The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever


February 24, 2006 | 8 Comments

“If I betray the oath of omerta, may my soul burn in Hell.” That’s what Michael “Mikey Scars” DiLeonardo reportedly swore at his induction ceremony as a made man in the Gambino crime family — but did he mean it? It’s hard to imagine that men who engage in murder, extortion, loansharking and prostitution believe in God and souls and Hell.

They just gotta be atheists.

No, I don’t mean quite that. I’m not saying that atheism causes immorality, or that it’s impossible to be good without a real belief in God. There are many atheists who do not run rackeetering enterprises. What I mean is that if they really believed in God, they wouldn’t commit such crimes.

But I don’t mean quite me that, either. I’m not saying that belief in God is enough to stop one from behaving badly. Religious people commit crimes too. But the scenarios in which bad behavior coincides with sincere belief are limited. First, there’s the situation where the misconduct is commanded by the religion, perhaps as part of a holy war or a holy crusade of terrorism. The “true” religion may not actually require that (yeah right), but there’s at least a subjective belief by the wrongdoer that God approves. Second, there’s the situation where the individual has merely succumbed to temptation. He fully believes in the relevant dogmas and principles, knows that his crimes violate them, but is temporarily overcome by greed or lust or rage. Or perhaps he deliberately suspends belief or tries not to think about it, with the idea in the back of his head that there will always be time to repent later.

People like Mikey Scars, however, don’t seem to fit into either of those categories. Catholicism (I’m just guessing that’s his religion) doesn’t officially approve of organized crime, and Mikey subjectively knows that much. And what he was doing was not a temporary lapse or a moment of weakness — it was his chosen career. The whole purpose of the omerta oath is to insure that mobsters don’t rat each out so that their crimes can go unpunished. It’s possible they intend to just repent on their deathbeds, but everyone knows you’re not allowed to plot it all out in advance like that. I suppose one could start out scheming to fake repentance and then actually feel it when the moment came, but my point is that the belief that that is going to happen isn’t really sincere at the time the crimes are planned.

The main problem, I guess, is that the oath itself presumes that God punishes tattling to protect killing. Apart from the fact that they know Catholicism says otherwise, it’s hard to believe that they or anyone would subscribe to a religion which had committing and protecting crime as its main object. There are religions that encourage the worst sort of evils and whose members doubtlessly agree not to turn each other in (fundamentalist Muslims), but as noted above they’re operating under a sincere religious belief. And their goal is generally to glorify God in some way, impose a different theology with a stricter moral code, or be rewarded in the afterlife. But the ordinary theft, dope-dealing, extortion, loansharking and other crimes mobsters commit are primarily motivated by greed and there’s no pretense to glorifying anything.

Satanists, perhaps? I don’t think that’s it either. Ultimately I think they do believe, in removed sort of way, in the religion in which they were raised. They wouldn’t curse in a church or in front of a nun, or desecrate a religious statue, and would be upset to witness such conduct. The late John Gotti was purportedly perplexed by an acquaintances embrace of Judaism and Buddhism, which indicates that he had at least enough belief in his own religion to question the faith of others. Many criminals believe in prayer and oaths (and have adapted those practices for their initiation ceremonies) and bring some sort of faith to whatever traditional religious rites they attend.

Thus, while Mikey Scars openly cheated on his wife and fathered a son by a mistress, he felt obligated to attend the child’s christening. Similarly, The Godfather concludes with scenes of Michael Corleone at his son’s baptism, conducted while his associates are out whacking his rivals. Even if participation in these ceremonies is viewed as an accommodation to the mothers or their families and the mobsters view religion as something like to be delegated to women like shopping and housework, that doesn’t mean that the religion is meaningless to them. Like the housework and shopping, they sense its importance and expect to benefit from it; it’s just that they don’t consider it their department.


8 Responses to “Omerta”

  1. Eva, Mod.
    February 24th, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

    whew! for a moment here i thought you were going to explain that this mobsters were not “Real Christians (Tm)”….

  2. franky
    February 24th, 2006 @ 12:45 pm

    Very thoughtful and insightful post TRA.

    February 24th, 2006 @ 2:16 pm

    I wouldn’t trust any god fearing christian (or allah fearing muslim) any further than I could throw them.

  4. Thorngod
    February 24th, 2006 @ 2:45 pm

    That’s a rather rash statement, JAP. Practically everyone I know is a believer, and a large percentage are quite trustworthy. It’s only in their religious beliefs that they suffer and fall short.

  5. MikeG
    February 24th, 2006 @ 6:59 pm

    An equally interesting question is how the priest(s) (who presumably gave “Mr. Scars” communion and absolution) view themselves and their roles. Do they assume that each time he gave confession he truly repented of his sins, but was powerless to stick to that repentence? Or were they just going through the motions of their faith? Or perhaps they were just terrified of the consequences of their refusal to grant absolution (“Nice little church you got here…shame if anything happens to it.”)?

    A similar question might be asked of those priests on both sides of the Ulster border who winked at IRA activities for so many decades…

  6. mitch
    February 24th, 2006 @ 9:37 pm

    yes, yes, yes.
    for my favorite example of religious hypocrisy see:

  7. PHLAF
    February 25th, 2006 @ 10:19 am

    The oath, no doubt, dates back to the origins of the organization, which, while never exactly a lily-white, purely honorable institution, did come from an attempt to protect Sicily from outside invaders and to preserve Sicilian heritage in the face of encroaching and often clashing cultures. It was still a pay-for-protection deal back then, though.

    That these men still repeat this oath when they are nothing more than a bunch of common, sleazy, low-class criminals probably has more to do with the personality types that like to join things and have secret oaths and handshakes and wear silly hats and aprons and whathaveyou. Their inflated and empty sense of “honor” (thinking it makes you honorable to attend your illegitimate child’s christening, but having no problem with screwing around on your wife, for example) is merely a result of their arrogance and ego.

    The priests who continue to hear their confessions and absolve them of their very serious crimes/sins interest me more.

    This is a church that wants to refuse communion to anyone who votes for a candidate that supports legalized abortion, yet they haven’t got the balls to refuse communion to men and women who are members of an organization that steals, murders, lies, sleazes around, and sells drugs every minute of every day of every year.

    Of course, the Mafia gives money to the Catholic church and abortion rights organizations don’t – nor do gay advocacy groups, another set of people the Catholic church is happy to openly condemn.

  8. Dada Saves
    February 26th, 2006 @ 10:54 am

    Mafiosi are not only theists, they organize according to theist (Catholic) principles.

    Initiation or ‘being made’ = Baptism
    Becoming a don = Holy Orders
    Capo di tutti capi or ‘GODfather = God
    caporegimes = bishop or cardinal

    Tithing is rigidly enforced.

    As for whether they fear for their immortal souls, the answer is no: because they know all the women in the Family are praying like hell for their husbands and sons salvation. (And when has God ever refused an accomodation?) Note the very last line in The Godfather (the novel) makes this point about Kay — Michael’s wife, who converted for this very purpose.

    re the movie: Some critics thought Coppola’s intersplicing of murder with the baptism scene was heavy-handed, but I think that’s because the critics were interpreting the juxtaposition as ironic, which it is not. It is intended to show not the hypocrisy but the precise relationship between the mob the Church.

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