In the final chaotic moments of the frat-classic “Animal House,” a well-endowed young woman with very little on is catapulted from a parade float and just happens to fly through the open window of a young boy who is secretly reading “Playboy,” landing safely on his bed. Stunned by this miracle, the boy looks to the heavens and says, “Thank you, God.”
As it turns out, this is very close to the mini-prayer that Hugh Hefner catches himself praying from time to time, according to a very seeker friendly report by Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter Cathleen Falsani. The 78-year-old uber-Playboy says he is a “pretty moral guy” who is trying to work out his own version of faith — which includes some of those old Midwestern values, lots of stuff he learned from the movies and a liberating splash of Darwinism.
Nevertheless, there are times when he just has to say, “Thank you, Lord.”
Hefner even spends some time in worship every now and then out in the grounds of the mansion he shares with his 20-something girlfriends Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. Yes, that’s the lush backyard that contains an infamous grotto that has been known to host rites that would have been considered religious in many pre-biblical cultures, but not in the Methodist church of his puritanical parents. These were old-fashioned Methodists.
Hefner says that he urges his disciples to live their life as if there is “no reward in the afterlife, and do it in a moral way that makes it better for you and for those around you.” What has the Playboy papa taught his own children about life and faith?
“You start talking about evolution as something that’s real. The wonder of evolution. Not the bull—- of creationism,” he says. And if they ask him about God, he’ll describe a deity that he says he knows but doesn’t encounter in the Bible.
“I believe in the creation, and therefore I believe there has to be a creator of some kind, and that is my God. I do not believe in a biblical God, not in the sense that he doesn’t exist, it’s just that I know rationally that man created the Bible and that we invented our perception of what we do not know,” he says.
“I would believe in a God who created this world and also some more rational insights to make it better and would indeed give us an afterlife. An afterlife would be a really good deal. Yeah. I would vote in favor of that,” he says. “But in the meantime, I urge one and all to live this life as if there is no reward in the afterlife and do it in a moral way that makes it better for you and for those around you and leaves this world a little better place than when you found it.”
Is Hefner a great sinner? Does he subscribe to any particular moral code?
“Sin is a religious term for immoral behavior, but it’s a religious term. I’m a pretty moral guy. Now, it’s morality as I perceive it. Morality is what is perceived as good for people,” he says, smiling widely, but not in a mischievous way. “I try to do what’s right . . . I define it in a way that is truly, what I believe to be truly humanistic and rational and loving.
“I have strong feelings about the way organized religion with the codification of all of the rules related to sexuality became law and played havoc with people’s lives. I think that — dare I say it? — is very un-Christian.”
There’s a lot more Playboy theology where this comes from. Hefner says he has always enjoyed his many theological chats with the likes of Jesse Jackson and his close friend Father Malcolm Boyd, a trendsetter on the left wing of the Episcopal Church. Boyd says Hefner is what he always has been — “a seeker.”
Actually, there is another way to describe the Hefner faith. While Falsani never uses the term, it is clear that Hefner is an archetype of one of the dominant religious trends of the late 20th century — “Sheilaism.” The term comes from Robert N. Bellah’s classic “Habits of the Heart.” Here is the crucial passage:
Sheila Larson is a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy and describes her faith as “Sheilaism.” This suggests the logical possibility of more than 235 million American religions, one for each of us. “I believe in God,” Sheila says. “I am not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.” Sheila’s faith has some tenets beyond belief in God, though not many. In defining what she calls “my own Sheilaism,” she said: “It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other.”
And all the faithful members of the Playboy generation (including many with tenure in major seminaries) said: “Amen.”