Christianity vs. the Playboy Philosophy – Program 1

By: Anson Mount, Josh McDowell; ©1984
What is the purpose behind Playboy magazine, and what are some of the problems with the worldview it supports?

What is the Playboy Philosophy?

John Ankerberg: On the platform we have two distinguished men: Mr. Anson Mount representing Playboy tonight and its philosophy; and Mr. Josh McDowell. Gentlemen, we’re going to get right down to it. And we want to start with just kind of a three minute “pep talk” from you on, What is your philosophy? Where are you coming from? We have Christianity and the Playboy philosophy. I think that there are some confrontations here, but let’s have an opening statement from each of you. Josh, why don’t you start us?
Josh McDowell: I think Playboy’s is probably one of the most awesome philosophies in the sense of influence in history, so first of all I want to point out the benefits. I think one is the cry for individualism that Hugh Hefner himself has propagated when he called upon the emphasis on the individual and in each person’s inherent individuality. Second, I think the emphasis to live in a community is extremely important that is part of the Playboy philosophy.
I agree with the Playboy philosophy in several areas. One, what has happened in history in the downgrading of sexuality in history. Even in our country, the Puritan movement, which I think has a lot to answer for in history. I think it’s been misusing many of the Christian doctrines and I think many people in the name of Christ have misused what Christ has taught. And I am very adamantly against that, as I’m sure Anson is.
Second, I believe that there has been a double standard in history. A double standard even within the church and Christianity where one person will look at some sin outside of marriage or something and call it immorality and turn right around and call someone a nigger, and it’s never considered to be immorality, the second one. I think it is. The same way with overeating and other things. At the same time, I do not believe Playboy caused any sexual revolution; I think the Playboy philosophy has been more of a reflection of the revolution or where society is, and I do not believe it’s so much a revolution but more it is a reaction to what has taken place down through history.
But I take several very deep disagreements with the Playboy philosophy with deep convictions because I believe if your assumptions are wrong, your conclusions would be wrong. If you build a lousy foundation, your superstructure will crumble. The first area I take issue with is the philosophical, the world view of the source of morality and ethics. I believe there are absolutes; I believe there are sources that are derived and do not come from the descriptive situation.
Second, anthropologically: I take issue with Playboy in the area of the nature of man. I believe man is sinful. Now, later maybe we can get to that and define the area of sin, but something is wrong with man that goes beyond his environment. And I believe that anthropologically there is a basis for social involvement apart from hedonism or self-seeking pleasure.
Third, I disagree with Playboy in the area of sociology or sociologically in the sense that we are a product of our environment. As Anson has said himself that any bad that comes into man is the result of the environ around him or her. I disagree with that.
Fourth, historically. Yes, puritanical influences have distorted sexuality in this country, but at the same time, often the puritanical influence is blamed for laws and things that restrict sexual activity. However, many of the people restricting sexual activity in the history of this country have not been Christians or those of the puritanical influence. It’s been from every segment of life and in my research I’ve traced it down through culture, way back to the Pharaohs where with pre-marital/extra-marital sex that the state – totally non-Christian – has regulated it. So I think it’s more than just the puritanical influence.
Fifth, epistemologically, of the source of truth. I think there is a greater source of truth than what the Playboy philosophy emphasizes on truth coming from our mind of what we can reason out and being logical. I believe there is revealed truth and it has been ultimately revealed in the Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ. So it’s not some bye-and-bye pie in the sky, it’s reality right here. God became human flesh.
Sixth, theologically I disagree with the Playboy philosophy. I disagree with it in the sense of the arbitrariness of God, over and over in the philosophy and some of Anson’s remarks that God is arbitrary. I do not believe He’s arbitrary. I believe the laws and everything are a reflection of the nature of God, not the arbitrariness of His will. I believe at the same time God is not legalistic nor (is) Christianity. I look at the laws of God as being a reflection of love in the very nature of God. And I believe that all the laws, whether negative or positive commandments, are for two reasons that come from the very love nature of God: one, to protect us; second, to provide for you. Like traffic laws, speeding laws are to protect and provide for you. Wearing helmets in football (with the Pigskin Preview) an awareness of needing helmets to protect and provide.
Then, I disagree that the Christian life as, over and over again I read in the Playboy philosophy is blind, subjective, irrational, illogical faith. I believe it is an intelligent faith. I am here because I believe it is a very intelligent faith that appeals to the mind as well as the emotions.
Then I disagree psychologically, because I believe man is more than just a sexual creature. I believe sex is just a part of the overall being of man, and when sex is expressed, it’s more than a sexual act. It’s an expression of an entire personality and in the sexual act is always involving two personalities or two people.
And here are some observations. One observation is that one extreme does not justify another extreme. Second, technical proficiency leaves us often with emotional deficiency when it comes to sex. Third, the Playboy philosophy, I believe, makes too little of sex; most people think too much, I think too little. I think there’s so much more of sex to be made: the beauty, the holiness of it, the joy of it in a context of love. And then I believe that quantity of sexual experience is not the key to enrich the quality of sexual experience.
And then I believe there’s a tremendous parallel between sexual enjoyment and religious conviction, and I think I can document that from secular sources. I believe the more I’m committed to Jesus Christ, the greater my sex life, the love life with my wife. And I disagree with the Playboy philosophy where they say that people are basically frustrated “Who fear and oppose the erotic in our literature and do so because of personal repressions of feelings of frustration or inadequacy or guilt regarding sex.” Anson, if I’m frustrated tonight it’s because it’s my anniversary and I can hardly wait for this debate to get over.
Anson Mount: Well, I’m not accustomed to associating with erotically oriented people like you. You quoted me three times there in saying things or holding positions I can’t remember ever having said. I wonder where you got them, but nevertheless….
McDowell: 1968, Lubbock, Texas, debate with Dr. William Banowski.
Mount: Oh, you’ve really done your research, haven’t you?
McDowell: Yeah, I have it right here.
Mount: Where I said that God was arbitrary?
McDowell: No, the Playboy philosophy. This is where I said the Playboy philosophy teaches that God is arbitrary.
Mount: Well, I don’t remember that. That was 20 years ago. As a matter of fact, you’re reading now out of a manuscript which I haven’t read in 20 years, so you have me at a disadvantage. Frankly, it bores me at this point.
But, at any rate, let me tell you about how all this started. In the late 30’s and early 40’s we still lived in a rather repressive society coming out of the Great Depression. There was a period in which a lot of people thought that anyone who was rich by definition was kind of dumb and idle and useless, and everybody who was poor and poverty-stricken was noble somehow. That had come out of the long Catholic tradition over the 15 centuries in which somehow it was felt that poverty is perfectly permissible because, after all, we are only going to live in this world a few years and then we’re going to live for eternity in Heaven, and so don’t complain about being poor and poverty-stricken and on the other hand the archbishop was living like a king.
We lived in a world not just in the last half century or so but for centuries there’s been a great sexual repression and great feeling that somehow or other sex was an undesirable thing. That started in about the fourth century and went on and on and on. I spent my childhood or at least my teenage years in the late 30’s and early 40’s and a lot of people living now that didn’t live then have a hard time remembering how repressive the society was. It was commonly thought that somehow or other nudity was synonymous with obscenity; that masturbation would rot your liver; that we were told that nice girls didn’t enjoy sex, even in marriage; that sex could not be good and responsible unless it was within the bounds of holy matrimony, and that made it automatically “responsible.” Some censorship group tried to get Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan banned because Tarzan and Jane were living together without wedlock and that was immoral. This sounds strange now, but it was a very repressive sexual society.
After the Second World War, we lived in a period in which there was a lot of new prosperity. A lot of kids were coming out of college and veterans out of the war. There was a new sense of young people in the cities who wanted to live “the good life.” There was a new sense of feeling that something that was, well, that material things were not necessarily evil, and that enjoying or appreciating the opposite sex was not necessarily sinful. That it was perfectly normal to have sexual desires or to appreciate physical beauty.
But there was no publication that addressed itself to young urban upward mobile educated single males. There just wasn’t any. There had been Esquire but it had moved to New York and sort of become another Atlantic Monthly. Hefner decided to start a magazine for this particular group of people and to reflect their interests and their ideas and their lifestyles. And he did. Just as there are magazines for other groups of people like Ladies Home Journal, like Gourmet magazine, so he started Playboy.
And it wasn’t just a girly magazine. Among all the things that young men are interested in, yes, there are pretty girls and there were pictures of a lot of pretty girls. Those pictures, by the way, which caused us to get attacked by preachers and have magazine distributors arrested by Southern sheriffs, those pictures wouldn’t shock your grandmother today but they were considered horribly obscene then. So, we started being accosted by critics who zeroed in, by the way, just on the pictures, just on the cartoons, but never on the other content of the magazine, which was 80 percent of the content of the magazine. And so we had all kinds of people writing articles, learned articles in theological journals about the Playboy philosophy and what we thought and what we were trying to do. And we decided that it seemed rational that we knew more about what we think than other people do, so Hefner decided to write a series of articles about what we believe in and why we’re publishing the magazine and what it’s all about. And he did that, and that’s what turned out to be the Playboy philosophy.
Ankerberg: Okay, I’d like to start with something that you and Hugh wrote in those first articles, namely, you said, “Playboy’s become a voice for the new generation reflecting a new view of contemporary man and the world in which he lives. Playboy is a sort of Bible,” and one of those main principles that you’ve just said now and which you said then, “We think it is natural and right for the individual to be principally concerned with himself.” And I’d like to ask the question, is man really autonomous? Is he self-governing; subject to only his own ways of thinking, his own laws? You said in another part of the articles there, “The all important end is and always must be the individual, his interests, his freedom and his happiness.” Do you still believe that?
Mount: Well, I didn’t write that, Hefner did.
Ankerberg: Is that still part of the Playboy philosophy?
Mount: Okay, but you read that as though it were an avowal and an approval of hedonism. That’s not true. I think what he is saying there, as I read it, is that we must first look out after our own interests before we can look out for someone else’s. We can’t help somebody else if we ourselves are destitute. We first must respect ourselves. We must first feel complete within our own selves before we can go out and help someone else. I don’t think that’s a bad statement at all.
Ankerberg: Josh, how do you feel about that?
McDowell: I think there are two issues that have been brought up here. You made the statement about autonomous man, I think that is a part of not only the Playboy philosophy but also of Anson’s philosophy. Anson, in the first page of the transcript of the debate in 1968….
Mount: Where was that?
McDowell: In Lubbock, Texas. Reflecting the Playboy philosophy it said, “A moral person is a person that looks at the choices, examines his values, and then makes his decision.” It went on to say, “It seems to me that the most we can do in terms of education is present the facts, pro and con, then leave the individual to decide for himself in the light of the best information available what his own value system dictates to him.”
Mount: Absolutely! Because being moral does not mean reading a long list of do’s and don’ts and blindly following it. Being moral is making decisions. You can’t be a moral person if you just go blindly through life and do what some long complicated list of do’s and don’ts tells you to do. Being moral is making decisions. That’s what being moral is.
Ankerberg: The question is, Anson, where did you get the information to make the decisions yourself?
Mount: By hopefully learning.
Ankerberg: From where?
Mount: You can learn from a lot of places, not just the Bible, although that is important, too. You can learn from your studies, you can learn from growing up, you can learn from experience, you can learn from your parents, you can learn from all kinds of places. You know, there are a lot of people in this world who are very moral people and very responsible people who never read the Bible. There are people in this world who are very moral, responsible people who never read the Qur’an. I don’t know that this particularly has anything to do with the situation, but some of the most moral and good and kind and gentle and loving people I know are avowed atheists. I’m not; I’m a committed Christian. But that doesn’t mean that somebody who doesn’t believe as I do is automatically immoral and automatically indecent. What I was saying at that time was that the very process of being moral is examining the situations within the information and input and knowledge that you have making a decision. Making a decision is what makes it moral, not blinding follow along.
Ankerberg: Okay, Josh?
McDowell: This is very much like Sartre with existentialism where he says that before you make a decision nothing is right or wrong. But once you make the decision, like you just expressed, Anson, then, because you made that decision, it makes it moral. Illustration…
Mount: No, it doesn’t, no, it doesn’t….
McDowell: You just said that.
Mount: No, I did not; I did not.
McDowell: Let me illustrate….
Mount: No, I didn’t. I did not say that. You make a decision and you make it within the best of your knowledge and the best of your information. If it turns out to be wrong, you at least tried. Now, if you make a decision and it turns out to be right, and it’s simply because you followed some rule, that doesn’t make it moral.
McDowell: What determines that was right? Hitler felt he was right.
Mount: The ultimate thing that determines whether anything is right is how it affects people. I don’t think being moral is reading the Qur’an and doing something to please Allah. I don’t think that being moral is following blindly some rules to suit somebody’s interpretation of God. I think the only ultimate measure of morality is behaving in such a way and handling your life in such a way that you do the most good and the least harm to yourself and other people. Now if that’s a wrong view of morality, then I’m sorry.
McDowell: Let me state, “Doing the most good and the least harm to the least number of people.” Let’s take Hitler. I mean, the same value system. Hitler really believed, I mean you read his works and everything else, he really believed that in eradicating the Jews, six million of them, he really believed that that was doing the right thing for the greatest number of people. He exercised that, according his moral system.
Mount: Yes, Josh, but we always have dingbats. We always have the Jim Joneses.
McDowell: That’s right. At the Nuremberg trials, before many of Hitler’s leaders committed suicide, they challenged the court this way, Anson. They said, “Why are you judging us? Are you judging us because we are losers, or are you judging us because we are wrong?” This was going to be their whole defense. “We did what we thought was best for humanity. Our culture to us dictated that. Now, are you saying that your culture, with your values, makes our decision wrong?” I am saying, Anson, that I like your philosophy to your children, which I tell mine: do not hurt yourself or hurt anyone else. Because you know why? I think with your background in the Scriptures, I think you see that as a biblical principle.
Mount: No, I don’t. I see a human principle.
McDowell: That’s right; because God created man and God created man to live a certain way. And I believe you take all the negative/positive commandments in the Scriptures, are pretty well expressed in, “Not to do anything to harm yourself or someone else.” But, just because you and I believe that doesn’t mean that this lady over here needs to believe that.
Ankerberg: Okay. I’d like you to make an application of what you’re talking about. We’ll come back to it next week.
McDowell: I am saying that there is a revealed standard from the very nature of God that within man there is innate value. People are worth something, no matter this culture, a communist culture, anywhere. And in our ethics of morality we need to respond from the revealed Word of God from His nature that man is of value. That’s not dictated by another man but from God Himself. And that affects every way that I treat people including women, my wife, my children, Anson, everyone.
Mount: Josh, are you trying to tell me that just because there are a few dingbats around the world – there always are. We always have the Jim Joneses, right, and we always have the Adolph Hitlers, and we always have the Ayatollah Khomeinis – and because of that we should deny people the right to make their own decisions?
Ankerberg: That’s going to bring us into next week’s topic. It’s a great question, because we had such a standard, we wouldn’t have to worry about that and the followers of Ayatollah and Jim Jones would have a standard to know he was wrong. That’s the whole thing. Next week let’s pick it up with: Is Christianity rational? Are there any moral absolutes that we’re talking about, as well as our sexual lives? So hang in there and join us next week.

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