Unfortunately, this is quite possibly the worst book I have ever read.
It got me so worked up that I could only read it in small doses, I had to bribe myself with promises of better books to finish it, and one person I vented to about it jokingly offered to bring over some Xanax to calm me down.
First of all, here's what the book is about: it's meant to be an analysis of why we have different types of sexual fantasies, whether or not they are sinful and what we should do with them. Clearly relevant to Fifty Shades of Grey, right?
So why am I all worked up about it? Goodness, I don't even know where to start. I could write a week's worth of posts on why this book was terrible, but I think I can pretty much boil it down to one major point.
I would expect a Christian author - particularly one who expresses much gratitude to God for bringing her out of a place of sexual addiction - to center her writing and her counsel around Scripture. However, psychology takes the main stage while Scripture and Scriptural principles find their place in the periphery of Ms Ethridge's theories. While I think that psychology has some interesting information to offer us, I absolutely do not believe that, for a believer, it should take precedence over Scripture. And it definitely takes precedence over Scripture in this book. Mrs Ethridge conveys a belief that Scripture does not have a whole lot to say on the topic of sexual fantasy, and that instead, we must all resort to Carl Jung for answers.
Because Scripture takes such a back seat, much of the ensuing counsel is off track. Let me offer you a little compare/contrast here.
The reasons for sexual fantasy apparently boils down to deep-rooted wounds that our brains are simply trying to heal. The only way to discover these wounds is to dive deep down examining the darkness of our soul - our "shadow self" - and to choose to experience any pain we might find in order to heal. All of that sounds more like something Oprah would endorse.
To discover why we are aroused by certain sexual fantasies, Ethridge writes,
We must allow ourselves to descend into the dark places, the hard places, that we (ourselves and the church) have tried diligently to avoid in the past...whatever feelings arise, green them, regardless of how scary or painful. Pick each emotion up like a crying child. Hold it. Attend to it. Comfort it. Befriend your shadow self rather than reject it. With this level of personal honesty, you may be able to bring into consciousness what your unconscious has been trying to say to you all along through your thoughts and dreams. (p.53, 55)In contrast, how does Scripture tell us to direct our search to understand the why behind our thoughts, desires and actions? Understanding the why may be important, but when you examine these things apart from Christ, you miss out on truth from your Creator. We are to ask God to search our hearts.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!Is Ethridge really that sure that our "consciousness" is trustworthy? Although believers do have the Holy Spirit living inside us, the reality is that we can be easily deceived by sin. About this, Ed Bulkley, in his book Why Christians Can't Trust Psychology, writes, "Self observation can lead to self-deception unless done under the intense spotlight of the Scripture." (p.155)
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)
It's very unclear to me whether Ethridge believes that sexual fantasy is a sin issue or a heart issue. There isn't a clear answer as to whether or not sexual fantasies are really sin. Of course, when the reason for sexual fantasies boils down to your brain healing from childhood wounds, there really isn't any room for sin. We now have an excuse for sexual fantasies. I believe there are some very good reasons - found in Scripture - to think that sexual fantasies can be sin. For instance, in Matthew 5, Jesus equates lustful thinking with adultery which would seem to indicate to me that behaviors AND thoughts can qualify as sinful. Not only doesn't she really address lust (other than for a few paragraphs in chapter 1) but nowhere is there a solid discussion of our call to be pure (Titus 2:4).
My side issue with her explanation for sexual fantasies and the behavior that proceeds because of them is that many of them are straight-up bizarre. Here are two examples:
1) In explaining one of her theories for why Christians would be aroused by an orgy, she writes,
I truly believe that underneath every sexual desire is an even deeper spiritual desire, and when I think of what heaven will be like, I envision complete unity, harmony and love unlike anything we have experienced here on earth among fallen creatures. Aren't these the very feelings that we are trying to create in our minds when we envision an orgy? (Granted it's infused with the twisted sexual distortions that have been passed down to us since Genesis.) A group of people with similar goals, desires, passions, all uniting in harmony to bring great intensity and delight to one another, could possibly be someone's (sexual) way of envisioning what heaven really will be like. (p.113-114)2) While analyzing the why behind a young woman's strategy for soiling herself in a diaper to achieve orgasm (seriously, anyone who found Mark Driscoll's book "vulgar"? You have no idea.):
Obviously, the only warmth Laura experienced as a young child was when she wet or soiled her own diapers. To a baby who receives ample amounts of physical affection, the sensation of a dirty diaper can be rather disturbing. But to a baby who is never touched, the sensation of a wet or dirty diaper may be a welcome reprieve from the monotonous isolation he or she constantly feels. It's not difficult to imagine how this sensation would naturally evolve with a human being. (p.175)Ethridge's main solution for what we are to do with sexual fantasies once we have determined their origin in our painful childhoods primarily consists of adjusting our behavior. When she explains how we are "in complete control" (p.41) of the direction of the fantasy storyline, she simply offers six bullet points of ways to distract your mind, such as turning on music or focusing on your breathing (p.41-42). While this may be practical, it's inadequate. It is never enough to simply change behavior or to change our circumstances; we must allow God to get at our hearts! What does the Bible tell us to do with our thoughts and desires? It tells us to exercise self-control and to bring both our bodies and our minds into alignment with the mind of Christ.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.(1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV)
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor 10:5).Elisabeth Elliot writes, "The Christian mortifies the flesh by submitting to the authority of Christ - to His authority in every area of his being, including his God-given but very dangerous sexuality. It's dangerous as dynamite. Fire and water, too, are gifts of God, but when they get out of control, the result is devastation." (Passion and Purity, p.96)
Well, I could go on and on, but it would just belabor the point. I'm really disappointed that Ms Ethridge so completely missed a perfect opportunity to train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, [and] pure (Titus 2:4-5 ESV). I wouldn't waste my time reading this book. If you want to know what to do with sexual fantasies, I suggest you brew a cup of tea, find yourself a quiet spot and crack open the word of God. The Creator of sex has answers even for that.
Sharing with: The Alabaster Jar, The Better Mom, Graceful, The Wellspring, NOBH, Monday's Musings, Covered in Grace, Matrimonial Mondays, Time Warp Wife, Far Above Rubies, Growing Home,