Dog Gone!

Religion is a strange attractor. Maybe not in the exact same sense as in chaos theory, but in reality it brings together mental states so bizarre that science fiction and fantasy writers have a buyer’s choice. Yesterday the New York Daily News reported on a South Carolina woman who hanged and burned a one-year old pit-bull puppy. Why? The bitch had bitten the woman’s Bible. Citing the animal as a “Devil dog,” the southern woman became a vigilante for the Lord. Now she’s being tried on charges of animal cruelty. This story touched me in a number of ways.

With family roots in South Carolina, I can conjure up images of this happening. Having known many, many Fundamentalists, it seems even more plausible. Given the constant barrage of contrary messages descrying the presence of evil in the world, all the sudden any mutt can become Mephistopheles. Begging off the Baskervilles, the demonic hound has a long pedigree in mythical imagination. It is well known that the Bible cites dogs as unclean animals, but it is their charnel character that leads to the development of the full-blooded hellhound. Prior to the Hebrew Bible, in ancient Ugarit dogs had an infernal connection. It isn’t seen clearly, but the association is there. Snatches of the underworldly dog appear long before Cerberus, and last well nigh into the twenty-first century.

Hel and his hound

Unfortunately for the deceased canine, it is a myth. Hellhounds still abound in popular media, everywhere from The Omen to O Brother, Where Art Thou? Dogs, however, were among humanity’s earliest partners in the survival game. From about as early as I can remember, we always had dogs in the house, and nary a demonic encounter. We never put them on trial, even when house-training was in progress and an accident occurred.

The news story reminded me of an episode of Dragnet I saw as a child. A woman was arrested for murder, and Sergeant Friday, in his unflappable voice, told his partner it was because the victim had shot one of her books. In the final fade out, after Bill Gannon asked what book it had been, Friday holds up a Bible with a bullet-hole through it. I was a little confused. Was the woman guilty or was someone shooting a Bible just cause? The episode did not answer the moral dilemma. I can’t even remember the outcome. But in 2011 things haven’t much changed. If he goes to South Carolina McGruff better watch what he takes a bite out of, or it could be lynching time again.

The Power of Christ Beheads Thee

Yesterday’s news carried the story of Gary Brooks Faulkner, self-appointed Osama bin Laden hunter. Faulkner, on his third trip to Afghanistan, is described as “extremely religious” and “highly intelligent” by his sister. Equipped with night-vision goggles, a pistol, sword, and “Christian texts,” according to the New York Daily News, he plans to behead bin Laden by the power of his (Faulkner’s) faith. Faulkner is fighting kidney failure, a disability he apparently shares with bin Laden, and although he appears to be dying Faulkner said, “God is with me, and I am confident I will be successful in killing him.”

It is hard not to admire a person so driven by conviction. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine Jesus instructing his followers to lop off somebody’s head. The incongruity between the insistence of forgiving and loving one’s enemies and the more direct approach of beheading is a wide gulf indeed. At what point does religion become revenge? Is doing unto others as they have done unto you the corollary of its better known anastrophic sibling? Beheading is one of the most degrading forms of execution – although all forms of capital punishment raise serious questions in classical Christianity. What happened to turning the other cheek (neck)?

The image of a lone-ranger mercenary wearing night-vision goggles while toting a 40-inch sword is painfully ironic if not downright reminiscent of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Flying planes into buildings out of hatred for theological differences is even more ridiculous. If people could keep their religious hands to themselves the world might become a much more humane place and the daily news might become just a tad less colorful.