeying God, on pro-life, on stealing, on cheating… etc.  Do I expect a big turnaround in the life of teens based upon these nights?  Heck no.  It can start a discussion or get them thinking, but if convincing others of the truth were as easy as one 90 minute youth night, well, we probably wouldn’t have too many youth nights.

I’ve come up with a bit of a theory here – and it is that teens essentially need 3 things to really be empowered to make good moral choices in their life.  All three of these things are important, none of them is a quick fix, and they all take efforts from the teens, the parents and the Church.

So this, I guess, is a 4 part series – and you’ve just read part one.  Congratulations!  And I realize, this told you nothing more than – Hey, I’m writing a morality series!  Parts 2-4 will come out about every other day for the next week or so – so stick with me.

Again, I’m not claiming this is the end all – be all.  And I’m not claiming that this closes the book on teen morality – this is my discussion starter – based on my experiences loving, being rejected by, listening to, supporting, praying for, praying with and observing teenagers.