All Dogs Don’t Go to Heaven

I’m pretty sure that I was first introduced to the concept of heaven by watching the animated movie “All Dogs Go to Heaven”. I still really love the movie. I think it’s a great example of good animation and the voice acting by Dom DeLuise and Burt Reynolds is wonderful. So of course when I was a kid, thanks in part to the movie, I wanted to believe that everybody went to heaven after they died.

allDogs

So it’s really funny to me that the Pope Francis has just declared that all dogs do go to heaven. I’ve heard mixed answers on this issue before from different sects of Christianity. Some on the more liberal end of the spectrum already have been saying that animals get into heaven and others say that animals are soulless and do not enter heaven. Pope John Paul II was in agreement with Pope Francis, although it seems that Pope Benedict was on team soulless. I can understand why people would want to believe that their pets go to heaven, we love them very much and it’s hard to see their life come to an end. The ones that refer to animals as soulless scare me a bit, it makes me greatly question how they must treat animals. I’m also very confused by people that refer to animals as if they are not animals themselves. I’ve even seen Christians go as far as to be offended by being called an animal.

PopeDogs

As someone that recognizes that I’m an animal just like a dog, cat, hamster, what-have-you, I’ve always felt a kinship with my fellow animal kind. My love of animals has led me to have a good amount of pets in my life; right now I have three cats and a dog. My pets have always brought me a lot of joy and comfort, and it’s been heartbreaking when pets have passed away or have had to be put down. It would be nice to think I could see them again in an afterlife, but I really don’t think that’s going to happen. I find solace in the fact that I cared for and loved my pets as best as I could and gave them happy lives. I also take comfort in the fact that I was privileged enough to own such wonderful animals. I actually think it can be dangerous for people to believe that all dogs (or other animals) go to heaven. If you believe that animals are going to heaven, then where’s the concern for their well-being while they are with us? They have that paradise waiting, so why bother taking care of them? Just wait for Fido to be god’s problem. As someone that doesn’t believe there’s an afterlife, I feel a sense of urgency to take care of my fellow animals around me. I think every animal deserves happiness and comfort in their life, and I get really upset every time I think about the number of dogs and cats that are put down because they weren’t adopted into good homes. People should be more concerned about making a paradise for animals now than hoping that they’ll end up in one later.

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9 thoughts on “All Dogs Don’t Go to Heaven

  1. I enjoyed All Dogs Go to Heaven; I agree with you it was done well. And I think it is an interesting example about how media influences cultural ideas and unconsciously held assumptions about things. Most people’s idea of hell, in the western world anyway, is shaped by Dante, who was shaped by Greek and Roman ideas, as much as by Christianity. Stories are powerful.

    I think a part of what you’re saying here is that Christian ideas may be dangerous to animals in two ways: If a Christian believes their pet will enjoy an afterlife, they may be less concerned about treating them kindly here. On the other hand, if a Christian does not believe their pet will enjoy an afterlife, they may see them as “soulless” and without any rights, or not deserving of any dignity or respect.

    Let me try to set your mind at ease about the second concern: Christians (whether they believe in an afterlife for pets or not) do recognize a continuity between humans and animals, and see them as having a “soul” in one kind of sense. We look at a dog or a cat, and we can see that, just like humans, they seem to have a mind (to see or hear or smell something and think and draw a conclusion), they seem to have emotions (fear or excitement or distress or happiness), and they clearly seem volitional (decide to do one thing vs another). Those characteristics are what the Hebrew word “nepesh” (often translated soul) means pretty often when used in the OT to refer to both humans and animals (birds, fish, land-animals, but not plants. In the Bible, plants may be alive, but they’re definitely not going to heaven.) Christians aren’t unique in this. Most other major world religions see animals as having some kind of soul, and I think they experience that or comprehend that in pretty much the same way that an atheists sees continuity between animal and human life, as empathy for another creature that is experiencing a degree of self-awareness. I know I would hate to be isolated and lonely, and so I feel empathy for a dog that is abandoned by an owner. I think that’s just normal, and Christians or atheists or anyone else may be a better or worse person, but they won’t be better or worse at being empathetic and caring for animals because of their belief system. I think a Christian or an atheist or a Hindu would probably all be about equal in the way they care for a pet, on average.

    Where Christians see a discontinuity between humans and other kinds of animals is mainly in the idea of moral culpability (although we see other differences as well.) But, basically, if my dog bites a neighbor kid, I may have to have my dog put down because he’s not safe (which would be a tragedy) but I don’t think he’s a bad dog. He’s not guilty of assault in the way a human would be. Or to take another case, if a human takes an extra deer during hunting season, we fine him for doing something that will adversely affect the local eco-system. But a wolf can kill as many deer as he likes and we don’t judge his choice as moral or immoral. We don’t expect a wolf to try to figure out how many deer he ought to kill or what the effects on the environment will be. He’s not morally culpable.

    There are other discontinuties in the Christian view between humans and animals, but the fact that humans are morally culpable and animals aren’t is the main reason for pondering the question of dogs going to heaven. On the one hand, you might think that all dogs go to heaven because, really, there is no such thing as a bad dog. Have you ever known a dog that’s disloyal to a good owner? It’s just in their nature to be loyal, and that’s what they are. Even a dog that does something “bad” isn’t being deliberately evil in the way a greedy, or envious, or violent spouse-abusing, or just overall asshole human can be, right? Humans can be bad. Dogs can’t. Therefore all dogs go to heaven, maybe. On the other hand, if a dog can’t really be bad, does it deserve an eternal reward for just following its nature? Some Christians say no. But that, at its core is what the discussion internal to Christianity is all about. It doesn’t mean that Christians see animals differently than any other group does, or are therefore more or less likely to treat them badly, either way.

      • I’ll try to be shorter. The short version of my response is: A) Just FYI, Judaism (and later Christianity) has always observed that humans and animals alike are self-aware and appear to have a “mind” as well as a body; all of us animals experience emotions, and are self-determining. Therefore, B) Christians are not any more or less likely than anyone else to treat animals kindly or badly – it really comes down to empathy; it’s normal for humans to feel empathy for a fellow self-aware creature, and it has nothing to do with believing or not in any possible after-life. As an aside to explain pope Francis view vs other Christians, C) one important difference that Christians do see between humans and animals is in viewing humans as morally culpable in a way that animals are not. I’m curious as to whether atheists tend to think that a non-human animal can behave in a moral or immoral way?

        In summary, Christians are as likely as anyone to responsibly care about animals; many of them work to create a paradise for animals here and that work is essentially unrelated to any hope they have or don’t have about an afterlife. They care just as much and work just as hard either way.

        It’s your blog; I’m a guest. What do you think about the way our broader culture wants to reduce everything to a sound-bite? I’m afraid that it just makes it easy for us to dismiss each other without any thought rather than actually understanding and having a dialogue. Let me know if this length of comment works for you.

      • Thank you for shortening. Its just difficult to know how to address someone when a lot has been said. I understand where you’re coming from on explaining the doctrine, I’ll try to adress some of these things in later posts. I’m not trying to reduce things down to sound bites, just overwhelming to adress a lot of points and make sure I’m explaining myself well enough. Thank you again for your comments and reading

  2. Even Brigham Young, that snuggly ol’ bastion of empathy and warmth, said that animals have souls (that one was short!).

    Dig your thoughts. I’ll be visiting more often and am excited to read more.

  3. I have love the pets I have taken care of or fostered over the years and find myself wishing there was indeed a place, an afterlife to rejoin them. I know it is not possible and get conflicting watching “The Hunt” episode of Twlight Zone. Perhaps the best known “dogs go to Heaven” debate in fiction ever.

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