Last night Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy empire, died aged 91.
Many in the media are mourning his loss as he was someone who “advocated free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom” and many men are joking that it’s the only death in history where no one will say “he’s in a better place now”. This is despite the appalling way he treated some of the women in his ‘care’ that girls like, Izabella St James and Holly Madison, are only now starting to reveal.
What are we, as Christians, to make of this man?
Too often we are quick to condemn and despise him for the way he has led so many astray. So much so, that the magazine was losing about $3m annually as its content pales in comparison to what is now available online.
The truth is slightly less black and white. It’s like the parents cursing the next generation for “going off the rails” whilst ignoring that they raised them.
Both Hugh Hefner and his contemporary Alfred Kinsey were raised in Strict Methodist Homes. Kinsey went on to publish “Sexual behaviour in the human male” in 1948 which contained biased research and promoted his view that delayed sexual experience was psychologically harmful and Hefner started Playboy in 1953 and donated millions of dollars to change sex laws and fought a series of cases that lead eventually to Rowe vs Wade and legalised abortion.
In Hefner’s “Christian” upbringing, sex was taboo—the body inherently tainted and “sinful.” Hefner, says that “There was absolutely no hugging or kissing in my family” and so he started Playboy magazine as “a personal response to the hurt and hypocrisy of our puritan heritage.”
You can see the hurt of this expressed in this quote from him in Playboy, Jan 1974:
“The Puritans thought they could simply repress man’s sexual nature, and they reaped a whirlwind as a result. Their code of sexual morality — which became America’s — was nothing more than a set of rules laid down by people who believed that all pleasure was suspect.”
In fact his parents were simply continuing the long tradition that has plagued the history of sexuality in the Church which says sex is holy but it is not good.
What is the consequence of this repression of the goodness of sexuality. Well, as Christopher West puts it so eloquently in his excellent book “Fill These Hearts“:
“A person can starve himself for only so long before the choice becomes clear: either I find something to eat, or I’m going to die…That’s why the culture’s “fast-food gospel” – the promise of immediate gratification through indulgence of desire – inevitably wins large numbers of converts from the “starvation diet gospel”. I don’t know about you, but if the only two choices are starvation or greasy chicken nuggets, I’m going for the nuggets”
The children rebelled and said sex is good and not holy.
Neither one is correct but we flip-flop between repression and rebellion.
Why is this? CS Lewis puts his finger on the cause:
“[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.”
We as Christians need to get the balance right – it’s so tempting to repeat the same mistakes of our parents and their parents before them, especially as this world becomes more depraved.
Our God given sexuality, like fire, is powerful. But just like a fire if we don’t light it then the house gets cold and people crave warmth from anything and if we light it outside of the fireplace then we’ll burn our house down.
Hugh Hefner, I’m sorry that we preached a gospel that wasn’t a gospel at all but only man-made rules that seem wise but are powerless to bring any change to what we feared (Col 2:20-23). I’m sorry we then condemned you when you rebelled against one lie and embraced another. I’m sorry we preached one thing in public but did another in private and never owned up to our faults but kept it all hidden. Forgive us.
I also recommend Christopher West’s compassionate post on this topic.