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Betsy Kneepkens: Hefner death, NFL controversy show that our bodies reflect our souls

I can’t help but get excited when the secular world unwittingly reports beliefs imparted by the Catholic Church and does an exceptional job proving those teachings true.

This past month, two entirely different news stories were widely published, frequently discussed, and commented about on social media: the ongoing story of NFL players who have opted to kneel during the National Anthem and coverage of the death and legacy of Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy and a progressive in the area of what has been termed “sexual freedom.”

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

These stories share common threads that reflect something the church has been saying since the beginning, but about which the world refuses to listen. Specifically, the church has taught what we do with our bodies speaks a language, and that language impacts others.

The first news story has to do with the reports surrounding NFL players kneeling or standing for the National Anthem. Whether a football player stands or kneels for the anthem is undoubtedly a social statement, but it is not a Catholic issue. However, the fact that the country seems to be obsessing over what these players do with their bodies indeed reflects a reality claimed consistently by the Catholic Church.

Many Americans want us to believe we can do whatever we wish with our bodies, and those activities are our own business. Our preoccupation with this anthem issue says that this is just not true. Our human form embodies our soul, or, put another way, our bodies share the message of our soul.

A significant part of this controversy is the perception that the body is showing disrespect. Our souls can undoubtedly be disrespectful, and the only way to reveal the message of our soul is through actions of our body. Similarly, our souls can be respectful, and that can be reflected in the body as well. The substantial connection between the body and the soul is shown by society’s outcry, which knows that these players’ souls are speaking.

This brings me to the second story in the news, which goes deeper into this subject, with the death and legacy of Hugh Hefner. According to reports, society saw Hugh Hefner as a significant force behind the sexual revolution, starting with his publication of Playboy Magazine. Hefner’s concept basically treats the body as separate from the soul and therefore suggests what we do with our bodies does not affect the soul. When reporters covered the life of Hugh Hefner, they celebrated his financial accomplishments and credited his industry with a litany of women he made famous. Hugh Hefner was a leader in making pornography mainstream.

Hefner’s pushing of the sentiment that bodies are tools for carnal pleasure opened the way to making it acceptable to use the body as an object for a profit, because without the matter of our soul, the actions of our body are inconsequential. Furthermore, this division that Hefner promoted allowed the intimate union between a man and woman to become “freed” from the sacredness that ultimately demands responsibility and obligation to another. Hefner typically appeared in the media as happy, surrounded by doting women, while displaying a sense of peace with all that he created.

In the many stories that covered his life, reporters listed numerous women who “got their start” by being centerfolds for his magazine. The stories of these women, like Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith, I think better suggest that Hefner’s concept was wrong and even harmful. Hefner’s campaign for sexual freedom left a trail of centerfolds who had lifelong issues with alcoholism, addiction, multiple marriages, disease, abuse, premature deaths, and suicide. Many of these women had fruitful careers and had financial riches, but it appears the suffering of the soul was insurmountable, leading them to what most consider troubling lives.

Not surprisingly, several clippings which covered the last part of Hefner’s life told stories of his loneliness, isolation, and attachments to material items. You can only be left wondering if he too suffered. I can only surmise that since you cannot separate the body from the soul, when Hefner’s soul talked, his body may have been lying. Years of lying with your body undoubtedly wreaks ruin on your soul, and suffering will follow.

The NFL and Hugh Hefner never went out to teach concepts espoused by the Catholic Church. For some, it can be difficult to understand why the church teaches what she teaches, but using current events certainly makes these teachings more clear. The Catholic Church may be the last ray of hope insisting and proclaiming that the human body is a composite with our soul, no matter what an individual or an industry push.

As Catholic parents, we are surrounded by contemporary issues to be used to teach our children. Sometimes, reporting unknowing proves the Catholic Church gets it right again. Especially in these cases, we can show our children the importance of living chaste lives, where our bodies speak a language that tells the truth of our soul’s dignity.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.