Thursday, June 29, 2017

Frank Sinatra on Religion

A recording artist. . . .a concert performer. . . .and an actor. . .but a thinker too?  Definitely so, as demonstrated by a Playboy Magazine interview back in 1963.  Speaking out on several subjects, Frank’s responses were articulate and thought-provoking, not to mention bold and provocative, especially on the subject of religion.  Of course, Frank was never one to just tell people what they want to hear.  In fact, when the interviewer at Playboy offered to exclude some of the controversial remarks, Frank said to just leave them in.

On religion, Frank said “I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for.  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”.  He went on to say “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 Daniels.”  And he concluded that thought by saying “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”.  According to a Sinatra authority, Frank was not alone among entertainers with the views he held, but was perhaps the biggest star to express those views. Some stars of today with similar views include Brad Pitt, Billy Joel, Woody Allen, Jack Black, John Malkovich, Linda Ronstadt, Emma Thompson and Seth MacFarlane, to name a few.

When asked about organized religion, Frank said “Over 25,000 religions flourish on this planet, but the followers of each thinks all the others are miserably misguided and probably evil as well”.  

And Frank addressed what he saw as hypocrisy.  As Frank put it, “Remember that leering, cursing lynch mob in Little Rock intimidating a meek, innocent little 12 year-old black girl as she tried to enroll in public school?  Weren’t they—or most of them—devout churchgoers?” And Frank added “I detest the two-faced people who pretend spirituality but are practiced bigots in their own mean little spheres.”  Here, Frank was also addressing an issue close to his heart:  Racism, against which he was a pioneering activist. 

And finally, Frank speculated about how remarks against popular religious views might affect his acceptance by the public, asking “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 believe that love and decency are not necessarily products of religious fervor.”  And this is when he was given an opportunity to have the remarks excluded but said “No, let it run.  I’ve thought this way for years, ached to say these things.  Whom have I harmed by what I’ve said?”

The Sinatra thoughts on religion were enlightening, and courageous, especially coming from someone who depended on the public for his success.  But he chose to live in a no pandering zone.  It was  refreshing honesty from the man, much like the honesty of his performances as an artist. . .an artist with a lot of thought behind him. 

By the way, in 1963, when the Sinatra interview ran, a copy of Playboy cost 60 cents.