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Oracle of the Dog

I hope not to spoil this Father Brown story, but it has made a recent impression on me.

A man is retelling to Father Brown the details of an unsolved murder that took place several hundred miles away. Those who were there believed the murderer to be a man that the victim’s dog barked at after the murder took place. In addition, witnesses testified that they were playing catch with the dog on the beach, and the dog came out of the water without the stick and began whinning at precisely the same time that the murder of his master took place.

Fiennes stared. “But look here,” he cried; “how do you come to know the whole story, or to be sure it’s the true story? You’ve been sitting here a hundred miles away writing a sermon; do you mean to tell me you really know what happened already? If you’ve really come to the end, where in the world do you begin? What started you off with your own story?”

Father Brown jumped up with a very unusual excitement and his first exclamation was like an explosion.

“The dog!” he cried. “The dog, of course! You had the whole story in your hands in the business of the dog on the beach, if you’d only noticed the dog properly.”

Fiennes stared still more. “But you told me before that my feelings about the dog were all nonsense, and the dog had nothing to do with it.”

“The dog had everything to do with it,” said Father Brown, “as you’d have found out if you’d only treated the dog as a dog, and not as God Almighty judging the souls of men.”

After several more details are unfolded by Father Brown, he continues:

“The dog could almost have told you the story, if he could talk,” said the priest. “All I complain of is that because he couldn’t talk, you made up his story for him, and made him talk with the tongues of men and angels. It’s part of something I’ve noticed more and more in the modern world, appearing in all sorts of newspaper rumours and conversational catchwords; something that’s arbitrary without being authoritative. People readily swallow the untested claims of this, that, or the other. It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.” He stood up abruptly, his face heavy with a sort of frown, and went on talking almost as if he were alone. “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense and can’t see things as they are. Anything that anybody talks about, and says there’s a good deal in it, extends itself indefinitely like a vista in a nightmare. And a dog is an omen, and a cat is a mystery, and a pig is a mascot and a beetle is a scarab, calling up all the menagerie of polytheism from Egypt and old India; Dog Anubis and great green-eyed Pasht and all the holy howling Bulls of Bashan; reeling back to the bestial gods of the beginning, escaping into elephants and snakes and crocodiles; and all because you are frightened of four words: ‘He was made Man’.”

The thing about common sense is that it has become uncommon. People grow increasingly superstitious and disconnected when they cease to look through the natural eye denying that they bear the Image of God.

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