Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why are some dog-loving atheists choking up over a two-minute cartoon?


** On August 4, 2009, Wendy Francisco, a 54-year-old artist-musician-animal breeder from Del Mar, California (north of San Diego) – who now lives "somewhere in the mountains of Colorado" – uploaded a 1 minute, 58 second music video on You Tube.

** Her lyrics are so simple that a child can understand them. That makes sense. Mrs. Francisco is an editor of children's books.

** Her melody is so simple that it seems mined from an old nursery tune pulled from the public domain. It's not. It's original. Mrs. Francisco learned guitar at age 8, had a record deal by age 24 and has toured the country "and beyond," giving concerts for decades.

** Her hand-drawn images are so simple that they seem almost primitive. But Mrs. Francisco has been a self-taught artist since she was a child. In sum, she's not a novice.

** But what's NOT so simple - is explaining the explosion of emotions that have poured forth from hundreds of thousands of people who have seen "GoD and DoG" since its debut on August 4.

** I know what some of you are thinking. Being a secular sort of fellow, I thought the same thing. I told myself, "I'm not going to watch some sappy tribute about dogs and religion." A pal forwarded it to me by e-mail and I dismissed it. I don't even own a dog, even though my love for canines is well known. If you've ever owned a dog (or still own one), you know what I mean. They ARE family.

** Then another friend forwarded the video. Full disclosure: I dislike some (not all) "pay it forward" inspirational notes, because some feel like canned chain letters sent by people who let greeting cards carry messages - that they themselves – cannot articulate. Sincerity doesn't require perfect sentences or phrasing inspired by great poets. All that's required in my book – are words from the heart, fractured, imperfect, incomplete but real. Nevertheless, I clicked on the video.

** In less than two minutes, using a child's grasp of melody, lyrics and imagesWendy Francisco builds a case about the relationship between a higher being – and the co-existence of dogs and man. She doesn't cite scripture, she makes no references to Christianity – and she avoids conventional, confrontational and controversial dogma.

** In otherwords, Wendy Francisco delivers a message with such deceptive simplicity that it appears purposely designed to avoid trouble. She sings softly with an acoustic guitar, amid a montage of scribbled images and stock fonts which push her lyrics forward. She wrote, recorded and animated everything in about three days. She says her work was inspired by her dog, "Caspian." (See picture above.) This snow-white creature is described as being "3/4 Great Pyrenees and 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd Cross." Dog breeders will know what that means. I don't, but it doesn't matter. Nor apparently do you have to believe in a deity - to still be moved – by what Mrs. Francisco has to say.

** If you want to watch this video with with a higher quality image, click here. Otherwise, click below.

** "Religion masks the character of God," Francisco says on her website. Perhaps she means this: the ceremonial trappings of organized religion have stripped away the power and emotion associated with being in the presence of a higher being and of all living things. Mrs. Francisco admits she "struggles with modern day religion" because it "limits most people...women in particular."

** Ironically, I think it's the "religion" part that may stall the "mainstream media" from writing lengthy stories about Wendy Francisco, at least not until her view count at You Tube goes over 2 million hits. And I predict it will within the next two months. (As I write this, it's sitting around 860,000 views). While the evangelical press has fully embraced this work (no surprise), I found only two glancing references thus far in news stories on the Web (one in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the other in Atlanta for the Examiner group of newspapers).

** In my view, Mrs. Francisco has smartly taken a path of least resistance to get her message across. Mucking her work up with provocative language and complicated dogma would have stunted the video's reach beyond the church choir. Take away just ONE of the four elements in her music video: her lyrics, her melody, her calm singing voice or her hand-drawn images – and the power of her work goes from extraordinary to ordinary. Her message is NOT the analytical think piece you're reading now. Just read the comments that have been left behind. Many viewers say they cried or were deeply moved. Believers have expressed their thanks. And I believe many non-believers will acknowledge the video's emotional power, even if their views remain unchanged.

** While the video is unlikely to convert atheists – it does capture their deep appreciation for dogs. I will go further and say it may cause many dog-loving atheists to yearn to believe, that is, to want to believe – (even if it's no more than wishful thinking as from a child) – that a higher being "of some sort" is indeed responsible for putting dogs on Earth – for the express purpose of meeting man's instinctual need for companionship.

** But this is all mushy stuff. This is NOT the language of atheists. Atheists tend to be educated. I don't even have to look it up. They just are. Religion may have once worked at some level, perhaps at an early age. Or maybe it never worked at all. But the video is tantalizing because it conveys an abstract meaning (feelings) – and an appreciation of something beyond the reach of words.

** Most educated people, myself included, get visibly uncomfortable about things that can't be broken down into parts that can be objectively analyzed. "An 'A' equals an 'A' and that's that," we say. So why then, do our tear ducts squeeze a little while we're watching this video? What's that all about? If I knew the answer, I wouldn't be writing this.

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)


  1. Massimo Pigliucci said in a speech a couple months ago that the human wired to be somewhat irrational. That's the only explanation I can think of.

  2. I think what you write makes sense, Amy. Despite all scientific evidence that's supposed to remove "subjectivity" from our examination of things labeled "objectively real," the mind indeed seems wired for things beyond the reach of explanation. "Emotions" are a wave that goes through all of us; yet when we identify their causes with precision, that "so-called precision" is subjectively viewed by our friends, e.g., less relatable to their experiences in their efforts to console/comfort us. Thus if humans were wired to be "100 percent rational," we might be no better than robots, incapable of emotion, seeking out only what's logical. Jealousy and anger are very real, but absent facial or body cues, remain invisible to the naked eye.

  3. It's ironic that both Dog and God are human creations:

    * Dogs were wild undomesticated wolves at one time, not the cute cuddly creature in the charming video. After many generations of breeding controlled by humans (including "putting to sleep" the instances of Dog that did not conform to the human vision), there emerged a sappy, blindly loyal, warm creature. We created a subservient, guileless, loyal, unquestioning friend, because our real friends are much more complex.

    * God, at least in the "Father Figure in the Sky" version of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is equally a projection of the primitive mind trying to explain the complex and unexplainable phenomena of Nature.

    So it is no wonder that the video draws the natural connection between Dog and God, but does so in a charming, sentimentally but ultimately self-deceiving manner.

  4. ** Tommy, when you write, "So it is no wonder that the video draws the natural connection between Dog and God, but does so in a charming, sentimentally but ultimately self-deceiving manner" -- your use of the provocative phrase, "self-deceiving" -- can be taken, in my view, in one of two ways:

    1) The author of the video is delusional and has full awareness of the "deception" she's trying to create for dog-lovers and for herself; and,

    2) The video addresses that portion of my post which observes that some atheist dog lovers seeing this video might "yearn to believe, (even if it's no more than wishful thinking as from a child) – that a higher being is responsible for putting dogs on Earth."

    ** In my view, your comments do not address why irrational emotions and sentimental feelings occur - in the face of your rational comments - which have the effect of blaming man himself -- for breeding dogs throughout history to be the "sappy, blindly loyal" creatures they are today. I personally think that no matter how we try to intellectualize this, there is no getting around the phenomenon of why some dog-loving agnostics or atheists are still moved by this video, perhaps because of the very "sappy and blindly loyal" traits you find disagreeable. This dissmissive tone is similar to what I hear from cat lovers all the time re: the debate over dogs vs. cats, e.g., which makes a better pet and why their preferences are a reflection of their owners' temperaments.

    ** I personally like Amy's "hard wired" explanation better. It feels less offensive and more tolerant.

  5. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  6. Thank you for the nice commends, Alena! I'm too far behind with my posting, hoping to catch up soon. Best, David.

  7. @Tommy... from Wendy. There isn't room to talk about God adequately here, but your comment about dogs is ignorant. Anyone who works with wild canines, equines, felines, birds will tell you that though we have affected the look of our domestic companions, we have not given them the loyalty and was already there. Dogs were NOT "created by man". I once raised an entirely wild Blue Jay and when it came time to release it, the devotion of that creature blew my mind. The reason I wrote God and Dog is that the magic is all around us's EVERYWHERE. Only people who have lived their lives within four walls could believe that humans made dogs the happy creatures they are, as if their wild counterparts are not happy or devoted...they ARE, perhaps beyond our domestics.

  8. David, may I post a link to your blog on my blog? Thanks again for your wonderful article.

  9. You certainly may, Wendy! I'm honored! Best, David. :-D