Puritans, Playboy, & Repression

Much like the rich politician who tries to present himself as growing up poor, Playboy magazine creator Hugh Hefner makes the news with the revelation of his Puritan roots:

Hefner tells Time magazine he is a direct descendant of William Bradford, a Puritan who came over on the Mayflower.

“There was a great deal of repression in their lives and the way they were raised and, in turn, the way I was raised,” he said.

Libertine celebrities, along with much of the reigning therapeutic regime, often confuse repression with restraint. Repression is typically defined as “The unconscious exclusion of painful impulses, desires, or fears from the conscious mind.” Groups such as the Puritans and the Elizabethans are viewed by the Hefner set as having unconciously supressed their desires, which builds up an unhealthy pressure in people. The only way to be rid of these unhealthy “repressed” desires is to throw off all inhibitions and act upon them.

The problem with this assessment isn’t so much the view that repressed desires are always unhealthy — although that view is indeed suspect. The fact is that Puritans repressed very little. Instead, they exercised restraint — an intentional holding back of one’s faculties. “Just because you can,” the saying goes, “doesn’t mean you should.”

Tragically, Hefner and other libertines view the restraint of their forefathers as more of a burden than a good. Rather than practicing the strength of self-control, they bathe in the fundamental weakness found in their lack of restraint.

Self control is difficult — even for the Puritans, even for present-day Christians. Perhaps it would do us all some good to dwell on Paul’s brief letter to Titus, where restraint is frequently commended.