Zig & the Magic Door: How my dog discovered religion



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.

Zig didn’t.

Zig stares at a Magic Door

Zig stares at a Magic Door

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.

Magic Doors

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.

Zig and another Door

Zig and another Magic Door

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.



  1. A few more riffs, in the spirit of Jimmy Sehon’s comment:

    I subscribe to apophatic doorology.  I think it is futile to try and describe what types of food come from under the door, so instead we should focus on describing what types of food do NOT come from under the door.
    You have completely misunderstood Zig’s doorside vigils.  It is not the literal belief that food will come out from under the door that matters, it is the *practice* of sitting by the door.  Sitting outside the door and staring at it is a fulfilling ritual, a meaningful cultural tradition to which your other dogs are simply tone-deaf.

    Whether the door is truly magic or not is perhaps the most boring question that one could ask about this story.  Rather than arrogantly asserting our superiority because we proclaim to know how the food got there, instead we should try to see what we could learn from Zig, and what practices she has that we could adopt ourselves.  I suggest building an Atheist Door, both as a celebration of the architectural aesthetic of magic doors, and so that we too can sit and watch it and hope that perhaps reason and art and science will be flung from underneath the door.

    When you say, “We hope Zig figures out there is no magic to her door,” you are being just as intolerant and dogmatic as the worst doorist fundamentalist.  What business is it of yours what Zig believes?  When you say you wish she would realize the door is not magic, you are just saying you think that all dogs would be better off if they were exactly like you.  How arrogant.

    When you ask the door for food, it can answer “Yes”, “No”, or “Maybe later.”

    I present to you the Quadrillema:  Either Zig is crazy, Zig is a liar, or the door really is magic.  Or uh, maybe Zig is just a dog.  Two of those are incredibly unlikely, therefore it is rational to believe that the door really is magic.And last but not least:  You’re just angry at the door.

    1. Thank you, James, for the most quantumly uncertain comment I’ve ever received on my blog. It simultaneously exists as both Amusing and Bizarre, and I fully accept this indeterminate state as a fact of my subjective reality.

  2. I really really liked this post. Have you read The Poisonwood Bible? I’m not *positive* it’s your style (but hey, Gates of Fire wasn’t really mine and I loved that) but mixed in with the human drama is some rather interesting speculation around the evolution of faith and what drives it. That’s how I like my fiction – little bit of story to keep me going and a little bit of something to think about along the way. And it always helps when it’s done with beautiful prose. 

    Back to this post. Genius. I can’t wait until Zig starts trying to convert the other dogs. You’ll know this has started when he sits in front of the door facing out and barks at the others. 

    1. Thank you for both the kind words and the book recommendation! I love all kinds of books, so I dropped Poisonwood Bible on my list to check out. I’ve heard of Barbara Kingsolver but not sure I’ve ever read anything of hers.

      If Zig starts preaching, I’m just going to move out. That tenacious little booger would have the whole neighborhood turned into a cult compound in no time, and we don’t have enough doors to go around.