This one comes to us from Ann Lowrey Forster.

In the wake of Hugh Hefner’s death, the headlines have been split—some celebrating the playboy mogul for liberation and others condemning him for objectification. These opinions, however, haven’t followed traditional party lines. Some on the left condemned and some celebrated; some on the right wagged their fingers and some looked wistfully back at Hefner’s ideology.

I was particularly struck by that last group—those generally on the conservative side of things who have held up Hefner as a co-belligerent in the culture wars. Ben Domenech fondly eulogized Hefner in The Federalist, and a piece by Telly Davidson in The American Conservative attempts objectivity, admitting flaws but leaning toward a sort of wistful fondness. Breitbart published a piece lauding Hef, which makes sense really.

Many conservatives did condemn the ideology for which Hefner stood. Responding to Domenech, Samuel L. James wrote in First Things:

By disintegrating the connection between the spirit and the body, the liturgy of pornography recalibrates our conception of what human beings fundamentally are.

Ross Douthat went for the jugular in the NY Times, and it’s worth your time. The (indomitable) Babylon Bee trolled America’s bipolar view of women in a satirical post about the man who founded Playboy, headlining: Nation That Claims To Value Women Celebrates Life Of Hugh Hefner.

If you’ve read about Hugh Hefner, you’ll know that his sexual ideology arose out of an awful experience in his own life. His fiancé, Mildred, was unfaithful while Hefner was away in the army. She attempted to fix her error by offering up consequence-free adultery, and Hefner took her up on it. Unsurprisingly, this two-wrongs strategy didn’t make a right, and Hefner spiraled. It’s a tragic story of sin being followed by more sin, rather than confession, forgiveness, and redemption. In my better moments, all I feel toward Mr. Hefner is pity.

But the reactions this week have been more about the legacy than the man, as public reactions generally are (and probably should be). There isn’t a consensus of opinion on the legacy left by the porn king, even among those who are normally fighting for the place of moral questions. And, within that lack of consensus, there are conservatives celebrating his legacy. If I’m reading the argument correctly, it goes, quite simply:

Hefner’s affirmation of the gender binary puts him in the camp of heroes. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

But naivety abounds, and there is a serious forest/trees issue in this argument.

As James titled his First Things piece, porn is worse than feminism. The former is a black-and-white issue with a clear right answer. The science is now overwhelming and joins the side of millennia of moral teachings: pornography is bad for people. Feminism, though it has fallen off a cliff in its postmodern instantiation, boasts many a hero. But certain conservatives seem sure that the abuses of gender inequality are less destructive of the family than the sins of so-called sexual liberation. And in that surety, they divide things into incorrect categories. The thought is that porn culture and contemporary feminists may both wreak sexual havoc, but at least porn says that, generally speaking, girls are girls and boys are boys. All affirmers of gender differences become laudable.

The solution to today’s moral confusion is not found in binaries at any cost. One quick look at the culture in which Mr. Hefner arose, the culture about which eulogizing conservatives are so nostalgic, proves that.

Both the playboy mansion and the Betty Draper ideal lead to the porn and rape culture in which we are raising our sons and daughters. Betty is just a Bunny with a little bit more covered up. And don’t June Cleaver me; we know now that most of the Junes were just Bettys in disguise. Coming of age in the early oughts, I tried on each of these ideals to see how they fit, and they didn’t. Because they’re not real. There is no human flourishing when we disintegrate the connection between the spirit and the body.

Porn and mid-twentieth century gender narratives are the same damn thing. Women objectified, their worth denigrated, their dignity denied. There is no liberation for women nor any human ideal grounded in either place.

The personal solution—for Hugh, his fiancé, for you, and for me—is found at the cross.  Crucifying our own sin and falling into the arms of a savior who has already borne it. I cannot work out Mr. Hefner’s sin any more than he can work out mine. And to try is foolish.

But, when dealing with the public out-workings of a philosophy and legacy, there is more work to be done. We cannot ‘to each his own’ in the public square. This work will require much careful and necessary parsing. The solution is a re-integration of the whole woman.   It’s hard, nuanced work, done in fear and trembling; after all, we’ve rarely gotten it right before. But one easy clue: if, in an effort to define sexual mores in a way that honors women, you end up bedfellows with a man who extolled polyamory and breast augmentation, maybe the parsing hasn’t been done well?

May Mr. Hefner rest in peace; may his legacy die with him. That’s an easy call to make.