September 21, 2009
Dog Day Afternoon
Do dogs have emotions? That seemed like a harmless conversation for Christian friends to enjoy over lunch. While ordering salad Gretchen (names have been changed to protect the innocent) extolled the incredible smarts and heart of her pooch. “I just know that Fido (again a pseudonym) senses when I’m sad and cuddles up to comfort me. He’s so sweet.”
With deadpan delivery, I replied, “You think your dog sympathizes? You’re projecting human emotions onto an animal.”
Heads spinning like Regan in The Exorcists they intoned, “You don’t think dogs have feelings?
Awkward. “Animals don’t have a soul,” I defended, “which the Bible describes as the seat of emotions. And only humans have emotions.” I protested that this conversation put us on a theological slippery slope. We were headed to dangerous Creation vs. Evolution territory.
“Well, my dogs gets sad and happy,” said Tiffany (not her real name), “and no one can tell me otherwise.”
I countered, “Have you ever seen a cow cry over an amazing sunset?”
“Everything you attribute to emotion can be explained by instinct, trained response, or reflexes like Pavlov’s dogs,” I continued. Little did I know that I’d started something close to the Middle East Crisis at our table. To save the friendship and our appetites we agreed to change the subject. But knowing my friends like I do, I knew we would each run home to google and gather evidence for our side of the argument.
Dog lovers (and I consider myself one) don’t hate me for the following facts. But in Bible times dogs get a very bad rap. They were half-wild creatures that roamed in packs often feeding on refuse, including dead bodies. The term “dog” referred to impure people since they are considered unclean. False prophets were called dogs as well as those shut out of the kingdom of heaven.
The nicest thing mentioned about dogs in the New Testament was a conversation between Jesus and a Gentile woman who defended her need for Jesus’ healing touch as much as the Jewish people. “Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 NKJV). Note that she did not elevate a dog to the level of a human, but demoted herself to the low estate of a dog.
So, where am I going with this? I don’t think there’s time on a blog about a bald woman with cancer to debate this issue. Truthfully, I’d love to change up the conversation for a bit. Talking about oneself continuously just feels self indulgent. (See, I just referred to myself in the third person.) I’m not going into denial or anything. I just don’t want to become the poster-child for peritoneal cancer. I’ll continue to update you. However, would it be okay if we talked about other stuff, too?
All my friends know that I adore my dog, Winston. He’s the most brilliant and precocious canine in the universe. Every night he indulges me when he comes to bed and allows me to pet him for as long as he can endure. Then with a harrumph he moves to the end of the bed…as far out of my reach as possible. I’ve heard that a pet (specifically petting them) lowers the blood pressure. So there’s my proof. I get emotional gratification from my dog and since he’s a pack animal my grooming him proves that he’s the Alpha. But my affection for my dog doesn’t warp my Biblical basics.