September 29, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, September 29, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll look at a pornographic revolution, Playboy, and the death of Hugh Hefner; we’ll see the lie at the heart of Banned Books Week; and we’ll see the link between language and etiquette; and then the worldview book of the week.
A pornographic revolution, Playboy, and the death of Hugh Hefner
If there were to be a single, solitary, most powerful symbol of the sexual revolution in the 20th century that symbol as an individual would’ve been Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine who died — it was announced late on Wednesday night — at age 91. In terms of the 20th century, by any measure it was the great century of sexual revolution. Measured by the beginning of the century to the end of the century, no 100-year period, it’s safe to say in human history, considered and contained so much sexual and moral change, and one of the driving engines of that change was the modern industry of pornography, and you cannot separate that industry from the one man who made it most mainstream and most profitable in the 20 century and that’s Hugh Hefner. Famous not only for his magazine but for his own personal representation of what he called the Playboy lifestyle.
In one of most insidious moves in the moral revolution, Hugh Hefner sought to redefine not only femininity in terms of pornography but also masculinity in terms of a kind of sophisticated, urban model that would be very attracted to pornography in terms of a normal pursuit and a normal entertainment. By the time you get to the end of the 20th century, if anything, Hugh Hefner, having started a revolution, was himself left behind. He was seen as an already aging artifact of a sexual revolution that had moved far beyond him, even — we have to say — when it comes to pornography.Show Full Transcript
The pornographic revolution he began was a pornographic revolution represented by his magazine. He sought not only to begin that revolution, but to control it, but once pornography went mainstream and once the profits began to roll and by the multiple millions per year, Hugh Hefner found himself and his magazine left behind. Once the original boundary of pornography was transgressed there were always further boundaries that someone else would later cross. Just considering the mainstream media’s coverage of Hefner’s death, yesterday’s edition of the New York Times included an article by Laura Mansnerus she said,
“Hefner the man and Playboy the brand were inseparable. Both advertised themselves as emblems of the sexual revolution, an escape from American priggishness and wider social intolerance. Both were derided over the years,”
“as vulgar, as adolescent, as exploitative and finally as anachronistic. But Mr. Hefner,”
“was a stunning success from the moment he emerged in the early 1950s.”
Her final sentence in this paragraph:
“His timing was perfect.”
With reference to his role as the pioneer of mainstreaming pornography, there can be no doubt that at the intersection of his ambition and the sexual revolution he indeed had perfect timing, but we also need to note that that very timing reflects the fact that this pornographic revolution came with some horrifying effects for, which Hugh Hefner deserves at least the majority of the blame as pioneer. He was certainly not alone in the army of pornographers, but he was its leading drum major and champion, and that was a role he relished; he was often pictured in televised interviews wearing a silk robe and surrounded by scantily clad women in what were then his infamous establishments known as Playboy Mansions.
Matt Schudel reporting on Hefner’s death for the Washington Post began with these words,
“As much as anyone, Hugh Hefner turned the world on to sex.”
It’s simply a matter of fact that the world was turned on to sex a millennia before Hugh Hefner; human reproduction is simply the reason why human beings exist, but there is some truth to this statement because it was Hugh Hefner who turned to the world on to how to exploit sex by means of merchandising and consumerism and pornography. And exploit it, he did. Schudel later noted,
“His magazine [meaning Playboy] was shocking at the time, but it quickly found a large and receptive audience and was a principal force behind the sexual revolution of the 1960s.”
Now that’s quite a claim, but I believe it is a quite justified claim. You cannot have the sexual revolution without the revolution in pornography, and at least as that revolution unfolded, it was Hugh Hefner who was the driving engine at the beginning and an influential force to the very end.
A good many scholars have noted the role of pornography in the sexual revolution. Elizabeth Fraterrigo, the author of the book Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America, noted
“Playboy magazine played a significant role in defining an alternative, often controversial, and highly resonant version of the good life.”
It was Hefner who saw himself as a moral revolutionary once bragging that Playboy was, in his words,
“certainly made it possible to open up the floodgates”
To what was later a deluge of sexual libertinism that it encouraged, commercialized, and symbolized. Back in 2015, the then CEO of Playboy Enterprises Scott Flanders announced that Playboy have been so successful in mainlining pornography in the culture that they were actually going to shift their policy, a policy that since 1953 had put a nude woman on the cover. They declared they were going to shift. Why? Not because they wanted to indicate a commitment to a more modest understanding of sexuality, but because they were declaring victory suggesting that pornography was now so prevalent no one actually needed nudity on the cover of Playboy magazine. It was literally everywhere. We should note here that evidently Playboy, that had a circulation of over 7 million in the 1970s and is now been in declining circulation for decades, found that that decision was not one they could live with, so just two years later — this year in 2017 — they announced that they were going back to nude photographs on the covers, but there is no indication that Playboy is recovering because in the Internet age, Playboy is indeed passé. Everything imaginable is now virtually a click away.
Christians have to remember that behind every change in moral philosophy and behind every major cultural phenomena there is an underlying and explicit theological reality. It’s there if we can simply find it and if we will look at it as what it is. In the case of Hugh Hefner, you have a boy who was raised in the early decades of the 20th century by conservative Methodist parents. His Methodist mother had prayed that Hugh Hefner would become a missionary to foreign lands. In later years, Hugh Hefner would explicitly reject and overthrow the conservative biblical sexual morality of his parents declaring it to be repressive, and he did indeed become a missionary, but it wasn’t a missionary for Christianity, he became a leading missionary for a moral revolution.
Hugh Hefner once told journalist Cathleen Falsani that he described himself as a
“spiritual person, but,”
“I don’t mean that I believe in the supernatural.”
Well there you see another very familiar development in the second half of the 20th century: the rejection of theology and the claim that one can continue to be nonetheless spiritual. But there was a theological ambition behind Hugh Hefner’s revolution, he said,
“I do not believe in the biblical God, not in the sense that he doesn’t exist, just in the sense that I know rationally that man created the Bible and that we invented our perception of what we do not know.”
That’s a rather confusing statement, but the one thing that rings clearly in it is that Hugh Hefner rejected biblical Christianity. The way he lived his life and his vision of sophisticated masculinity in the 20th and 21st centuries driven by sex and sensuality is explained by his statement,
“I urge one and all to live this life as if there is no reward in the afterlife and to do it in a moral way that makes it better for you and those around you, and that leaves this world a little better place than when you found it.”
Now once again you see an artificial morality substituted for a real morality. He uses the language of saying that one should do the immoral in a moral way; the contradiction there should be abundantly clear.
So behind what Hugh Hefner called the Playboy philosophy of very sophisticated masculinity in the 20th and 21st centuries was what we might call a Playboy theology. A theology that explicitly rejected the God of the Bible and rejected the Bible. A theology that declared that human happiness and liberation could only happen if human beings would overthrow the shackles of Christian sexual morality. Hugh Hefner made those explicitly theological statements in an interview granted some years ago, but they certainly ring with a new cogency in the aftermath of hearing the news of his death. Here you have a man who suggested to the entire world that we should live our lives as if there is no judgment to come and no reward in the afterlife. Here’s a man who opened the floodgates of immorality and then said that he sought to do so in a moral way. And of course here’s a man who said that his goal was to leave this world a little better place than when you found it, but by any analysis once what Hugh Hefner left behind in terms of his contribution to our society is not only a breaking down of an old sexual morality, it is the new enslavement of people who declare themselves liberated, but are absolutely enslaved to pornography and to sensuality and to sex. That’s the real legacy of Hugh Hefner.
The lie at the heart of ‘Banned Books Week’
Now we turn to another headline story, this one tells us about Banned Books Weeks of 2017. This is something that happens just about every year, and the bottom line in it is this: There are really no banned books in America. What you have here is a very liberal effort to try to portray anyone who doesn’t celebrate the sexual and moral revolution as repressive and furthermore, as being a sensor. And the enemy that is the greatest concern in banned book weeks is one of most feared persons on the planet by those who are trying to drive this kind of revolution; that would be a parent because it turns out, as you read the story for example in the New York Times by Christine Hauser the headline:
“Sex, Politics and the Banned Books of 2016,”
it turns out that in almost every case what they’re calling a banned book is not a book that was in any sense banned at all. It’s simply a book that was criticized by parents, either because it was in a school or public library or because it was included in some school curriculum. Every year in what’s called Banned Books Week, the American Library Association puts out a list of the 10 books, according to its records, that were the subject of the most complaints in the previous year. So that will be 2016, and there are the top 10 books. Very interestingly in the story we are told this,
“The details are confidential: The association is more interested in how people think about specific books and censorship than in publishing who called for a ban and where.”
That is a tacit admission of the fact that we’re not here talking about books that have been banned at all. As a matter fact, when you read to the article, the books that are listed are books that one would easily understand that parents would not want their children or teenagers to read, mostly in terms of the school curriculum, and that’s identified here as censorship, but we need to notice what’s going on. This is a not too subtle form of propaganda and one that is very pervasive in our culture. Parents simply acting as parents are here portrayed as sensors, as if some how they are dictators who are trying to direct the entire culture. Most parents understand that is way outside our control, but yet we also understand there is a responsibility that parents have to our children, and, thus, parents are, without any shame, to act as sensors. When you look at the books on this list, I will not even mention many of the titles, but the bottom line is this: These are books that most sane parents would have the wisdom not to want their children to read. Parents in general but Christian parents in particular should understand that there is a determined effort on the part of those who are driving the sexual revolution to make books, films, movies, other media available to children and teenagers outside the supervision of their parents. That ambition is not reflected here in some fringe group, this is the American Library Association cited in this article and, with an implicit approval, is James LaRue ,identified as the American Library Association’s director of the office for intellectual freedom. He said this,
“What we are seeing is helicopter parents are turning into Velcro parents. … They are completely attached to the skull of the child and it goes all the way up through high school, just trying to preserve enough innocence, even though one year later they will be old enough to marry or serve in the military.”
Just consider those words and take that sentence apart. Here you have parents identified as the enemy simply because they take responsibility for their own children, and, once again, if you look at the books on this list they are explicitly sexual and beyond even what I’m comfortable discussing on The Briefing. For Christian parents reading this news article the New York Times and seeing the posters put up in bookstores across America is the equivalent of walking into the post office and finding your own picture amongst the most wanted. There really is censorship in the world, the most dangerous form is government censorship. There are places in the world, such as North Korea, where it can be a capital crime to possess a Bible. There are nations like China where the government and the Communist Party explicitly forbid people to read or have access to certain information. But when we’re talking about banned books in the United States, the entire label of the week is a lie. There are no banned books in America, just go to a local bookstore or public library and you’ll discover there’s nothing banned.
But here we also need to note that those who decry Banned Books Week are also the very people who do not approve of certain books being in the public library — for instance, explicitly Christian books. What they call censorship is just a matter of judgment and discrimination and here we have to note that every intelligent person exercises moral judgment and discrimination in terms of what we read and what we want others to read, what we view and what we want others to view. When it comes to the political and cultural left and right in this country, it’s not that on one side there are those who want to control information and those on the other side who do not; it’s all a matter of what kind of information which side wants to control. When it comes to this kind of question judgmentalism is found everywhere; it’s just a question of who’s making the judgment and what kind of judgment one is making.
‘No problem’ or ‘You’re welcome’? Exploring the link between language and etiquette
Next, this week on The Briefing we talked about the inherent tie between that morality and etiquette, and in the very same week on comes a second example, this one in a commentary published in the Wall Street Journal by Gregg Opelka. He writes about the distinction, not noted evidently by many, between the expressions, ‘no problem’ And ‘you’re welcome.’ He points to the fact that we now commonly hear people, for instance, you have someone who performs a service at a restaurant or in a store, and when someone says, ‘thank you,’ the responses is, ‘no problem’. But as Opelka points out, ‘no problem’ and ‘you’re welcome’ are not actually the same thing. ‘No problem,’ he said means
“‘You’re interrupting my busy life, but I’ll make a little time for you because I’m just that magnanimous.’ Not to mention,”
On the other hand, ‘you’re welcome’ he says,
“is the picture of sunny benevolence. More than a mere affirmation (‘You are well come!’), it’s an invitation. Where ‘No problem’ hustles you out the back door, ‘You’re welcome’ opens its big, wide, friendly arms and says: ‘Stay!’”
The biggest issue here is underlining not only the inherent link between morality and etiquette, but the link between etiquette and language; language really does matter. There is indeed a chasm of difference between ‘no problem’, however well intended, and ‘you’re welcome.’ Opelka notes in his words,
“The polar ice caps of language and etiquette have been melting for decades.”
And, of course they have, and that’s not separable from the larger changes in our society. It’s surely fair to say that the vast majority of those who respond with ‘no problem’ rather than ‘you’re welcome’ are not making some kind of intentional statement; they mean no slight nor matter of disrespect. But language really matters, and a shift in language that may appear here to be of no consequence at all, upon reflection really does mean something. If you’re wondering if there’s really anything to this, then just consider the context of a parent teaching a child both the English language and basic matters of respect. A parent would understand the difference between a child responding, ‘no problem’ and ‘you’re welcome.’
Presumably, if I were to thank Gregg Opelka for this very helpful column of the Wall Street Journal, he would respond with ‘you’re welcome,’ not merely with ‘no problem.’
Worldview book recommendation: Wired for Intimacy
We now turn to the worldview book of the week, and this one chosen strategically in light of the death of Hugh Hefner this week. I think the most important book written for Christians on the issue of pornography in recent times is the book Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain written by William Struthers, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois. The book is published by InterVarsity Press and it’s not for the faint of heart. It is, however, for those who want to understand how pornography actually works and why the male mind is particularly susceptible to visual pornography. The need for this book is lamentable evidence of the reality of what it means to live in a fallen world of sin, but in that world this kind of book becomes even more important, and thus it’s this week’s worldview book of the week. The book, by the way, is primarily addressed to the effects of pornography in the male mind, but that does not mean that the book is only for male readers. It is for males and all of those who care about them. The fact that this book is necessary points to yet another evidence of what it means to live in a sinful, fallen world, that in that world, this kind of book, this book in particular, is actually quite necessary.