Letters to the editor

My Mom caught me reading Playboy -- and thought I was gay! Plus: Did Hildegard of Bingen really commune with God -- or just need aspirin? Mixed reactions to Hillary's New York adventure.

Published January 10, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Brilliant Careers: Hugh Hefner



A conversation with Hugh Hefner


Your article on the lifestyle attributes and components of Playboy brought back a memory. At the age of 10, I lifted an issue from a friend's father's collection. As I perused it that night, I skimmed guiltily past the centerfold pictorial until I came across an article on the Ultimate Bachelor Pad. It was full of drawings of sunken living rooms with L-shaped modular couches and hanging globe lamps, a rec room with an Art Deco bar and a bed equipped with a refrigerator and entertainment center. It looked like the kind of place where James Bond would live. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my 10 years.

I stared at this, thinking I was gazing at pictures of heaven, when my mother walked in. She never saw the cover of the magazine, just that I was looking at pictures of interior design. This had her worried.

For years I got a lot of mileage out of the story that my mom briefly thought I was gay because she caught me reading Playboy.

-- Jeff P.

This man [Hugh Hefner], I believe, borders on a pedophile. I find tragedy and sickness in young women who want to have sex with "their father." As a mature, sensual, educated and wise woman, I find Hefner disgusting and repulsive.

-- C. A. Smith


I enjoyed the interview [with Hefner], but kept thinking what would really be good is
a conversation between Hefner and Camille Paglia!

-- Lee A. Johnson

Crisis of Faith


Margaret Wertheim makes the tiresome postmodernist error of assuming that all explanations for something are of equal scientific validity, just because they are believed fervently by their adherents.

To say that Hildegard of Bingen "may well have been having migraines, but that doesn't mean she wasn't also communing with God" is no less ridiculous than saying that the moon may be blocking the sun during a solar eclipse, but that doesn't mean that a dragon isn't also swallowing the sun. I suspect that Wertheim doesn't grant equal validity to both of these explanations, but she needs to ask herself why, since both have been believed with equal fervency at one time or another.

-- Scott Stoeffler

Wertheim's article reviewing Michael Shermer's recent book ["How We Believe"] strikes me as one skirmish in the never-ending battle that pits scientist against religion. However, Wertheim's position is just as muddy and clouded as the positions she rightly criticizes Mr. Shermer for.

To wit, science can make no claims regarding the supernatural. It cannot verify the truth of them, and hence is overtly incapable of regarding them as real. Wertheim seems to expect a "scientific account of religion" to simply accede to the existence of God.

If a genuinely telekinetic individual showed up tomorrow, scientists wouldn't throw up their hands and say, "Oops, sorry about that. Guess there is a god running everything." To the contrary. They would begin studying him for force fields and electron manipulations and doing CT scans and MRIs on him until (for lack of a better phrase) kingdom come.

For Wertheim to criticize this attitude is a misunderstanding of the very project of science. Scientists are free to believe in God, Buddha, Shiva, or the tooth fairy. They are not, however, allowed to refer to them in their scientific work as causes of phenomena.

-- Evan C. Allen

Wertheim points out that the latest trend in science is an attempt to prove that religion is not rooted in "reality." Of course, religion is not based on "reality." By its very definition, religion cannot be scientifically proven. It is even a basic tenet of Catholicism that God demands belief without proof, thus his condemnation of Doubting Thomas.

Wertheim attacks science because science posits that religion is unrealistic. However, her only arguments are that a lot of people believe in God and that she happens to know a lot of intellectual people who are also religious. If those are the only two criteria for discerning absolute truth, then Elvis does exist, and the 1 billion Chinese (among whom are lots of very sharp minds) are right that I live in a decadent, imperialist society.

-- J.S. Yang

I enjoyed Margaret Wertheim's review of my book and I thought she was fair. Margaret is highly regarded in the science/religion studies field and I respect her opinion (and enjoyed reading her book, "The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace"). She makes some good points, and in the next edition of "How We Believe" I will be certain to add the proper caveats about not universalizing too broadly beyond the data I present.

For example, I did not mean to imply that every religion in the world and throughout history has had a messiah myth, but that the Christian messiah myth is not unique and therefore can be explained through social, cultural, and psychological causal vectors.

Likewise, it was not my intention to extrapolate to everyculture and religion that the end of the world is a type of destruction-redemption myth (or even that all have one), but that there are certainly many more than just the Christian version, and that there are even some secular versions (as in Marxism, Objectivism -- Ayn Rand, the environmentalism movement, etc.). Nevertheless, I can see how Margaret would have gotten her impressions and that it is the author's responsibility to write such caveats clearly.

Regarding evolutionary psychology, I have been critical of the field myself (and we devoted an entire issue of Skeptic magazine to the subject). Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile endeavor to at least attempt a scientific understanding of natural phenomena, including and especially human thought and behavior, and evolutionary psychology should be in our pantheon of scientific tools.

And in my opinion, either Hildegard [of Bingen] was hallucinating because of migraine headaches (or some other psychophysiological cause) or she was talking to God, but not both. And if science does explain it in terms of psychophysiology, does that not exclude a religious explanation? I don't see how these are reconcilable. I do agree that the implications of the answer are certainly not trivial, for if we do explain religion and beliefs in God in wholly scientific terms, then what is left except faith (or belief without proof)?

-- Michael Shermer

Author, "How We Believe"

Publisher, Skeptic magazine

Very funny piece! Even my young son knows that he who asserts something is the one who is to prove what is asserted and not the person who questions the assumption.

As for the silly notion that so many people believe in God that there must be something to this belief, let me remind you that in a recent poll, a vast majority of Americans stated that "Star Wars" was without doubt the best film ever made in any country. Followed by "Titanic."

-- Fred Lapides

She's leaving home


I've been married 22 years. I've had many of the same education, background and life changes as Hillary. I am an extremely successful woman, but I sacrificed much to stay married to a man who didn't always meet my needs, and wasn't always a wonderful spouse -- any more than I was. Marriage is ridiculously difficult, especially for ambitious people, but my husband and I stayed together and the rewards have been amazing to us in a way many others did not understand then, but envy now! We have also raised fantastic children.

Those who criticize Hillary from a sociological, psychological or political point of view have that right, but the greatest benefit to them might come from meditating on their own lives. Let Hillary succeed or fail doing the best she can; let's stop gossiping about other people's images! So far, she's done a heck of a lot of good, if not for the image of ambitious married modern women, certainly for vulnerable members of society. I find that laudable. I'd vote for her if I were in N.Y.

-- Mimi Kennedy Dilg

This is typical malicious mud-slinging with a decided gender handicap. What spouse would ever meet this author's threshold for "independence" or whatever it is she feels is lacking in Hillary? The big no-no she is accused of is attempting to socialize our byzantine health care system. But did you notice, the percentage of cost increases went down for the first time ever the two years following her proposals? This says to me that the "controlling authority" of this price-gouging is the industry itself. When any politician's spouse (especially female) breaks with the usual pap of milk and cookies portrayal, this is the press they can expect (from Salon anyway).

-- Jim Bushnell

Bravo to writer Joan Walsh. This article should be read by all N.Y. voters. I can't believe it is possible that N.Y. voters could fall for this phony first lady! As the article states, detractors may see both Clintons as a mandarin class of "professional meddlers who've never had to balance a check book or meet a payroll ... fat ticks living off people whose hard work they have no experience of, or respect for." Indeed, this is the perfect definition of the self-serving, self-righteous Bill and Hillary Clinton!

-- Bernie Bussacco

Fat Guy Says Eat Up and Shut Up


I loved Steven's article. Let's not forget, the body police over at Men's Fitness declared Philadelphia (part of the "the cheese steak and Tastycake-loving population of Pennsylvania" Shaw describes) to be the "fattest city in the nation." Needless to say, we're damned proud!

I completely agree that the hysteria over dietary habits is getting out of hand. When did we forget what eating does for our bodies and psyches, and start fretting over what it does to us?

-- Regina Deavitt

By Letters to the Editor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Hillary Rodham Clinton Joan Walsh Science