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The Gospel of Tony Soprano
"The Sopranos," starring the late James Gandolfini, had a surprising religious side.
June 27th, 2013
09:40 AM ET

The Gospel of Tony Soprano

By Father Edward L. Beck, CNN Faith and Religion Commentator

(CNN) – The only time I met James Gandolfini, we talked about God.

It was a chance meeting at the Broadway play “God of Carnage,” in which he was acting. I went backstage to see someone else but was introduced to James.

When he heard that I was a priest he laughed and said, “Gee, Father, I hope you didn’t think this was a play about God.”

“No, I didn’t,” I said, “but I was surprised to find out that it actually was.”

He looked perplexed by my answer, hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Well, we’ll have to talk about that sometime.”

Of course, we never did. It was the first and last time I saw him.

I had, however, seen him many times on television in one of my favorite shows, “The Sopranos.”

Perhaps it’s unwise for a Catholic priest to admit being a “Sopranos” fan, but I confess to having used it more than once as fodder for a Sunday homily. I happen to think it was one of the most spiritual shows on television. Had I told James that, he might have been as surprised as he was by my “God of Carnage” quip.

READ MORE: James Gandolfini's last roles

Tony Soprano was every man - and maybe every woman, too. That’s why we tuned in week after week– because we saw ourselves reflected, and we wanted to find out how we would turn out.

While most of us have never belonged to the mob or killed anybody, we’ve all done things about which we are not proud, things we hope nobody finds out about.

Yes, we are basically good people, but we have a darker side, too. We try to hide it or dress it up, but every once in a while it emerges, perhaps does some damage, and then recedes to the recesses of our lives until our next stumble. Kind of like Tony.

Despite his occasional murder or infidelity, most of us thought Tony was a pretty good guy. We thought he only roughed up the bad guys who chose to put themselves in harm's way with their profession choice.

We believed he loved his wife, even though he cheated on her. We trusted he cared about his kids, even though it was sometimes with the back of his hand and punctuated with the “f” word.

Yes, Tony was a mass of contradictions, but that’s why we liked him. He made us feel better about our own contradictory lives because they seemed angelic in comparison to his.

There’s precedent for dubious heroes in the Scriptures, too. Many of the biblical boldface names led lives that were hardly free of moral ambiguity.

Abraham pretends his wife is his sister and proffers her for sex to powerful kings. Noah drank too much. Lot offers his virgin daughter to be gang-raped. David was an adulterer and murderer, Samson was a Lothario, too. And Moses was a murderer with a self-esteem problem.

Yet despite their glaring peccadilloes, they are heroes for us because God uses them despite their foibles, writes straight with crooked lines and all that.

READ MORE: Fans mourn Gandolfini: 'It's not James, it's Tony'

There’s a scene in “The Sopranos” where Tony’s son A.J., quoting the German philosopher Nietzsche, solemnly proclaims that “God is dead.” As a result, A.J. tells Tony that he doesn’t want to get confirmed in the Catholic Church.

Tony, knowing that his churchgoing and priest-befriending wife, Carmela, would have none of that, says, “You go to Catholic school. And your mother wants it. ... She knows that even if God is dead, you’re still going to kiss his ass.”

That’s our Tony, profane and to the point. We cheer for him all the more because, even though he messes up his own life, he tries his best to make sure his kids don’t mess up theirs. “Do as I say, not as I do.” How many of us have heard that sage advice from our doting parents?

Reports about the final day of James Gandolfini’s life seem to show a person who lived large, literally and figuratively.

If we are to believe The New York Post (and I don’t always), Gandolfini partook of a bacchanal feast of four shots of rum, two pina coladas, two beers, plus two orders of fried king prawns and a lot of foie gras.

But lest our final memory of him be marred by his seeming fall into the sin of gluttony, we are told that he had just come from touring the Vatican.

Sounds like something Tony would do.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Father Edward L. Beck.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Celebrity • Christianity • Entertainment • Faith Now • Media • Opinion

soundoff (94 Responses)
  1. SIMI CRUZ

    I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a glass of fresh water. And also you did not abuse me, rob me, killed me, exploited me.

    August 5, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  2. Kindness

    Kindness
    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth is..exclusive

    July 18, 2013 at 12:32 am |
    • Smithsonian

      "Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale."

      It is a fairytale. The Bible is primarily a book of religion, a guide to faith. it was not a book of history, poetry, economics, or science. It contains all sorts of literary genre, which are used to teach about the relationship between God and mankind. Even biblical history is edited history: events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible. The Biblical writers did not pretend they were giving a complete history; instead they constantly refer us to other sources for full historical details, sources such as "The Annals of the Kings of Judah" (or Israel).

      It is therefore not possible to try to "prove" the Bible by means of checking its historical or scientific accuracy. The only "proof" to which it can be subjected is this: Does it correctly portray the God-human relationship? In the best analysis, the Bible is a religious book, not an historical document.

      July 18, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
      • Tony

        ' Even biblical history is edited history: events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible.'

        This is how the Church of the 'wise and learned' would have us understand it; an interpretation which puts the 'little ones' in its pocket. We are to recieve the Word like a little child; the Holy Spirit-inspired believer. Such was God's intent.

        July 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

      Thanks for a wonderful post. God bless you Friend.

      July 18, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • DM

      Your post seems to be defensive, about you and assuming all are like you.
      For example, you cite what it is we will take with us when we die.
      That's backwards. It isn't what we take, it's what we leave behind be it examples, history, knowledge or other works. Try and stop thinking about your own salvation and consider the world as a whole. A living organism where you either multiplied or divided. To me, Christianity is very divisive.

      July 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  3. SoCal Reggae

    July 17, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  4. pistolsandproscuitto

    Reblogged this on Pistols & Proscuitto and commented:
    This is a great rea about the spiritaul side of "The Sopranos" from the point of view of a priest. A very interesting read.

    July 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  5. Ra

    Well I guess Jimmy didn't follow too closely since Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Although I think gods are for weak minded people afraid of their own mortality or it makes them feel superior to the other animals on this planet that procreate in the same fashion, however I do like the concept behind the seven deadly sins. They are things humans should avoid but barely any of them do. Anyway, I never feel sad for fatties when they have heart attacks, 9 times out of 10 it's their weight that is the cause. Even though I liked John Candy he should have lost weight too. Chris Farley was too fat and into drugs, bad combo for a fatty. Why should I feel sorry they bring it on themselves. It's the same reason most people don't feel sorry for smokers that get lung cancer, same thing.

    July 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • rick

      why do you not feel compassion for the ill whose habits made them so? does it cost you anything?

      July 13, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • cutecape

      WOW. Talk about being judgemental. You may not be overweight, but someday you are gonna choke on all that self righteousness. Alone.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • Doug

      Religious people use god to feel superior to animals the way you use the sins they named to feel superior to sinners. Are you sure you don't believe in god, you display the same exact traits as a Deist.

      July 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  6. Eva Marina

    What about the God of Carnage.... You left us hanging....

    July 12, 2013 at 12:04 am |
    • Bill

      All you have to do is see the final episode of Season 2 to see how Tony was the "God of Carnage". They pretty much lay it right out in front of you. I always called that last scene "Tony's Path of Destruction". It's set against the backdrop of AJ's confirmation.

      July 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  7. Catherine Bent

    Very inspiring to read there is hope for Tony Soprano to find salvation, and there is hope for each of us too.

    July 6, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
  8. DWN

    A priest's favorite show is the Sopranos? Heaven help us all. Fortunately I left the Roman Catholic Babylon years ago and became a Christian.

    July 6, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • rick

      have you ever seem The Sopranos?

      July 7, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Gumby

      Catholics ARE Christians. Oh by the way, you worship the same god that the Muslims do.

      July 7, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Joe

      I would be interested to know why you say Catholics are not Christians.

      God bless you.

      Joe

      July 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • NonCatholicChristian

      I have always found religious bigots to delusional failures..

      July 9, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • mzh

      I met a group of people and they do not call themselves as Christian but 'Follower of Jesus' as per them that nowhere in Bible Jesus called himself as Christian or the word Christian is not used in the bible... jiq.org for more info

      July 11, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  9. Rev Dr Felix Nwosu

    In psalm136 twenty six times he said there that his mercy endureth forever.God bless.

    July 5, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.