Chris Seay: The Gospel According to Tony Soprano

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This is Dick Staub, your host. And our next guest is pastor of Ecclesia, a progressive Christian community in Houston, Texas. He also loves HBO’s, The Sopranos. In fact, he says he races home every Sunday night after church to be with The Soprano family. He has written a book that is either the most creative rationalization for a personal obsession ever written, or is an insightful book and look at a cultural icon for the gospel’s sake.

Q.We’re going to find out which it is as we visit with Chris, and it’s Seay (Say). Right?
A. Seay (See).

Q. Seay (See), I’m sorry. You know, I’ve been told that before and I finally just got it right. Christ Seay, who is the author of a provocative new book, The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, published by Tarcher Putnam. And great to have you with us.
A. Thanks, Dick.

Q. So talk a little bit about your own spiritual odyssey. I mean, how did you come to the faith?
A. You know, I’m third generation Baptist pastor. So my dad and my grandfather are both pastors.

Q. Southern Baptist?
A. Well, they probably wouldn’t embrace the title, but Texas Baptists tend to have a mind of their own.

Q. Yeah.
A. So-so I-I came to the faith quite naturally and¢â‚¬¦ But for me the disconnect was always with the church. I saw the kind of churches they pastored and saw my peers that were rejecting the church and somehow knew¢â‚¬¦ I didn’t think I would be in ministry, but I knew if I was it would be radically different. So the churches that I’ve started are¢â‚¬¦ They’re very much connected with young people and artists. We have a lot of musicians, sculptors, writers¢â‚¬¦

Q. What was it that you were seeing in the Baptist church that you were raised in that didn’t fit?
A. You know, to me all of-of what it meant to be a modern Christian, the systems that you went through, the kind of equation that somehow knowledge is equated with salvation and faith, that if you can just walk through Orthodoxy and begin to spout it out with your mouth really. It wasn’t a lot of fruit. There weren’t a lot of people that really cared about social justice that really were connected and kind and loving people, which is what I saw in Christ, was the epitome of real Christian love. So there was so much of that lacking. For me I knew that it would have to be a family of people that really cared for one another, that loved one another, and that faith would play out that way.

Q. So your relationship with culture early on. A lot of kids raised in pastor’s homes are kind of raised with a, you know, bad out there, good in here kind of¢â‚¬¦ Were you raised in that kind of an environment?
A. Yeah, yeah. And I-and I talk about it in the book. I still think one of the great fallacies of Christian thinking is this kind of garbage in/garbage out mentality. You know, I remember being 16 years old and being taught that kind of thing. Stay away from culture because what you think you will absorb. See, your brain is a sponge, you’ll absorb whatever you hear and see. And I began to study Scripture and I read passages like that in Daniel, where Daniel was educated by sorcerers, magicians, pagan priests, astrologers. It says at the end of chapter 1, he became ten times wiser in those things than the people that taught him. And yet, clearly, he wasn’t a pagan priest or a sorcerer. Scripture was his guide through all of the mess of his own pagan culture that I find to be very similar to our culture. The kind of faith that blossoms in my area, paganism and witchcraft, is rooted out of that time and place.

Q. Now, you did¢â‚¬¦ Your first experience with a relationship with a television show, though, you say was M*A*S*H.
A. Yeah. I mean, it was probably my primary relationship growing up. My-my¢â‚¬¦

Q. My primary relationship growing up was M*A*S*H. That’s a very sad commentary of life in the pastor’s home.
A. It is. It was a family affair, though. You know, I describe in the-in the book, it was the closest to a real spiritual experience I ever had with a television show. I think in large part for us because we had this major family dis¢â‚¬¦ My dad’s dad died in the Korean War

Q. Oh, wow.
A. ¢€œwhen he was probably six¢â‚¬¦ He was about six weeks old. So-so we didn’t know a whole lot about that. We didn’t know a whole lot about the Korean War, but M*A*S*H was our connection to him.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so somehow as watched these, you know, half comedian/half doctors joke around it was almost as if his dad sat with us for those 30 minutes each night.

Q. So you’re raised in this kind of cultural environment in which Christianity is a subculture and it’s cocooned from the broader culture. You sense that something is wrong with that. How in the world did you end up deciding to become what you describe as “an educated person with a spiritual calling”? I mean, how-how did you end up feeling like you were actually supposed to be involved in starting a church?
A. If faith was going to be my own, I knew I had to venture out and find it. And-and in my university years I began to connect the reason that my peers were abandoning the church was because Christianity was more about western ideals than it was about Christ. And so for me I had to chart a path to say, what is Christ really about? Ended up starting a church in Waco, Texas with a lot of young artists and musicians that blossomed and grew really quickly.

Q. What did you study in college?
A. I studied philosophy and religion.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. So for me it was being exposed to these French philosophers that begin to critique modernity, and for me they’re critiquing from a different perspective than I was, but it was very close. It made sense.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. Also the disconnect began to resonate with me. This is why I struggle with
faith. And so as I said, you know, as I began to chart a new course, I found there were a lot of people that wanted to connect with that. So the church we started in Waco we started with just a few people. Within six weeks the church was running over 600 people. It grew rapidly. Just people longing to connect to Christ in a creative way.

Q. Did you do any seminary? Any-any further studies?
A. I took some classes at seminary but never pursued¢â‚¬¦

Q. Yeah. What was your vision for the church? When you say-when you say,
what was there wasn’t it for you, so there needed to be something different. How would you describe what would be different about it?
A.You know, I was 23 then so, hopefully, I’ve come a little ways since that
point. But-but when I started that church I-I knew that I wanted those who were, I believe, being isolated outside of faith, that weren’t given access to the faith to be able to connect. So I wanted faith in Christ to be more than just a belief in propositions.

Q. Yeah.
A. I wanted it to be an embodied truth that was really played out in a local
community. And that’s what happened there for us.

Q.Now, you’ve already talked about the kind of “unease” within Christianity,
more specifically within Fundamentalist Christianity and some Evangelicalism, and you began trying to work through the importance of culture. What-what did you come to understand culture is and is about?
A.You know, I-I’ve found it as a place that people are longing and asking
spiritual questions. And the people of faith that possess some of the answers, not all of them, but at least are on the right journey, have pulled out. So these people, many bands, you go to films, you see all of these deep spiritual questions. And the people that are supposed to now engage those questions have removed themselves. So, to me, when I teach pastors and walk through with some of the young men in ministry, I isolate basically two things as fatal flaws for the church. One, is that we’ve become syncretistic. We syncretize pagan worldview in scripture. If we just go and we brain dump everything that we hear and see, and we just pile it on top of Christianity, we’ll be in big trouble. The other is we’ve become sectarian. We pull away from culture to the point where we can no longer affect it. Somewhere right in the middle is a really healthy place, but it’s a difficult one to find. Maybe I’ve found it in this book, maybe I haven’t.

Q.Now, in the book you-you say in the introduction, “I remember one night
watching Tony in the Bada Bing cursing up a blue string, a streak, as a throng of naked women with near perfect bodies crowded around him. I was desperately hoping my wife would not walk in the room. I’d be caught, embarrassed like a kid on a burnt sofa cushion with a handful of matches. I considered turning it off. I flipped over to CNN a few times, but always turned back.” You’re-you’re kind of eluding there to-to kind of an awareness of-of a kind of an angst in a cultural moment. What is to characterize our relationship with culture as people of faith? I mean, what-how do we know what our relationship is supposed to be?
A.Yeah. I’m-I’m not sure we ever do. I-I hope that that tension never leaves
me. I hope that-that when I see evil in so many forms that it-it ought to bother me a bit, and yet in the midst of it, it wasn’t death that I turned back for, it’s the story of sin and redemption I continue to turn back for.

Q. Yeah.
A. Or at least the longing for redemption. This man that was full of sin and anger
and murderous rage and greed

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œthat was looking for some way to make it right

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œand yet in therapy there were no real answers.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we’re going to be back with
more, with Chris Seay. The book is The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, published by Tarcher Putnam. It is available at your local bookstores and you ought to pick up a copy. We’re going to probe a little bit more of kind of general presuppositional stuff here and then get into some of the themes that Chris sees in The Sopranos. The book is The Gospel According to Tony Soprano. We’ll be back right after this. Don’t go away.
(Break.)

Well, this is Dick Staub thanking you for joining me. We’re talking with Chris Seay. His book is The Gospel According to Tony Soprano: An Unauthorized Look Into the Soul of TV’s Top Mob Boss and His Family.

Q.We were talking a little bit about the person of faith, the follower of Jesus and
the relationship with culture. And we talk about that a lot on this show. And-and I’m going to-I’m going to throw at you some of the kinds of things that some people wrestle with. For instance, you talk in the book about this-this-this show has a lot of domestic violence. It has a lot-it has adultery, it has a lot of, you know, a lot of-of-of what, within the faith tradition would be viewed as-as kind of “outside the bounds” sexual relationships. You-you quote Steve Isaacs from Focus on the Family who-who, you know, complains about all of this stuff and essentially, says The Sopranos is–I don’t have his exact quotes but, I mean, it’s kind of like it’s the wretched show of the earth. And it’s, you know, it’s another–now I’m totally putting words in Steve Isaac’s mouth–but the-the sense that I got in what he said was, that this is another example of why culture is going to hell in a handbag, because this kind of stuff is popular. And the fact that it’s popular tells us that America has an appetite for sleaze. That-that was kind of the-the-the-the feeling of it. And he points out, you know, the “F” word every, at least once a minute, kind of thing. How-how do you relate to those comments and-and to people who would say, you know, that-that if they were to watch that stuff they would fear that they would be kind of indulging their appetite for stuff that shouldn’t be part of their own life?
A.Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. There is-there are a lot of people that would believe
that. And I would say, if your temptation is to become a mob boss killer and that’s a major temptation for you, maybe you should avoid the show. Although, even in that vein, I would say to you, I do not believe this show, in particular, that it glorifies violence or deviant sexuality. I think you see how bankrupt and how sad a life that most of these people lead.

Q.Yeah.
A.As opposed to¢â‚¬¦ My dad and I had this argument, you know, as-as we engage
around this show. And he has some of the same fears.

Q.Has he watched it?
A.No, he never has watched the show. And I don’t know that he will. But,
we’ll see, one of these days. And so, you know, I would-we would joke but-about it because the reality is, some of the shows that he would take me to watch when we were still a boy, the action/adventure James Bond kind of Octopussy movies that we would go see, very much glorified violence and sexuality outside the framework. I-I see Tony as a miserable man

Q.Right.
A. a man searching to find real meaning. And when he kills people he has
nightmares about it.

Q. Yeah.
A. It hurts him.
B.
Q. And goes to a shrink.
A. Absolutely.
B.
Q. Okay. Now, but there are people¢â‚¬¦ As a matter of fact, I was just with a
pastor who said, you know, a friend of mine recommend that I go to Vanilla Sky. And then he said, I need to go see American Beauty, because American Beauty is the, you know, archetypal post-modern movie. It tells you where the people are. And he says, I don’t need to see¢â‚¬¦ He said, I did go see American Beauty, but I don’t need to see American Beauty to know where the post-modern mind is. I-I know where they are, I know what their story is, I know how the gospel connects to it. So why would I-why would I indulge in seeing something that basically is a representation, as you’re describing Tony Soprano, of a miserable man who’s miserable because of the very choices that he’s making in his life? In other words, for this guy part of following Jesus is being liberated from that. Why would I take that as a form of entertainment? Because, after all, amusement, the word means, you know, without your mind. I mean, people are clicking in, watching without their¢â‚¬¦ How do you respond to that?
A. Yeah. I-I say in the conclusion of the book, if you watch any of this, if you
listen to music, whether it’s on your Christian radio station or any other, whether you go see film, if you turn off your mind you’re foolish. We can’t afford to do that. Just because Mariah Carey sings about love songs does not mean she’s an expert on love. The woman is going through as many husbands as she could possibly count. We-we have to be critical thinkers.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so if he is a pastor that really understands the post-modern condition and
where people are, he’s a rarity. There aren’t many of us that do. And so even when we do the dialogue, especially for film, has become the cultural metaphor. It becomes the speaking points, the place that we refer to. It becomes the common story.` And so we need access to that story to-to begin a launching point for a dialogue.

Q. So, in general, when you understand the theology in popular culture and you
accept the fact that there is a worldview and there are values and there are, you know, there’s-there’s, due to common grace, there’s a lot of truth there. There’s a lot of truth telling in these stories. How do you-how do you come to understand what the theology is and how do you relate it to your own faith belief? If you’re-if you’re not going to go in and just check out mentally and be amused, but you’re going to–you know, John Stott used the phrase, “dual listening,” you’re going to listen to your faith and listen to the culture–how do you go about doing that and how do you-how do you identify beliefs and-and-and provocative issues out of a-a anything whether it’s The Sopranos or any other cultural artifact?
A. Well, this is what I do and this is what I teach our people to do is to think
critically. The first thoughts I have. Do I agree with that? Do I not agree with that? And then from there I begin to categorize it in three areas. Is this something that is explicit Christian truth? At times I hear stuff in The Sopranos and I go, I could preach that without changing a word of it.

Q. Yeah.
A. It-it’s just true. It’s-in the context it’s in, it comes out of a different context,
but it’s just true. The other is that there is a-a-a seed of truth there that could be redeemed, that given a full picture of who Christ is, it could be fully redeemed. The other sometimes it’s just trash. It’s just-it’s just filth, it’s just lies, and I have to filter it out. What are the three? Where does that fit? And begin to launch from that place.

Q. Now, when you-when you look at The Sopranos or any other artifact like this,
and you’re asking yourself the value of it and you’re asking yourself how you relate faith to it, what-you-you say is that The Sopranos is more than a TV show. I mean, how is it more than a TV show? I mean¢â‚¬¦
A. You know, you begin to connect with the people that watch this show and you eat, sleep, and breathe it. They love it. And-and the show has become a metaphor for their own lives. It’s become the way they describe how they long to live and the problems that they exist with.

Q. How much of this is a generational thing? You know, Tom Beaudoin wrote
Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X. And he says that your generation was born in the amniotic fluid of popular culture. In other words, I remember I had a producer in-in Chicago and he had this idea for a-a show. And he says we ought to talk about all the-the children’s Christmas stories. And he says, that’s the first time I ever heard anything about the Bible was in The Charlie Brown Christmas Special. And then he got really excited about Grinch and he started talking about this stuff. And I said, you’re nuts. And I says, well, I’ll try it. And so we-we did this show and we had all these clips from these little kids programs. And your generation just called in right away because they all connected to those stories. They-those were their stories. Now, granted if, taken the apostle Paul at-at Mars Hill and in Athens in his understanding that he would understand the culture for the gospel’s sake, you’re saying that-that, you know, there is a story there that enables us to understand culture and communicate with it is the common story. But-but how much of this is something that-that is characteristic of your generation which, in fact, is a-is a problem in your generation? In other words, I-I have to say that in my exposure to a lot of young kind of Christians in your generation, they tend to have a very high cultural literacy and a real low faith literacy. And-and they can get more excited about watching The Sopranos and finding out what The Sopranos believe than they might spending that same hour finding out what their Scriptural tradition believes. Do you hear what I’m saying?
A. Yeah, yeah. I see what you’re saying and I would have the same problem.
You won’t find that with the people, at least at our church, that are, I think, more well-versed in church history and theology than they are in culture, but they are well-versed in culture. The reality is that for this-these emerging generations the theaters have become the sanctuaries. So the great storytellers are no longer in the pulpits, they are in the theaters. And that’s one of the things we’ll have to address as a church and figure out how we deal with it.

Q. Yeah. And we’re going to talk more about that. We’re finally now where
we’re going to start talking specifically about The Gospel According to Tony Soprano. Chris Seay is our guest. The book is published by Tarcher Putnam. We’re going to be back with more right after this. Don’t go away.

(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Chris Seay.
He is a pastor of a church called Ecclesia. It’s actually called a community, a progressive Christian community. He’s written the book The Gospel According to Tony Soprano. And I said we were going to get right into Tony Soprano, but now I’ve-I’ve-I’ve peaked my own curiosity because you say that this progressive Christian community is breaking new ground in art, music, and film, engaging spiritual questions of culture.

Q. You had said the church needs to figure out how to do that. What are you
guys learning about that? I mean, how are you going about doing that?
A. We believe the artists are, in-in our current day, are-are the preachers and
storytellers. So we do things through visual art and film and literature that we couldn’t do otherwise. So like the building we have in the Montrose, which is close to the downtown, it’s the arts district/gay district in Houston, we have an art gallery, a bookstore, a café, a recording studio. We’re building out a small theater. So we believe that that’s the best way to tell the story of God.

Q. And who is part of this community?
A. All kinds of people. All kinds of people that have connected with it. Plenty
are new to the faith, plenty have been in faith for a long time and haven’t had a way to express it.

Q. Now, when we get to The Sopranos and back to it being more than a
television show, first of all, it’s a cultural phenomena. I mean, HBO essentially was having major problems and The Sopranos got them back in an economic footing because so many people subscribe to HBO to get The Sopranos. There’s a professor in Calgary, I think, in-in Canada, that’s added it to his-his coursework as an academic course, studying The Sopranos. So you’re not alone in your-in your belief that-that this thing is more than just a TV show. What is it that people connect to in this thing? What is it that has made it so powerful? Why does it strike a chord with people?
A. I-I-I quote Peter Kreeft in the book and I don’t remember exactly what he
says, but he essentially says to see a man as he really is, is too real to life. It’s too-it’s like a roller coaster ride. We see him with both eyes open. And we see Tony Soprano as he really is. He’s a sick man and yet he’s a beautiful man. There-there are all of these things present with him. And I think most characters that we get in popular film and television are-are not very real to life. Most of the ones that we have emerging from Scripture are very real when you read them in Scripture, but we have distorted them. We’ve tried to make them out into morality heroes, which they are not. These were really broken men and women. They were very messed up, very sinful. The beauty of the story is that God continues to meet them there.

Q. Yeah. Now, what in-some people would say, yeah, they were broken
Christians but then God came into their life/Jesus came into their life and fixed it all. And-and you make the point that you-you at points have wanted to push these hideous characters away but you can’t because we’re too much alike. I mean, what is your perception of-of the follower of Jesus in the way that they are like and unlike the people in the culture?
A. Yeah, well, I mean, I don’t think that-that Christ ever fixes it all. I mean, he
definitely didn’t for the people of Scripture. Abraham, before he-as he goes out on this beautiful journey to follow God, he’s only been on it a short while as he begins to pimp out his wife to the King of Egypt. And the seed money that he receives from that becomes the source of all of this wealth. He does it again later. And then his son, you know. They perpetuate this kind of generational sin. We see it with every character in Scripture. Moses, the murderer, David the murderer/philanderer, these were not people that were somehow fixed by God. I-I don’t think we are either. The hope is that we don’t have to take our sin to the point that Tony does. There’s¢â‚¬¦ Redemption takes place in us much quicker.

Q. Now, you had some interesting stuff about the creator of this show, David
Chase. And he was actually raised in the church.
A. Yeah. Raised in the church. His parents met at a Baptist youth group
meeting and¢â‚¬¦

Q. I love the word Baptist in Texas. Say Baptist. They have a different way of
saying Baptist.
A. It’s a profound word for us. They-they met at this youth group meeting and
raised him in the church. He would describe that church “never quite took” for him, but you can tell in the story it’s not far away from him either.

Q. He said, yeah, “it never took,” which is a very, very interesting phrase and a
lot of people in his generation will say that same thing. So now back to Tony, key character. You call him a neo-Solomon. I mean, in what-in what sense is Tony an archetype for people? I mean, what does he represent as-as a person?
A. Yeah. The same thing-the same reasons I identify with King Solomon I think
I do identify with Tony. You know, Solomon is incredibly honest in his journey, especially in the book of Ecclesiastes where he says, you know, I went out to find meaning and purpose apart from God. And I wanted to find something that would sustain me that had nothing to do with God. And so he does. He looks in with wealth and builds huge mansions and pleasure and-and this guy had a thousand wives. I mean, this is like, you know, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Clinton combined, you know, didn’t sleep with as many women as Solomon did. And he’s longing to find that. And yet it’s empty.

Q. You know, I think you say that this-this show exposes a void, but it doesn’t
try to fill it. It doesn’t-it doesn’t give a satisfying way of filling it. And yet you say that Tony is a likable guy. What’s likable about Tony?
A. You know, it’s really hard to tell in some ways, and-and this is a topic of
major discussion because he really-he’s the ultimate anti-hero. He does really sick and mean things and yet he loves his wife, he loves his family, he loves the people that he works with in this criminal family.

Q. He’s a conflicted guy.
A. Absolutely. Like most of us.

Q. Yeah, yeah. Okay. So people, you believe people are connected to him
because he is them.
A. Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, we love our wives, we love our families,
but we do things to harm them.

Q. Now, would you say, now, this is going way outside your book, but back to
the problem with what was not connecting in church life for you. Would you say that-that the people in the typical church, Baptist church, older generation are really-they are Tony Soprano but they’re not willing to admit it and, therefore, they even have a-a fear of being exposed to him because they don’t want that mirror held up to them? I mean, the lack of authenticity?
A. Absolutely. I mean, these are people that are obviously conflicted. And you
don’t have to be around the church long at all to figure out that scandals and sin are a big part of it, but we cover it up with all our might.

Q. Now, one of those old guys is saying, yeah, but I already know who Solomon
is. I already know that David was a philanderer. Why do I need to watch Tony Soprano do it every week? I already get it. I already understand that. I-and-and I’m not him, by the way. I’ve been faithful to my wife for 55 years, they’re saying. What’s with this younger generation? I mean, what’s happening is Chris is talking about The Sopranos and everybody who listens to Dick’s show now is going to go out and watch The Sopranos. Now they’re not only Biblically literate, but now they’re watching The Sopranos every week.
A. Yeah. And-and that’s not what it’s about. But the reality is, everybody else
is watching this show. So maybe, you know, you probably have church on Sunday night, God bless you, stay there. Have a fellowship. Don’t come home and watch the show, but know that your neighbors are

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œand know that you have the opportunity

Q. Talking over the fence.
A. ¢€œyeah, and-and to hand them a book to say this is an access point to the¢â‚¬¦

Q. Yeah, Yeah.
A. That’s what I wrote the book for is to say. These are people that are outside
the faith

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œthat I want to speak the gospel into their lives, and it’s the perfect
opportunity.

Q. Tell us about Carmela.
A. She is a¢â‚¬¦ David Chase, the creator, would say, she’s the first one going to
hell. Although she’s a devout Catholic, she would describe herself as a devout Christian, but she is incredibly conflicted about the kind of life that she leads. She loves the material possessions and yet she longs to please God somehow. And when¢â‚¬¦

Q. So why is she the first one going to hell?
A. You know, I think because he says she’s the hypocrite. Because she doesn’t
live out what she believes.

Q. So Tony’s in better shape because he’s conflicted about bad stuff.
A. That’s what David would say.

Q. Where as she’s compartmentalizing it.
A. Absolutely. That’s what David would say and that’s what many would say.

Q. So one of the ways that you can have a conversation with somebody about
this issue is, do you think Tony or Carmela is closer to the Kingdom?
A. Absolutely.

When we come back we’re going to talk about the kids. And I think you
can see how-how Chris approaches this stuff. We’re going to get to some more of the characters and some more of the themes and poke around a little bit more. But, folks, you’re going to want to spend more time with Chris. And you can do that by picking up a copy of the book. It’s titled The Gospel According to Tony Soprano: An Unauthorized Look Into the Soul of TV’s Top Mob Boss and His Family. It’s published by Tarcher Putnam. It’s available online or at your local bookstore. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away.
(Break.)

Q.Well, this is Dick Staub back with you, thanking you for making me part of your-your day. We’re visiting with Chris Seay. His book is The Gospel According to Tony Soprano. Tarcher Putnam is the publisher. A book that-that is going to spark a lot of interest because, first of all, there are a lot of people that love The Sopranos and, secondly, there are a lot of people of faith who wrestle with their relationship with this stuff, who find it useful to explore the-the beliefs of The Sopranos through the eyes of faith. And-and-and also always looking for ways of having conversations with people in culture about their own beliefs. And certainly this can be a starting point for that. We’ve talked about Tony and Carmela. Now we got the kids. And-and what do we learn through-through Meadow and Anthony?
A. Yeah, I mean, A.J., I actually say in the book, he may be further along in faith
than anybody. He’s at least really struggling with the tension. You’ve got one of the episodes where he’s confirmed in the Catholic church. And-and through that process he begins to ask deep questions about God. And-and through that begins to make these post-modern proclamations that God is dead, he no longer exists. And he struggles and searches through it. He definitely hasn’t come to a place of real faith, but he is searching for it.

Q. What is it that’s different about The Sopranos from all the other mob movies
that, like, The Godfathers and others that have the Catholic faith as the backdrop and kind of religion and spiritual stuff kind of mixed throughout but it’s always the woman that’s still devout and the guy that’s not. And-and it sends off a message that guys have a problem with the religion of it all. How is this different? And how is A.J. different in the way he’s approaching it from his dad approaching it? Because there was a generational difference. You talk about that in the chapter on “Confirmed in the Faith.” There are different approaches to-to the religion of Catholicism by dad and son.
A. Yeah, absolutely. Very different. And I think what makes this show different
is that you see some degree of real, genuine male disclosure. Most of it takes place in therapy, but A.J.’s aware that his dad’s in therapy. He knows there’s got to be some place to express what’s really going on with him. So what makes the show work is you see this really tough Tony, mob boss guy, threatening people, threatening to kill people, and a few moments later he’s sobbing like a baby in the chair of his therapist.

Q. You know, what’s interesting about the therapy system–and this would be a
cautionary word to the Christian, Evangelical Christian subculture with its relationship with psychology–is the way the psychologist becomes the-the point of confession. The priest taking confession is really how Dr. Melfi comes out as a character in this. I mean, it was a brilliant move to have Tony confiding his innermost thoughts with somebody and that somebody, not in religion, not a family member, it’s this professional in psychology. What’s the-what’s the implication of that?
A. Oh, it’s pretty clear. She is his priest. Carmela goes to confess to the priest
in the Catholic church, and Dr. Melfi is actually his priest. It’s where he confesses, yeah, except she operates in a moral vacuum. As she describes it, it’s a moral never-never land. So there-there is no right and wrong and so she can’t address issues of faith and issues of right and wrong. And so it’s bankrupt. There’s nowhere he can go. The problems he have-has are innately spiritual. They’re about making the wrong decisions about the way you live.

Q. And how does he relate to his religious tradition? And why doesn’t it connect
for him? Why-why doesn’t it help him with the stuff that he’s wrestling with?
A. I think some of it is the machismo you spoke of. It is the sense that men do
not connect in the faith in the same way, and yet when he hears his son say there is no God, he threatens him to a point of death, you know. This is something you don’t say in our family. We believe in God, that’s what we do. And yet there’s a disconnect not much different than as I told you this other book I’m writing, these people of faith Ken Lay, the president/CEO, that was¢â‚¬¦ His dad’s a Baptist pastor, grew up in the faith, there’s a disconnect to say faith belongs in this room and the rest of the world, it’s different. And this is business. Or he would equate business, Tony does, with war.

Q. Now, how do contemporary men and women connect to how men are
portrayed in The Sopranos? You describe them as “men in jogging suits with see-through socks.” And there is this kind of stereotypical macho guy who’s really kind of a loser.
A. Yeah, absolutely.

Q. And so, I mean, how-how-in an age that’s been so influenced by feminism,
how does this connect and not connect to men and women watching The Sopranos?
A. You know, I think the thing that men and I hear men all the time, Christian
men send me strange e-mails that say, I want to be a part of a Christian mafia, you
know–and-and what they essentially are really saying is, I want to be in a place where men are honest, strong men are honest about the fact that they love each other. And so what you see, and the reason you love these men is they have a lot of fun. They sit around, they eat together, they spend a lot of time hanging out together. And when they see each other they’re thrilled to see each other. They hug and kiss each other

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œand they’re loyal to the end.

Q. Yeah. But they might kill each other.
A. They might kill each other. If they’re not loyal, they will kill each other.

Q. Okay. So but in the midst of all of this wonderful closeness, there’s this
whole theme of isolation in The Sopranos
A. Yeah
.
Q. ¢€œwhich obviously, well, you talked¢â‚¬¦ Now, talk about how isolation is
connecting to a twenty-first century person watching The Sopranos.
A. Yeah. I mean, Tony seems to have it all, a family that loves him, a criminal
family that loves him and respects him, and yet he’s constantly living in fear that somehow they will abandon him or leave him. Part of it was the way he was raised. His mother was a sick woman. This woman did not really care for him or love him and constantly was hard on him. And he’s longing to find some kind of unconditional love. He wants to find someone that will love him and really know how messed up he is. And that’s part of the tension that exists between he and Dr. Melfi.

Q. How much of people’s ability to connect with The Sopranos is the fact that it
is set in a subculture that is totally different from theirs, and yet somehow the same in terms of the thematic stuff. In other words, I wasn’t raised in the mob, but this feels like the home I was raised in somehow.
A. Yeah, yeah. It really is a very typical home. So that part of it almost
everyone connects with. Now, you go to the east coast and you find people that connect with both parts of that culture and they-they’re much more fanatical about the show. But just based on that kind of family connection probably is where I connect the most and with that same machismo kind of thing they have going on.

Q. Yeah.
A. It’s quite enough connection to bind me obsessed with the show.

Q. Now, there’s other themes you talk about. Betrayal, sexuality, and so forth.
Finally, Que Sera Sera. This is kind of the nilism of the-of-of The Sopranos, the-the sense that this doesn’t really mean that much.
A. Yeah, yeah. I mean, they-they operate in-in such a world that they-they
realize life and death is just around the corner and they see it quite often with friends and with family. And so they-they push forward, they do their best, but in the-in the end I think they really believe we’re all in God’s hands.

Q. Okay. I’m going to throw some different descriptions to you and just give me
a quick response. The Sopranos is spiritually uplifting.
A. If viewed through the right lenses, yes, it is. I-I think where we see ourselves
and we say that’s not the way I want to live but I see the potential, it’s beautiful and uplifting.

Q. The Sopranos is-is morally instructive.
A. It’s-it’s probably not instructive if we’re going to imitate. I talk in the book
about this is not the kind of show you imitate. You see Star Trek kind of fans that dress up like the Star Wars characters. If you want to dress like Tony Soprano with a lot of gold and show some chest hair, it’s not going to work for you.

Q. The show is edifying.
A. Absolutely. Absolutely. It-it-it draws me to a better place. There are things I
love¢â‚¬¦

Q. But how does it fit whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are holy,
whatsoever, et cetera, et cetera?
A. You know, there is a great deal of purity in-in-in leading ourselves towards a
better place.

Q. The show is addictive.
A. Absolutely.
B.
Q. Is this bad? I mean, should we be addicted to-to our faith and the Word? Or
should we be addicted to Tony Soprano?
A. You know, I-I could definitely tell you I could fast from the show. I’ve done
it for about a year and a half. Most of us haven’t seen a new episode in that long. So it’s not that much, but it’s a story that draws you in.

Ladies and gentlemen, spend more time with Chris Seay by picking up
your own copy of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, written by Chris with some help from Justin. We’re going to be back. Don’t go away.

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