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10/06/2017

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Jon Walker, Associate Professor, Sacred Heart University

Douthat pens tough words, and he also commits a grievous crime of omission, and in doing so he paints a dishonest picture of the man who was Hugh Hefner. Like much of what we hear today, carefully pruned branches from the intact tree of truth is peddled as the complete truth. In saying that all things "Hefnerian" were rotten, Mr. Douthat is labeling many things like speaking out against (and committing large sums of money) racial injustice; fighting governmental abuses of basic civil rights; the denial of common civil rights based on one's gender being female; denial of basic civil rights because of sexual and/or gender identification, commonly known as the millions of our citizens, many of whom are Catholic, who are members of the LGBTQ community AND those who support them; abuse of police powers leading to shameful scars on our history like the case of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, an African-American promising boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder and later released following a petition of habeas corpus after spending almost 20 years in prison, along with the abuse of the family of a slain police officer who will, now, never see justice done for this murdered man; abusive and inhumane drug laws that sentenced people guilty of of possessing now legal marijuana to life in prison while murderers and rapists sometimes faced only a few years; the abuses of J. Edgar Hoover as he used his unchecked powers as FBI Director to unjustly destroy lives and ruin families and businesses while he often destroyed careers with accusations of homosexuality and infidelity while he, himself, enjoyed parading around disguised as a woman. Hefner and Playboy enterprises were strong supporters of the movement against an unjust war in Vietnam Nam (has anyone been watching the Ken Burns series?) as well as supporters of people persecuted for opposing U.S. Government policy. Hefner was an eyewitness to the police riot in1968 perpetrated by Chicago's mayor Richard Daley during the Democratic National Convention. There are so many more positive efforts, but just one more "rotten" legacy for Hefner is the enormous effort shown to educate people about AIDS and to support AIDS research while the American President named Ronald Reagan remained defiantly silent on the matter when he could have been the Great Communicator responsible for possibly saving tens of thousands of lives had it not been for his "indifference, disdain, self-imposed ignorance and a political capitulation to the rising wave of a new, staunchly reactionary and religious Republican constituency." It was a cynical play to his religious base to allow so many Americans to die without attempting anything for seven years. Read more: http://forward.com/news/7046/rewriting-the-script-on-reagan-why-the-president/.

Much of Hefner's and Playboy's original intentions transformed and warped into things we can barely recognize. I believe the same can be said for many institutions that have been in business over fifty years. And Hefner may have lived out advanced senility in public, but, if so, he suffered the same fate as Mr. Reagan but lacked the staff and wife the former President had to protect him from such a public display of dementia. And shame on Douthat to ridicule ANYONE for behavior he believes is attributable to senility or dementia. That was a truly un-Christian act on Douth's part.

You are absolutely entitled, and it is your responsibility, to publicly advocate for a return to less tolerant times that you believe were better than today, and I personally respect your efforts to restore your beliefs. But I do not respect advocacy of Douthat's written statement that is so keenly honed as to be an outright lie about a figure who had such an impact on our culture. Just look at the list of people interviewed by Hefner's publication, especially during the 60's, 70's, and 80's, and they compose a list of some of the most important politicians, artists, musicians, advocates, and thinkers in America and the world in their times. Just imagine the level of esteem this university would have earned had we been able to have those same people speak at Sacred Heart at the same time as they were interviewed by this niche publication! It says a lot about American culture, then and now, when you must put a few pictures of naked women into a publication in order to get people to read about some of the most important issues of the time. And that has not gone anywhere. Just look at the lineup of "news babes" trotted out by our country's most popular news network, the bastion of conservativism that is FOX News. And we shouldn't forget the sordid history of sexual exploitation headlined, but not limited to, Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly. Another area of society ripe for rediscovery.

I had a list of biblical quotes and passages appropriate for Mr. Douthat, but they are so obvious and easy to recognize that we need not bother.

I understand, but don't agree with, people's desire to "rediscover" lost values. But I would caution people as to whose banner they wave in support of their desires. I was shocked by the un-Christian nature of Mr. Douthat's article when it was published. I do not think we need to rediscover values from decades past. They will not serve us well in the present and future. I think we need to seek out and discover values that will accomplish what our fellow humans and our "common home", as our planet is described in Laudatory Si (recommended to me by the aetheist Bill Nye), need in the pope's recent encyclical. Actually, the planet will be fine, just different, but humans will die off. If one is a person of the Christian faith, can there be a greater sin than to knowingly exterminate God's greatest creation? Maybe time for just discovery. And are Hef and Oraison are only choices?

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MichealHiggins_v3
Michael W. Higgins, Ph.D.