Hugh Hefner

Video chat between tmatt and a serious Catholic conservative with news-media concerns

Video chat between tmatt and a serious Catholic conservative with news-media concerns

Trust me, it's not the headline that I would have chosen for a conversation on this topic.

I am referring to that headline on the YouTube atop this here video feature that proclaims: "Religion Reporting Tends to Suck."

But, hey, in the streaming-video world of conservative Catholic commentary the hosts can get a little bit edgy sometimes.

I mean, after all, I talked the show's host out of, "Why Religion Reporting Sucks." Period. So there.

The talk-show host, in this case, is Patrick Coffin. I was on his show a few weeks ago and the URL is now up for anyone who wants to go there.

Who is Coffin? Lots of Catholics will know the answer to that one already. He is a media pro and public speaker who, in the past, was best known as the host of the "Catholic Answers Live" radio show, which was syndicated to nearly 400 stations and carried on Sirius Satellite Radio. Here's his farewell show in that project.

Coffin takes on quite a few topics in this programs, with some politics -- but just as much material about issues of religion and culture. Click here for his homepage.

So, during this particular video-blog we ranged all over the place, starting with my home office in the secret city of Oak Ridge, Tenn., (my political cartoon collection is visible in the background) and then a political hot-button topic -- Melania Trump's choice of footwear.

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Regarding obits, Hefner, Weinstein, Trump, religious hypocrites, 'Cheap Sex' and the death of eros

Regarding obits, Hefner, Weinstein, Trump, religious hypocrites, 'Cheap Sex' and the death of eros

Within the Christian fellowship, the Good Book says, members should “not speak evil against one another” (James 4:11). A societal maxim tells us verbal caution is especially required in one instance: “Do not speak ill of the dead.”

Though journalists have a duty to “speak evil” if it’s both true and  newsworthy, obituaries sometimes obey Johnny Mercer’s sermonic song lyric: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive.” Just before the defenestration of Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein over his sexploits, the death of publisher Hugh Hefner -- a personification of the media maxim that "sex sells, inspired bland, fond farewells, even on “conservative” Fox News.  

Or, given recent events at the New York City headquarters of that news operation, is that especially on Fox News?  

Not so the truly conservative and ever-fascinating New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, an outspoken Catholic, whose sendoff was an invective classic. His Hef was the “grinning pimp of the sexual revolution,” the “father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis,” a “flesh procurement” agent for celebrities, and “lecherous, low-brow Peter Pan” whose career concluded in “sleazy decrepitude.”

In Hefner’s wake it was perhaps inevitable, given the amalgamated contempt for both evangelical Protestants and President Donald Trump across sectors of U.S. high culture, that some journalists would brand believers as hypocrites, e.g. Brandon Ambrosino, a onetime Liberty University student who came out as gay, writing in Religion News Service.

Ambrosino noted that a Facebook post generated dozens of comments “to defend Trump’s sexual history while excoriating Hefner for his.” After rehearsing the president’s moral career in order to castigate preachers who vouched for his character, he concluded: “These evangelicals have lost any moral high ground from which to lecture culture about sexual morality.”

Interesting. So The Religion Guy scanned 95 posted comments about this column.

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Hugh Hefner the moral theologian: He tried to escape from personal pain into a new life

Hugh Hefner the moral theologian: He tried to escape from personal pain into a new life

So let's put together the pieces of the Hugh Hefner puzzle that was at the heart of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which grew out of my earlier GetReligion post, "The crucial 'M' word -- Methodist -- that needed to be in every Hugh Hefner obituary."

This is a journalism puzzle, but one rooted in theology.

Start with Hugh Hefner's frequent references to his Puritan heritage (with a large "P" and a small "p"). Then you add the details of Methodist faith in which he was raised, in the conservative Midwest of the late 1940s and '50s. We need more than the word "strict."

Then you add the remarkable detail that Hefner was a virgin on his wedding day (with the help, he stressed, of lots of foreplay). In other words, young Hefner thought that true love waits. Ponder that.

Only he learned, as a married man, that his fiance had not waited. She had been unfaithful while he was away in the Army. In its lengthy Hefner obituary, The New York Times noted:

A virgin until he was 22, he married his longtime girlfriend. Her confession to an earlier affair, Mr. Hefner told an interviewer almost 50 years later, was “the single most devastating experience of my life.”

The Los Angeles Times added, literally, the doctrinal fallout from this event, in terms of the moral theology written into the Playboy philosophy.

Years later he said the experience set him up for a lifetime of promiscuity because “if you don't commit,” he told The Times in 1994, “you don't get hurt.” He said it also showed him what was wrong with traditional attitudes towards sex: “Thinking sex is sacred is the first step toward really turning it into something very ugly,” he said on another occasion.

Put all that together and you have what? Is this a "secular" story, as in a story devoid of faith content and issues? You can make a case that the old Hefner, after this crushing blow during his first marriage, died and then he sought escape from his past, seeking to rise again as a new and changed man -- the ultimate playboy.

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The crucial 'M' word -- Methodist -- that needed to be in every Hugh Hefner obituary

The crucial 'M' word -- Methodist -- that needed to be in every Hugh Hefner obituary

This is how I will remember him: Articulate, witty, with a probing intellect, He was a strong First Amendment liberal, a lover of music, magazines and books. And there was the pipe, of course. He'd look over the top of his glasses, puffing on the pipe, while he was thinking.

I'm talking about Theodore Peterson, of course, the legendary journalism professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign whose class on modern magazines was a rite of passage for thousands of young writers and editors.

Take Hugh Hefner, for example.

If you took Peterson's class (as I did in graduate school), you learned quite a bit about the back-story on Hefner and the class-project dream that years later turned into a magazine celebrating sex and grown-up toys, linking consumerism with moral libertarianism.

Peterson had a theory about modern magazines, which was that -- while providing niche content for readers and advertisers -- they needed to make some kind of statement about the personality and beliefs of the founder. They needed to sell a worldview. Hefner was the perfect example and the key was the Playboy-in-chief's desire to shed his past and escape.

Escape what? That is where morality and religion -- the old Methodism -- is an essential part of the Hefner story and, thus, any obituary that attempts to sum up his life. I'm not joking: Editors may want to consider allowing religion-beat reporters to take part in the coverage of Hef and his legacy. After all, the Sexual Revolution was a new take on a very ancient religion.

As you would expect, the Hefner obituaries are packed with colorful symbolic details. There's speculation on the number of women he bedded. What about the implications of his emotional immaturity, when linked to a 152 IQ? Do the math and you end up with the 2,500-plus volumes of his personal scrapbook, which probably featured images from the $40,000 video-camera system above his 7-foot round bed.

News consumers can expect, in the follow-up coverage, lots of debate about Hefner as feminist or anti-feminist. Was he a figure of liberation, oppression or addiction? Was his fierce support of abortion rights rather self-serving? Someone should ask fake-bunny Gloria Steinem, or perhaps Holly Madison, author of "Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny."

In most of the obituaries, there is some kind of reference to Hefner's parents and their religious convictions. The Associated Press feature, as one would expect, had less room with which to work, but did manage this telling passage:

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