From a scholarly friend comes “Whose dog are you?”
It seems Alexander Pope’s bitch, Bounce, whelped a number of pups, one of which he gave to the Prince of Wales in 1736 to guard his house in Kew. The poet engraved this epigram on the collar:
I am his Highness’ Dog at Kew;
Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are you?
Besides the clever challenge to the arrogance and possibly the loyalty of courtiers, there is also the profound message that all of us are either masters or servants. “History,” wrote Hegel, “comes to an end when the difference between master and slave ends.”
And watching our democracy become the plaything of plutocrats, it seems history’s end is nowhere in sight.
There’s also the perspective that we are willing servants, and should be—we just need to be more thoughtful about whose service we place ourselves in. As Dylan, my generation’s Pope put it:
“You may be ambassador to England or France/ You may like to gamble, you might like to dance/ You may be heavyweight champion of the world/ You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls/ But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord/ But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Apparently, this was penned during Dylan’s flirtation with Christianity and born-again types are seemingly correct in interpreting his words as promoting salvation only through belief in Jesus. It seems pretty clear that’s how John Lennon took it when he heard the song and responded with the parody: “You gotta serve yourself/ain’t nobody gonna do for you….well, you may believe in devils and you may believe in lords/but christ, you’re gonna have to serve yourself and that’s /all there is to it.”
Albert Schweitzer said he was answering Jesus’ call to be a fisher of men when he became a medical missionary, but he emphasized that you don’t have to go to equatorial Africa to live up to his New Testament theology. He adjured us, wherever we live, to walk “the little bypaths” that cannot be reached by governments or charitable organizations, with open eyes to those in need, performing acts of lovingkindness.
In this, he was echoing the Jewish view that religious morality is about action, not prayer. What the Lord requires, said Isaiah (58:5), is not “bowing one’s head like a reed and laying on ashes and sackcloth” but “to loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, and break every yoke.”
And while setting free the oppressed may be more than you can handle when you’re late for your meeting, dropping some change in the hands of the beggar you’re walking past surely isn’t.
Of course, the choices we make don’t have to have such a sectarian overtone, in fact, for the most part, don’t. We offer ourselves up to the gods of fashion, to gluttony, to narcissistic regimens of every type, and daily do obeisance to Mammon.
And we rarely stop to ask whose dog we’ve become.