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Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Godfather and the Almost Traditional Family

By:   Jesse B. Russell, Ph.D.
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The Godfather and the Almost Traditional Family
How a neo-Catholic view of marriage and a misconstrued understanding of family have weakened the Catholic response to the aggressive expansion of gay marriage

It would not be an overstatement to argue that virtually every neo-Catholic has a faulty understanding of marriage. The view of our Novus Ordo friends has been perpetuated by a hopefully faulty understanding of St. Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body propagated by hopefully well-intentioned popularizers of the Polish pontiff’s thought. The notion among the JPII generation of Catholics is that marriage is a passionate, extremely sexualized union between a man and a woman who via NFP parcel out a fair sized bundle of kids. Oddly enough (or maybe not so oddly) this misconstrued view of marriage has weakened the Catholic response to the aggressive expansion of gay marriage. Arguing that marriage is a loving union between a man and woman who are “open to life,” neo-Catholics have unwittingly abetted the triumph of gay marriage in America.


It has been repeated by homosexual activists with increasing fervor since the Obergefell decision that “gay marriage” is not an attack on traditional marriage because either traditional marriage never existed, and it was not really all that moral if it did, or traditional marriage is not altogether different from gay marriage. In so doing, these cultural revolutionaries hope to upset the apple cart by pointing out how clueless and shallow defenders of traditional marriage are; strangely, these leftists accomplish their task by being right in their observation of most neocon and neo-Catholic pro-family advocates but wrong in their final conclusion.

The first argument made is that, if traditional marriage is two heterosexuals raising children in a home in which dad goes to work and mom spends her time cooking and cleaning with expensive appliances and buying things, then this is by no means the human norm. The argument is meant to scare or “blow the mind” of conservatives who try to normalize a living condition that is largely the product of the post-World War II American suburban experience, which itself lasted for maybe twenty years. The proponents of gay marriage assume that once conservatives realize that what we call polygamy, rape, and sexual slavery was frequently and perhaps normally practiced throughout at least some of human history, then two homosexuals getting married will not seem so bad after all.

The second argument is that traditional marriage as understood by most Americans is a contract between two consenting adults to share at least part of an extended period of their life together. There may be children living in the household, but these children are not necessarily the biological offspring of both parents. The key to forming a marriage, in this view, seems to be that it is true marriage if the two individuals share an emotional bond. If they lose this bond or if it becomes too fractured by the “tempests” of marriage, then either party is free to dissolve the union. As a result, it is very easy to transition from this view to gay marriage. If traditional marriage turns out to be, in practice, two consensual adults hanging out after work with children that one of them may have conceived, why can’t homosexuals get married?

The problem is that all parties involved have no grasp on what traditional marriage is. Traditional marriage is fundamentally about the union of a man and woman to produce offspring, thus joining together to form a tribal unit. This is the concrete basis of all society. Aristotle’s depiction of the origins of the polis in The Politics has the city literally growing out of the union of a man and woman who form a family, which itself joins with other families through marriage—St. Thomas Aquinas approvingly comments on this process in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics. However, outside of primitive societies, which themselves are being swallowed up by “modernization,” it is difficult to find this normal and ultimately very healthy and very Christian view of marriage. However, there is one classic American movie in which a somewhat traditional family can be found, albeit in distinctly and brutally pagan form: The Godfather.

The Godfather movie series and its glorification of violence and cruelty and its depictions of violations of chastity, like much of classical pagan literature, clearly must have some demonic influence in its origins. Thus, only a very small percentage of spiritually mature adults should view the films—even then much of the films should be censored. Nonetheless, the Corleone family in The Godfather is a window into how a traditional pagan family should function.

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The family operates for its own survival and its members from one generation to the next, denying themselves personal pleasure for the sake of la cosa nostra. From Vito Corleone’s killing of his father’s murderer to Michael Corleone’s takeover of a Las Vegas Casino, which itself involves murder, the Corleone’s live for the sake of maintaining the safety and success of the family. There is no sappy sentimentality among the married couples in the movie, but adultery and spousal abuse are depicted as dangerous threats to the wellbeing of the family, and these vices eventually destroy the miscreants who practice them.

Vito Corleone, the first godfather who dominates the first half of the first movie of the series is a model pagan father and husband. His entire life is dedicated to his family, and all of his efforts have been dedicated to the wellbeing of his children and descendants. He lives by a strict code of pagan justice, never giving an enemy more than what is due to him—at the beginning of the first movie, Vito refuses to kill some WASP boys who harm a friend’s daughter because they themselves did not kill her. Vito spends a great deal of time imparting these pagan virtues to his children—even though Sonny, his intemperate eldest, does not listen to him and ends up being killed.

Like his father, Michael Corleone, the youngest son, is a deeply virtuous pagan. For the most part, he does not drink, humorously imbibing club sodas while other characters drink excessively, but he does not do so because he is a John the Baptist. He does so to maintain sobriety and to have control of his desires. He is a chaste man, chastising his semi-adopted brother Tom Hagen for having a mistress in the second movie. Michael’s greatest crime is killing his brother Fredo, committing the primal sin of fratricide. While he is tortured by his guilt the rest of his life, Michael kills Fredo because he had threatened to betray the family. Like characters from Constantine and Charlemagne to Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet, Michael stands in the tradition of Christian but still inescapably pagan strong men, who exhibit many of the traditional virtues, but have little qualms with violence in the service of an allegedly greater good.

It has often been remarked that it is Michael Corleone’s unhinged violence that destroys the family and eventually himself, but it could equally be argued that it is modernity and becoming “American” that undoes him and the family. Empowered by American feminism, his wife, Kay, has an abortion and separates from Michael. His sister Connie Corleone becomes the midcentury American repeat divorcee, moving from one man to the next until finally coming back to take care of her own family. Fredo Corleone is the scumbag American manager who unchastely preys on his female employees. These modern caricatures into which the Corleone family falls are equally as banal as they are evil.

The Godfather is Western paganism at its best, but it cannot stand alone as a blueprint for a truly Catholic vision of the family. Christendom, which is in ruins and has been so for some time, was built not just on the writings of Marcus Aurelius but on the Beatitudes of Jesus Christ. The center of the Christian life and of Christian civilization is charity, which is what is most lacking in The Godfather. While the aesthetic center of the movies, “the baptism scene” in which Michael has many of his rivals brutally murdered while his nephew, Michael Rizzi, is being baptized is one of the most brilliant scenes in cinematic history, it is also deeply sacrilegious and gruesome.

There is nothing truly Christian about the mafia or the director, Francis Ford Coppola’s, movies. On the other hand, The Godfather depicts a strong and deeply human traditional family that, when truly transformed by Christ's Church once again, must serve as the basis for the restoration of Christian marriage and Christian civilization. Sentimentality has almost destroyed Christianity, and any Christianity that survives in the future will have to be thoroughly masculine and thoroughly feminine—in a Mama Corleone sort of way. The age of liberal, bourgeois rights and freedoms is over. Having achieved victory after victory, the secular left does not truly care about the meaning of tolerance (if they ever really did). It is time for men and women of God to toughen up and Instaurare omnia in Christo—taking the cannolis with them.

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Last modified on Sunday, July 26, 2015