Dallas Willard, philosopher and Jesus follower, said all people are trying to find the answers to four questions:
1. What is reality?
2. Who is well off?
3. Who is a good person?
4. How do you become a good person?
Hugh Hefner died last week. Founder of Playboy, he sought to redefine "what is a good life?" How did Hef answer Dallas' questions?
What is reality? Hefner said reality is what is here and now. Yet, there is a contradiction between his words and his life. The Playboy brand above all stands for fantasy. Beautiful women stared at you from a glossy page promising pleasure without commitment or complication. That's not reality. Every human being needs love, acceptance and security. Playboy could never quite offer these in its pages.
Who is well off? According to Hefner, you were well off if you had the resources to live as you wanted. Hef wanted to live where he made the rules. Granted, his lifestyle was the envy of many. Money poured in. There were always potential partners for intimacy. Hef repeatedly said of himself, "I am a lucky guy." "Lucky" is our culture's word for "blessed." Yet his lifestyle did not age well. Hedonism seems to suit the young and fit. At some point, Hef's life seemed creepy. A man in his eighties having seven girlfriends in their twenties makes you wonder who was being exploited. Maybe it was mutual exploitation: "Hey old man, pay our bills and we will give you a thrill." This falls short of "being well off." Where is the center of the soul in a bargain like this?
Who is a good person? Hef saw himself as a moral person. He said to live a moral life you need to make sure you do not harm someone else. Before you rush to condemn him, realize we all have our own definitions of what makes a good person. I fail at my definition every day. Did Hef do better than me? He certainly baited the hook for pornography addiction. By making the sexual experience the pinnacle of human existence, other parts of the soul were ignored.
My brother Bob dated a girl in high school, Debbie, who became a Playmate of the month. She died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 53. Her body was not discovered for two weeks after her death. Was there a connection? Only God knows. It does seem to me, however, that Debbie neglected parts of her soul. She never made the connection that she was so much more than a body.
When any person is objectified, he or she is harmed. Hef failed to be a moral person by his own definition.
How do you become a good person? Honestly, Hef was a little fuzzy on that. He offered a life model that said, "Live as you wish, do not harm and be admired." Though Hef would claim his life was dedicated to sexual freedom, the complete picture seems to be a life dedicated to yourself. A life dedicated to yourself is a cul-de-sac. You chase a pleasure dream around a circle. If you catch it, you soon see something you like better and start a new pursuit. How many times around the circle before the thrill is gone? A former Playmate shared her experience of being one of Hef's many partners. She described the experience as surreal, because ultimately Hef would need to watch pornography to satisfy himself, while in a room of women. This doesn't seem to be the way to be a good person.
You may sense I am building up to a condemnation of Hefner. I'm not. What shames me is how much my life has been influenced by his answers. Though I am follower of Jesus, too much of my life is controlled by Hef's values. It is easier to entertain fantasy than work reality. I find myself admiring the man who "has it all." I want to believe living a good life is about not doing things, instead of doing things. How many times have I chased a dream, only to catch it and find out it didn't reward what it promised?
Hugh Hefner's life and death remind me to check my own soul. Maybe the good life requires more than just looking out for yourself. Didn't Jesus say, "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
Which road was Hefner on? Which road am I on? Which road are you on?
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church.