This morning I saw a glimpse of the similarity between a dog’s smile and the complexity of a believer’s heart. Dogs have a wide range of emotions and are very expressive using their ears, tails, fur and posture. I have raised many dogs over the years — often three at a time. But none of my dogs have ever shown the ability to smile. Some people feel dogs smile (see my notes below — there are lots of YouTube videos of supposedly smiling dogs). Though none of my dogs have ever smiled, I can usually tell when my dog would be smiling if she or he could. To illustrate my point, here are picture of me petting my dogs when I know they are very happy and would smile if they could but as you can see: no hint of a smile.
Many religions hold very pernicious beliefs that should be attacked but religion is far more than just a set of beliefs. Atheists sometimes criticize religion as if they were just a matter of professed doctrines. But this attitude toward religion reveals a misunderstanding of the deeper mechanics of belief. Sure, for some believers, “right belief” is what they tell us is critically important to their faith, but I think even those believers are mistaken.
One of the pernicious beliefs held by many Christians is that non-believers will burn in hell for eternity. And though several of my friends attend denominations that proclaim such views, I know that my friends personally don’t believe it though they could never verbally tell me they did not believe it. For if they did, part of their mind would be lying. Religion is complex. But the religion of my friends is largely moral and social and not centered on belief. They can’t really say that they don’t believe I will burn in hell, because the mechanics of their faith won’t allow it just like the mechanics of my dogs won’t allow him to smile. But I know my real friends don’t really think I am going to hell at all, even though their theology wouldn’t allow them to verbalize it. They give away their deeper ecumenicalism in many other important ways. Sure, I wish they’d disavow the pernicious views of their church, but for now, I am glad they are my friends.
Mind you, I have many Christian acquaintances who actually do believe I am rightfully bound for hell, and they will stay acquaintances.
In my next post, I will give a very simple example of the mix of factors that enlivened my own former Christianity to illustrate how belief is only one small part of religion.
Notes on smiling dogs: