Do dogs go to heaven? This link replays a funny debate that reflects something serious that Christians have been arguing about for centuries.
On CBC’s The Current, a neurologist asks the scientific equivalent of this question: how “human” are dogs? The interview is worth hearing:
Download Are dogs more human than we realize? – Oct 21, 2013
In the interview, the neurologist remarks that scientists, without good scientific reason, frequently adopt an attitude that humans are inherently superior to other animals. He identified, with some justification, that this attitude was borrowed from Christianity.
Personally, I see this as a reflection of human arrogance, and the need we have to feel special. While scripture does contain examples of that “humans are extra-special” kind of thinking, it also contains clear evidence that God loves and cares for other animals, even demanding that we provide them with justice (eg: Deuteronomy 25:4). I do not find any part of scripture that decrees that humans have souls and that dogs, for example, do not.
I also wonder how God, who put so much effort into animals in this life, who loves them and who demands justice for them, could ban them from the next life?
What do you think?
12 thoughts on “Do Dogs Go to Heaven?”
Andrew, your sermon this past Sunday gave us a great deal to ponder. Ironically, I have received requests to sign two petitions this week that really bring the idea of human arrogance into perspective. The first was about chickens being kept in tiny cages that are electrified so that the birds can’t move more than a couple of centimetres during their short lives. The second was about South African lions being slaughtered so their bones and organs can be sold in Asia to make “so-called” potency medicines. How sad that we humans could care so little about the lives of fellow creatures. I don’t know if animals have souls that go to heaven, but surely we can treat all living things with respect or at least compassionately in this life.
I don’t see heaven as a next life as much as a state of mind, transcending time and space, in a sort of Realised Eschatology way, that we may touch on now or may experience easily once freed by death from the confines of our bodily thought. I am reading Plotinus and find I am pretty much Neoplatonist Christian though that may not be possible.
The Hassidim talk I believe of “sparks” of god that are present in all life. (I may be wrong there though)
But perhaps I am wrong, and heaven is a sequential “next life”.
If then the next life is somewhat like this (as in the recent book by the neurosurgeon with the NDE) but dogs are not present because they have no soul, then there could be no dragonflies, dahlias or dandelions because surely insects and plants have even less of a chance of having soul and even less chance of being “good” so they get to heaven either. So the human souls there would be left with only rocks and wind. That seems more like eternal Alcatraz than heaven.
But even if dogs have no soul then is it biblical to say that therefore they can’t go to heaven? Is a good soul absolutely required for entry or could it be that you get in with either a good soul or no soul? (Answer that one Andrew!)
But perhaps heaven is what we want it to be. Perhaps God allows us to co-create the heaven we want. A study in (India, USA, Italy I think) of people who had visions of figures from the next life in the hours before death found the figure was from the person’s own tradition (Christians saw Jesus, Hindus saw Krishna etc). So maybe if we want dogs we have them. If we are Medieval and we want to join angels circling around God, we have that. If heaven is a good place to be then it must be different for different people.
I somehow missed replying to your last remarks earlier. Here goes:
I have a hard time being very definitive about things like whether Heaven exists in a parallel universe, or as an alternative state of mine, or even if it is constrained by the same laws of time and space we have come to know here.
The idea that we can create the heavens we expect with our beliefs is an interesting one, and one that I could not totally rule out. However, just because we think about the next life in very spiritual terms, that does not mean that it is more subject to our individual control than this world is. After all, would a creative and loving God want to have us each move farther apart from each other by each furnishing our own mini-afterlifes?
God has created a universe with more things than we have yet discovered. Why would Heaven be any less populated with wonders, new discoveries, and surprising life? No doubt we can contribute creatively to how that will be: after all, God has given us the power to make a difference here; but I do wonder how much we will be able to define it.
As far as “good souls” being required for going to heaven: again, that is an idea that we refined over the centuries. Biblically, Heaven was reserved for God and others, like the angels. Only Enoch and Elijah made it into heaven. Even in the last book of the Bible, Revelations, the plan is not for people to get into Heaven, but to be resurrected into the New Earth. Admittedly, the writer also imagines the New Heaven and New Earth being combined, so that God will be with people for eternity.
That is a vision, and it is not completely supported by other bits of scripture. That’s part of what makes this so fascinating: we are not given a blueprint. There is an overwhelming attitude through most of the Bible that God will take care of eternity, and we are to work on our lives right now. Not a bad approach, but it is fun to speculate.
Also, the Bible doesn’t really define what a “soul” is, and is not dogmatic (pun intended) about talking about who has one and who doesn’t. My own perspective on this is highly influenced by the degree to which I discover personality in animals I have come to know. It is also influenced on how much I have learned about the damaging effect our human arrogance has had on the world at large. To declare that another species has no soul is remarkably arrogant, and I don’t believe that God supports us in elevating ourselves to the place where we get to make such pronouncements.
In the end, I expect that Heaven (or the afterlife, or whatever) will have familiar elements, if only because we will be looking for them. However, I expect it to be grander than anything we can imagine, so once we get past seeing what we expect, we will have a lot more to discover.
The question of whether animals have souls has influenced how we have treated animals over the centuries. I believe we should treat all living things as part of the creation that God declared to be “Very Good”, which really should prevent us from being high-handed or cruel.
As for the nature of heaven: good question. Frankly, the theology that unfolds over the length of the Bible is that Heaven is where God lives, and the only people who got to go there were Enoch, Elijah and (for Christians) Jesus (and possibly Stephen, the martyr, depending on your interpretation of Acts). Being in the presence of the Holiness of God was considered dangerous, so Heaven was only safe for truly holy people.
Early Jewish thought was that the Spirit alive in each person returned to God at death. In Jesus’ day, Jewish thinking was looking at the idea of the Resurrection, which came to be adopted by the Christian community. By the time Revelations is written, we have the New Heaven and the New Earth being combined so that people are no longer excluded from Heaven.
All of this works well when Earth is down, Heaven is up, and you don’t know about stars, planets, and so on. I tend to think of Heaven as a spiritual reference, and in this case, usually referring to the next life, in whatever form that takes.
But where does it say in the Bible who has a soul and who doesn’t? I can find no such reference. It doesn’t even say what a soul is. Those Medieval ideas really do stick firmly a long time, and we have to stop and seriously question them, and examine the logic behind them to see if it still works.
For myself, I am still hanging on to the understanding that we maintain a personal existence after this life, rather than blending with a universal energy or consciousness. Maybe it’s my fear of a “Borg Collective” kind of existence, but I think that the calls in scripture for us to be personally responsible while cooperating as a community suggest that a future life should contain these same elements, since we have to work so hard on them in this life.
The idea of the “Spark of God” is an interesting one. It fits well with the idea of the Breath of God (Breath=Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek): that life itself is God’s breath animating the dust of our flesh. If that’s the case, the Biblical view should include the idea that all breathing things share that piece of God. A little hard on the fish, if we want to get silly about it . . .
Thank you for these interesting ideas, Andrew.
I really enjoy the way your sermons bring in the social context of a bible story and what a particular verse would men in those days, for example the situation of lepers you described recently.
Your post is a sort of epiphany for me. (epiphanette?)
Because of lack of critical thinking I had somehow not totally grasped the idea that many of these church doctrines are those of medieval thinkers (and “feelers”) with a medieval viewpoint on life. I saw that they were derived with logic and knowledge better than mine from the bible, but had not factored in the profoundly different experience of life that the writers had compared with us. Because of my fragmentary knowledge of the bible I assumed the ideas were from biblical passages unknown to me! Now I will be able to approach the ideas more openly.
I found on youtube some videos of a BBC series on the medieval life. They are very evocative of how life was experienced in those days.
Re heaven again, I have had a few profound experiences of openness to life in which while I was not merged into a “Borg Collective” and I still felt a personal existence (in the most profound I was driving so it was useful to be me!) I felt an ineffable experience of …. err, umm, well, oneness with life, peace, lack of separation. Only cliches are available unfortunately. I like to believe that once released from the confines of the mind and flesh this is what it will be like.
Thank you for your comments, Jonathan.
With regard to heaven, I suspect that our experiences of transcendence in this life give us a taste of what is ahead, but we will always have to struggle with ways to imagine or express those experiences. In memorial services, I often make reference to Paul’s efforts (the “Spiritual Body” that he talks about) in 1 Corinthians 15. For someone with a 1st Century frame of reference, I believe that he does a pretty good job of encouraging us to imagine how transformed the next life will be, compared to this one.
Of course, it is all difficult to imagine. One of our biggest challenges is that we like to KNOW, rather than imagine; we want concrete images. When music and art try to provide words or images as helps, people want to treat them as reliable maps to the next life, rather than straight inspiration.
Mystery is hard to live with, isn’t it?
Hi, where is the text of the actual sermon? I can’t find it. Thanks.
I didn’t include the text. I have heard that SHORT blogs are to be preferred, so I simply put in the cartoons (which were shown during the sermon), a link to the discussion that got me thinking, and a really short summary.
I can add the text, if you like.
Hi, I had read the newsletter to mean that the whole sermon was there. I suppose the text might be long for a blog, but I recall in the past that the texts of all the sermons were available on the church website. Perhaps it might be worth considering reviving that?
That idea has been suggested before. The biggest challenge is that I write my sermons in note form, rather than proper paragraphs etc.
At this point I am willing to do it when people ask for a specific one. Check around, though. If lots of people want them turned into the right form to be posted on the website on a regular basis, I will do it.
You may have seen this video, but I couldn’t help thinking of your sermon about other creatures having souls when I came across this lovely PBS record of the re-uniting of two former circus elephants at a sanctuary in Tennessee.
Watching this poignant reunion made me question again how we can ignore the needs of animals so readily when their participation in circus or aquarium programs provides us with “entertainment”.
Thanks for this, Jane. I had not seen it. We are so self-centred as a species!