do dogs have souls?

Today’s New York Times reports that Pope Francis has once again said something controversial. He consoled a boy whose dog had died by saying, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

The Times added, “Theologians cautioned that Francis had spoken casually, not made a doctrinal statement,” but his words seem pretty clear. The article describes how various popes have disagreed about whether pets go to heaven. Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) said no; John Paul II said yes, remarkably asserting that our pets are “as near to God as men are” (what?!); and Benedict returned to sanity, saying that when an animal dies, it “just means the end of existence on earth.”

Here’s what I think.

1. Of course animals have souls. A soul is simply the immaterial aspect of a being, and I’m sure that my dog has one. Sammy’s soul is evident in how he greets me when I come home–tail wagging, standing on hind legs as he watches me climb out of my car. He’s got a different greeting for the UPS man and my next door neighbor, whom he doesn’t seem to trust. She seems like a nice lady, but I’ve seen enough Disney dog movies to know she probably stole something from my garage when I wasn’t home. Sammy knows about it, and it’s driving him nuts. You’ll never convince me that Sammy is nothing more than chemicals and neurons firing. He’s clearly got an immaterial side as well, and it’s very loving toward the people he likes.

2. But having a soul does not mean Sammy goes to heaven. We only think that because we’re influenced by Plato. But Plato was a pagan, and his views aren’t necessarily compatible with Scripture. Christianity teaches that God created everything from nothing–not just our bodies, but our souls as well.

Before my conception in 1966, I did not exist. No part of me existed, neither my body nor my soul. The same God who created my soul from nothing could extinguish it, taking it back to nothing if he chose. I know he won’t, because I have his promise that he will sustain me forever–not just my soul but also my body (we believe in the resurrection!). But I don’t have that promise for Sammy. God may resurrect Sammy and give him back to me on the new earth, but I don’t expect him too. There will be animals on the new earth (Isaiah 65:25), maybe one that looks suspiciously like Sammy. But I don’t have God’s word, so I won’t follow the pope’s example and make promises that God hasn’t made.

3. What separates humans from animals is not that we have souls and they don’t, but that we alone are image of God. Pope John Paul II apparently forgot this when he said animals “are as near to God as men are.” As image of God, we are commanded to exercise responsible stewardship over the animals. We may still eat them, but we must treat them with care, as our fellow creatures. Our animal factories may make economic sense, but they are immoral. We should not stuff pigs in crates with no room to turn around or suspend cows so their feet never touch the ground. Animals deserve a normal, better than miserable life, right up until the moment we eat them.

The pope is half-right. Animals do have souls, but this has no bearing whatsoever on whether they go to heaven. If you think it does, then you’re thinking like a pagan. You should do better, especially if you’re the pope.

7 Comments

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  1. My dog has just finished reading “630 Minutes in Heaven”

  2. That sounds more like purgatory. Way to confuse the issue.

  3. Um, I have a slightly different twist on this. A preacher friend of mine was consoling a child who had just lost a dog. He told this little boy, “Everything will be perfect in heaven. If God knows that for heaven to be perfect for you means that your dear dog will be waiting for you, then that for sure will happen.” And then, they shared a hug.

    I know this leaves a bit of wiggle-room for God, but it also comforted that child a whole lot! Both what my friend said, as well as the hug. I am not sure quite what I believe about animals, except that God loves them. And Jesus told us that the Father is concerned with each bird (and I extrapolate, and say each creature) who falls. Yes, we humans are created in the image of God. That imago Dei is imprinted upon each of us. However–in my limited humanness with my limited mental capabilities (compared to God, anyway!!!), I am hesitant to say with certainty that God absolutely WILL or WON’T allow animals in heaven. I am inclined to agree with my fellow preacher friend, and do the pastorally appropriate thing. @chaplaineliza

  4. I had a German Shepherd named Luther and the one I now own is named Augustine. The next one will be called Barth. I love them very much and am certain with names like that they will be “honored” by the Lord in the new creation, somehow. Don’t you?

  5. I’m with Chaplaineliza on this one, and I call in C.S. Lewis as a witness. When my beloved Yorkie terrorist Pipa died, it was probably worse to me than losing my mother or my father. I had good conversations with them before they died. Pip just got cancer. It was awful.

    Dr. Grinell was so kind to me. I will always thank him. He told me to read chapter 9 of Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain”. Page 144 comforted me like the words to the little boy: “the man will know his dog: the dog will know its master and, in knowing him, will be itself.”

    When I die, my wife knows I want Pipa’s cremated remains (sorry, I’m still an embalmer) in my casket with me. I dream of a trumpet blast, and flying up, and seeing Pip beside me. Maybe it won’t be Pip, but if it makes me happy, I think God will allow her to be there. That’s my dream. Even if Pip doesn’t show up, how could I be depressed with my Savior before me? It gets me through.

  6. I appreciate these sentiments, but there will be many saved people who will be missing their loved children in heaven–and yet somehow find their joy unencumbered. So God doesn’t need to give us our pets back. He might, but we’d better not speak where God is silent. Didn’t Rob Bell teach us that?

    I love C. S. Lewis, but his expertise was medieval literature, which led him to slide into Platonism more often than a Christian should.

  7. There goes your invitation to the Vatican.

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