In my continuing quest (although I fear it will ultimately be a vain one as he is sure to see through my insincerity) to get onto Tim Chesterton"s FAVOURITE BLOGGERS LIST, here's another serious post.

I received this email from Tracie The Red (to give her her full title as this is a serious question) some while back.

I've been thinking about it for a while and, to be honest, I was stumped by it to begin with. But my riff on my dog club being similar to the Anglican Communion in my LET THEM GET ON WITH IT! has led me to a possible, reasonably coherent answer.

Anybody can make a dog submit to them. All you need is a strong, dominant personality or, if that doesn't work, a big stick. These are the tools employed by the alpha males in wolf packs although the big stick tends to be replaced with big teeth and sharp claws.

But, if you want a dog to do as you tell it at the same time as loving you, making the dog submit is of very little value in the enterprise. The thing is a dog will only be "obedient" to you if it wants to be. If you try to get the dog to do as you say by scaring the living daylights out of it the only thing it will do when you shout "Come here!" is run in the opposite direction.

I have been training dogs for 39 years and I can tell you categorically that the first thing you have to do if you want your dog to be obedient is to persuade the dog to trust you and you can't trick a dog into doing that. Contrary to popular belief dogs don't love their masters whatever. Unless you love your dog your dog will not love you. The loyalty that is observed in dogs with cruel owners is from fear not love and, given the opportunity, the fearful dog will readily transfer its loyalty to a kinder owner. And obedience comes not from the human telling the dog what to do, a one way contract. Canine obedience is all about teamwork. Above all, a dog will be obedient only if its owner is reliable and can be trusted at all times. A dog will just get very confused and panic if you keep changing the way you relate to it and when you ask it to do something it will just go to pieces.

So, there you have it - the difference between submission and obedience (incorporating the difference between God and Allah) doggie style.



  1. Very interesting take on this; I’ll have to ponder it a while. Gotta admit that there’s a part of me that’s still thinking this: “eh, it’s all of a piece anyway.” But that could be too pat.

    :scratches head:

  2. I used to lead groups for men who had committed domestic battery. The subject of child-raising always came up at some point, and the abusers in group were always concerned about how children need “discipline.”

    I would remind them that “discipline” comes from the word “disciple,” and that a disciple isn’t one who follows the master, but one who follows the master because he loves him.

    (The genders of the master and disciple, and of their pronouns, are irrelevant here.)

    I would ask them if they want to be obeyed, or if they wanted to be loved — and obeyed?

  3. Excellent. Another reason that God gave us Dogs. We can learn so much from them. I always figured it was just to show us how to love. Our puppies give love to everyone but always come back to their master. Love isn’t limited. Now you have given me another Doggie lesson.

  4. Hmm… I admit that, on one hand, ‘to be submissive’ has a bit more of a groveling feel than ‘to be obedient’, and yet, one can threaten someone with a stick, teeth bared and spittle flying, demanding that they ‘obey, or else!’. Whether that or “submit, or else” is the preferred expression does not reveal much of a semantic difference.

    I daresay love and submission and love and obedience seem, to me at least, like the same thing: problematic juxtapositions.

    I recall the last chapter of Edith Hamilton’s “The Echo of Greece” (1957), in which the author reflected on the Greek and Roman legacies vis-à-vis Christian religiosity. To wit: the Greek way, which was the way of the primitive Church, emphasized the individual encounter with the mystery of existence and the promise redemption (like the walkers to Emmaus); this was the period of the Gospels (the Gnostic ones, too).

    The Roman way prioritized doctrine, dogma and tradition for the sake of organizing the Church to better survive the cataclysms of the late Roman Empire; this was the period of the Epistles and the closing of the Christian textual canon. Certainly, something was lost in translation…

    So far as Islam is concerned, one experiences it differently in different parts of the Muslim world. Ethnically, Arab Islam looks and feels different from Turkish Islam and from Indostani Islam. People do not practice Islam the same way in Rabat, Morocco; Cairo, Egypt; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Damascus, Syria; Istambul, Turkey; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; or in the USA. A Sunni does not ‘submit’ in the same way a Shiite or a Sufi does. In other words, Islamic ‘submission’ is not the same everywhere.

  5. Excellent. And I suspect that this illustration also helps us understand some of the puzzling ‘sovereignty of God’ texts like ‘No one can come to me unless the Father draws him (or her)’. Calvinists and their ilk tend to interpret those verses as referring to ‘irresistible grace’ (some magic switch that God throws in your heart to make you come to him. But I suspect it has more to do with the way a loving and consistent dog owner ‘draws’ the dog, just by being, as you say, reliable and loving and consistent.

  6. Without drifting into the Muslim/Christian dynamic which I think is a subtle difference along the lines of Jewish guilt and Catholic shame (or is it vice versa?) I would point out that IMHO…

    “obedience” is the act of obeying, the nature of the relationship between the power and the follower is not relevant…one can be obedient and seeth with hatred and anger…e.g., prison populations…

    Submission involves the willful act on the submitting party to submit to the higher power. Whether or not the submission is coerced by a stick, the implication is still that the submitting individual surrenders themselves. There is an acknowledgement of the will of the submitting entity in submission that is absent from the concept of obedience.

    IMHO…neither automatically includes the other. I can submit myself to your authority and not always obey you and/or I can obey you because I have no choice but never submit myself to your will.

  7. Of course, obedience and submission are two different things. No wrestler has ever lost a bout by two falls and agreeing to do something the other fighter told him to do.

    In fact, I bet there are very few words in the English language that actually mean the same thing. It’s just that we’ve got lazy about using words correctly and subtly. Mainly I blame the Americans for this.

  8. As I learned it, “obedience” comes from the verb “to listen to.”

    To obey is to listen to. It’s a sign of respect, of mutual partners.

    It is emphatically NOT “submission” (“to lower oneself, relative to the other”).

    Not getting into Christian v Muslim comparisons here.

    But vis-a-vis TEC in relation to the Anglican Communion, I’m all for—and I believe TEC has—“obeyed” the AC.

    But we won’t submit to them—only to God, known through our collective conscience (formed by S,T&R).

  9. Thanks for bringing up the etymology, JCF. That’s actually spelled out in the vows I took. Christian obedience is, indeed, deep listening with the willingness to be changed (metanoia) implied:

    Middle English obeien, from Anglo-French obeir, from Latin oboedire, from ob- toward + -oedire (akin to audire to hear)

  10. I’m with Lois on obedience, forced obedience is not true obedience. Nor is compliance with the letter of the law while disregarding its spirit. (see Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees).

    MP, in terms of obedience and submission as those of us in the English-speaking world understand the terms, you are quite correct. My question, however, is whether that is how a Muslim would understand “submission”. As Anon points out, there may not be one understanding of the term among different strains of Islam.

    Likewise, within Christianity there are different understandings of “obedience”. My understanding is certainly different than that of a Southern Baptist, who would focus on observing the letter of the commandments, or of an old-school RC, who does whatever Father says.

  11. Submission in Islam is a fatalistic concept, an outgrowth of a very ancient Middle Eastern concept that humans are basically cattle to the gods, or slaves in the truest sense. The concepts of joy and love as part of the Islamic faith were introduced by the Sufi sect, which was persecuted for it, at the start. It’s a harsh faith, founded by harsh people from a harsh land.

  12. I think compliance is similar to submission: to “bend with (unto)”, as to “lower to”.


    Mark, hmmm. Your description of Islam reminds me of a “Golden Encyclopedia” (or somesuch) thumbnail learned as a youth: “The point is that Mohammedanism (aka Islam) is So Much Better than what those benighted heathen had before!”

    Even then, I had a feeling I was being spun by someone on the outside…

  13. Actually, I got the description from a book by an Islamic author trying to explain the religion to non-Muslims – he felt our “it’s all basically the same thing” goodwill was misplaced, though sweet.

    Frankly, I don’t think we had it any better than the benighted heathens, because we’re still benighted heathens, we’ve just whittled the number of gods down.