The death earlier this week of the notorious pornographer Larry Flynt is likely of little interest to most social conservatives who rightly eschew his horrific trade, not to mention the sordid 78-year-long life he lived.

At his death, Flynt’s empire was valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, income procured by exploitation at every level – of the women he lured and the customers whose perverted addictions made them slaves to his lewd and licentious products.  

What is it that draws some to light and others to darkness? 

According to his obituary, Larry Claxton Flynt, Jr., was born in the small town of Lakeville, Kentucky. His father was a sharecropper. Tragedy struck the family when Larry was 9. His sister, Judy, died of leukemia, a loss that was said to send the family spiraling. His parents divorced, with Larry remaining with his mother while his brother, Jimmy, was taken in by his grandmother.

Was it the trauma of the tragedy, the loss of family stability and the missing influence of a father that turned Flynt towards evil?

Or was it early exposure to pornography? His bootlegging of whiskey as a gradeschooler? The desire for money, power and influence? Or was it unbridled sexual urges?

Like most things, it was likely a constellation and confluence of all those factors, plus several more.

Flynt once said he saw sex as a way of saying, “I am outside the reach of your power.” 

In other words, it was about feeding his ego and the illusion of control he seemed to possess when trading his trash.

Over the years, Flynt leveraged the media and was often hailed as a poster boy for free speech and expression. In a post following his death on Wednesday night, Princeton University scholar Dr. Robert P. George vehemently disagreed with such an assertion. 

“Paying tribute to him as a ‘champion of the First Amendment’ lacks any understanding of the constitutional provision and principle of which they hail him as a champion,” George wrote. “All Flynt ever did ‘for’ the First Amendment, beyond make a mockery of it, was exploit to his pecuniary advantage a gross misunderstanding of it by others–including federal judges who interpreted ‘broadly’ in the cause of advancing what they regarded as an ‘enlightened’ view of sex.”

Professor George was alluding to Flynt’s highly controversial Supreme Court victory against the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. Reverend Falwell had sued Flynt for $45 million in 1983 after the pornographer featured the founder of Liberty University in a wickedly perverse parody in Hustler magazine. The high court ultimately deemed the content constitutionally protected political satire.

Surprisingly, Flynt said he eventually came to consider Falwell a friend.

But perhaps the most peculiar chapter in Flynt’s life occurred in the 1970s, when then-President Jimmy Carter’s sister, Ruth Stapleton, was said to have led him to the Lord.

“If you ask me, yes, I am a born‐again Christian,” he told reporters in 1977.  He called Jesus “a political threat, rugged man who made a living as a carpenter, who didn’t live off other people, like most preachers do.”

At the same time he oddly stated, “But I am going to continue publishing pornography, and anybody who doesn’t like it can go kiss a rope.”

Writing to his subscribers, he declared: “We will try to do what God would approve of in our stories and pictures.” 

He pledged to depict sexual scenes from the Bible.

“I am totally turned off by pornography these days,” he told a reporter. “I know I make a lot of money, but I can’t fight for something on one hand and allow them to keep it illegal on the other. I hope the time comes when I can publish a centerfold of a woman in an evening gown.”

Sadly, that day never arrived.

What happened? Was it all a ruse, another publicity stunt to garner more victims and money? 

Or did Flynt have a legitimate spiritual experience, but sadly one that never fully materialized or matured?  

Not long after, Flynt declared himself an atheist.

Only God knows where Larry Flynt was spiritually. As a friend texted me upon hearing the news of his death, “I sure pray he called out to the Lord at the end.”

But it would be impossible to calculate the pain and damage Flynt perpetuated on the world as he peddled pornography. 

Falsely considered a “victimless crime,” pornography demeans and objectifies women (and men), leads to human trafficking and modern-day slavery, undermines God’s design for human sexuality, rewires the brain in harmful ways and destroys marriages.

Pornography remains a cancer on the culture, the antithesis of God’s beautiful design for human sexuality. If you or someone you know and love is struggling with an addiction to it, Focus on the Family stands ready to help.