Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Of Dogs and Christians

I'm reading George Eliot's Mill on the Floss, which is so full of profound ideas I can't begin to paraphrase them.  At midpoint, Eliot stops to reflect on the Christianity of the family whose demise she has spent the first half of the novel chronicling.  She says of them that "Their religion was of a simple, semi-pagan kind; but there was no heresy in it..."  I think such non-heretical, semi-pagan religion under the guise of Christianity is more common than we would like to admit.  If indeed greed be idolatry, as St. Paul says, then I with many of my Christian brothers and sisters might be classified as semi-pagan.
     One of the few generous characters to whom we have been introduced in the novel thus far is Bob, a simple-minded childhood friend of Maggie's (the main character) older brother Tom.  Bob has gone off as a travelling felt salesman to make a living for himself and at one point returns and attempts to give Tom all of his savings to help his soon-to-be impoverished family.  Tom stiffly refuses.  A year or so later, Bob returns with books for Maggie because, as he says, "I'n niver forgot how you looked when you fretted about the books bein' gone."  Bob is a simple man, but a generous one.  He is a man with very little paganism left in him.
     When Maggie thanks Bob for his kindness in thinking about Tom and her, she confesses that she hasn't many friends who care for her.
     Then Bob responds with this penetrating word: "[you] hev a dog, Miss!--they're better friends nor [than] any Christian..." 
     Bob then goes on to relate a comment made about a bitch whose pup he is willing to procure for Maggie.  "One chap," he relates, "he says, 'Why, Tobys nought but a a mongrel.'''
     Bob responds to the chap, "Why, what are you yoursen but a mongrel?  There wasn't much pickin' o' your feyther an' mother, to look at you.  Not but what I like [could do with] a bit o' breed myself, but I can't abide to see one cur [dog] grinnin' at another."
     There it is.  The Christian philosophy of the generous traveling salesman, Bob: one dog ought not to be grinnin' [thinking more highly of himself, c.f. Rom. 12:3] at another.
     I wonder how much paganism I could purge from my life if I didn't somewhere in the secret places of my heart think that I was better than someone else?  I wonder how much idolatry would be driven from my heart if I "niver forgot" the pain I see others suffer?  
     Christianity, even without heresy, if it does not produce the broken and contrite heart King David speaks of, can be nothing more than semi-paganism.
     One cur ought not be ginnin' at another, for our worth comes not from our breedin', but from our Master's great love and desire to receive all mongrels and mutts into His kennel.

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