Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
It could be an unpopular opinion, but it’s okay to pray for Hugh Hefner’s soul. The man who founded Playboy died on Sept. 27. He’s survived by four children, including Cooper Hefner, who plans to keep his father’s work going.
So the man who became a sexual icon, and built an iconic mansion with many rooms, is preparing in the afterlife to meet the maker of many rooms prepared for those who are faithful (John 14:2).
I see it as a reminder to myself, firstly, about my continual call to be chaste. I do not write this with the assumption that I have done enough to be rewarded. So I must pause before looking to someone like Mr. Hefner with disgust, without looking to my own sinfulness first. “He who is without sin may cast the first stone,” right?
But again, his death is a reminder to me. And I mean this in two senses, the first of which has already been stated: my own inadequacy. But I also consider another angle: what I can learn from someone else’s pattern of sin. The Bible is full of stories of saintly followers of God who demonstrated incredible virtue, and is also filled with depictions of those who made other choices for their eternal life. The New Testament overwhelmingly reminds us that it is wrong to cause others to sin (Romans 14:13-23; 1 Corinthians 8:13; Matthew 18:13). The most chilling of these references comes from the Gospel of Luke when Jesus describes just how bad it will be for those who lead others to sin:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (17:1-4).
The warning about causing others to fall into sin is especially important. There are many dimensions to be aware of here—mainly, that we must accept personal responsibility for sin, and that responsibility for sin can be shared by others. These two are constantly feeding from one another: If we sin through the cause of others, we must repent for that, but when others cause us to sin, we must repent more. The level of personal responsibility that one must accept here is flattening, because we might be responsible for numerous habitual sins of others—like creators of pornography, like Hugh Hefner.
The rest of the passage is equally important. First of all, and most of all, all sins are forgivable (with the exception of the unforgivable sin in Mark 3:22-30). We are the servants of an unfathomably merciful God, and nobody’s sin is too much for his grace, will and power. If God is requiring that, at any point, we must forgive someone who repents to us, you can be completely secure in your confidence that God will do the same to anyone—ANYONE—who repents to him. And that’s encouraging.
Am I revolted by Hugh Hefner’s work? No. I’m nauseated and disgusted. But do I think I’m beyond the moral and spiritual maturity required to pray for him? Not in the least. If I think highly of myself at all, it’s only because of the God whom I serve.
He is bigger: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27).
He is smarter than I am: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
His understanding is “unsearchable” and “beyond measure” (Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 147:5).
Mr. Hefner’s death is a little sad to me, mostly because of the tremendous effect he left on our culture. But, his death is also a reminder to me that I still must strive for the cross, to be chaste and holy as I am called (1 Peter 1:15).
Nevertheless, I am filled with the reasonable hope of salvation for everyone. No, I am not a universalist, but I do believe that the hope that is in me is universally applicable to every sinner: we have a God who forgives the repentant. And so, I will pray for Hugh Hefner, because if he enters the kingdom, it won’t be the same Hefner that lived 91 years on this earth.
His death should prompt us all to this prayer, and an act for ourselves: If you’ve been away from the sacrament of confession for any extended time and have unconfessed sins, to include the times you might have caused others to sin, I recommend and earnestly urge you to go to confession very soon.