Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A parable on the personhood of dogs

A neuroscientist recently had the idea of training dogs to go into an MRI scanner while awake to observe their brains' reaction to to some signals and stimuli. His findings suggest that "dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child." Read the whole article if you want; it gave me an interesting idea for an analogy to my view on New Testament verses that prescribe certain roles and rules for women (and slaves).

Imagine that, today, a prominent pastor and church-planter write an open letter to a church he had a hand in starting. Part of the letter contained some uncontroversial instructions to pet owners on how to treat their dogs: feed and water them regularly, take them for walks, pet them and give them attention, don't be cruel to them, and so on. Imagine that, somehow, this letter, including the instructions for dog owners, became a new book of the Bible. Imagine further that, sometime in the future, a movement based on Dr. Berns' research appears and eventually succeeds at convincing the world that dogs really are people too. Dogs are given all the rights of people, owning them as pets becomes illegal, and they are allowed to live much more independently. Though they are still dependent on humans, progress is being made to allow them to exist alongside us as equals in value.

The secular world looks back on this new book of the Bible with horror. What kind of a barbaric, backward religion is Christianity, viewing dogs merely as pets instead of people? It becomes a frequent point of attack on the church. Some Christians are made uncomfortable by these passages and seek to explain them away as "cultural" or contextualized to a former time when we hadn't yet decided that pets are people. Other Christians, having none of this, settle into a defensive stance against "the world", asserting that because these instructions are in the Bible, dogs really aren't people and should be kept as pets, which they continue to (illegally) do. Conservative pastors preach a "dog"-ma of complementarianism, arguing that the Bible clearly teaches that dogs were created to serve as man's pets and "best friends", not as equal persons. Dramatic raids on their homes by PETA exposing and freeing these secret pets frequently make the evening news.

Are dogs people or not? Does the future-church need to answer this question from scripture?

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