The Pagan and the Saint

In the last half of the 20th Century, two men profoundly influenced the moral climate of America. Both are octogenarians now, living out the last days of their very different dreams. One was born in Al Capone’s Chicago in 1926. The other was born a few years earlier, in 1918, on a dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina. One was named Hugh Marston Hefner, the other William Franklin Graham, Jr.

Playboy magazine founder and publisher Hugh Hefner and Christian evangelist Billy Graham have pursued destinies as diametrically opposite of each other as is possible. Both men have produced offspring who have chosen to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. After a prodigal early life, Graham’s son, Franklin, has for many years been a committed Christian evangelist who has now taken the reins of his father’s ministry. Christie, Hefner’s daughter from a long-ago failed marriage, has been running her father’s hedonist empire at Playboy for several years.

The death of Graham’s beloved wife of 64 years, Ruth, brought to mind the stark differences in these two men’s lives and legacies.

“Ruth is my soul mate and best friend,” Graham said before Ruth died, “and I can’t imagine living a single day without her by my side. I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College.”

Billy Graham’s comments may be prophetic. His own health is failing, and it is not uncommon for lifelong spouses to follow soon after the passing of their mate. But Dr. Graham’s statement is indicative of the way he lived his life of service and sacrifice.  

Contrast that with Hugh Hefner’s proud proclamation a few years ago that Viagra is “the greatest recreational drug to come along since the sixties.” No doubt the drug has allowed Hefner to continue the facade he has built for himself and everyone who still admires him and his lifestyle.

Hugh Hefner and Billy Graham, like all Americans, have been free to live their lives according to their own consciences. But beyond the freedom to simply live their own lives, they also have been free to evangelize. For the last six decades, both have spread the word of their chosen philosophies, and in so doing have changed the course of American culture.

Graham, of course, has evangelized for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His is a simple and a selfless message of morality, compassion, fidelity and faith. He has told us we should be faithful to our wives. He has told us to love our neighbors. He has told us to live our lives for God, not ourselves. And he has told us that because of our sin, all of us, himself included, need a savior in order to live such lives. Utilizing radio, television and live appearances, Billy Graham has spoken to more people than any other person in the history of the world. The lives that have been changed for the better by this man’s ministry are incalculable.

Hugh Hefner has spent his life living and preaching the sensual pleasures of a playboy. His entire existence has been in the pursuit of his own sensual pleasure, and he has sought to spread that message to the nation and the world. Hefner, who founded his magazine in 1953, first published his “Playboy Philosophy,” in its pages in the 1960s. It was a manifesto of hedonism couched in lofty sounding terms meant to convey the message that self is the center of the universe and that the quest for pleasure is its highest pursuit.

The pagan and the saint. One was driven by lust and the insatiable pursuit of pleasure; the other driven by the love of lost humanity and the God who has the answers.

One surrendered his God-given sexual nature to so many women he can’t even remember their names; the other remained completely devoted and faithful to a godly lover, mate and the mother of his children for a lifetime.

One was responsible for promoting a philosophy that has brought about an epidemic of abortion, broken homes and sexually transmitted disease; the other obediently preached the uncompromising Word of God as he was given the wisdom to know it.

One is now filled with memories of a lifetime of narcissism; the other with memories of millions of men, women and children surrendering their lives to Christ in order to be made whole. 

The contrast is stark, for them and for us.