Friedrich Schleiermacher and “Dog Theology”

Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 2

The Prayer of the Dog
Lord,
I keep watch!
If I am not here
who will guard their house?
Hatch over their sheep?
Be faithful?
No one but You and I,
understands
what faithfulness is.
They call me, “Good dog! Nice dog!”
Words…
I take their pats
and the old bones they throw me
and I seem pleased.
They really believe they make me happy.
I take kicks too
when they come my way.
None of that matters.
I keep watch!
Lord,
do not let me die
until, for them,
all danger is driven away.
Amen [From: Carmen Bernos de Gasztold Prayers From the Ark (Penguin 1976)]

 

A Dog’s Prayer

Treat me kindly, my beloved master, for no heart in all the world is more grateful for kindness than the loving heart of me.

Do not break my spirit with a stick, for though I should lick your hand between the blows, your patience and understanding will more quickly teach me the things you would have me do.

Speak to me often, for your voice is the world’s sweetest music, as you must know by the fierce wagging of my tail when your footsteps falls upon my waiting ear.

When it is cold and wet, please take me inside, for I am now a domesticated animal, no longer used to bitter elements. And I ask no greater glory than the privilege of sitting at your feet beside the hearth. Though had you no home, I would rather follow you through ice and snow than rest upon the softest pillow in the warmest home in all the land, for you are my god and I am your devoted worshiper.

Keep my pan filled with fresh water, for although I should not reproach you were it dry, I cannot tell you when I suffer thirst. Feed me clean food, that I may stay well, to romp and play and do your bidding, to walk by your side, and stand ready, willing and able to protect you with my life should your life be in danger.

And, beloved master, should the great Master see fit to deprive me of my health, do not turn me away from you. Rather hold me gently in your arms as skilled hands grant me the merciful boon of eternal rest–and I will leave you knowing with the last breath I drew, my fate was ever safest in your hands.
[By Beth Norman Harris]

The sentiments of the prayers of the dog give us a glimpse into the heart of the great theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, the fountainhead of modern liberal theology when he describes the essence of religious piety to be the feeling of absolute dependence.

Schleiermacher argues that “piety cannot be an instinct craving for a mess of metaphysical and ethical crumps.” [c.f. On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (Harper, 1799, 1958), p. 31] Religion is not a metaphysics or morality but one of intuition and feeling which are foundational for dogma itself. It is not even the quest for personal immortality since religion assumes a desire to lose oneself in the infinite, rather than to preserve one’s own finite self.

Schleiermacher reaffirms religion as feeling of absolute dependence in his great work on dogmatic:

§4. The common element in all howsoever diverse expressions of piety, by which these are conjointly distinguished from all other feelings, or, in other words, the self-identical essence of piety, is this: the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, or, which is the same thing, of being in relation with God. [The Christian Faith (T & T Clark, 1830, 1999), pp. 12-18]

H.R. Mackintosh explains why Schleiermacher was emphatic that absolute dependence is the essence of religious piety,

Schleiermacher felt that men must be led back to the elementary but life-giving perception that religion is an experience, not given for cold analysis but to be lived in and enjoyed. “You reject,” we can hear him say, “the dogmas and propositions of religion. Very well, reject them. They are not in any case the essence of religion itself. Religion does not need them; it is only human reflection on the content of our religious feelings or affections which requires anything of the kind, or calls it into being…“Pious contemplation is the immediate consciousness of the universal existence of all finite things in and through the Infinite, and of all temporal things in and through the Eternal”

… Thus, religion consists in man’s becoming conscious of his own limitations, of the fortuitous nature of his life as his being runs its course and silently disappears in the Infinite. It is his giving up all audacious pride, and regarding all individual things, himself included, as being necessarily what they are. It is to live in the endless nature of the Whole, to perceive and divine with quiet reverence the place assigned therein to each and all. It is to have sense and taste for the Infinite, to lie on the bosom of the Universe and feel its boundless life and creative power pulsing within our own. It is to drink in the beauty of the world and be drenched through and through with its spirit. It is devoutly to overhear the All in its expressions and acts, to let oneself be swept away by its influence as we contemplate the wonders of its workings, to discover and love the Spirit pervading the cosmic whole. [H.R. Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology: Schleiermacher to Barth (Charles Scribner Sons, 1937, 1964), pp. 43-46.]

Surely these sentiments challenge us to climb the pinnacle of poetic Pentecostalism?

Good questions to ponder as we enter the Year of the Dog: Could it be that Schleiermacher was the founder of “dog theology”* which was much in vogue some time ago? Does “feeling of absolute dependence” lead to obedience?

* One may contrast dog theology (“I exist to serve you”) with cat theology (“you exist to serve me”).

Related Post: A Live Dog is Better than a Dead Lion? (Ecclesiastes 9: 4) – Enjoying Life between Misery and Mystery