BreakPoint: The Catastrophic Vision of Hugh Hefner

How our Culture Lost Its Soul

The man who embodied the sexual revolution has died. We’ll talk about the consequences—and victims—of his vision.

Back on September 27th, Hugh Hefner the founder of Playboy, died at ninety-one.

An ancient Roman maxim says that one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but it would be irresponsible to not take note of his ideas and cultural influence, along with their consequences and victims.

Much of the coverage of his death has been admiring or even adulatory. The New York Times’ obituary, while mentioning Hefner’s feminist critics mostly in passing, emphasized how successful and influential he’d been. There’s been a lot of “he changed the game,” “he lived on his own terms,” and “he lived life to the fullest” sort of language about him.

CNN said that while “Some critics dismissed him as a relic of a sexist era, especially in his later years . . . many men envied his adolescent-fantasy lifestyle.” The Washington Post called Hefner’s legacy “complicated” and then proceeded to quote gushing tribute after gushing tribute. This sort of adulation for a man best-known for wearing his pajamas all day and spending nights with women young enough to be his granddaughter should embarrass even the media.

Eleven years ago, Chuck Colson put Hefner’s legacy into proper perspective. On the occasion of Heffner’s 80th birthday, Chuck said that “Hugh Hefner did more than anyone else to turn America into a great pornographic wasteland.”

Hefner’s journalistic eulogists are celebrating his rebellion and ultimate triumph over the “puritanical elements of the [1950s].” You know, that “dark and joyless time in America,” as writer Matthew Scully put it, “when one could actually go about daily life without ever encountering pornographic images.” Without Hefner’s pioneering vision, “American males could not avail themselves of hundreds of millions of obscene films every year—as they do now.”

That our pornographic wasteland is filled with so many victims is also part of the man’s legacy, which can only be fully understood in light of the larger story of the sexual revolution.

You see, Hefner once claimed to have changed America, and it’s hard to argue that he didn’t. He took Alfred Kinsey’s ideas of sex separated from morality and embodied them in images and words, making them seem glamorous, sophisticated, and respectable.

Along with the birth control pill, porn was the other tangible artifact of the sexual revolution and catalyzed the separation of the sexual act from its God-given purpose. Instead of a self-giving, life-giving act in the context of marriage like God intended, sex became an act of selfish pleasure in the cultural imagination.

Porn turned image bearers into objects to be enjoyed instead of subjects to be respected and honored, while giving the illusion that there were no consequences or guilt. Hefner was what I call “the artist” of the sexual revolution, granted a loosely-used modifier here. Ideas alone can’t change culture; they need champions, and the most effective champions are artists and educators.

The problem, as my BreakPoint This Week co-host Ed Stetzer often says, is that no one even won the sexual revolution, but everybody lost. Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims.

Hefner’s legacy includes fatherless homes, objectified women, porn-addicted and trafficked children, and the sexualization of all aspects of culture. And in a supreme bit of irony, a decreased interest in sex with real-life women by addicted men.

All of this is the result of what Hefner called the “Playboy Philosophy”: ultimately the divorcing of sex from its God-given context—marriage—and its God-given consequences—children.

I posted about Hefner’s legacy on Facebook soon after his death, and one commenter quoted Jesus, “For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?” And thanks in large part to Hugh Hefner, the same might be asked about our entire culture.


The Catastrophic Vision of Hugh Hefner: How our  Culture Lost Its Soul

As John has said, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. The sexual revolution continues to produce victims, human beings for whom Christ died. As the Church, we are called to help those who have been hurt, abused, objectified, and orphaned.




Mere Sexuality
  • Todd Wilson | Zondervan Publishing | October 2017
Hugh Hefner, Mourning, and Legacies: Beyond the Pipe and the Robe
  • Ed Stetzer | Christianity Today | September 28, 2017
BP This Week: Hugh Hefner and the Sexual Revolution
  • John Stonestreet, Ed Stetzer | | September 30, 2017
Hugh Hefner’s Legacy Is Remaking Women in Man’s Image
  • G. Shane Morris | | September 29, 2017

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  • Carl Dufendach

    John, I think you do not mean:

    And in a supreme bit of irony, a decreased lack of interest in sex with real-life women by addicted men.

    But mean:

    And in a supreme bit of irony, a decreased interest in sex with real-life women by addicted men.

    • Gina Dalfonzo

      Thanks for catching that. We’ll fix it.

  • T L Miller

    The verse starts … “All we like sheep have gone astray…” which we should ALL know was written long before Momma Hefner had Hugh. The “leaders” of this “christian nation” were more than willing to tell folk that not only was sex BAD (which is not what the Word says) but instituted laws that pretty much made it not only illegal, but encouraged “bad” behavior — you know how we can be, ‘Old Sin Nature’ and all — and then turned around and punished folk for it. (Seriously?) And because all those Word-encouraged mandates to “teach” “study” “learn” went un-heeded by the great “leadership” (from parents to politicians) generations of folk got their sex ed from sources that, well … let’s just say, were “different.” How we’re surprised by what happens to a society when its people blow off the instruction of the Deity they SAY gave the foundation for their society, is ridiculously ironic. Hugh Hefner might have been an American creation, but he certainly wasn’t unique, and was hardly THE problem: he was just doing what people do when we act like the law doesn’t apply to those trendsetting “leaders” (cultural, educational, political, etc) who get to tell YOU what the law says, what rules/trends to follow, punish/shame you when you don’t follow them, call it “religious liberty,” and then decry the sad/coarse/terrible/degenerate state of society. Didn’t Romans 1 cover this?

  • BadgerFan

    This is a well-written denunciation of the individual who can easily be cited as the “spark” that destroyed the American family.

    It is no coincidence that 20 years after Heffner published his first Playboy magazine that divorce started gaining steam. A man no longer had to be content to enjoy the beauty and sensuality of his wife. He could now gaze upon the nude bodies of thousands of other women who existed only for his self-gratification. As a result, the grass was always greener somewhere else — commitments and children be damned.

    My life changed forever Sept. 6, 1972, when a neighbor showed me my first Playboy magazine two weeks after my 12th birthday and launched me on a self-destructive addiction to lust that extended almost four decades.

    Porn ushered in the idea of sex without consequence as abortion on demand gained momentum to correct any unplanned pregnancy that occurred as a result of the free sex movement. Schools started telling children it was okay and expected that they have sex whenever the urge hit them. Today, children between 9 and 17 are the world’s largest producers of child pornography.

    Heffner a hero? Hardly. His hell began Sept.. 27 when he learned how many billions of lives were altered, changed or destroyed as the result of his unholy vision. I had to laugh at the irony though. Heffner died the same day my book Pornocide: Why Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life was approved for worldwide publication.

  • Aaron

    Blah blah blah. Evangelical Christians forfeited the right – if they ever had it -to lecture others on sexual immorality when they came out en masse and emphatically voted for Donald Trump – a thrice-divorced adulterer and admitted sexual assailant who only used false piety to gain more power and fortune. They happily adorned someone who is the embodiment of everything they claim to despise for the promise of anti-gay, anti-muslim, anti-abortion legislation. I would wager that if Hefner, in addition to his other exploits, was a staunch and prominent activist for pro-life causes, we would be reading a different article – one that talks about how “we are all flawed individuals” and other such rationalizations.

    • Scott

      And what about those of us who don’t endorse Trump?.. or Clinton? There are many of us. What do you say to us?

  • Gina Dalfonzo

    Robert, I think it’s pretty rude to keep talking around Aaron like that. Please address him directly — and respectfully — if you have something to say to him. Thank you.

    • Robert Cremer

      I guess you are right. I should not have responded with a similar callous attitude Aaron used to make his points. I am just enraged by the damage HH has done to millions of families and feel anything said to justify HH’s behavior needs to be called out and not left off the hook.

      • Scott

        Couldn’t agree with your opinion of HH more!

        The damage you speak of affected me as a kid and well into my early adult years. My father kept Playboy magazines under his bed… and their presence (along with my parents ideology that was formed in the late ’60s) had a very negative impact on me.

        Later he said he read them for the articles… my middle school friends and I didn’t.