Why Tony Soprano May Be Going To Hell

ImageI’m watching The Sopranos and Tony is talking to his therapist, and when asked about accepting a gay Capo, he dismisses it with “I’m a strict Catholic.”

This is a man whose God is clearly money, who uses the Lord’s name in vain, who murders, who extorts, who uses violence and the threat of violence, who lies, who bears false witness, who commits adultery, who steals, who does not treat anyone in his family well at all, and who covets what others have to the point of killing them and taking it. He never goes to church but simply donates money to the church (because God, like him, is looking for bribes). He never goes to confession or even once expresses any remorse of demonstrates that he has any concept that he is doing anything wrong. But accepting a homosexual is where he draws the line because if he did, then he wouldn’t be a “strict Catholic.”

Now I know Tony Sopranois a fictional character. But there is something honest about him, and especially his views of being a Christian — and not just a Catholic Christian, but Christian in a way that seems to cut across denominational and ecclesiastical lines. Everybody seems to think that their own sins are not as bad as the sins of others. Granted, the homosexual in this case is a homosexual who does all the other stuff that Tony does. But even if he did not, even if the only thing he did was have sex with another man, Tony would consider himself more moral because in spite of all the bad things Tony does, being gay is worse.

Tony Soprano is not a good person, which is actually part of the genius of the show: there is this reprehensible character for whom we feel sympathy because we have gotten to know him. In spite of everything Tony has done, and who he has done it to, Tony Soprano thinks he is basically a good person — and that is why we cannot be our own judge. Everyone, even Hitler, thinks that they are basically a good person. Tony Soprano, like so many people I meet who are not mobsters, thinks he is basically a good person who is surrounded by degenerates who deserve to be taken advantage of and victimized and judged because they sin differently than Tony does.

This rant mentions homosexuality, but that is not what it is about. It is about judging others — and not in the small, hurtful ways that all of us constantly judge one another, but the kind of judgment that determines that some people are worthy of God and grace and salvation, and some people are not. It is a funny thing, but those who judge the worthiness of others always seem to judge themselves worthy, but those people or groups they may not like or understand are somehow unworthy — which is exactly what Tony Soprano does repeatedly.

I know The Sopranos is not the Bible, but think of it like a parable. In some aspect of each of our lives, however small our influence may be, we all have the opportunity and capacity to be a Tony Soprano. When we judge others in the way he does, while ignoring our own many sins in the way he does, we cut ourselves off from God’s grace by trying to cut others off from it by deeming them unworthy of it. When we focus on the unworthiness of others, we do not focus or see our own potential unworthiness, and we justify ourselves in our own estimation, and we refuse grace because we decide that we do not need God’s grace. We may from time to time voice empty words declaring that we are sinners in need of grace, but if we really believed that, we would not stand in judgment of others and declare anyone unworthy of that grace.

ImageSo all that was to say what I have said before: Don’t condemn others because they sin differently than you. Don’t declare anyone “unworthy” of God’s grace simply because they are “unworthy” in a way that differs from your own unworthiness. Leave the judging, the condemning, the excluding to God, who alone is in a position to condemn, judge and exclude; and yet, seems to be infinitely inclusive and welcoming.   If any of us really believes that God has overlooked our own unworthiness and made room for us, then we should have no problem accepting that God has overlooked the unworthiness of others, and has made room for them — regardless of how we feel about it.

God does not ask our permission for those whom God welcomes — but God cannot welcome any of us without our consent. If others have given their consent to the welcoming grace of God, then that is between them and God, and there is no place for my judgment or condemnation or exclusion, for by so doing, I am not condemning the person who is welcomed by God, but I am condemning God for welcoming someone I consider unworthy of God’s grace and love, forgetting that I am just as unworthy as they are, and that they are just as worthy as I am.

Jesus tells us over and over again that we are judged in the same way that we judge others. He tells us over and over that the same standard we use against others will be the same standard used against us. Jesus tells us over and over that if we do not forgive others, then we cannot be forgiven. Condemning others, declaring them unworthy, is in essence refusing to forgive them and their unworthiness. By refusing to accept them, we declare ourselves unacceptable. We do not cut them off from God’s love and grace, but we run the risk of cutting ourselves off from it.

As for me, I have decided a long time ago to err on the side of being inclusive. If I am found guilty, I would rather it be for welcoming others, for giving to others, for feeding, supporting, nourishing, clothing, and healing others, even if religious people tell me I am wrong or stupid or crazy for doing it. I would hate to hear God or anyone else tell me, “You excluded others from your church, from your life, from your own understanding of God’s grace, so now we have to exclude you from the Kingdom.” I would much rather hear my Lord say,

“Well done, good and faithful servant! My Father sings your praises! Inherit the Kingdom that has been prepared for you ever since the world was made. Because I was hungry and all of you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and all of you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and all of you welcomed me. I was naked and all of you gave me something to wear. I was sick and all of you came to visit me. I was arrested and all of you came to my defense. Amen! I’m telling all of you that whenever you did one of these things for someone, regardless of how unimportant [or how unworthy you may have thought] they were, you were also doing it for me!

The irony is that Tony Soprano may be cut off from God’s grace. Tony Soprano may go to hell. But Tony Soprano is not going to hell for all of his many sins, but because in spite of his many sins, he feels justified in himself and wiling to condemn others. As you judge, so will you be judged. Therefore, as you condemn, so will you be condemned, but as you welcome, so will you be welcomed.

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