Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The paws that refresh us

New from the “You’ll Think I’m Joking, But I’m Not” department, news has just come in that the Calvary Episcopal Church in Danvers, Massachusetts is offering a worship service for dogs.

The program, called the “Perfect Paws Pet Ministry,” is alleged by Reverend Thea Keith-Lucas to “give area pet owners a greater likelihood of their dogs going to heaven.”  Owners will receive communion at the service, and dogs will receive dog treats and blessings.  Barking will be allowed.

While this has all the hallmarks of a story from “The Onion,” I assure you that it’s 100% true.

You have to wonder what the bible reading is going to be.  Maybe a few verses from the Letter of St. Paul to the Dalmatians: “And the Lord said unto them, ‘To the Good Dogs shalt be given biscuits and squeaky toys and pats on the head, and there will be much wagging and playing of Fetch-the-Stick.  But unto the chewers of shoes, biters of mailmen, and those who pee on carpets shall be said, ‘No! No! Bad dog!’ and they shall they be cast out into the Back Yard, even if it be raining, and lo, there shall be no biscuits.’”

It’s not that I don’t understand the desire of pet owners to hang on to their pets.  If you believe in an afterlife, it’s kind of a sad prospect to think that you are going to live in eternal bliss, and Rocky the Black Lab just… won’t.  Many people feel as close to their pets as they do to their friends, and it’s natural to project onto them our hopes and fears for the future, and to want for them what we want for ourselves.

It does open up some potentially iceberg-strewn theological waters, however.  If we decide that dogs have an eternal soul, then what about other animals?   I own two dogs and two cats, and I can state that from my perspective, the cats’ niche in the religious world seems to fall more into the “Possessed by Evil Spirits” category.  But if pets, why not other animals?  Do cows have an eternal soul?  What about pigeons?  What about slugs?  I don’t know about you, but if there are Japanese beetles in the gardens of heaven, I’d have second thoughts about going there.

The other problem I have with all of this is one that I have with a lot of religious thought, and that’s the idea that because something appeals to you, it’s likely to be true.  A friend of mine once told me, “I can’t imagine a universe where there was no god to guide things and give purpose to life.”  Well, it may well be true that you can’t imagine it, but I can’t see that that has the least bearing on whether or not god actually exists.  Honestly, I’ve found that there seems to be little to no correlation between my finding an idea appealing and its being true.  So it may seem sad to picture heaven without dogs, but it’s hard to see how that has any impact on (1) whether heaven exists, and (2) if it exists, whether dogs are allowed or not.

On the other hand, like many things, I suppose that attending a worship service with your dog isn’t doing any harm, even if the basic theological underpinnings of the idea are a little shaky.  So, if it makes you happy, by all means bring Rex along to church with you.  If it gives him some encouragement to be a Good Dog, all the better.  Me, I think I’ll stay home until Reverend Keith-Lucas hosts a Rite of Exorcism for the cats.



  2. I think I can assure you that NO Japanese beetles are going to heaven. Nor mosquitoes.

    For any kind of Christians, though, don't they operate on the basis that the reason they need saving is because of that whole original sin, knowledge of good and evil thing? Dogs wouldn't need redemption because they're not fallen.

    (Note that's got nothing to do with what I believe. My experience of dogs is that they know VERY WELL when they've been bad.)