Magazines: Think Clean

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To supervise communications between the last frontier and the cloth, Hefner chose onetime Zoologist Anson Mount, the magazine's football editor, appointed him six months ago to head a new religion department. People who saw this move as a rather amusing put-on overestimate Hefner's sense of humor. It was all very serious, and frivolous staffers were discouraged from making jokes involving "sermon" and "Mount." Recalls the new religion editor: "I found myself over my head with things like personhood, demythologizing, Bonhoeffer. So I went to Hefner and said, 'Man, I've got to go off to school and learn some of this.' " Hef sent him to the University of the South at Sewanee, where he studied hard for one summer and entertained lavishly, as befits an emissary from Playboy. The theologians grew so used to stopping by his house at cocktail hour that eventually they even ventured as far as Hefs Chicago mansion for discussions. "At first, they entered the house as if it were Dante's inferno," says Mount. "But now those cats are used to it."

Enlightenment Simplified. Ministerial interest was greatly stimulated by Hefner's earnest, marathon attempt to spell out the "Playboy philosophy." It took 25 installments and a quarter of a million words. Hefner's thesis was that U.S. society had too long and too rigorously suppressed good, healthy heterosexuality. Since its growth had been stunted, Hefner argued, all sorts of perversions flourished in its place. "You get healthy sex not by ignoring it but by emphasizing it," he maintains. And the villain at the bottom of all this? Organized religion, announced Hefner with an unabashed air of discovery. Hefner revived puritanism long enough to condemn it for being as "stultifying to the mind of man as Communism or any other totalitarian concept."

As it poured through the magazine's columns, the Playboy philosophy was often pretentious and relatively conventional. Hefner is a kind of oversimplified Enlightenment thinker with what comes out as an almost touching faith in the individual's capacity for goodness. Release a man from repression, thinks Hef, and he will instinclively pursue a "healthy" life in business and sex alike. Hefner also exhibits a tendency to "situation ethics," which calls for judging acts within their special context rather than by a more fixed morality. Some use this formula to justify homosexuality, but Hefner firmly draws a heterosexual line. He does not endorse extramarital sex, though he approves of the premarital variety.

No one has ever accused Hugh Hefner of being lyrical, but he can grow almost eloquent about sex, sounding approximately like D. H. Lawrence as rewritten by Alfred Kinsey. Sex, he is on record as saying, "can become, at its best, a means of expressing the innermost, deepest-felt longings, desires and emotions. And it is when sex serves those ends—in addition to, and apart from, reproduction—that it is lifted above the animal level and becomes most human."

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