Overnight, we learned of the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Hefner is the iconic figure who not only made pornography socially respectable (and even more lucrative), but also spent a life constructing a “playboy philosophy” of sexual freedom that would supposedly undo the “Puritan sexual repression he saw in American life.”
The death of any person is a tragedy. Hugh Hefner is no exception to that. 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.
The “bunny” logo was well-chosen because, in the end, Mr. Hefner saw both men and women as essentially rabbits. This path was portrayed vividly by John Updike in his Rabbit Angstrom series. It is not a happy life.
And yet we are not actually rabbits. We can see our deaths coming, and we outlive those deaths to give an account of our lives. If you want to see “success,” look instead to the man faithful to the wife of his youth, caring for her through dementia.
In the short-run Hefner’s philosophy has won, on both the Right and the Left. The Playboy Mansion is every house now. Many church leaders implicitly or explicitly say, “This is fine.” In many cases, those who hold to what the church has always taught on sexual morality and the value of women are the dissidents now, regardless of how “conservative” a movement proclaims itself to be. Thou hast conquered, O grotto.
The long-run, though, is quite different. Jesus will reign.
In the meantime, the Good Shepherd searches the thickets for his lost sheep. And sometimes for a lost rabbit, too. The sign of the good life is not hedonism but crucifixion. The sign of the good life is not a bunny but a cross.