A theological parable…

The Godfather

Steve Coerper        

"What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?" - Jeremiah 2:5

I ordered the book The Godfather by Mario Puzo because I'm interested in political science, and thought this would be a good primer/refresher.   After I ordered the book, I heard John Haller say that Obama is running a criminal syndicate out of the White House.

Haller is not the only one to come to that conclusion.  And while I don't know if Obama's "family" has the body count of the Clintons, the M.O. is probably about the same.

But while I find the current regime loathsome, I rather like Don Corleone.  He really impresses me, a lot more than some of the other characters in the book.   And if you will tolerated a little long-winded retelling, I'd like to summarize some of the events I found most notable, along with my own observations.

Mario Puzo is not Dostoyevsky, nor does he try to be.  Still, right on the front end, Puzo lays out a theological parable that, for me anyway, was hard to miss. 

The story begins with one Amerigo Bonasera who was, in many ways, much like many of us.  He was living comfortably in his world.   Having come over from Italy, he wanted to become American and wanted his daughter to do likewise.   America was good to him; he was making a comfortable living as an undertaker, and was able to distance himself from the Italian-American subculture.  And he loved his daughter. 

She went out with a young American boy of college age.  The boy and his companion plied her with whiskey and attempted to violate her.   When she resisted, they battered her and she wound up in the hospital.   Amerigo was shattered.   He went to the American legal system for justice.

The boys' parents were politically connected, and these two miscreants got a slap-on-the-wrist:  a tongue-lashing from the judge and a suspended sentence.  Angry and disillusioned, Amerigo went to see Don Corleone.

Here's where it gets theological.  It was the wedding day of Don Corleone's daughter, and the Sicilian custom was that the father of the bride could not refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day.   Amerigo's wife and Don Corleone's wife were close friends, and Mrs. Corleone was also the godmother to Amerigo's daughter.  But Amerigo was in severe disfavor with Don Corleone.

Mario Puzo wrote:

Amerigo Bonasera followed Hagen into the corner room of the house and found Don Corleone sitting behind a huge desk, and Sonny Corleone standing by the window.  He began his request obliquely and cleverly.  "You must excuse my daughter, your wife's goddaughter, for not doing your family the respect of coming today.  She is in the hospital still." 

"We all know of your daughter's misfortune," Don Corleone said.  "If I can help her in any way, you have only to speak.  My wife is her godmother after all.  I have never forgotten that honor."  This was a rebuke.  The undertaker never called Don Corleone "Godfather" as custom dictated.

Bonasera, ashen-faced, asked, directly now, "May I speak to you alone?"

Don Corleone shook his head.  "I trust these two men with my life.  They are my two right arms.  I cannot insult them by sending them away."

The undertaker closed his eyes for a moment and then began to speak.  His voice was quiet, the voice he used to console the bereaved.  "I raised my daughter in the American fashion.  I believe in America.  America has made my fortune.  I gave my daughter her freedom and yet taught her never to dishonor her family.  She found a 'boy friend,' not an Italian.  She went to the movies with him.  She stayed out late.  But he never came to meet her parents.  I accepted all this without a protest, the fault is mine.

"Two months ago he took her for a drive.  He had a masculine friend with him.  They made her drink whiskey and then they tried to take advantage of her.  She resisted.  She kept her honor.  They beat her.  Like an animal.  When I went to the hospital she had two black eyes.  Her nose was broken.  Her jaw was shattered.  They had to wire it together.  She wept through her pain.  'Father, Father, why did they do it?  Why did they do this to me?'  And I wept."  Bonasera could not speak further, he was weeping now though his voice had not betrayed his emotion.

Don Corleone, as if against his will, made a gesture of sympathy and Bonasera went on, his voice human with suffering.  "Why did I weep?  She was the light of my life, an affectionate daughter.  A beautiful girl.  She trusted people and now she will never trust them again.  She will never be beautiful again."  He was trembling, his sallow face flushed an ugly dark red.

"I went to the police like a good American.  The two boys were arrested.  They were brought to trial.  The evidence was overwhelming and they pleaded guilty.  The judge sentenced them to three years in prison and suspended the sentence.  They went free that very day.  I stood in the courtroom like a fool and those bastards smiled at me.  And then I said to my wife: 'We must go to Don Corleone for justice.' "

The Don had bowed his head to show respect for the man's grief.  But when he spoke, the words were cold with offended dignity.  "Why did you go to the police?  Why didn't you come to me at the beginning of this affair?"

Bonasera muttered almost inaudibly, "What do you want of me?  Tell me what you wish.  But do what I beg you to do."  There was something almost insolent in his words.

Don Corleone said gravely, "And what is that?"

Bonasera glanced at Hagen and Sonny Corleone and shook his head.  The Don, still sitting at Hagen's desk, inclined his body toward the undertaker.  Bonasera hesitated, then bent down and put his lips so close to the Don's hairy ear that they touched.  Don Corleone listened like a priest in the confessional, gazing away into the distance, impassive, remote.  They stood so for a long moment until Bonasera finished whispering and straightened to his full height.  The Don looked up gravely at Bonasera.  Bonasera, his face flushed, returned the stare unflinchingly.

Finally the Don spoke.  "That I cannot do.  You are being carried away."

Amerigo had asked Don Corleone to have the two miscreants killed, and Don Corleone demurred for two reasons.   First, the request exceeded justice.   Amerigo's daughter had been battered, but she was still alive.   Secondly, Bonasera had spurned the friendship that Don Corleone had offered him.  He could not make a request based on a relationship if the relationship did not exist.  Puzo continues:

Don Corleone rose from behind the desk.  His face was still impassive but his voice rang like cold death.   "We have known each other many years, you and I," he said to the undertaker, "but until this day you never came to me for counsel or help.   I can't remember the last time you invited me to your house for coffee though my wife is godmother to your only child.  Let us be frank.  You spurned my friendship.  You feared to be in my debt."

Bonasera murmured, "I didn't want to get into trouble."

The Don held up his hand.   "No.  Don't speak.   You found America a paradise.   You had a good trade, you made a good living, you thought the world a harmless place where you could take your pleasure as you willed.   You never armed yourself with true friends.   After all, the police guarded you, there were courts of law, you and yours could come to no harm.  You did not need Don Corleone.  Very well.  My feelings were wounded but I am not that sort of person who thrusts his friendship on those who do not value it - on those who think me of little account."

The Don paused and gave the undertaker a polite, ironic smile.  "Now you come to me and say, 'Don Corleone give me justice.'   And you do not ask with respect.   You do not offer me your friendship.   You come into my home on the bridal day of my daughter and you ask me to do murder and you say" - here the Don's voice became a scornful mimicry- " 'I will pay you anything.'  No, no, I am not offended, but what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?"

Brilliant!   Is this not EXACTLY what American Christianity ("MTD") has become??   Life is good!   Who needs God??   And when something bad happens, we expect God to fix it.   And the question at the end, straight from the heart of God (Jeremiah 2:5 and doubtless several other places):  What has God ever done to make us treat Him so disrespectfully?

Puzo continues:

Bonasera cried out in his anguish and his fear, "America has been good to me.   I wanted to be a good citizen.  I wanted my child to be American."

The Don clapped his hands together with decisive approval.   "Well spoken.   Very fine.   Then you have nothing to complain about.   The judge has ruled.   America has ruled.   Bring your daughter flowers and a box of candy when you go visit her in the hospital.   That will comfort her.  Be content.  After all, this is not a serious affair, the boys were young, high-spirited, and one of them is the son of a powerful politician.  No, my dear Amerigo, you have always been honest.  I must admit, though you spurned my friendship, that I would trust the given word of Amerigo Bonasera more than I would any other man's.  So give me your word that you will put aside this madness.  It is not American.  Forgive.  Forget.  Life is full of misfortunes."

Bonasera spoke up bravely again, "I ask you for justice."

Don Corleone said curtly, "The court gave you justice."

Bonasera shook his head stubbornly.   "No.   They gave the youths justice.   They did not give me justice."

The Don acknowledged this fine distinction with an approving nod, then asked, "What is your justice?"

"An eye for an eye," Bonasera said.

"You asked for more," the Don said.   "Your daughter is alive."

Don Corleone tried to end the discussion and dismiss Bonasera, but Amerigo was persistent. Puzo concludes:

Finally, sighing, a good-hearted man who cannot remain angry with an erring friend, Don Corleone turned back to the undertaker who was now as pale as one of his corpses.  Don Corleone was gentle, patient.   "Why do you fear to give your first allegiance to me?"

And is THIS not The Question? Jesus Christ deserves exclusive allegiance. He simply will not condescend to being an ace in the hole, an extra option in Life's toolkit, or even one of several loyalties, interests or devotions.   Do we FEAR to give our allegiance to Him? At least Bonasera didn't try to lie. I get the sense that many of our fellow-travelers lie to themselves regularly concerning their true allegiance.

I loved it; a stark and binary choice presented with clarity.  Throughout the novel, Puzo gives examples of treachery, duplicity, and the loss of trust, along with the consequences that necessarily resulted.  His fictitious underworld of the mid 20th century maps well to some of the cultural unraveling we're witnessing today.

I might also mention that the trinity also appears in this parable.  Tom Hagen is the Consigliori, that is, the Counselor.   "Sonny" is Santino, who was Don Corleone's firstborn son.

As noted, neither takes precedence.  The Don said, "they are my two right arms."

The Father, the Son, the Counselor.



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