The episode concludes with everything returning to “normal”: Tony kills somebody, Carmela does nothing. As usual, the occasional onset of moral brooding amongst the members of the Soprano family does not bring about any great changes whatsoever: Tony carries on with his life in crime, Carmela remains at his side, as always enabling Tony in his career as professional criminal.
One might ask oneself: how is it even possible for Tony, Carmela, Christopher, et al to be so deeply religious, to be such hardcore Catholics, to practice such hardcore Catholicism? This is the wrong question to ask oneself. It makes more sense to ask: why do so many of us tend to assume that religion will make people “better”?
Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his novel
Religious people often imply that religious people are morally superior to us nonbelievers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As it turns out, it’s the exact opposite that is true. Religious people are in fact greater “sinners” than nonreligious people. Religion, in fact, facilitates crime and immorality:
Religious people believe that there are entities “above” mere mortals (gods, goddesses) and there are entities “beneath” mere mortals (demons). I imagine that, to religious people, the psychological leap between (a) placing only metaphysical entities above and beneath oneself, and (b) to also start placing other mere mortals above oneself (saints, nuns, priests) as well as beneath oneself (homosexuals, adulterers, thieves, confessors to other religions than one’s own, people of other nationalities or races) on the hierarchical steps of that very same metaphysical ladder must be a very short psychological leap indeed.
Once the believer makes this leap, from thinking (a) to thinking (b), the concept of metaphysical hierarchies begins to serve worldly and political and nationalist and racist purposes (for instance). The metaphysics of religion thus not only distills in people the fear of a god, but — extrapolated into the everyday — facilitates despising and debasing and looking down on other people in general as well.
By contrast, the secularized mind has no concept of a metaphysical ladder of hierarchy between entities. The psychological and political and moral leap into placing other mere mortals above or — more alarmingly — beneath oneself is much greater for nonreligious people than for religious people. No wonder secularized people are more likely to
In addition — and contrary to what the nonbeliever might expect — to the believer there never is a clear line drawn between acceptable and unacceptable (religious) behavior. Being a law-abiding citizen, for instance, is not enough for a religious person. Also the most law-abiding of citizens constantly commit religious infractions of a greater or lesser nature. In the believer’s universe, one day does not go by in which a person does not “sin” in one way or other: in the believer’s universe, everything is “bad” behavior to a greater or lesser extent.
And if there is no clear line drawn between “good” and “bad” worldly acts (if more or less all acts are more or less “bad” acts, in a religious sense), then no wonder the clear line between secular lawfulness and secular criminality is so easy for religious people to cross. No wonder deeply religious people (like Tony and Carmela Soprano) make such little distinction between petty (?) everyday sins, like cussing, and — well, murder.
By contrast, nonreligious people can live entire lives without ever feeling they are necessarily “bad” people, without feeling they are behaving really “badly” — as long as they do not break the law. In the nonbeliever’s universe, there is in fact one clear line drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, i.e. the line between legal and illegal. And therefore, this clear line between legality and illegality in secular society (albeit often making more or less arbitrary distinctions: in some countries it’s illegal to drive on the right side of the road, in other countries it’s illegal to drive on left side) is really important to nonreligious people. It is in fact more important to nonreligious people than to religious people. To break the laws of secular society and to cross the border into lawlessness is psychologically and morally a very great leap indeed to make for the nonbeliever. Most nonbelievers take pride in being law-abiding citizens. Religious people not so much. (!) No wonder secularized peoples and nations enjoy societies that are less crime laden.
In today’s infected public debate about the role of religion in modern society (for or against
Secular peoples/secularized nations make less war/less violence/less crime than peoples/nations of any — any! — religion. The frequency and amplitude of criminal acts and acts of violence can after all be measured. The statistics all show the same thing: nonreligious people/peoples are more peace loving. Nonreligious people/peoples behave “better!”
Dostoyevsky was obviously wrong. Religious people in general are obviously wrong: religion will never do away with disdain or oppression or violence or crime.
People would live happier and better lives — including morally better lives! — if they stopped praying and gave up their religion. Religion is not pretty; religion is certainly
This is a work in progress: first version July 4, latest rewrite November 13, 2010. Thank you,
More by Mikael Askergren on religion and morality, and on why art is always secular and why religion always is kitsch: