Close your eyes. (Or don't close them, it's not a big deal.) Now, picture God.
If you're like most people growing up in a monotheistic culture—even if you're not religious yourself—you probably came up with something along the lines of big grey beard, Ten Commandments, and wrath. Like this.
Not so fast, Meg Rosoff said. A venerable-looking dude like that would never have created a world in which so many things go so perversely wrong. We're not talking major catastrophes like earthquakes or hurricanes—although, sure, those too—but things like plumbing disasters (both human and machine), bad hair days, and pimples.
There's only one person who could have come up with such a world, she thought: a teenage boy. And not just any teenage boy. One so self-centered that his sex-drive just might lead to the end of the world.
Meet Bob. He's bored, selfish, and horny. Oh, and he just met the most beautiful girl in the world. Stop us if you've heard this story before.
You haven't? Yeah, didn't think so.
As you can probably guess, There Is No Dog deals with some big things. Sure, it's funny and there's a romance, and it's aimed at young adult readers with its teenage protagonist and talk about growing pains—but it's also got death, life, and morality on the mind. In fact, it offers a thoughtful (and sometimes critical) look at the whole idea of Christianity and religion in general.
No surprise, then, that it ruffled more than a few feathers when it was published in 2011. Several schools even blocked Rosoff from speaking about the book on their campuses. And it might even ruffle your feathers a little. But if you're a deep thinker who likes to tackle the tough questions (and have a few laughs along the way), this book is for you.
Hurricanes in the Gulf, earthquakes in Haiti, droughts in the American Midwest, continuing sectarian violence, and shrinking supplies of oil: it would be easy to think that God (or whoever is up there) is sleeping on the job.
Over the millennia, many different religions and cultures have come up with all sorts of different explanations for how it is that God (or gods) can exist along with so much suffering, hardship, and just plain bad luck.
Greeks and Romans explained it by saying that the gods were just like us—greedy, passionate, prone to making really stupid misidentifications—but more powerful.
Monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam tend to have the added complication of seeing God as omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnibenevolent (all-good). In other words, how could God (1) know that disaster is about to happen; (2) be able to prevent it, and (3) be truly good—and still not prevent it?
Welcome to the Problem of Evil.
The problem is basically as old as religion, and people have explained it in all sorts of ways: that Satan is working against God, that God gave us free will, or that things that seem bad are actually part of a larger plan.
But what if, Meg Rosoff asks, God actually were just sleeping on the job? What if he were just a teenager who didn't want the task of creating and ruling the world, just like you might not want to take the dog for a walk or pack your kid sister's lunch? What if he had a lot of other things on his mind, like how to get that cute girl to talk to him?
God in There Is No Dog is a lot like—maybe even just like—us. Sure, sometimes you just want to smack him over the head, but rethinking God lets us rethink our whole world a little bit. This isn't theology. Meg Rosoff isn't trying to start a new religion or even saying that any religion is wrong. It's a thought experiment. It's a way of helping us wrestle with what just might be some of the most important questions out there.
In other words? We think you probably already care.