We have several dogs, and the smallest of these (by height) goes by the name of Zig. Zig is a Boston Terrier we adopted from a local rescue group, and is 25 pounds of solid attitude, focus, and obstinance.
We keep the dog food for our crazy pack in a large plastic bin in our laundry room, and when we fill it back up we close the door to prevent the pooches from crowding around and drooling. A few weeks back as I was pouring out a new bag of food, Zig sat expectantly on the other side of the door wanting to get in. My wife was out there, chuckling, so I thought I’d have some fun.
I took a few kibbles of food and flicked them under the door out at Zig.
She completely lost her mind.
This was the greatest thing ever in the history of things to happen to this dog. She went bananas chasing the pieces of food as they skittered across our tile. I’d try to get them past her but she was the most motivated goalie in history. We laughed, had fun, and then we forgot about it.
The next morning we saw her sitting on the floor, staring at the bottom of the laundry room door. My wife and I were both right next to her, so we had no idea who she thought was in there that might be sending out food. It didn’t matter, she still waited. No food came out, but that didn’t stop her. Quite the opposite.
She began staring at the bottom of every door in our house, sometimes even if the door was open. She could easily just peek around the door and see nobody was there, but she doesn’t. There is a simple explanation for how food comes out from under that door, but she doesn’t make the connections. Instead, she is sure our doors are magic and randomly spit out food.
Then it occurred to me what was going on – our dog had created her own religion.
Thousands of years ago when our ancestors looked out at the big, scary world they blamed Gods. From Anu to Osiris to Chaac to Thor to Yahweh to Allah, they came up with magic explanations for things they didn’t understand.
They would pray and offer sacrifices, and when things went their way they would feel confirmed. When their prayers were unanswered then they assumed the Gods were mysterious or someone just wasn’t faithful enough. But they kept on praying. They kept on staring at their magic door.
The stars were the souls of the dead, crops would fail because the Gods were angry, the Sun went around the Earth, sickness was caused by demons… all things our ancestors believed until they looked behind the magic doors.
They thought the Gods lived in the clouds until we soared past the clouds and landed on the moon.
That’s what science gives us – not all the answers, but an understanding that we need to keep searching and learning. That just praying and hoping won’t change the world. That we can understand what makes things work by studying, by questing, by exploring. That we can always be moving forward.
We hope Zig figures out there is no magic to her door. She would still enjoy the food that comes out when we play the game, but wouldn’t waste her time staring at it the rest of the day hoping for a miracle. Our other dogs understand how the door-game works, so maybe someday she will, too.