When it came to writing the book “A Dog’s Religion,” I thought about my subject for three or four months before I started to even make notes. The inspiration for the book came when I was attending a church in Warren Ohio.
Often I would choose a church with a theology I disagreed with because I found that I emotionally interacted with the material more. In the end I seem to get more out of the service. In this particular case, the pastor was talking about having a relationship with God. This was a subject that got my attention. He went on to talk about the “lost souls” and how it was Christ’s commission for us to make disciples so that others might be saved as well. I’m curious when people talk about being “saved” because I’m never quite sure what they mean. Saved from death? Saved from eternal punishment? Saved from their sins?
Of all the questions posed above, I’m most intrigued by being saved from sin – in a certain sense anyway. The fact is we cannot undo what we’ve done. Our actions in this world are indelibly traced into our history and there is no disconnect. It’s mortifying to think of some of the things we’ve done, and I’m sure most of us would love to erase moments in time when we’ve made a decision that hurt someone badly.
But I’m not sure this is what the pastor was concerned with when he talked about saving souls. He wasn’t talking about self-forgiveness as a result of believing in God’s forgiveness. He went on to make the congregation think of the faces of people they work with, their friends, their relatives, and how these people were in eternal danger as a result of their failure to acknowledge Christ as their savior. He even made the comment that other religions were not efficacious enough for salvation because believing in Christ was the key.
While I was listening to him describe the urgency we must adopt in order to accomplish this task, I started to look at the faces of the congregation around me. Were they buying this? Sure, some people stared ahead with glassy eyes, already thinking about the football game or what they were going to have for lunch. Others were nodding with a certain fierceness in their eyes. And then others, at least in the moment, looked rather ill or saddened as they sat there considering the fate of many of their loved ones.
Instantly, I formed this connection. The pastor said that the greatest joy in life was to have a relationship with God. However, if you do not form a relationship with God in your lifetime you are not only deprived now, but deprived for all eternity as well. As far as I was concerned, there had to be a way to create a circumstance that illustrated the cruel and unsympathetic nature of this type of thinking. The ability to believe in God, and even better, have a relationship with God, is a very special gift for the individual, and not all of us are “chosen” to receive this gift without a great amount of struggle (or at all for that matter). So if people lack that sense of spiritual connection and go about their lives with a void, it seems to diminish the “miracle” of that gift by simultaneously making it the vehicle by which people are eternally separated from God as well.
Kierkegaard wrote thousands of pages on this subject, and in the end I’m not sure if he believed in God or not. But he’s a great example of a man who wanted to. He “chose” to try to the best of his ability. If having a relationship with God is so fundamental to a meaningful life, the commission should be to share with people how you’ve been spiritually enriched by finding this connection so that they can make the choice to try to develop this in their own lives (and then pass it on themselves).
So “A Dog’s Religion” was born from a situation where I decided that even one person holding an exclusive view of salvation was too many as far as I was concerned. Instead, I decided to write a book that would leave the impression that God will make every individual’s struggle worthwhile when all is said and done.