clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Frank Sinatra was spiritual not religious before it was cool

1948: Frank Sinatra (1915 - 1998) dons priestly robes for his role as Father Paul in 'Miracle of the Bells', directed by Irving Pichel for RKO.
1948: Frank Sinatra (1915 - 1998) dons priestly robes for his role as Father Paul in 'Miracle of the Bells', directed by Irving Pichel for RKO.
(John Kobal Foundation/Moviepix/Getty)

A 1963 Playboy interview with Frank Sinatra wouldn't normally be news, but when this one was rediscovered by Boing Boing, it was widely discussed. And for good reason!

Mr. Sinatra, better known for his crooning than theologizing, made a few comments about organized religion that seem more at home in 2014 than 1963.

For instance:

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.

From comparing priests to witch doctors, to pointing out the hypocrisy of churchgoing lynch mobs, Sinatra lets organized religion have it. It's worth noting, too, that he never claims to be an atheist in this interview. He just makes it very clear that he defines God on his own terms — which is just how he thinks it should be.

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.

The 1960s were a great time of change for religion in America, and specifically for Christianity, which was trying to shore up its identity after devastating wars, and in the wake of various liberating movements, like civil rights and feminism. Charismatic religious leaders, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope John XXIII, were enormously influential on the trajectory of Christianity, as were modern theologies being developed in response to societal unrest. And with the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, American Christianity found itself engaging with newly imported religious traditions from Asia and Africa.

As the following chart from Gallup shows, the late fifties and early sixties began to see a drastic, though short-lived, decline in America's faith in organized religion.

Rel in America

But as Sinatra's interview demonstrates, faith in organized religion is not the same thing as faith in the gods of those various religions. Indeed, as recent polls show, Millennials, long predicted to give up faith altogether, have learned that it's possible to talk to God without going through the middleman.

Or, as Sinatra called it, the witch doctor.

The full text of the interview can be read here.