Archive for the Philosophy Category
This one has been doing the rounds of atheist media and both Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris have posted it. I’ve never been a fan of Sinatra’s music but he is impressively articulate here and one has to admire his integrity. As he points out at the end of this excerpt, such opinions could have seriously damaged his career at that time.
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.
A traveler in thirteenth-century France met three men pushing wheelbarrows along the road. He asked them what manner of work they were doing and received the following three answers: The first said, “I toil from sunup to sundown and all I get for my pains is a few pennies each day.” The second said, “I am glad enough to push this barrow for I have been long out of work and have a family to feed.” The third said, “I am building the cathedral of Chartres!”
Slightly adapted from Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content
Painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Do not speak of guilt, do not speak of responsibility. When the Regiment of Pleasure passes by, with music and flags; when the senses quiver and tremble, whoever stands apart is foolish and impertinent: whoever does not rush to join the good crusade, to the conquest of pleasures and of passions.
All the laws of morals — as ill-considered as they are ill-constructed — are naught and cannot stand fast even for a moment, when the Regiment of Pleasure passes by accompanied by music and by flags.
Do not let a single shadowy virtue stop you. Do not believe that a single commitment binds you. Your duty is to give in, give in always to your longings, which are the most perfect creations of perfect gods. Your duty is to fall in, a faithful soldier, with simplicity of heart, when the Regiment of Pleasure passes by accompanied by music and by flags.
Do not shut yourself inside your house and deceive yourself with theories of justice, with the superstitions about reward held by ill-made societies. Do not say, My toil is worth so much, and so much I’m due to enjoy. Since life is an inheritance and you had nothing to do to earn it, so an inheritance, too, must Pleasure necessarily be. Do not shut yourself inside your house; but keep the window open, completely open, so that you might hear the first sounds of the passing of the soldiers, when there arrives the Regiment of Pleasure accompanied by music and by flags.
Do no be deceived by the blasphemers who tell you that this service is risky and toilsome. Service to Pleasure is a constant joy. It exhausts you, but it exhausts you with heavenly intoxications. And when at last you fall down in the street, even then your fate is to be envied. When your funeral procession passes by, the Shapes that your longings fashioned will cast tulips and white roses on your coffin, and onto their shoulders the youthful Gods of Olympus will lift you, and they will entomb you in the Cemetery of the Ideal where the mausoleums of poetry gleam white.