The Personalist Project

Note: After our recent event on human sexuality, recordings of which are now freely available on our site, there was a lively question and answer session. Rather than posting that entire session online, we decided to excerpt four questions from it that are likely to interest many. These questions are posted individually so that they can be discussed separately (in the respective comment boxes).

The first question concerns the comparison that Christopher West sometimes makes, and for which he has been severely criticized (especially since his TV interview), between Hugh Hefner and John Paul II. Click on the link below, and you will hear what West and Healy had to say about the issue.

On JPII and Hugh Hefner (opens in a small popup window)

Comments (26)

Josef Seifert

#1, Jun 22, 2009 6:47pm

John Paul II, Hefner, and West
I heard the comments West and Healy made on the issue and, while I was always convinced that West had the best intentions in saying what he said, am happy that now West expresses how “horrific, horrific” he finds the way in which Playboy and Hefner isolate sex from the person and love and promote a “culture of death.”
Nevertheless, I continue to think, for the reasons I explained at length before in the Linde and do not wish to repeat here, that the suggestion that Hefner made or started a sexual revolution that Wojtyla completed, as well as the tone in which West said in his interview “I love Hefner” or the suggestion that the analysis of prudishness of Hefner and the one of John Paul II were similar, and only their “cure” different, etc. are profoundly misleading and should, I believe, not be defended but revoked and clearly corrected.
Of course, we should not deny any truth Hefner might have seen, but I think he well-nigh saw none, and certainly not more than any of the 100.000 other pornographers and heroes of impurity and depersonalized sex, all of whom might once have suffered from prudishness or from a simple appeal to purity. Therefore, I believe that any (even the faintest) suggestion that Hefner should merit praise for his (basically the same as Wojtyla’s) “analysis of prudishness” or for a “sexual revolution” that could in any conceivable way be regarded as a “first part” of John Paul II’s, only offering the right remedies for the same problem-analysis (on which both would agree) is simply so inappropriate that it should be abandoned and disavowed entirely.
Notwithstanding this remark, I commend West wholeheartedly on the positive mission he fulfills in an exemplary way to promote and explain this wonderful and glorious chapter in the history of the Church - John Paul II’s and Hildebrand’s discovery and profound explanation of the true spousal meaning of the body!


#2, Jun 23, 2009 9:35pm

I guess that I have been somewhat shocked at the vehement way some of my fellow Catholic Christians have spoken about Hugh Hefner.  It seems to me that we should be able to see in him a very wounded man who is looking for God but in all of the wrong places.  Was it not Chesterton who said that the man going into a brothel was looking for God?

My hope is that Mr. Hefner may hear about the things that CW has said about him and it might make him ponder a bit about his life.  We seem to want to place the blame for pornography and the many evils that flow from it onto Mr. Hefner but he would not have a business if it were not supported by millions of people.  Some of whom I’m thinking may be sitting next to us in the pews.

Jules van Schaijik

#3, Jun 24, 2009 2:59am

I have also (in my head) compared what West is saying with that line attributed to Chesterton.

On the one hand it shows that West is in good company.  At least one important element in the Hefner/JPII comparison that many find shocking, is also expressed by other great Catholic thinkers.  And expressed in a way, I should add, that is purposely designed to “jolt” an audience.

On the other hand, I have always found Chesterton’s line deeply flawed.  It fails to notice the radical difference between two loves, described by St. Augustine as: the “love of self to the contempt of God” and the “love of God to the contempt of self”.  In other words, though there are exceptions, generally speaking what moves a person to visit a brothel is emphatically not his desire to be with God.

This is, I think, what many find so objectionable to the said comparison.  It tends to attribute the same noble motives to both Hefner and JPII.  And that is a bit hard to swallow, don’t you think?

Bill Drennen

#4, Jun 24, 2009 3:37am

yes and no Jules depending on perspective. While love of self to the contempt of God is far inferiour and even the oposite of Love of God to the contempt of self seen in the objective light.
Yet from the perspective of the one seeking love, they are still seeking what only God can fill weither they know it or not. They are like babies sucking their thumbs because their mothers breast does not seem to be available.

Jules van Schaijik

#5, Jun 25, 2009 2:03pm

I think the baby analogy is all wrong.  It completely fails to capture the most salient fact, which is that in the one case everything is seen as an object of use and desired for the pleasure it can give, whereas in the other, things are appreciated (or “valued”) for what they are and the delight grows out of this appreciation.

The baby would be delighted if his mother replaced his thumb with her breast.  But the person knocking on the door of the brothel would be horrified to find God.

Bill Drennen

#6, Jun 25, 2009 2:08pm

You don’t like my baby analogy, Waahhhhh! Insert picture of crying baby.

I think the analogy holds and illustrates the difference between taking for ones self and receiving as a gift. I learned this in fact from CW reflecting JPII’s concept of the gift. This has also helped me greatly to grow in distinguishing between ordered and disordered desires and appetites. Some things I used to think were completely acceptable I can see with further growth are really a failure to trust in God.

Augustine himself would say, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee”, and he of all people would know how his restless heart led him to many a brothel while really looking for God to fill his emptiness.

You may think that you would be shocked to find God at the door of the brothel but then that is why you are not likely to be found there looking. Most men at the doors are much more in the darkness and they have not tasted the goodness of the Lord. They only know their hunger and the one easy way they think they can fill it. For them, to find God in the experience of their emptiness we should not at all find shocking. Far from being horrified, they would be in a good place to receive him. Mary Magdelin found Him there and what did our Lord say of her response? She who has been forgiven much, loves much.

So I see those men knocking at the brothel door more like babies not knowing what they are looking for rather then horrified adults with full knowledge of their own inner drives. They don’t know what really motivates them and how God designed them to have that very hunger filled by Him alone. This is in a sense the real challenging and positive message Christopher West preaches. And no wonder it makes such waves!

Jules van Schaijik

#7, Jun 26, 2009 12:45am

Don’t you think, Bill (if you can just stop crying for a minute!), that there is a distinction between looking to fill the emptiness (or restlessness) inside, and looking for God?  The former, understandable as it is, is nevertheless completely self-centered, whereas the latter (even where it involves my own happiness) is mediated by transcendence (i.e. a concern for truth and goodness).  The difference between the two cannot be reduced to a knowing or not-knowing where to look.  A much deeper conversion is required.

I am reminded of Augustine saying that, although all men want to be happy, those who achieve happiness do not do so as a result of desiring it, but because they also desire to live rightly.

Bill Drennen

#8, Jun 26, 2009 9:33am

Sorry, it took me this long to stop crying. I swear, Every time I hear Augustine I love him more and more! He is like (your not going to like this Jules) Gandalf, so wise in an inspiring in a comforting way! This quote is simple but so profound in its clarity!

I guess we are both emphasizing 2 different true aspects and both are really going on. What you say is certainly true and this is the “grown up” or mature response required. But I doubt that one is capable of transcendence before one has experienced love. That desire to find God is a seed that germinates. The scripture says we love because he first loved us. This is the baby side of the problem.

Augustine stood at the door of the brothel knowing full well what he was doing as he prayed, “God give me purity, but not yet.” But for every Augustine at the door there are thousands more men who have no clue whatsoever that God could give them something so much more because they have yet to experience it. It is the experience of God that allows one to transcend and seek him for his own sake.

This same psychological truth is easily seen in criminals who are love cripples never having experienced proper love from their parents. Of course , there are some that do experience God and still reject him but as I will reply to Katie, this is an advanced stage of corruption not common in my belief, not now at least.

Bill Drennen

#9, Jun 26, 2009 10:08am

Here is my better explanation.

There are still 2 perspectives here I think are valid but I will attempt to reconcile them. In a sense it can be seen that my attempt was a long winded effort to justify avoiding the difficult choice of the 2 extremes. Ultimately there are only 2 choices but in the here and now we appear to be between the 2 and have other options. Does not the gospel challenge us however to bring that ultimate reality down to earth here and now in the present? No more excuses. Today is the day of salvation. Chose this day whom you will serve, ect. I was prepared to say that our choice was not like that of the angles but gradual over time but I also see that we ARE, indeed perched on the brink and our every choice has eternal consequences.

Then I thought of Augustine and Jules (don’t get a big head Jules, I’ll explain the connection). Jules saying with Augustine that there are only 2 choices and Augustine also saying our hearts are restless until the rest in you.

What is this restlessness? What is this man at the brothel door seeking? Jules says he is not seeking God, he is not transcending, he is seeking his own comfort. But why is he seeking at all. He is uncomfortable. Why? It is because as Augustine says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We are restless because we are missing God and we are looking for what we are missing but we do not know what it is we are looking for.

So I see that of course Jules is right that the man is not explicitly or directly looking FOR God. But if God is not the WHAT of the man’s immediate seeking he is the WHY. He is why the man is looking, and ultimately, he is also what he has lost and what he needs to find. It is in this sense I think that Chesterton said every man at the door of a brothel is looking for God.

An other aspect is to say that he is looking for himself, his true self that he has lost and that is only found in God. As long as he looks for himself within himself only, he can not transcend to find himself, outside himself in God. He who looses his life will find it.

Jules van Schaijik

#10, Jun 26, 2009 2:22pm

Bill, just so you know I’m not ignoring you :), I promise to respond to these thoughtful comments before the day is over (July 3rd, start of the Tour de France).

Jules van Schaijik

#11, Jun 26, 2009 2:27pm

Sorry, still working on it.

Jules van Schaijik

#12, Jun 26, 2009 6:02pm

Well, it’s July 7th, 4 days too late, but I did just post a response in the Linde.  Hope it makes sense.

Jules van Schaijik

#13, Jun 30, 2009 1:03pm

West’s explanation in the audio clip helps, I think, to understand how he meant his comparison.  Just as Marx responded badly to a real problem in the world, so also did Hugh Hefner.  And while in both cases we must reject the “solutions” offered, we must also recognize that there was/is a real problem, and try to develop our own response to it.  That, West is saying, is what John Paul II did so successfully.

There’s one thing in West’s clarification (in the audio clip) that could be better expressed.  He says that the Church agrees with Marx’s diagnosis of the problem.  But it is one thing to perceive or react to a problem, and quite another to correctly diagnose it.  Neither Marx nor Hefner came even close to a correct diagnosis.  (It is not just John Paul II’s solution to puritanism, but also his diagnosis of it which is infinitely superior to that of Hefner.  It is that diagnosis, in fact, which reveals that Hefner’s solution is only a worse form of the same disease.)

Bill Drennen

#14, Jun 30, 2009 1:12pm

Back to my baby analogy, both know they need something to suck. Hefner is like the baby who does not either perceive the mothers breast or does not yet know how to get it. JPII is the mature child who knows the mother is available and also knows the self control necessary to receive the superiour gift.

Katie van Schaijik

#15, Jun 30, 2009 2:13pm

Let’s stipulate that we’re speaking of adults who make free choices, rather than babies acting out of instinct. 
It may be true that some people who visit prostitutes are sincerely searching for love and connection.  (There’s a compelling depiction of this in the great and wonderful movie, “The Lives of Others.”)  But others are in the business of exploiting.

Bill Drennen

#16, Jul 1, 2009 8:16am

I don’t know that you can make that clear distinction. I tend to think that most adults act like babies a lot of the time. Is there also an adult awareness of the responsibility being offended against? Probably yes, to a more or less degree depending on the individual. But Chesterton’s comment referred to the underlying deep motivation, the little boy or baby inside the man. Adult choices are free but many times when they sin they are motivated by fear, insecurity and lack of awareness of God.

Isn’t this why God meets us most powerfully in our most weak and vulnerable moments? Out of the depths? Rather then in the adult to adult correspondence of correct choices? We are not adults before God, we are babies! Now let me get back to my crying

Katie van Schaijik

#17, Jul 2, 2009 9:33am

I agree with you mostly, Bill.  But let me ask you this: Do you not agree that there is a kind of acting wrongly that is not well characterized as a search for God, but is rather a conscious act of “love of self to the contempt of God”?  Would you agree that there is a difference in terms of culpable evil between the person who sins because he is longing for love and connection and the person who frankly uses others for his own pleasure or ambition?

Bill Drennen

#18, Jul 2, 2009 9:39am

Katie, I think that this “conscious act of “love of self to the contempt of God” is an advanced stage of corruption that is relatively uncommon at least presently.

I don’t think most men Chesterton had in mind were at this stage. I think I share his perspective most of them are “acting out” and are blind to their actions. They are in bondage and need a saviour. They are not knowingly rejecting God in contempt.

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Jul 3, 2009 6:19am

Hm.  I don’t see it as an advanced stage of corruption.  I see it as quite a normal human experience.

Katie van Schaijik

#20, Jul 4, 2009 5:36pm

Let me expand a little.  Augustine says there are two loves, which we could also consider two basically different motivations for moral acting.  This parallels the Scripture verse: “Whoever is not for me is against me and whoever is not against me is for me.”  It parallels von Hildebrand’s distinction between value and the merely subjectively satisfying. 
Granting that all human motivation tends to be mixed, I still think we can say that our moral acts and stances fall roughly into one of the two categories.  (This was the theme of Jules’ dissertation, so I hope he’ll jump in here and say it better than I can.)
When someone who doesn’t know God, doesn’t consciously love and serve God, acts FOR GOOD, because it’s good, he is living that “love of God to the contempt of self”.  On the other hand, even if I am a Christian, I am capable in a given act or in an area of my life of living in defiance of that law of love.  I may know very well that I shouldn’t have another glass of wine, but I don’t care at that moment what’s right and good, I only care about the enjoyment of another glass of wine.  In that moment, I am thumbing my nose at objective value, at the hierarchy of goods, and ultimately, at God.  I choose to “live for self to the contempt of God.”  I am not reaching blindly for Him.  I know He is not to be found in drunkenness. 
This is not an advanced state of corruption, but simply sin. 

Bill Drennen

#21, Jul 5, 2009 8:11pm

Katie, I figured this all out now! Hey what was that lightning bolt? WHey that was close! No I do think I have a solution all will like. I’m posting it under Jules original comment about the Chesterton quote.


#22, Jul 6, 2009 3:25am

Please see for one of many articles containing evidence against any claim that Hefner was reacting against “puritanism”.  Hefner may have liked to hold up puritanism as a shield, but was in fact inspired by Alfred Kinsey, the Eugenics-Industrial Complex, and, frankly, greed.  West’s defense of Hefner is naive and exactly the mythological soft-focus that Hefner would desire to have perpetuated.

“1953 December, Playboy is launched: Publisher Hugh Hefner claims Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)2 radicalized, inspired and instructed him on human sexuality. Hefner began the Playboy empire, bringing Kinsey’s “scientific” view of human sexuality from academia to Joe College. By 1954 child abuse was glamorized in cartoons, by the 70s in photographs, and by 1977 the nude “Playmate” also appeared in child biography photographs (3,042 child characters, 1,323 photographs, 1,196 cartoons, 523 illustrations) typically in sexual scenes.”

Josef Seifert

#23, Jul 6, 2009 6:34am

I agree, for the reasons given before and her new evidences, with Susan’s assessment very much and hope that C West and all personalists and defenders of the theology of the body will bury and eliminate any (however faint and conditional) comparison between Hefner and John Paul II once and for ever. It would greatly help their case and remove what scandalizes very good people in West’s statements.



#24, Jul 6, 2009 10:06am

Have been following this thread with interest and thought I would add a couple of questions/comments.  First, what does Hefner’s connection with Kinsey have to do with any reaction to Puritanism?  From what I understood from CW’s presentation, Hefner was reacting to the Puritanism from his childhood.  Since he was born in 1926 that was quite a while before Kinsey published his material.
Second, are we not supposed to have the most love for the biggest sinner—the most unlovable among us?  Christ took a man loathed by his peers, Matthew, and turned him into one of his closest companions.  People seem to be focusing so much animus toward Hugh Hefner when he is merely an icon of a deep problem that people have had for a long time. 
Obviously pornography was around before HH was even born since Maria Goretti’s attacker was viewing it.  From listening to family stories, I know that sexual immorality was quite common in the 1920’s, and after—before Kinsey or Hefner were ever heard of.  Granted, Kinsey and Hefner made sexual immorality public and mainstream but the disease was “pandemic” before either of them were around.  The information about Kinsey proved that since he used people who were sexual deviants for his study and his co-workers.  Obviously they had problems before he wrote his books.
The work of these men may ultimately have a positive effect in that they have brought these issues into the mainstream and put them so in our faces that we can no longer ignore them.  There were many “dirty little secrets” that no one talked about in the past that are now exposed to the light of day.
Would we not accomplish much more if, instead of reacting to these men (Hefner and Kinsey types) in fear and anger, we approached them with love and compassion?  If someone reached out to them in love, who knows, they may have a change of heart much as some of the well-known abortionists.  Think of the effect that would have on the world, not to mention the individuals’ own salvation.

Josef Seifert

#25, Jul 6, 2009 2:04pm

Dear Lauretta,
you should certainly love Hefner and you should love Hitler and pray for both. But this does not mean that you should say that Hitler is similar to Saint Francis or that Hefner is like John Paul II - even not in their diagnoses of the world and its crises.


#26, Jul 6, 2009 9:04pm

Dear Joseph,
I do know that Archbishop Sheen compared himself as a child to Stalin and the differing reactions their parish priests had to their making of a mistake during Mass as altar boys, and the possible effects of the priests’ reactions on the lives of the boys.  I could see how one could easily compare Hitler and Stalin in that they both had abusive fathers and then the different paths their lives took even though they both had that similarity in their backgrounds.  Can these comparisons not help us to see the difference that God makes in our lives when we are open to Him and His grace?

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

Forgot your password?