Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Gospel According to Peanuts - 3

In his final chapter of The Gospel According to Peanuts, titled "The Hound of Heaven", author Robert Short suggests that the dog Snoopy represents “a little Christ”: 
Snoopy we would hesitate to call "Christ". He comes closer, rather, to being "a little Christ" -- that is, a Christian. .... He is, in other words, a fairly drawn caricature for what is probably the typical Christian.

The dog, because of his wonderful qualities of love, loyalty, watchfulness and courage (Charlie Brown's description) often has been used as a symbol for faith in literature and art; it is even used in this way in the Bible. But the dog also is a good symbol for faith as there is a real sense in which a man must become "as a dog" before he can become a Christian. He must take on the dog's lowliness of complete obedience and humility at the feet of his master and in service to others. ....

Snoopy, as a little Christ, quite obviously takes on Christ's ambivalent work of humbling the exalted ....
 Although Short hesitated to say that Snoopy represented Jesus Christ, Short pointed out some interesting indications of that ultimate relationship.

Although Schulz initially portrayed Snoopy as an ordinary puppy, he gradually portrayed him as a supernatural dog that was superior to human beings and was above human preoccupations:

Furthermore, Snoopy loved human beings condescendingly.

Snoopy tried to communicate to the children, but was limited to projecting his thoughts to them. Snoopy could not communicate to the children in their spoken language. The reader of the comic strip was allowed to read Snoopy’s thoughts fully, but the children-characters seemed to understand Snoopy only partially, if at all.


As a student of the Bible, Schulz might have noticed and pondered a couple of New Testament passages that mention dogs. It seems that Schulz referred subtly to those passages in a few Peanuts episodes that included Snoopy. .

Short points out one mention of dogs in The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 15. 
A Canaanite woman ... came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 
“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
 This Gospel story resonates with a Peanuts episode in which Snoopy enjoys eating table scraps and declares: "Anything that falls on the floor is mine." (Short quoted that cartoon on page 86 did not reproduce it.)

At that early stage of Schulz's religious-symbolic thinking, Snoopy represented the Canaanite woman's daughter -- a non-Jew hungering to be liberated from demons.

In the Bible story, Jesus seems to redefine his own mission on Earth. God the Father had sent God the Son to Earth to assume the physical form of a human being, Jesus Christ, but retaining divine sensibilities and powers. This Jesus Christ was supposed to interact with human beings and ultimately, although immortal, suffer death as a human being. In his encounter with the Canaanite woman, Jesus realized that his mission would save not only Jews, but also non-Jews.

Elaborating this concept, the Son of God descended to Earth to share the mortal sufferings of all human beings, including even the Canaanite, demon-possessed daughter. Jesus Christ now was inspired to identify himself with this daughter, who like a dog, had to resort to eating the crumbs that fall from dining table. Symbolically, Jesus Christ now was debased not merely to the Canaanite daughter herself, but further to the dog that symbolized the daughter.

Thus when Snoopy declared that "Anything that falls on the floor is mine", Snoopy began his metamorphosis into Jesus Christ in the Peanuts religious symbology.


A subsequent step in this metamorphosis was an episode in which Snoopy Snoopy licked Lucy's face and then licked Linus's hand and tried to lick his face.

Short points out the resonance of this episode with the New Testament episode in which Jesus washed his disciples' feet, as reported in The Gospel According to John, Chapter 13:
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God.

So He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."

Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"
 Short fails to point out the other relevant Biblical mention of dogs in The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 16 -- the story of dogs licking the feet of Lazarus, who starved for crumbs to fall from a dinner table:
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' 
But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. ....

The rich man answered: "Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment."

Abraham replied: "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. ... If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
 Schulz might have pondered these Bible stories that mentioned dogs, and then Schulz developed Snoopy's significance in Peanuts. Snoopy gradually incorporated a divine spirit that acted on God the Father's behalf to interact with, to console and encourage, and ultimately to save the comic strip's children from their anxieties.


The clearest indication that Snoopy eventually represented Jesus Christ Himself occurred in one of the episodes in which Linus and Charlie Brown were sitting in a pumpkin patch. Linus was waiting for the Great Pumpkin and then suddenly saw a silhouette rising in another part of the pumpkin patch.

The expression "'used dog" -- said by Charlie Brown and by Snoopy -- might have a subtle double meaning -- that God (or Schulz) has used a dog to represent the Son of God (or the Great Pumpkin).


Snoopy interacted with Linus occasionally by playfully grabbing Linus's security blanket with his teeth and trying to run away with it. Usually Linus would hold on in an epic tug of war. On a few occasions, Snoopy managed to escape with the blanket and hide it from Linus. After Linus became inconsolably distraught, however, Snoopy would retrieve the blanket mercifully to Linus.

I think these episodes have a religious meaning. Linus represents a young pastor, clinging to the doctrines he learned recently at the seminary. Snoopy, representing Jesus Christ, playfully teased Linus by yanking away his doctrinal security blanket for awhile. Snoopy was trying to wean Linus from this security blanket, encouraging Linus to mature and to think freely.

When Lucy, however, confiscated Linus's blanket and thus weakened him beyond his ability to cope 

then Snoopy returned the blanket to Linus, thus answering his prayers.


Short wrote his book before Snoopy began writing a book and flying his doghouse as an airplane, but I would like to add my own speculations about the possible meanings of those developments.

Eventually, Snoopy began writing a book, which began with the words “It was a dark and stormy night”. Evidently, the book's first part would be scary and suspenseful. The book’s further text never was revealed, but we can suppose that the ending would be happy and encouraging. One remark by Charlie Brown indicated that Snoopy's book ultimately would be about theology.
Charlie Brown: I hear you're writing a book of theology. 
Snoopy: I have have the perfect title. Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong? 
(I found this quote in the Michaelis biography, Schulz and Peanuts.)

Before Snoopy finished his book, however, he learned to fly his doghouse magically, like a combat airplane through the sky. High in the clouds, Snoopy fought against and shot down other airborne enemy beings – in particular the notorious Red Barron. Snoopy thus became a hero in a cosmic war that was not perceived by the children among whom Snoopy had lived on the Earth.

We can suppose that Snoopy’s book might begin on a dark and stormy night on Earth but then eventually conclude with Snoopy’s victorious cosmic war in the Heavens, lit brightly by the stars of the quiet universe. After the Red Barron and his fellow enemy pilots were shot down from the sky, then Snoopy would fly his doghouse-airplane back down and rejoin the children on Earth. There he will complete his book, for the children to read, understand and enjoy.

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