The Theology of Peanuts, Chapter 6: Sections viii-x "...a warm puppy."

In April 25, 1960 Peanuts ran one of its most famous strips:

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

A year later it was suggested to Schulz to take Lucy's "moment of revelation" (1) and turn it into a book. Schulz was hesitant at first but, after a long day's work, he created all the cameos that would eventually be published in the first Peanuts book Happiness Is a Warm Puppy.

David Michaelis tells the story of the publication of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy:

"Booksellers had never sold a hardcover quite like the offering that Determined Productions shipped to stores in November 1962, only weeks after the United States and the Soviet Union had come to the brink of thermonuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis had just died down, and people were again remembering to shave, when Schulz's small, square volume--complete with mocha-shade dust jacket, shocking-pink endpapers, and brightly colored pages--arrived in bookshops accompanied by a letter that closed, 'It won't change the world but we hope it will make things a little more pleasant for us survivors.'

Peanuts offered no solutions to the world's problems--rather, it made them more visible; neither did Schulz's strip depict, or seek to depict, any final overcoming of life's anguishes. In Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, the familiar Peanuts troupe served only to illustrate, as Schulz explained it, the 'little moments you remember when you stop and think back over your life.'" (2)

The contents of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy was the stuff of life. For example:

Happiness is... 'A' on your spelling test.
...finding someone you like at the door.
...sleeping in your own bed.
...getting together with friends.
...climbing a tree.
...a good old fashioned game of hide and seek.
...a bread and butter sandwich folded over.
...walking in the grass in your bare feet.

By December 2 of 1962 Happiness Is a Warm Puppy reached the national best-seller list and remained there for forty-three weeks. A year later Happiness Is a Warm Puppy was the #1 best-selling non-fiction book.

The message of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy converges on the wisdom of Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes. Throughout Ecclesiastes Qoheleth is confronted with the "vanity" and "meaninglessness" of life. The Hebrew word rendered as "vanity" is hevel. Hevel is difficult to translate. Literally, it means "breath." More abstractly, hevel hints at insubstantiality, transitoriness, and ephemerality. Thus, chasing after or trying to capture hevel is absurd, pointless, meaningless, ironic, and a manifestation of human vanity. Or, in the poetry of Qoheleth, it is "chasing after the wind":

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.

But interspersed throughout this depressing message, Qoheleth's wisdom points us to more modest pleasures, ones that are close at hand and often overlooked or taken for granted. Rather than striving in heroic fashion, pursuing enduring wealth, fame, or knowledge, Qoheleth (and Peanuts) suggests should enjoy the simpler things of life: food, drink, and the warmth of companionship:

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.

What does the worker gain from his toil?...I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. 8 Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days.

However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all.

Like Peanuts Qoheleth gives us no final answer. Happiness is not a grand, enduring thing. It is the joy in the moment and is found wherever you can find it. Will all these moments add up to something more substantial? Qoheleth and Peanuts do not, cannot, answer. And neither can I.

But the wisdom of their modest advice still lingers: You have today, enjoy it. Perhaps no one said it better than Robert Louis Stevenson:

The best things in life are nearest:
Breath in your nostrils,
light in your eyes,
flowers at your feet,
duties at your hand,
the path of right just before you.
Then do not grasp at the stars,
but do life's plain,
common work as it comes,
certain that daily duties
and daily bread
are the sweetest things in life.

--End Chapter 6--

If you don't like Stevenson how about the sentiment of Hobbes?

Who knows about tomorrow or death? Regardless, I'm with Hobbes. I'll take it anyway.

And yes, thanks to Kimberly, I'm planning on writing The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes...

(1) p. 337 Schulz and Peanuts
(2) p. 338 Ibid

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7 thoughts on “The Theology of Peanuts, Chapter 6: Sections viii-x "...a warm puppy."”

  1. Richard,

    The dire escapades of Candide are followed by the realization that to work one's garden is enough. I'd never connected that "conclusion" with Ecclesiastes/Stevenson/Beck. Thanks.

    But I always smiled to think of Voltaire settling for the homey pleasures of the garden when he's so prone to intellectual flight. I don't mean to be mean, but I smile similarly when that sentiment comes from you. (I also smiled at your romantic ideas of truck driving. Though, what I have found instrumentally appealing about both driving and gardening is that they leave one's mind free to roam--though that's not what Stevenson's "Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's common work as it comes" is recommending, at least as i see it: I value common work because it frees me to grasp at the (intellectual) stars I love to ponder.)

    But here's what I want to bring to your attention. I'll bet penny to pound that either there is a psychological literature that relates tolerance for cognitive dissonance to religious belief outcomes, in which case you can point me toward an area rich for pursuing the Socratic dictum, or there is no such literature, in which case there ought to be and a rich area for psychological research is there for the picking.

    Your comment about Hobbes' comment in the cartoon spured this hunch. Hobbes' comment, "Oh, what the heck, I'll take it anyway (life without an afterlife to reward good deeds)," met with your endorsement. Now with some effort I can imagine someone--you--settling on that as the denouement. But to do so I must set aside the cognitive dissonance that burns through that view like a cutting torch--that is, in my mind. It's the "Yeah, but...I'd sure like to know..." that speaks for me (which is to say, there is no denouement).

    I don't want to bore anyone with details from my life, but I can assure you that my sensitivity to cognitive dissonance is hard wired. And I am pretty sure that a great many philosophical types through the years share that--it is, I believe, what drove an Aristotle or St. Thomas or Kant or Wittgenstein, etc. to keep pressing on... And the difference between you and me on this may well account for my clapping on the downbeat to your jazz rhythms... For instance, recently, I suggested a way to sort out when pacifism is effective and "right" from when it is complicit and "wrong." You shrugged the suggestion off with a "the world isn't amenable to nice distinctions like that' kind of reply, while I had to slap my hand (metaphorically) to keep from typing back, "Well, do you have any better leads on resolving this?" If I step back from my hard wired compulsion, I can see that neither attitude is "right." (How it hurts me to say that!)

    Here's the most interesting part. Dawkins probably is the most famous atheist in the world today, and Plantinga may be the most famous theist, at least among American philosophical types. Now foundational work for each of these men's philosophical positions relates to the same question: what to make of the teleological argument. Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker): it looks like the world is designed, but we now explain that fact without God. Plantinga (God and Other Minds): that fact is far from explained, and since the teleological argument fails for precisely the same reason that arguments for the existence of other minds fails, if it makes sense to believe I am not the only one with a mind in this world--though sometimes I do think that--it also makes sense to believe in God.

    Well, my point is this. One source of molten passion in belief--of all stripes--seems to me to be sensitivity to cognitive dissonance. In fact it is precisely because people like me are so sensitive that people like you sometimes make me want to scream with that "I'll take it anyway" kind of a namby-pamby attitude! And can you believe Kant and James settling for those insipid antinomies?! What girly men! (I am parodying myself!)

    If both Dawkins and Plantinga can be understood--in terms of their motivations--by the same root passion, it would be fun to see. And if there is literature that addresses these points, again, please point me to it.

    Many thanks!


    BTW: For those of us who cherish intellectual freedom, the desire to continue pursuing knowedge outstrips (most) other ends. Any orthodoxy will be the enemy to us, so long as it looks like an imposition. I note this for two reasons. First, because it is a paradox for a sensitive cognitive type, such as I am, to love the putsuit of knowledge. (Perhaps it's because your attitude of "the world isn't amenable to distinctions like that" is correct, meaning that the compulsion to keep on trying to resolve the world's inconsistencies is without end.)Second, perhaps I'm just ahead of the curve here--in my own mind at least--but now that scientific orthodoxy pulls harder than the religious variety, I find the faith option to be the free-er.

  2. Hi Tracy,
    Fantastic comment.

    Let me try to frame what I was after in the Hobbes comment. (BTW, I take, as I'm sure you do to, a perverse pleasure in discussing the ruminations of an imaginary tiger.)

    A move I often see theists make with non-theists is that if there be no God then there is no meaning or morality left in life. That, phrased in its most stark form, life wouldn't be worth living if there was no God.

    Now I understand that sentiment, I see why people are saying this. But it strikes me as being a bit hysterical. I want to say to these people, "Really? If 'God is dead' you'd just run off and commit suicide?"

    The point being is that I do agree with Hobbes. If there was no God I'd take what I have. I would find "value" in living. True, what I have would be deeply infused with poignancy and melancholy, but I would "take it anyway."

    But your point is well taken. I guess it is a manner of beginning places. Some would like to begin the "Does God exist?" debate from the "Life wouldn't be worth living" starting point. For myself I'd like to begin any debate with a non-theist from Hobbes' starting point. From there, yes, let the passionate debate begin!

  3. lawtond,

    I don't know if it is brain power. But I get that question a lot. Here, I think, is my secret. I try to create moments in my day to just think about stuff. When I'm not blogging I'm rarely on the computer and I don't watch a lot of TV. I love TV, don't get me wrong, but I only follow a few shows I like (for some strange reason right now I'm hooked on "Ghosthunters" from the SciFi network).

    In short, I think everyone finds time to do the things they love to do. Some people love to fish and if I sat with them and talked about fishing they would talk for hours and hours. And I'd eventually ask, "How do you know so much about this? Where do you find the time?" Or another person might love to garden. And if they showed me their backyard I'd be impressed with its beauty and their range of knowledge about how to make things grow. We are all geniuses in our areas of passion, be they writing about theology, fishing, or gardening.

  4. Richard,

    I completely agree that the "either there is a God or life is not worth living" view is hysterical. But I think that there is a subvocal dialog that can be unpacked from underlying assumptions of participants in that dialog--like geological strata on which the "debate" sits.

    James once wrote about "the radical question of life--whether this be at bottom a moral universe." Theists say yes, atheists no. To the extent that the world seems--to use another apt Jamesian phrase--"amenable to powers we possess [in the moral sphere, applied here--and I paraphrase, since I have to get going...]," the need for God to stand in for our moral failings is lessened. But a person who is skeptical about human nature in this regard will feel a need for "salvation." I happen to see the hopeful view of human nature as extraordinarily naive--which is to say that I agree with the biblical view of humanity as "sinners." And if you look at the earliest New Te4stament writing (Galatians) Paul there calls the Hebrew history of trying to follow the law a "tutor" to show us the futility of trying to be morally "holy." In effect Paul says, God set up that experiment to show you how wrong that optimistic view of human morality is." But history has many other "lessons" for us in that regard.

    Beyond this, religiously and metaphysically the question of God will always be open, for the fun reason that investigating it is forever closed to us, that is, unless one takes one's starting point by faith and seeks experiences which can then be read into one's starting paradigm...

    I vote for God on another, I hope much less hysterical basis--and I quote James again: (I will take the time to look this one up)not believing in God would be for me "to do violence to a tendency in [my] emotional life which might well be respected as prophetic." (Preface to The Meaning of Truth)

    I sometimes hate simplifying like this, because it makes subtle, difficult thoughts come off as glib...


  5. Tracy,
    I see what you are after. We are all acting on some basic beliefs, beliefs we don't have time or ability to test the validity of. Yet we must act. And, as James argues, some of these truths ennoble and energize us while others do not.

    So I can see your frustration at my defaulting to a generally wishy-washy agnostic stance. From a Jamesian perspective it is a dead hypothesis and starting point for life.

    You've given my something to think about... :-)

  6. Richard,

    A couple of thoughts on going down the Jamesian road here.
    First, Kieth Ward, in "Pascal's Fire," has framed the question really well: "...once the evolutionary mechanisms giving rise to moral beliefs have been exposed, the question becomes: is it rationale to follow those beliefs as though they were absolute moral obligations, when I know that they are not?" (p. 54)Ward goes on, "...speaking for myself, I would think it most reasonable to try to maximize [my] own desires, while trying to retain the admiration of the those...people [I] care about. I also think that is how most humans have acted for most of their history. That is precisely why the world is in such a...mess." I suppose that this view lends itself to hystericism, and I regret that, but find it true. James' pragmatic focus cuts through a lot of the self-deception and sham adopted by and foisted on people by religious, political, philosophical--even ethical--dogmas: If I can find a way to label someone else as evil or unworthy or hopeless, It makes it easy to marginalize and exploit them. I am attracted to Tillich, because his view of the cross is that it (should) directly expose that tendency to rationalize evil, and to James, because his pragmatism both eliminates a focus on dogma--thus reducing the force of the impulse to rationalize evil--and because "pragmatism" means a focus on outcome--thereby reducing the tendency to self-deception in rationalizing evil. (Sorry to be so long!)

    Second, if you go down the Jamesian road, you will find a long history of criticism already in place. You'll of course want to be appraised of it--and I am sure you probably are to a large extent--but I take most of it to have missed the point, in this way: philosophers tend to be reductionist--a natural product of the tendency (of most philosophers) to systemitize. But James' pragmatism (and pluralism) imply that systemization is of secondary importance to looking at the world. This point returns us to my original complaint about your tendency to value looking to the world more than erecting a systematic way of dealing with a problem. You are more naturally Jamesian in that respect than I--or so it seems by your comments. And I, at least, am willing to parody myself on this rationalistic/reductionist tendency. And BTW: Fundamentalists, brilliant hard core reductionistic scientists like Dawkins, and brilliant Christian analytic philosophers like Plantinga all share that root tendency... So, again, I think it would be fun to see such disparate points of view to be branches of the same tree. But maybe that's just my mean streak...

    Thanks for your always stimulating views!


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