Hugh Hefner was a man who unabashedly dredged sexuality out of the private corners of life and into mainstream thought. One person I spoke to today noted, “He won; He remade us into a culture in which the libertarian approach is dominant.” I think there are a lot of others who could share the credit for this, but Hef’s impact is not a small one.
Though Hef didn’t invent hedonism, he has been one of its most famous recent proponents. Hedonism is a philosophy and way of life that is rather at odds with certain aspects of Christian faith, and this is not new–This has been the case since antiquity. But let’s be clear that Christianity also isn’t inherently ascetic. The sensual pleasures are properly seen by the faithful as a gift from God to be enjoyed, as a garden of delights (just go read the “Song of Solomon”, some of the raciest prose ever written, and it’s purely from the Bible). However, it is inside of a covenant relationship, a complete and full giving of two people to each other–not just bodies, but minds and hearts–that sexual pleasure is a garden. Those who pursue sensuality as an end in itself, often find that the fullness of the experience is diminished and twisted. The garden is instead a mire and bog, infested with dark and lonely things. The waiting rooms of psychologists and divorce attorneys are full of the human wreckage of unrestrained sexual appetites. Jail cells are full of perpetrators whose lusts reached into the bathroom windows of strangers, or even the underpants of school children.
Christian publications, such as Christianity Today point out the dark legacy of an explosion of addictive pornography left in the wake of Mr. Hefner’s revolution. They cite surveys such as Barna, which show the destructive impact of porn on Christian life:
…most pastors struggle with porn—57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors. These numbers equal the national average of 64% of men who admit to viewing porn at least monthly, according to a survey done by Proven Men…And it’s impacting all of us. According to a 2011 Lifeway Research survey, when presented with the statement, “Pornography has adversely affected the lives of our church members,” 69 percent of pastors surveyed agree. And an additional 14 percent did not know or preferred not to answer.
Even some of those who would be his natural allies on the left, have been critical. A CNN article which praised Mr. Hefner for bringing sexuality into the open, and for hiring blacks when others wouldn’t, still faulted his objectification of women, treating them as second class citizens whose main role is to sexually satisfy men:
His legacy is full of evidence of the exploitation of women for professional gain. In creating Playboy, and maintaining its brand over six decades, Hef championed a world in which women serve to delight and entertain men, where their bodies are objects, where modification to appeal to male senses often took precedence over comfort (because who really wants DDDs?).
Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, asserts that “Hugh Hefner Did Not Live The Good Life”:
We can’t, though, with his obituaries, call his life “success” or “a dream.” Hefner did not create, but marketed ingeniously the idea that a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions and of his orgasms. To women, he marketed frenetically the idea that a woman’s value consists in her sexual availability and attractiveness to men.
Only God knows the ultimate state of his soul, of course.