When Mills & Boon meets hard core

It was a situation worthy of Mrs. Doyle.

I was next to be served at W H Smith’s in Ormskirk.  The customer in front of me turned, saw my dog collar and said:  “After you, father.”

“Not at all,” I replied. “After you!”  “No, I insist:  after you!”  It went on.  Eventually I relented and bought my weekend Times to keep the queue moving.

Anyone witnessing this to-ing and fro-ing would have thought that this was a devout church member determined to honour his parish priest, who in turn refused to take advantage of his privileged status.

Not at all.  I knew the truth.

I had already noticed the furtive behaviour of this particular customer.  He was buying soft porn – but couldn’t cope with a priest seeing him present the glossy magazines at the check out.

That was 15 years ago.

I wonder what the equivalent situation would be today at Morrison’s if I was in the queue behind a customer (probably a young woman) having placed in their trolley “Fifty shades of grey.”  Clearly this year’s publishing sensation, down there with “The Da Vinci code.”  A case of Mills & Boon meets hard core to produce Mummy Porn.

For those of you who still think 50SG is a dulux colour card, I quote from Wikipedia: “(50SG) is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism.”

I have no intention of reading this novel but I did read the excellent review in “Christianity”.


In fact, I have no doubt that I would have been caned for possessing such literature, even in the swinging 60’s. But it just goes to show how our society is becoming ever more eroticised.

Just like the world of the early church.  The murals at Pompeii bear witness to how much eroticism was part and parcel of contemporary Roman and Greek culture.

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery,” writes Paul to the Christians in Galatia (5:19).  He continues: “Idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

Why the list?  Because the apostle wants to spell out the way of life his readers have left behind.  He wants to remind them how they used to live so that they may treasure God’s calling and celebrate their release.  These “works of the flesh” are not life-style choice, simply what happens when evil gains entry.

So what does Paul do?   Rather than dwell on these destructive behaviours he moves his focus to show a more excellent way – the life lived when the Holy Spirit is allowed to flourish.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Hardly qualities celebrated in 50SG – but here is our future if we are embedded in Christ.

And we allow the Holy Spirit to flourish by giving him space through continuous acts of will, the way we decide to live our lives, moment by moment.  This takes character-building discipline, the same qualities which each gold medallist will have cultivated over the years.  This invariably begins in the mind and it is the mind where porn and its like can cause so much havoc, weakening our resolve and distorting our goals.

But what about our witness within our society?  “Vicar slams 50SG” would be a predictable headline in the Champion.  And it just drives up sales.

Fundamentally it is showing what true love is – in the way we live as well as by the gospel we proclaim.  This is what those early Christians did.  Now it is our turn.

“Eros and Agape” was an epoch-making theology written by Swede, Anders Nygren, in 1930.  In this massive two-volume work (which I will now summarise in seven words) he compares two Greek words for love.  Eros is essentially me-centred, agape is you-centred.   Guess which one the New Testament writers chose to use to describe God’s great love for us?

This is the love the novel’s character, Anastasia Steele, truly longs for.  The clue, strangely, is in the meaning of her Christian name.