On Animals and Souls

In the ABC News last evening (July 20, 2001) we saw a woman in profound grief, saying good-bye to her deceased dog which was neatly laid in an elegant coffin. She placed a flower on the pet in peace, along with what seemed like a little velvety  bag, filled perhaps with beef-biscuits. Tears rolled down her eyes in profusion even as sympathetic friends and relatives tried to console her aching heart.

Another person in the news declared something to the effect that if anybody deserved to go to heaven, it was his very faithful and loving Labrador. Yet another expressed the judgment that Heaven wouldn't be Heaven if there were no dogs there. All this was related to the profound theological question as to whether dogs have souls.

Among the ancients, Pythagoras and company (like their Hindu cousins) had little doubt that, not just dogs, but all animals have souls: indeed that some of these could well have inhabited other human beings in previous terrestrial trips. On the other hand, Christianity/Islam deny entry into Heaven for animals and non-Christians: to the former because they have no souls, to the latter because they have not accepted the only Savior/Messenger of God there every was or will be.  Descartes gave a death blow to beastly dignity by declaring those lowly creatures to be mere automata.

  Today some animal-rights groups conduct funeral services for departed dogs and cats in caskets. All of which brought the reporter to an eminent theologian of the Judeo-Christian persuasion who reasoned with impeccable logic that animals simply cannot have souls because they have no free-will, and that therefore there was no question of having pets in paradise. This must have broken the heart of the lady who was lamenting at the mortal remains of her dear dog.

  If the question had been posed to a biologist, he/she too would have denied souls to dogs, but more curtly, by asking: "Are you kidding?"

  This is one issue on which modern scientists and thoughtful theologians of the Abrahamic tradition concur without blinking an eye.

  One may of course ask, if there are flora in Heaven, why not fauna?

  P.S. Peter Jennings also reported that more than 40% of Americans believe animals have souls. We need less than 10 more percent to prove that the proposition is true.