Do Dogs Go to Heaven?
Well those of you that love their dogs, I’m sure, are right now saying YES, not because you have rational reasons to believe it, but because you WANT your dogs to go to heaven.
But I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way – although the Velveteen Rabbit might disagree.
Anyway, before really getting into this question, we have to deal with the underlying question, which is actually much bigger and much more difficult to answer: do people go to heaven?
Not if they hate dogs.
Do people go to heaven? What does this mean? Our point of departure is itself a faith statement. Us Christians say “yes” people go to heaven, or their “souls” go to heaven, not because it is scientifically proven, nor can it be logically deduced – it’s a belief.
Why do we believe that humans can go to heaven? Is it because we know that everything that makes up a human consciousness can’t just END with death? Is it because we believe all those life-after-death experiences they talk about on Oprah? Is it because our dead Gramma has possessed our music box? Is it because the possibility that there is NOTHING after death is too horrifying to face?
These are questions we all have to grapple with in life. Why do we believe humans live on after death?
Well, for me, it’s intricately connected to another belief: that Jesus continued to live on after his death, making it possible for me to – but again, this is a faith statement.
So does Jesus’ salvation apply to all creatures, because Jesus was a creature, or only to humans, because Jesus was a human, or only to Hasidic male Jews of the first century, because Jesus was an Hasidic male Jew of the first century?
What is it that lives on? Most people would say the “soul.” Okay, so what’s a soul?
Some people identify the “soul” with our intellect: our ability to think, to reason, to conceive of our own existence, our ability to have conscience, our ability to consider the possibility that there’s a God. This is a perfectly valid viewpoint, one taken by many philosophers and great thinkers throughout the centuries: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas – this line of thinking goes back to a NON-Christian, Greek Philosopher named Plato, who divided everything in the world into pairs: body and soul, matter and form, intellectual and emotional, light and dark, man and woman, spiritual and material. For Plato, there was always a hierarchy – one member of the pair was always better than the other – I’ll leave it to you to figure out which.
I wonder though – if the “intellect” is as closely linked with the soul as those great thinkers seemed to believe. The intellect tends to want to label everything, categorize everything, judge everything, so it can understand everything, and control everything. Intellectual pursuits so often spin out of control, rationalize immoral behaviour, demonize people we don’t like, take us away from the world we live in, rather than plant us in it. Some people believe that the Jewish Holocaust was the product of the over intellectualization inherent in the Third Reich. It’s the intellect that causes humans to need to make idols of God, rather than just let God be God. Not that intellect is a bad thing in itself – it’s brought us out of the cave – which is a good thing – I think….
And what of people with underdeveloped brain capacities, or Alzheimer’s? Do they have souls? The Church says that they certainly do.
I guess I’m not completely ready to identify the “soul” with the human brain’s abilities. It’s possible, as time goes on, that these abilities will all be explained as neuro-electrical processes – amazing, but quite natural.
Buddhists, Hindu’s, Native North Americans; they all have a different idea of a soul. Birds, bugs, trees, flowers, everything that lives has a soul, because that’s what a soul is – it’s the principle of LIFE. It’s what takes a collection of parts and makes them into a whole, an organism. Pretty weird, eh?
Not so weird. Guess who else felt that way? The ancient Jews, in our own Old Testament.
The Soul, or Spirit, goes back to the Hebrew word RUAH, which means Spirit, but it also means BREATH. The idea is that God picked up some dirt, breathed HIS breath/Spirit into it, and it lived.
By that definition, that more ancient, more Judeo-Christian definition, my dog Nemo has a soul. If I have one, he has one. Does he go to heaven? If I can, he should be able to as well.
Also bear in mind, the Bible speaks of Jesus having saved not just human beings, but all of creation – including Nemo.
But who knows for sure? Not me. I haven’t been there in heaven, if there is a heaven.
It just seems to me that anyone with the courageous arrogance to definitively state that there is a heaven – A FAITH STATEMENT – and then turn around and arrogantly scientifically pronounce which species go there and which don’t – without really knowing, is kinda surprising. In fact I’d be tempted to call it blasphemy – to speak on God’s behalf so definitively. Some of them would say that it’s the CHURCH that speaks on God’s behalf definitively. True sometimes, but not on this issue. I’d have to say anyone so closely identifying the CHURCH with God would be committing blasphemy too. The Church itself would never be so arrogant.
It’d make a lot more sense to say, “I believe there’s a heaven, but I don’t believe there are dogs there.” Then someone else can come along and say, “Well I believe they are,” and that would settle that.
So who’s right? My definition of the soul as the “principle of life,” or the other definition of the soul as the “principle of the intellect?”
Or how about another one. What about the principle of LOVE. If God is Love, then maybe what makes us the image and likeness of God is that we can love. Yea that makes sense.
So can my dog Nemo love? Does he love me? Sometimes I’m sure he does. Sometimes I think he does, but it turns out, he’s just mooching for a dog treat. He can’t communicate “I love you” verbally, the way humans can – that’s an ability to use symbolic language to represent a concept: love – back to the intellect again. So does he love me?
Truth is, I’ll never know for sure. But here’s the funny thing – I’ll never know for sure if other human beings love me either. They might say they love me, and act as though they love me – but they too could be acting under ulterior motives, like Nemo looking for a cookie. There’s always a possibility that they don’t love me – no way to PROVE that they love me.
I have to make a decision to BELIEVE that they love me. I have to make a leap of faith – that they love me.
Same thing with Nemo. I’ll make the leap of faith – I feel I certainly have enough qualitative evidence to admit the possibility that Nemo loves me. I have to make the choice to believe the rest.
Oddly, this is the choice we have to make, not just for my dog Nemo, but for every relationship in life. Making this choice, to believe in love, in my view, is what it means to BE alive.
I choose to believe that my dog loves me.
I choose to believe that my family and friends love me.
I choose to believe that God loves me.
I choose to believe that my dog Nemo can go to heaven.
I choose to believe that God is Love, Amen.