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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 • Media • Opinion

soundoff (97 Responses)
  1. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Yawn.

    I'm glad I don't have to listen to Father Beck's sermons.

    Tony Soprano is everyman? Dosen't everyone whack their compet!tors and cheat on their spouses?

    Ummm No. They're a bit extreme as examples of human falibility.

    June 27, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Luca

      "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." Tony Soprano was extreme, that is one of the points of the article. Fr. Beck is using Tony as allegory. Art and literature often use extreme characters to highlight traits which are found in all of us.

      June 27, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • trilly3807

      The Sopranos was entertainment and as such was *exaggerated* compared to real life.

      Tony Soprano was a fictional character.

      That does not mean we cannot relate to him. Yes, let's hope our "dark side" isn't as dark as Tony's.

      What bothers me the most is that people keep putting Tony Soprano into every eulogy for Mr. Gandolfini.

      James Gandolfini was a living breathing human being with family and friends who are struggling with his sudden loss. The constant comparisons to the character he is well known for is disrespectful to the man as far as I'm concerned. Because Gandolfini (from what I've read) was quite different from a mobster. It speaks to his acting skills that he made Tony real to us. Praise his acting skill, but leave Tony Soprano out of it. That is not who he was and not how he should be remembered.

      June 27, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  2. Alto

    Nicely written article.

    June 27, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • sIy

      i cant agree with that

      June 27, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  3. Akira

    This whole essay is tasteless, and Fr. Beck seems like an opportunist.

    June 27, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Science

      That is saying it lightly.

      Chris Christie Blasts Gay Marriage Rulings (VIDEO) ...............your FOX BUDDIES Freddie ?

      The Huffington Post | By Paige Lavender Posted: 06/27/2013 9:21 am EDT | Updated:

      06/27/2013 10:16 am EDT

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/chris-christie-gay-marriage_n_3509389.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=062713&utm_medium=email&utm_content=NewsEntry

      June 27, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  4. BobbyG

    Hopefully,for many who responded commenting on Father Beck's article will also allow God to work in their lives,bring them out from their own dark sides which every single one of them have.And,that God wll help change and transform all their lives to be true people living for God.God can work and change anyone's life,no matter what they have done no matter how far off the rightnous path they have strayed.As one of Father Beck's television Parishioners have great respect for him and his homilies have helped me and encouraged me in my daily walk with Jesus.

    June 27, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • what?

      You admire a man who stands on a dead actor's back and talks smack about a guy he doesn't even know to get some convoluted message out?
      I'll listen to the real thing, not some opportunist shill.

      June 27, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • sam

      Maybe his daily homilies do it for you, but this is unnecessary nonsense BS. Quoting gossip from the NY Post? Just as reliable as quoting from the bible, I guess.

      June 27, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  5. BobbyG

    I agree with Father Beck,that most of all of us have done something we hope others never finds out,we do all indeed have a dark side.Those Father Beck mentioned from the bible also had dark sides,but through God's Abundant Amazing Grace,God worked in all those lives and changed their lives,and they became Men of God despite there dark side past.There is hope for us all!! God's love is to strong for us to remain in our dark side past,if we only God to help bring us out and change us from darkness to living as a Child of God,Child of the Light!!

    June 27, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      you need to remind yourself that the bible is fiction, not non-fiction.

      June 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • sam stone

      wow. that was interesting

      people can get past their dark side without need of a god

      June 27, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • sIy

      bobby this is not a time for jokes

      June 27, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  6. John Stemberger

    And the point of this article???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    June 27, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  7. sam

    What the hell was the point of this article, except to name drop a recently deceased celeb? Sheez.

    June 27, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  8. William Demuth

    The church is the ultimate Mafioso!

    It only seems fitting they might use a story line about a sadistic sociopath to recruit more members for their "family"

    Truly reflects the actual values of the cult.

    June 27, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  9. Jules

    "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."
    So?
    I've had this at upscale weddings...and I am also certain that they would not like their weddings characterized as a bacchanalia. This guy is clueless.

    I also agree with the other comments here. Capitalizing on JG's death is pretty odious.

    June 27, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  10. Scented Quilts of The Emerald Isle

    Yesterday's news was better. This is a terrible article.

    June 27, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  11. palintwit

    Here's a list of the top 5 American universities in the order of their ranking:
    1. Princeton
    2. Stanford
    3. Sarah Palin University
    4. Yale
    5. Harvard

    OK, you're all wondering the same thing I am. How did Yale get on that list?

    June 27, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  12. Valerie Tower

    CNN, how desperate for commentaries are you to use this writer and story? Pretty lame.

    June 27, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  13. Brother Maynard

    "Despite his occasional mur der or infid elity, most of us thought Tony was a pretty good guy. ..."
    I'm not sure if the authors of the articles read the comments that are posted ... but I really hope that
    Father Edward L. Beck does.
    Fr Beck ( and I use that ti tle reluctently because it really means nothing ) the reason that people "liked" or thought that Tony Soprano was " ... a pretty good guy" is because he was FICTIONAL CHARACTER, it was a TV show, and therefore totally harmless. Nobody in their right mind would ever ass ociate themselves with an individual like Tony Soprano in real life that wasn't already a crimnal.
    I am stunned shocked and flabergasted that you even considered this as a topic of discussion.

    Then when you liken the ev il doings of Abraham / Noah / David to Tony Soprano reinforces your inablility to separate reality from fantasy. These individuals are FICTIONAL as well.

    Then at the end you say "Sounds like something Tony would do." Are you kidding me ?
    So basically it is ok to murder people and cheat on your wife if you go to the Vatican??

    Fr Beck you seriously need to re-evaluate your life.

    June 27, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  14. what?

    Riding the coat-tails of a dead actor he met once. This priest should be ashamed of himself, the self-promoting ninny.

    June 27, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  15. Stan

    The Catholic church and organized crime have long been joined at the hip. Or somewhere intimate in that general area.

    June 27, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  16. Tony

    “Well, we’ll have to talk about that sometime.”

    Couldn't take the hint, could ya?

    June 27, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  17. Dyslexic doG

    No wonder Mr. Gandolfini ran away from you saying that he'd talk with you later. He knew to avoid people selling something.

    And now you want to write about him and make out like you knew him. You are a groupie. A god groupie and a Gandolfini groupie. Says something about your personality, don't you think?

    June 27, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  18. Dyslexic doG

    nice article. Comparing one TV Series with one bonze age story book. You could have thrown a little Harry Potter in there for effect but hey, a good effort.

    June 27, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  19. meh

    "But lest our final memory of him be marred by his seeming fall into the sin of gluttony..."

    What a fine thing to say after a man dies. Insulting. But typical taking the source into consideration.

    June 27, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • what?

      Lol, Bill. I agree.

      June 27, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  20. Russell

    What a bunch of pointless babble.
    Only someone who has unshakable faith in the conclusion could believe this is the way to arrive there. No surprise to me that it was written by a priest.

    June 27, 2013 at 9:51 am |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.