Old Blue Eyes on religion: “When lip service to some mysterious deity permits bestiality on Wednesday and absolution on Sunday — cash me out”

August 22, 2014 • 12:00 pm

If you think of Frank Sinatra as a dumb kid from Hoboken, New Jersey, who made it big from his voice alone, you’ll be surprised by this interview he gave to Playboy magazine in 1963. He’s thoughtful, articulate, and—surprise!—godless.

The Playboy interviews were famous, one of the best things about the magazine. I used to read them when I’d sneak a peek at my father’s magazines, which, of course, I read only for the stories and prose.  The interviews were superb, and this one is eye-opening. (For excerpts from 10 engaging interviews, go here.)

Now I can’t vouch 100% that this is an accurate transcription, but several sources (e.g., here) verify that Sinatra did give the interview then, and I doubt that the source of these quotes, the “Sinatra Forum,” would simply fabricate the whole thing. But it shows a man who, despite the slang, has seen right through religion’s pretensions and its fake claims to be the arbiter of morality.

So, without further ado, The Voice discusses God:

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.

Parsing all that, sometimes he seems like a deist, but when he equates God with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, we’re talking Alcoholic Pantheism, aka atheism. But note that the guy really had done some thinking about religion, even if he tries to express it like a hipster.  And could you guess that Sinatra would be capable of saying this: “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.” Big words, and as true now as it was then.

Then Sinatra realizes what he’s said, and that, even more then than now, public criticism of religion was a no-no. Somehow, though, this didn’t seem to have hurt his career.

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.

Playboy: If you think you’re stepping over the line, offending your public or perhaps risking economic suicide, shall we cut this off now, erase the tape and start over along more antiseptic lines?

Sinatra: No, let’s let it run. I’ve thought this way for years, ached to say these things. Whom have I harmed by what I’ve said? What moral defection have I suggested? No, I don’t want to chicken out now. Come on, pal, the clock’s running.

Frank Sinatra 1959 "Come Dance With Me" Capitol Records © 1978 Sid Avery
A godless heathen tempts you to share his unbelief



117 thoughts on “Old Blue Eyes on religion: “When lip service to some mysterious deity permits bestiality on Wednesday and absolution on Sunday — cash me out”

    1. I’ve always been a huge fan and though I didn’t know about his godlessness ( not often sneaking peeks at the ” articles ” in Playboy:-), I am not surprised that someone who could sing with such depth of understanding of human nature ( might even call it “soul” in the non-religious sense) would also be highly intelligent. Just wish he’d had the cojones to say NO to such corny songs as High Hopes ( Whoops there goes another rubber tree plant) and a couple of others. 99% of his many many recordings are great, especially the ones with Nelson Riddle ( and without the “heavenly voices” background singers).

      1. This is kind of a funny admission. When I was really young, under the age of ten probably, I used to spend a lot of time during the summers with my great aunt chickie (yes I had an aunt chickie.) We would watch old movies together at her house and Sinatra was frequently the star of the movies we watched. I’d seen him in musicals like Guys & Dolls but figured he was just an actor in a musical like Brando. I was going through my dads records around the same time when I discovered his copy of Strangers in the Night. I put it on the turntable on my parents old stereo and started listening. About a half hour later, to hear my parents tell it, I stormed into the family room, obviously about to make some very important announcement. I put the album down on the coffee table and exclaimed “FRANK SINATRA IS A SINGER TOO?!?!?!?!” I’ve still never seen my father laugh so hard in his life and the was more than 25 years ago.

      2. You probably are familiar with the album “Close to You and More.” Nelson Riddle arrangements including the Hollywood String Quartet. Tasteeee!! (It was out of print for a long time but I see it’s now available on amazon.) And if you are depressed, there is “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely”!

        1. I have and love the Only the Lonely album. Will have to see if I have the other one. Yes, he is a wonderful accompaniment to the blues…

    2. I did not get that sense of godlessness, he is just not in favor of big religion. I am still a huge fan. I am 34 years old and have over 50 of his LP’s. Not the cd version i mean records for all the younger folks who have never seen one.

      Still lovenyounFrank.

  1. Thank you for the Frank Sinatra interview. I wanted to add some of the words from his tune, My Way:
    For what is a man what has he got
    If not himself then he has not
    To say the things he truly feels
    And not the words of one who kneels
    The record shows I took the blows
    And did it my way

    Yes it was my way

      1. I was concerned you died or had a stroke with how that sentenced trailed off, but I see you posted later so you’re okay.

          1. I was in Cannon Beach, OR the other day and a guy walks by with a T Shirt that says “I NEVER FINISH ANYTH.”

              1. Post office recommendations for using the two-letter state designations include not placing a comma between the city and the state abbreviation.

                In his Almanac Of Words At Play, Willard Espy included a poem that makes little sense until you substitute the two-letter codes for the state names. Here’s a part of it that I can remember:

                When baby gurgles Guam and Georgia
                Then I don’t Nevada baby’s Pennsylvania
                But when the cry is Washington, Washington, Washington,
                Then I don’t Nevada Pennsylvania at a’!

                I don’t remember the rest of it.

  2. As GBJames said, I was never a fan before. I never actively disliked him, but not a fan. Probably as much a generation thing as anything else. Knowing that he spoke these words, I now have a whole new perspective of him, and much respect.

    1. If you have time, watch this clip from the film, “High Society” and you may start looking at or listening to more of Sinatra’s works with a new appreciation. I know I did.
      I think this is one of the most perfect musical scenes in all of film history, but that is of course my opinion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKhi4BfDNZE

        1. Merilee, who would catch that, at age 10.
          I love watching old movies because I missed things at other ages. It is amazing what shows up when you watch them again with more of life’s experiences.

          And Cole Porter’s lyrics are full of such fun stuff. Double meanings _everywhere_.

          That High Society clip is a perfect musical trifecta: Sinatra, Bing, and Cole Porter. It doesn’t get much better than that : )

    2. I think it is at least partly generational for me. In my youth, growing up in the heyday of rock and roll, I had little use for crooners from my parent’s generation. I eventually learned to appreciate some of the old-timers (Glenn Miller!) but I never really learned to appreciate Sinatra. My mid-twenties daughter, however, has been a fan since her adolescence. I think it is like martinis. It was the drink of my folk’s generation and the young folks all seem to like them. I’ll probably go to my grave never having tasted one.

  3. What a great interview, who would’ve guessed Sinatra had all that in him? People are complicated.

    But don’t forget, it’s Sinatra’s world, we just live in it.

      1. Good interview! Nothing new I think, but for anyone who wasn’t familiar with RD and his views, this is an excellent synopsis.

  4. Wow. My grandfather, who was a very conservative Republican, but an honest man, once told me that Sinatra was “not a good man”. I have had a lifelong prejudice against Sinatra because of that. I may have to rethink that now that I have seen this other side of Sinatra. Wow. Did he really say all that? I am impressed.

  5. He was wrong about at least one thing – nobody was burned at Salem. All the executions were by hanging, and Giles Corey died while being pressed during his interrogation.

    Burning alive was the punishment usually reserved for heretics. The image of burning witches came about because it was common practice to cremate the bodies after execution. It was believed that this prevented a person’s resurrection on the Last Day. Apparently, the omnipotent Christian deity can re-animate a bag of bones but is stumped by a pile of ashes. The Catholic church forbade cremation until just a few years ago, and allows it now only if the deceased signed a statement before dying affirming a belief in bodily resurrection. The church also used to disallow cremation until after the funeral mass, leaving the family the expense of both embalming before the funeral and cremation after.

      1. That was Giles Corey, but he wasn’t being executed – he was being questioned under torture and died as a result. All the Salem executions were hangings. Some of the accused also died in jail before coming to trial, but they were neither convicted nor executed (although the end result was the same).

        1. Was this also true on the Continent? If so, then the witch burning in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is inaccurate.

          1. It may surprise some, but the Protestants were more inclined to be incendiary than the Catholics. In fact, the Catholics came late to witch hunting because for many years they refused to even acknowledge that witchcraft existed. The were much more concerned about heresy. After all, the Reformation took away their influence and power in northern Europe.

          2. We used to burn witches here in Finland, at least. The last one cursed the Ruovesi Village as he was burned: Wherever his ashes were to land, insanity would abound. Of course, the area is famous for mental problems and suicide rates even today.

            Not sure about their actual medical statistics, but they still celebrate the incident with an annual Witch Trial. Sadly, Sinatra never visited to sing “Witchcraft”.

    1. Yep, but it was a common misperception back then. 19 were hanged and one crushed with rocks, as I recall. Burning was a European thing – perhaps only for cremation as the commenter above suggests.

        1. Wasn’t that to see if they were witches. The innocent ones drowned but hey you didn’t get to be hanged.

          1. In England, judicial torture not being allowed, they “swam” witches to try to determine guilt. (Supposedly, there was a rope around the accused’s middle, so that they could be pulled out. Towards the end of the 17th century, an English judge declared that if a person drowned as a result of this, it was prosecutable as manslaughter.) Likewise, the English didn’t burn witches, but the Scots and the continentals did. The English did burn heretics, though, as late as 1612.

          2. Later developments in judicial practice dispensed with the actual water test in favour of weighing the accused and comparing that result to that of a duck.
            I saw it in a documentary.

  6. I knew that Frank had positive attributes from his fierce objections to the bigotry directed at his friend, Sammy Davis Jr., but I had no idea he had such broad moral depth.

    I want to add while I am here that I consider his version of the song Summer Wind to be a complete masterpiece of his brand of popular music. It holds a place of honor in my playlist of golden oldies.

    1. And Witchcraft, and Night and Day, and and and…I, too, grew up in the Rock ‘n’ Roll era, but a college roommate turned me on to Ol’ Blue Eyes and I’ve never looked back.. ( often have Sinatra, Stones, some kind of opera, Bonnie Raitt, Sarah Vaughan on shuffle).

    2. I agree about “The Summer Wind”. That rendition was my intro to Sinatra as a young adult. It was used as the opening number in the 1984 film, “The Pope of Greenwich Village”, and I from then on listened to Sinatra with great awe.
      Until that time, I had eschewed everything of my parents’ generation (doesn’t everyone?).

    3. I just listened to your link to The Summer Wind, and I think much of its effect has to do with the great orchestration. You really get the feel of the swing. Good recordings like this are really collaborations of several types of artists.

  7. I wonder if he did get any backlash for what he said. Perhaps no one really dared mess with him with all the mob accusations.

    1. I don’t know, but given the long history of the Catholic Church and the mob, I’m skeptical that it would have prevented backlash.

      1. It’s interesting that there was no backlash, considering the outrage that greeted John Lennon’s “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” remark 3 years later. I guess that people were more upset at Lennon because he was seen as a kid’s entertainer and was therefore corrupting youth.

        1. Perhaps none of the moral majority were able to admit they’d read Playboy, even if it was “just for the articles”.

          1. I likewise read a lot of my dad’s old Playboys (after I finished ogling the pictures and reading the cartoons). Found one, from February 1965, I think, with an interview with the Beatles in which all four of them described themselves as agnostics (even George).

  8. It’s worth noting that less than a decade later, Sinatra campaigned for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. He was apparently good friends with Nixon’s corrupt Vice President Spiro Agnew, and put up money for Agnew’s legal defense.

    So while he says some interesting things here, I’m not prepared to embrace him as a hero of rationalism and progressivism on the strength of this interview.

    1. Yeah, I agree; that is the problem with embracing anyone as a hero across the board. No one can fill the bill for perfection on all fronts. I usually restrict my thinking to “heroic qualities”.

  9. Paraphrasing “This is Spinal Tap”:

    “Jesus, Mohammad, Krishna, Buddha, Cthulhu…Frank calls the shots for all those guys.”


  10. Love it! Had no idea he was such a deep thinker! My great aunt was a huge fan of Ol’ Blue Eyes and she was godless herself. Her funeral was not a religious one and it was a celebration of her life instead. One of the songs at her funeral was Sinatra singing “Mack the Knife”! It was great!

    1. A friend of mine at university was a Swiss model railway fan … or a model Swiss railway fan… anyway, he knew a lot about Swiss railways. It’s not so clear in the film, but in the book, the route the train takes is specifically described, my friend told me, and actually involves two changes of gauge!

      I still enjoyed the film, though. But I liked the Tony Rome films more.


      1. I see it maintains the usual movie standard of technical accuracy as applied to railways, then. 🙁

  11. Hah, reading that makes me laugh…

    Weird back story to that. A few years ago my father died, and along with brother & mother we had to do the whole funeral thing. I didn’t deal with the vicar who was dealing with the service (er, because, and so-on!), but did a lot of the other crap.

    Comes to the day, service goes as it should have done until the very end. For some reason Sinatra’s “My Way” came over the PA. Absolutely not asked for, not a favourite, and confused a lot of people, not just the family. I don’t think that I’ve giggled in confusion at a funeral before.

    I think that I approve of that mishap more now!

  12. I didn’t think I could like Sinatra any more than I do.

    You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I’ll show you a hundred retrogressions.

    Gasp! Apparently, he was a New Atheist.

    And he had high hopes….

  13. This was the February 1963 issue, which featured:

    Playmate of the Month Toni Ann Thomas photographed by Mario Casilli. Interview Frank Sinatra. Features “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves!” by P.G. Wodehouse. “Beyond Gravity” by Arthur C. Clarke. “The New Deal” by Charles Einstein. “The Right Wing” (debate) Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley Jr. The Playmate Pillow Fight. Teddi Smith Carrie Radison Christa Speck Delores Wells The Chicks of Cleopatra Liz’ (Elizabeth Taylor) Extra-Special Extras. Francesca Annis Michele Bally Kathy Martin Marie Devereaux. Cover Cheryl Lamphey.


  14. [P]romises wine and revirginated women.

    What is a revirginated woman? Is that like factory reconditioned?

    1. I saw that too. There is an old view that if one abstains from sex for a specified length of time, you can consider yourself a virgin again.

  15. RE Sinatra’s comment:

    If the press reports world news as they report about me, we’re in trouble.

    Since some media have reported he was a life-long Catholic, there’s clearly some truth there. (However, his memorial service was at a Catholic church and the LA archdiocese was willing to grant this. His 1st and 4th marriages were in Catholic churches but not his 2nd and 3rd.) A somewhat contradictory Sinatra is reported on here
    http://hollowverse.com/frank-sinatra/ (lengthy preview of article behind Questia paywall with possible free trial) as does this article nicely entitled “Even in the church he did it his way”

    Re Jerry C’s comment:

    I used to read them [Playboy mag interviews] when I’d sneak a peek at my father’s magazines, which, of course, I read only for the stories and prose.

    The Wall Street Journal reported in the 1980s that this was the first decade that if someone said that than they were probably telling the truth. Which shows how far ahead of his time Jerry Coyne was!!

    (And anyone who has a strong appreciation of both the pop music of the 60s AND 40s has terrific musical tastes.)

  16. I remember reading that Sinatra (that’s MR. Sinatra to you [and everyone else!]) was asked who he thought were the best singers of his time. He named Tony Bennett as being the best at what he did. If you want to know who the best musicians are, ask a musician!

  17. There absolutely is a God, even if you stubborn atheists refuse to accept it.

    His name is Francis Albert Sinatra.

    All kidding aside, Frank is one of those examples of horrible humanity mixed up in the most profound artistry. He was progressive in many ways– he was vocal in his support of civil rights– and he was a right pig bastard in too many others to count.

    But put “In the Wee Small Hours” on when you are feeling melancholy, or “Only the Lonely” when you are at your lowest and you’ll find a friend whispering in your ear, someone who truly gets it. There will never be another like him. He’s well known for crap like “My Way” (sorry to the fans of that horrendous song) and his ring-a-ding-ding stuff like “New York New York” but for me, his days at Capitol are the pinnacle, especially the more downbeat stuff.

    That being said, why are so many of the artists who are the apex of their form such miserable, often loathsome specimens? Picasso, Dylan, Django… I know, I don’t have even the slightest means of actually evaluating their humanity- stories and biographies are seldom truly fair or representative- but the only person I can think of who was a giant of comparable stature and also seems like a mensch is Louis Armstrong. I’m sure there are others, but the asshole genius seems to be the norm.

    1. You mentioned something about horrible humanity. I’ve (as a result of this post) done some reading about Sinatra but have not run across anything specific regarding what you referred to. Do you have reliable references you could point to?

      1. Here I am later, to answer my own question. The first few reviews on Amazon’s page about Kitty Kelley’s biography “My Way” were very interesting and worth reading.

  18. I’m not a fan of Sinatra’s music at all, but he just went up in my estimation.

    Why didn’t the interview hurt his career? Maybe the sort of person who would be deeply offended by his comments was not the sort of person who would read Playboy (or possibly, not the sort of person who would admit to reading Playboy…)

  19. I read the Sinatra biog by Kitty Kelley in which he appears as an obnoxious git. How pleasing to read he had another, thoughtful and analytical side.

  20. I believe that the Playboy “interview” with Sinatra was written by Mike Shore, an advertising executive with Reprise Records at the time. He wrote both the questions and the answers and Sinatra signed off on it on the advise of people around him who knew the significance of a Playboy interview. Playboy agreed to run it as an interview knowing the significance of having Ol’ Blue Eyes named on the cover. This is the claim of Kitty Kelly in her work, “His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra” on page 342. Sounds plausible considering the quality of the responses. Only Steven Pinker (and Hitch before him) speaks (or spoke) in complete paragraphs.

    1. I’ve read enough personal blogs (and dealt with the public enough) to not believe much of what anyone writes or says anymore –but I really would have thought Playboy would have been a little more truthful regarding this interview.
      I mean, it’s really misleading to actually put in the phrase, “…shall we cut this off now, erase the tape and start over…” if it wasn’t a verbal interaction, let alone there not being an actual interviewer.
      The Good Old Boys network was still really running strong in the 60s in America.

    2. Not sure I agree. How reliable is Kitty Kelley that the whole thing was ghost-written?

      The interview certainly does sound too fluent and well-reasoned to be a verbatim transcript, but then I never thought it was. I would think the normal procedure would be for the interviewer to take notes (or tape it), then write up the interview based on those notes (leaving out all the ‘ahhs’ and ‘umms’ and ‘I mean to say’) and run it past the interviewee for any corrections before printing the thing. That might even include re-wording bits to make some points more clear or concise. That of course is quite different from what Kitty Kelley alleges.

      1. I agree. Printed words can be easily edited. Hell, I edit just about every post on this site that is longer than a sentence and still screw them up half the time. If I were a internationally renowned, celebrity, I’d certainly want my speech edited. As was mentioned before, not many of us extemporaneously spew out full paragraphs in perfect form like Pinker or Hitchens

  21. Socrates: To be is to do
    Satre: To do is to be
    Shakespeare: To be, or not to be
    Frank Sinatra: Do Be Do Be Do

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