Christians and Smiling Dogs: Belief vs. Religion

Smiling DogsThis 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.

Nonbelievers burning in  hell: painted on the dome of the Basilica in Florence.

Nonbelievers burning in hell: painted on the dome of the Basilica in Florence.

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:



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Christians and Smiling Dogs: Belief vs. Religion

  1. Somewhat off-topic, but: the Christian idea that belief is what matters seems to have distorted Western culture—even atheist culture—in several pernicious ways. Many things turn into true/false “beliefs”, when thinking about propensities or attitudes or values would be more helpful.

    Two random examples:

    1. “Political beliefs” are held to be tremendously important, and somehow everyone has a duty to have a true/false opinion about a huge range of issues that we are actually ignorant of. These opinions actually stand in as place-holders for underlying values, but are not actually implied by the values (because the true/false questions are empirical). “GMO: Good Or Bad” is a test of tribal affiliation, not whether you understand the biology.

    2. “Rationality” is often misunderstood as consisting solely of coming to true beliefs, rather than being sensible (much less decent). So, for instance, the organized rationality movement spends a lot of time debunking harmless fantasies (Bigfoot) that might be better spent promoting ways of thinking that promote greater values.

  2. @ David Chapman:

    “Belief Matters” is indeed the core topic of this post.
    My thoughts on your comments:

    (1) Another Political belief used as a touchstone is “global warming”, or “fracking”. Very few people understand these things in the least before taking a stance. But the sad truth is, we do not have the luxury of certainty in much in life, before we need to act.

    (2) Funny, I think of “rationality” as a method, not an ends. But I think that debunking things is a very useful method to demonstrate good methods for testing empirical claims.

  3. TWF

    Great analysis, as usual Sabio. I would also offer an alternate, or rather supplementary, explanation of compartmentalization in some cases. This is what I do in the religious part of my life. This is what I do in the secular part of my life. This what I say when I’m with believers. This is what I say when I’m with non-believers.

    For example, I know a guy in my industry who preaches safety constantly at work, but when he is at home, he’s the kind of guy who will stand on a wheeled office chair to change an overhead light bulb. This is what I do at work. This is what I do at home.

    Looking forward to your next post…

  4. I rather enjoyed this comparison of dog smiles and religious belief. Thanks, Sabio.

  5. I think the dog on the right is smiling 🙂 , but as one hyper-rational friend once told me, maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing, ascribing my own emotions onto an animal. There was a time where scientists believed that animals had no emotions and even no feelings, not like human beings at least. If an animal cried out and struggled when injured, it was ascribed to “primitive” neurological responses, not because it was sensing pain. How anyone can believe that now is beyond me, though I still hear some researchers use that argument for justifying the use of animals in vivisection and other pain-inducing experiments.

    Similarly, I hear some Christian apologists say they don’t believe in the existence of a hell or that the unbaptized are damned or condemned to limbo; that true Christianity is all about “love.” I asked a Roman Catholic friend who said this to me that if her claim was true, why couldn’t I receive communion in her church? She became irate and asked in return why would I want to if I wasn’t Catholic. I pointed out I’d been baptized in an Episcopalian church, so in theory, as a Christian, I should be received at any church that claims the faith. It came out rather painfully that she’d assumed I wasn’t Christian since I was Asian, and she had no answer to my query. I was disappointed, for a lot of reasons. It was apparent she hadn’t given much thought to the formal dogma of her religion (no pun intended), and she was just mouthing platitudes that could have come from an inspirational poster. In a way, she was alienated from the practice of her faith. And sad to say, we weren’t quite friends after that conversation.

  6. @ TWF :
    Thanks. How true, confessing our own inevitable compartmentalizations is often more important than pointing out those of others. Well, except if others are deadly to our science and politics and yours are laughably benign. Manipulative, danger compartmentalizations should be sought out whether in ourselves or others.

    @ myrthryn :
    Glad you enjoyed. Twas fun writing

    @ Hangaku Gozen :
    Yes, I kind of thought that the dog on the right (“Dharma”) has a face to tempt anthropomorphizing more than my other dog (“Macho”). Great story about the Roman Catholic friend, thanx!

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