Our Godfather Who Art in Heaven

The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love.
--Meister Eckhart

The Bible says we are created in God's image, so we imagine we have only to do a bit of reverse engineering to understand what God is like.  Sigmund Freud recognized in the Old Testament depiction of Jehovah the image of a stern Victorian father.  Freud was much influenced by the nineteenth-century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, who believed that God, in effect, was made in man’s image, not the other way around.  According to Freud, mankind’s infantile dependency needs were projected onto an omnipotent deity (the primal father) who offered protection in return for obedience.  The image is instantly recognizable to modern moviegoers, not as God the Father but as the Godfather. 

In the opening scene of the movie, a distraught father is pleading with the crime boss, Don Corleone, to help him wreak vengeance on his daughter's boyfriend and another young man.  These boys have beaten her so badly her nose is broken and her jaw shattered.  They have gotten off with suspended sentences, and the father feels justice has not been done.  Corleone is unmoved by the father's plea.  He tells him, “You come to me and you say, ‘Don Corleone give me justice.’  But you don't ask with respect.  You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me Godfather.”  The man takes the hint, bows before him, kisses his ring, calls him Godfather.  After much groveling, the Godfather magnanimously agrees to see that justice gets done.

It would, of course, be a monstrous impiety to compare God to a mob boss.  But we are not talking about God here, only the way he is depicted.  The Israelites of the Old Testament were beset by powerful enemies who at various times enslaved them, overran them and carried them off into exile.  In their impotence, the Israelites called upon a still more powerful deity to intervene on their behalf.  We see much the same dynamic at work today among some Christian and Muslim fundamentalists who interpreted the destruction of the World Trade Center as God’s judgment on a powerful but faithless nation.

Inevitably, we see God in terms of how we see ourselves -- or, to be more precise, we see God as everything we are not.  To the extent we regard ourselves as weak, it is God's strength we extol.  The evil we do is contrasted with God's goodness.  Our suffering calls forth God's comfort; our waywardness, his steadfastness.  And so on.  This is not necessarily the wrong way to look at God; it just doesn't go far enough.  It is only when we finally recognize our own essential nothingness that we discover God is everything.

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