Some magazines are not afraid to tackle the big, profound questions of the ages. With its September issue, Dog Fancy joins the ranks of those courageous magazines, raising a philosophical query that has perplexed sages for centuries: "Do Dogs Go to Heaven?"
To find an answer, the magazine called upon the cast of a million jokes--a priest, a rabbi and a minister. Also a Buddhist, a Baptist and Mary Buddemeyer-Porter, author of "Will I See Fido in Heaven?" Immediately, these distinguished experts began scrapping like puppies fighting for a bone.
The priest--the Rev. Brian T. McSweeney, vice chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York--started the controversy. "Heaven was designed for humans," he said. "The reason dogs may be there is for us, not for themselves. Dogs will go to heaven perhaps because of our relationship with them."
Interviewer Judith Reitman couldn't let that statement slip by unchallenged. "Would a dog have to have a relationship with a human to get to heaven?" she asked.
McSweeney responded with a question of his own: "If there is a dog on a desert island and no one ever knew it, will it go to heaven? I don't know."
Rabbi Gershon Winkler of Cuba, N.M., did know the answer to that question: The desert island dog is eligible for heaven--but only if it is a good dog. "Every animal based on how it lives in this world will reap its reward, its divine bliss in the world to come."
That's ridiculous, said the Rev. Andrew Linzey, a professor of theology at the University of Nottingham in England: "I think the idea that animals can make moral choices and should therefore be held responsible for their actions is absurd."
Buddemeyer-Porter agreed. Dogs will get to heaven regardless of their behavior on Earth, she said: "It doesn't make any difference what dogs do because they are innocent of any sin."
"I think the species as a whole is a natural shoo-in," said Stephen H. Webb, author of "On God and Dogs." "A dog is an animal that has sacrificed its bestial nature and has entered into a relationship of loving mutuality. Dogs are the lead animals, the example for all animals."
"For me it is perfectly obvious and theologically essential that animals will go to heaven," added Linzey. "Indeed the only important theological question is whether humans will go to heaven. After all, animals have not been sinful, faithless and violent like we have."
This discussion is absolutely fascinating. The only problem is that it ends too soon. Essential questions remain unanswered. For instance: What exactly will dogs do in heaven? Will they get to engage in all their favorite activities--like eating garbage, sniffing strangers' crotches and chasing cats? If so, what will the strangers and the cats think of that? Will it mar their experience of heaven? What kind of heaven is it, anyway, if a Rottweiler with garbage breath is sniffing your crotch?
Obviously, we need a sequel here. Or maybe an entire series.
No discussion of dog magazines is complete without mention of the Bark, which bills itself as "The World's Most Interesting Dog Magazine."
The Bark comes out of Berkeley, Calif., and it shows. It's a hip, literary, New Age-y dog quarterly. If it were a dog it would be a mutt with a bandanna tied around its neck and a name like Kafka or Borges. The Bark is a dog mag for people who paper-trained their puppies on back issues of the New York Review of Books.
With the current issue, the Bark has abandoned its old tabloid format and reemerged in standard magazine size. It looks good. It reads good, too. There are dog-related excerpts from Paul Auster's new novel, "Timbuktu," and Anne Lamott's cult bestseller, "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith." There's also an essay lambasting dog breeding and a very funny Lynda Barry cartoon that shows what dog products would be like if they were actually created by dogs.
Best of all, though, are the ads. One offers "Acupressure/Laser-Puncture Therapeutic Massage" for dogs. Another offers psychotherapy for humans: "Have your canine companion accompany you to therapy to provide the support you need to begin talking about your problems, your grief, your fears, your feelings . . ."
DoubleTake on Jim Crow
After a bit of soap opera squabbling, DoubleTake, the quarterly magazine of literature and photography, has moved from Durham, N.C., to Cambridge, Mass., home of its editor, Harvard psychologist Robert Coles. The change of venue has not altered the magazine. It's still full of beautiful photographs and excellent prose. The current issue contains drawings by Woody Guthrie as well as photo essays on Kosovo refugees and illegal New York City street auto racing.
There's also a delightful profile of C. Vann Woodward, the great historian of the American South. In 1954, shortly after the Supreme Court angered many Southern whites by outlawing school segregation, Woodward delivered a series of courageously pro-integration lectures at the University of Virginia. The university published the lectures as a book, "The Strange Career of Jim Crow," which sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Unfortunately for Woodward, the university wasn't contractually obliged to pay him any royalties. Peeved, the crafty historian took action.
"I knew the president," Woodward recalls. "I wrote him a very polite letter saying I am sure he was not informed about this but if the public learned, not through me, but somehow, that the University of Virginia was profiting handsomely from a book advocating integration of the races . . . ."
Bingo! Woodward got his money.
Poet Seeks Audience
Harper's invited five prominent poets to New York's Algonquin Hotel, plied them with food and booze, and recorded them as they discussed their favorite poems. The resultant article gets a tad abstruse, but there is at least one great moment. It comes when Charles Simic--the witty author of "Weather Forecast for Utopia and Vicinity," among many other books--reveals the secret subtext of lyric poems:
"They are the earliest form of personal ad," he says. "They've been saying for a thousand years, 'I'm a sensitive, vulnerable, misunderstood, barely solvent, lovable little fellow who would like to meet a person of exquisite taste who is not averse to an occasional roll in the hay.' "