This is a tale of two men who lived long lives. One man lived to the age of 91, and the other to 86. Each man’s life was an opportunity to live in exemplary manner, to leave a legacy to generations past theirs.
It was an opportunity to use their long lives to be known as men among whom wisdom could be found, a life that could bring understanding to others (Job 12:12). It would have been a blessing to see both lives and to say that their gray hair was a crown of splendor, attained in righteousness (Prov 16:31). Unfortunately, only one of the men gained a crown of splendour by their righteousness.
One man peddled smut and exploited women his entire life. The other followed the Lord from birth and lived a holy life. One died in a mansion of resentment. The other died a martyr for Christ. One will be remembered for monetizing pornography to the mainstream. The other will be remembered in the book of life for eternity. One has faced the judge of the world without hope. The other faced the judge of the world with glorious hope. One forever lives in judgment. The other forever lives in joy.
Their two legacies could not be more different. One man left a veritable legacy of debauchery. The other was a man who lived an exemplary life, an example that could be followed. Their lives could not be more different, their legacies could not be further apart.
The one man is Hugh Hefner. The other is Polycarp, who died as a martyr for his faith in Christ in the second century.
A Legacy of Debauchery
At the age of 91, Hugh Hefner died. He was famous for founding Playboy magazine and living a suave lifestyle, but age finally caught up to him. His legacy is death, depression, and debauchery.
Death is a shocking part of his legacy. Playboy magazine discussed abortion in most of its issues from “1965 until Roe. Wade in 1973.” It is reasonable to assume that the magazine advocated for abortion partly to make sex easier, not only for women’s rights. Hefner nearly confirms this in a 2010 interview in which he called women “objects” and then explained: “Playboy fought for what became women’s issues, including birth control. We were the amicus curiae, friend of the court, in Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to choose.” A cynic might be tempted to say that Hefner’s real aim was to favour influential men so that they could “take their pleasure at the expense of the vulnerable and poor and not-yet-born” (source).
Hefner also exploited woman much younger than he. He brought them into his house, paid them an allowance, and used them sexually. One of the woman in Hefner’s harem fell into depression, while another spoke of the playboy mansion’s gate as an object not to keep people out: “But I grew to feel it was meant to lock me in” (source).
Ross Douthat describes Hefner’s passing and life with staggering honesty: Hugh Hefner “was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.”
This is the sad and unexemplary legacy of Hugh Hefner: death, depression, and debauchery.
A Legacy of Faith
How different was the death of another man, Polycarp (d. ca. AD 160). Opposite of Hefner’s life, Polycarp lived a life of prayer and obedience. His life was not spent pursuing fleshly pleasures, but in pursuing Christ. His faith and prayer life allowed him to endure the suffering that he would undergo.
Polycarp was burned to death for his faith in Christ. While tied to the Pyre, which was set to roast his flesh, he left the world these words: “I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you , through the eternal and heavenly high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages to come. Amen” (Mart. Pol. 14.3).
When the fire could not kill him, he was stabbed with a dagger. Polycarp died at the age of 86.
His life was marked by faith in Christ and by the way in which he extended hospitality even to his persecutors. When soldiers came to his cottage to arrest him, he invited them in and fed them. He then asked permission to pray before he left, which the soldiers granted him to do.
He eventually appeared before the procounsel who demanded that Polycarp revile Christ. In response, Polycarp said, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” (Mart. Pol. 9.3). Christ, not Caesar, was Polycarp’s king.
And so he died, leaving behind a legacy of following the Lord for eighty-six years and dying for his faith.
Hefner and Polycarp spent their life in the pursuit of something. For Hefner, it was pleasure. For Polycarp, it was Christ. The one left behind a debauched legacy. The other left a legacy of faith.
When you have finished the race of life, what will your legacy be? Will it be marked by faith in Christ or a life of unfettered pleasure? When you meet the judge of the world, will he say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21 ESV)?
Wyatt Graham serves as the executive director of the The Gospel Coalition Canada. You can follow him on Twitter.