Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Frank Sinatra on God

Back in 1963, Frank Sinatra did a Playboy interview that comes pretty close to summarizing my position on God and religion:
Playboy: All right, let's start with the most basic question there is: Are you a religious man? Do you believe in God?

Sinatra: Well, that'll do for openers. I think I can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. First: I believe in you and me. I'm like Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in that I have a respect for life -- in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don't believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I'm not unmindful of man's seeming need for faith; I'm for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel's. But to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. The witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask God for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It's not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven, The Sermon on the Mount.

Playboy: You haven't found any answers for yourself in organized religion?

Sinatra: There are things about organized religion which I resent. Christ is revered as the Prince of Peace, but more blood has been shed in His name than any other figure in history. You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I'll show you a hundred retrogressions. Remember, they were men of God who destroyed the educational treasures at Alexandria, who perpetrated the Inquisition in Spain, who burned the witches at Salem. Over 25,000 organized religions flourish on this planet, but the followers of each think all the others are miserably misguided and probably evil as well. In India they worship white cows, monkeys and a dip in the Ganges. The Moslems accept slavery and prepare for Allah, who promises wine and revirginated women. And witch doctors aren't just in Africa. If you look in the L.A. papers of a Sunday morning, you'll see the local variety advertising their wares like suits with two pairs of pants.

Playboy: Hasn't religious faith just as often served as a civilizing influence?

Sinatra: Remember that leering, cursing lynch mob in Little Rock reviling a meek, innocent little 12-year-old Negro girl as she tried to enroll in public school? Weren't they -- or most of them -- devout churchgoers? I detest the two-faced who pretend liberality but are practiced bigots in their own mean little spheres. I didn't tell my daughter whom to marry, but I'd have broken her back if she had had big eyes for a bigot. As I see it, man is a product of his conditioning, and the social forces which mold his morality and conduct -- including racial prejudice -- are influenced more by material things like food and economic necessities than by the fear and awe and bigotry generated by the high priests of commercialized superstition. Now don't get me wrong. I'm for decency -- period. I'm for anything and everything that bodes love and consideration for my fellow man. But when lip service to some mysterious deity permits bestiality on Wednesday and absolution on Sunday -- cash me out.

Playboy: But aren't such spiritual hypocrites in a minority? Aren't most Americans fairly consistent in their conduct within the precepts of religious doctrine?

Sinatra: I've got no quarrel with men of decency at any level. But I can't believe that decency stems only from religion. And I can't help wondering how many public figures make avowals of religious faith to maintain an aura of respectability. Our civilization, such as it is, was shaped by religion, and the men who aspire to public office anyplace in the free world must make obeisance to God or risk immediate opprobrium. Our press accurately reflects the religious nature of our society, but you'll notice that it also carries the articles and advertisements of astrology and hokey Elmer Gantry revivalists. We in America pride ourselves on freedom of the press, but every day I see, and so do you, this kind of dishonesty and distortion not only in this area but in reporting -- about guys like me, for instance, which is of minor importance except to me; but also in reporting world news. How can a free people make decisions without facts? If the press reports world news as they report about me, we're in trouble.

Playboy: Are you saying that . . .

Sinatra: No, wait, let me finish. Have you thought of the chance I'm taking by speaking out this way? Can you imagine the deluge of crank letters, curses, threats and obscenities I'll receive after these remarks gain general circulation? Worse, the boycott of my records, my films, maybe a picket line at my opening at the Sands. Why? Because I've dared to say that love and decency are not necessarily concomitants of religious fervor.

Playboy: If you think you're stepping over the line, offending your public or perhaps risking economic suicide, shall we cut this off now, erase the tape and start over along more antiseptic lines?

Sinatra: No, let's let it run. I've thought this way for years, ached to say these things. Whom have I harmed by what I've said? What moral defection have I suggested? No, I don't want to chicken out now. Come on, pal, the clock's running.
Read the whole thing. Sinatra had a brain.


Noel said...

Very thoughtful. Completely fake as an "interview"; it was written carefully, certainly by someone other than Sinatra, but the views are admirable.

PBurns said...

The credited interviewer on the Frank Sinatra family web site was Joe Hyams who was a crackshot reporter, biographer, and sword in his own right (he married Elke Sommer). See >> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Hyams No interview byline was the norm in the magazine -- it was just "Playboy".

Hyams knew Sinatra and had interviewed him before.

Was Sinatra this perfectly articulate in real life? Hard to know. He was very fast and very liberal and ahead of his day, that's for sure -- that's evident in the Rat Pack film stuff that survives.

Was this interview cleaned up and smoothed after the fact? Sure; most interviews are and that's especially true in the celebrity world where the last gig gets you the next gig. It's like painting a portrait in 1650 -- you have to make it flattering AND true. Good luck! :) The Sinatra family liked this one enough that they included it on his web site.

LRM said...

My sentiments precisely, but in truth, you had me at 'Sinatra.' Harry's registry name is one of his standards. Though given by his breeder to motivate me to travel to the U.K. to pick him up. it's something I might have selected myself. Always a pleasant surprise, when breeders avoid the tendency to demean a dog for life with a name that somehow manages to be grandiose, nonsensical, and idiotic, all at the same time. Yet another mystery of the dog breeding world which continues to elude me.

Noel said...

I got curious enough that I did a little Googling, and link #2 took me to a book by James Kaplan who tells the story, crediting the ghostwriting to a guy named Michael Shore - apparently F.S. came to hate Hyams by that time. My opinion of Sinatra as a scumbag who hung around with mafia scumbags is unchanged, but I certainly admire the thoughts expressed in that interview. Interestingly, I don't really consider them "liberal", but that do make a great argument for liberal policies.