An offer you can’t refuse. A commentary on Tony Soprano’s influence on American Christianity

James Gandolfini, an actor best known for his role as an anxiety-ridden mob boss on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” died Wednesday vacationing in Italy at age 51.  The cause is still unknown but a heart attack is the likely cause.

I was saddened to hear about this when I clicked on CNN yesterday.  I also had a strong encounter with the fear of the Lord as I was just writing about the Jimmy Hoffa search yesterday and already had some mob/mafia thoughts swimming about.   I need to back up before I begin this.  My intention here is not to give here an I told you so sort of message nor state I know exactly what message God is trying to send with his sudden death.  There are times when God is trying to wake up a people and wake up our nation, and he sends storms and all kinds of chaos our way.  Many times Hollywood stars and rock musicians reach untimely deaths in often shocking ways and ultimately God himself determined when and how they would die.  He provides some general principles in the word of God that the fear of the Lord prolongeth days.    From his lifestyle and lack of clear Christian testimony James is in hell right now.  That is sad, that is tragic. We need to live life realizing we can die at any moment and 500 years from now it will only matter where we are and if we are saved, who we brought with us.

What I want to focus on though is the Sopranos theology of sorts is a good representation of where America is at.  It is why there is little hunger and thirst for righteousness and why most of America thinks it is saved and right with God.  I was lost when the Sopranos first aired, and my natural desires were for what this world offered.  I was a big fan of the show and I think it was 2 or 3 full seasons I “enjoyed” and then I met Jesus Christ and after that could no longer enjoy the pleasures of sin.  God changed my desires, my direction, and my destiny from March 2002 on.   My post here is mostly some observations I can see with the Sopranos morality and situation ethics and the rest of America.

Basically the story of the Sopranos was this.  Tony Soprano was a mob boss.  He murdered people, he beat up people, he had a mistress, he swore, he hung around with some evil people.  Yet the show is about his “normal” family life, raising 2 children if I remember correctly, and normal happy married life.   It shows his double lives perfectly balanced, and the image portrayed is he is still a decent family guy.  Despite the bad things that he does, he still is a great contributor to society.

He explained the mob life to his psychiatrist by saying, “We’re soldiers. Soldiers don’t go to hell. It’s war. Soldiers kill other soldiers. We’re in a situation where everyone involved knows the stakes and if you are going to accept those stakes, you’ve got to do certain things. It’s business.”

What I see in all this is the situational ethics that now shape America.  Instead of THOU SHALT NOT we have adopted certain “codes” and “stakes” and as long as those rules get obeyed we are ok with God and each other (in our view).  God is clear.  He says He does not change.  What was sin 200 years ago is still sin today.  However, we have this new view of sin.  Fornication is sin according to the Bible.  In America today, fornication is normalized and it is perfectly acceptable if you follow the new rules.  Use a condom unless you have been dating for 3 months.  It is ok to live together and if you get pregnant, you should at least get engaged before the baby comes.  When you ask a girl to become your girlfriend, you are a good guy if you are only sleeping  with her.  The rules keep changing, but the main point is we have done what the Bible said— we have established our own righteousness.

For example, Tony Soprano and the other mafia men had some strong rules they lived by.  You could be a faithful husband even if you had a mistress because you provided for your wife, she was the mother of your children, and you only wanted the mistress for selfish sexual fulfillment.  You killed people who deserved it.  You never ratted out your friends.  When I was lost and watching this, I thought the Mafia guys were good guys.  We would watch movies like Good Fellas and when the “good bad guys” got “whacked” we would be sad.

I think these represent America well.  The lines of good and bad are no longer clearly drawn.  Tony would go to mass on Sunday and just murdered a guy on Saturday.  Back to family life on Monday.  Nothing is that wicked because he could justify every action and he lived within their own created code of living.  It wasn’t the 10 commandments, it wasn’t to please God, it was a life of doing what is right in their own eyes.  It was a life of indulgences, a life of living a wicked lifestyle in the eyes of God but when presented to the eyes of man now we could think, “ahh, that is why they do what they do.  Tony Soprano is one of the good guys!”  And we root for him to pull through.

The bible condemns those that justify the wicked.  God divides us all not into good and bad but lost and saved.  America’s morality is a Sopranos mentality.  All sin gloves are off because in most circumstances almost anything goes is the thought process.  It is not a drunkard, he is a party animal.  It is not fornication, it is high school sweethearts.  It is not  abortion, it is freedom of choice.  And on and on.

God is not impressed with our repackage of sin. However, God is not unreasonable.  He is not there to cancel a party or put out fires for no reason.  He is not this mean jerk who is better than you so he is going to kick sand in your face as he sees you stuck in sand.  Religion is the Soprano way.  Do as you please, kill murder and steal, and add some religion and church and that will pay for your offenses and get God off your back. It doesn’t work like that.  But God is not willing that any should perish.  Sin really enslaves us and sin is what puts us in hell.   Jesus is waiting with open arms, and sin is a backpack of explosives we are carrying and we want to run to Jesus and not let go of what is going to destroy us.  It is not quit drinking and I will accept you.  It is not come to Jesus and keep drinking.   It is this.   COME TO JESUS.  Come knowing your sin is wicked and knowing that your sin will damn you to hell.  But Come knowing that God loves you in spite of your sin, and that God will change you from the moment you come.  Expect your sin to be dealt with and delivered and that the desires will change but know God is not impressed with you cleaning it up.   You can’t.  You can’t save yourself, you can’t pay for your sin, you can’t even want to leave sin because that is our desire until we get saved.

The Sopranos appeal is this.  You can have religion and keep your sin.  And your sin is really ok because you sin but you obey the rules your sins give.  It is ok to have 4 drinks during happy hour but only 2 during the week.  You can’t live together until you have been together at least a year.  Whatever.

True salvation is a completely different thing all together.  It is not living 2 lives where 1 makes up for the other.  That is really what religion does.  You may not be involved with the mafia, but you do your own version of the double life thing if you are lost.

America likes the Tony Soprano way.  If it ever embraces the Jesus Christ way instead, that would turn America around overnight.  And America’s night life would never be the same.

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