Hugh Hefner’s recent passing is an opportunity to reflect on his legacy, the now widely prevalent view of sexuality in the Western world. This is a view that sees any sort of sexual stimulation as legitimate, even good, so long as it is between consenting adults. Hefner’s Playboy magazine was not the only source of the “hooking up” casual view of sex, but it was an early and a formative one. While it was upstaged in later decades by other media willing to go much further, Playboy was a pioneer of the view that the important thing about sex is pleasure, to be enjoyed as much as possible, with whomever you want, so long as they are consenting adults (the younger the better). Hefner lived that life himself, even into his later years: an old man in pajamas, he cavorted, Viagra-assisted, with a seemingly endless stream of young women. Sex was his drug, and he couldn’t or wouldn’t break the addiction.
But is this a life of goodness, a life worth living? Hefner’s passing brings some perspective: his pleasure is finished, he got what he wanted and it did not last. This is not eternal life, this is not the life of joy and meaning that God wants us to have. Hefner’s life was more like that of a drug addict: trapped in an endless cycle of pleasure-seeking, he deluded one young woman after another into degrading herself in exchange for a moment of publicity, a fleeting burst of attention that, while flattering, had no real interest in the person she truly was. This was the collateral damage of his addiction: like most drug addicts, he hurt people around him, not by choice, but by necessity: the drug must always comes first.
Jesus does not want people to be addicted, and he knows that sin, including sexual sin, can be addictive. This is why Christianity places limits on how sexuality should be physically expressed: it belongs within a marriage of a man and a woman, spouses who have freely given themselves to each other for a lifetime, in generous openness to the gift of children. Christian sexuality is generous in nature, not self-centered. It is generous in three way at the same time. First, it is a commitment between the spouses to put the needs of the other before themselves. Second, it is a commitment to be open to children: if a pregnancy should occur, the child will be welcomed as a gift from God, gratefully received, and put first, before the parents’ own self-interest. Third, it is a commitment that is lasting, life-long. Spouses promise to love and honor each other all the days of their life, and each child come into the world is recognized as a person loved forever by God and destined for eternity. This is more than just sex, it is genuine love, love of spouses for each other and for their children. No, this is not about hearts, flowers, and chocolates, this is love that is modeled after Jesus’ love on the cross. It is a love that declares: your good is more important to me than what I want; I give you myself, no matter what it costs me, so that you can live.
Jesus knows that this is a hard standard to live up to: he understands. He did not reject people who committed sexual sins, but welcomed and forgave them, encouraging them to “sin no more”. We live in a world where this attitude of forgiveness is more needed than ever. Ours is a world hungry for meaning, for love that is more than a passing feeling. It is a world that needs hope. Hefner’s legacy has left it with little but the pleasure of the moment, a skin-deep facade, with hollow emptiness beneath. Jesus, who sacrificed himself for the good of others, offers a different answer: difficult, yes, but life-giving and meaningful: love one another as I have loved you.