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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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Talking Turkey: What’s the 'most important' Godbeat gathering in summer of 2016?

 Talking Turkey: What’s the 'most important' Godbeat gathering in summer of 2016?

As journalists plot their new year plans, note that The Economist’s “The World in 2016” year-end special leads off the international section with “the most important gathering during the summer of 2016.”

That isn’t the Rio Olympics in August but the Great and Holy Council of 336 Eastern Orthodox bishops at Istanbul in late June.

Not to dis all those talented, sweat-drenched pole vaulters and sprinters, but the British newsmagazine’s claim is solid, considering that the Orthodox number as many as 300 million (by the more extravagant claims) and that this could be their most decisive event since the last authoritative council in A.D. 787. At minimum, it should or could turn out to be Orthodoxy’s equivalent of the Catholic Church’s celebrated Second Vatican Council in 1962-65.

If, that is, the council accomplishes anything important. And if it actually occurs at all. Can you say "byzantine"? (As in the fifth and sixth definitions found here.)

As the newsweekly observes, last-minute church feuds, or tensions in the host country of Turkey, could postpone the event, which has been discussed for more than half a century yet somehow could never take place. Might the meeting be moved elsewhere?

The scheduling of the gathering is a diplomatic triumph for the presiding host, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 75, who since 1991 has been the “first among equals” who head Orthodoxy’s 14 self-governing branches. The key challenge has always been gaining full cooperation from the mighty church of Russia, currently led by Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill.

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