Three new books say animals have souls, go to heaven

July 11, 2010 • 8:47 am

The Long Beach Press-Telegram (or rather, Alfredo Garcia of the Religious News Service) reports on three new books that affirm the existence of souls in animals:

The fate of our four-legged friends – whether they have a soul, whether they’ll be in the afterlife – has occupied the minds of Christian thinkers ever since the days of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine.

Three recent books try to answer the question, and affirm a special relationship between humans and animals – one that does not end with death.

It’s this kind of “theology” that makes the faithful look ridiculous, especially when it’s couched like this:

Author Ptolemy Tompkins tracks the history of the relationship between humans and animals in the new book, “The Divine Life of Animals.” Prompted to write by the death of his pet rabbit, Angus, Tompkins looks to the ancient past for the best models of animal-human interaction.

“Pre-modern cultures … were apparently able to see animals as undying spirits dressed, for the moment, in mortal bodies,” he writes.

The idea is to recover that “new-yet-old vision” that “will allow us to see (animals) as the genuine soul-beings they are and always have been.”

There are two other screeds along these lines. One is The Friends We Keep, by Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas:

“There does not seem to be any indication (in Scripture) … that there is a special human exclusion (in heaven),” Hobgood-Oster said.

And, finally, I Will See You in Heaven by Friar Jack Winz:

Reluctance to the idea of animals in heaven persists in some Christian circles. Last year, Franciscan Friar Jack Wintz published the book, “Will I See My Dog in Heaven?” This year, he answered his own question with a new book, “I Will See You in Heaven.”

Taking inspiration from his order’s founder, St. Francis of Assisi, who’s also the patron saint of animals, Wintz presents biblical evidence for the inclusion of animals in heaven.

In the book of Genesis, he writes, both humans and animals live in peaceful harmony – “a wonderful and insightful glimpse of the paradise that is to come,” he writes.

“It makes sense to me, therefore, that the same loving creator who arranged for these animals … to enjoy happiness in the original Garden would not want to exclude them from the final paradise,” he writes.

More than anything, this genre of belief shows that religion is based on wish thinking rather than evidence.  How, exactly, does the soul enter the zygote when a sperm and an egg fuse? Does each gamete have half a soul?  And if our personality and all our memories are coded in our neurons, which decay after death, how can we be the same people, with all those memories, in heaven?  Do frogs have souls, too?  What about fruit flies?  Sunflowers?

But never mind.  Who wouldn’t want to see Fluffy again, disporting herself amongst the clouds and chasing celestial mice (who apparently never get caught)?  But the Bible says that humans alone—not cats, dogs, squirrels, skunks, copepods, and ferns—are made in the image of God.  And if theologians want to debate whether they’ll meet Happy Cat or Rex or Angus teh Bunneh (Fig. 1) in the afterlife, well, let them look stupid.  It all contributes to the palpable irrationality that will eventually bring down religion in America, as it already has in much of Europe.

Fig. 1.  Bunneh heaven (artist’s rendition).

64 thoughts on “Three new books say animals have souls, go to heaven

  1. It’s this kind of “theology” that makes the faithful look ridiculous

    …and the kind that does not make them look ridiculous is what kind?

    1. Yeah really. At least this kind of theology actually makes them look nice. As eyeroll-inducing as this crap is, it doesn’t really inspire outrage. A stupid lie that makes people happier is not a good thing, but far far worse is a stupid lie that makes people miserable or gets them tortured or killed.

      In fact, compared to this, All-Dogs-Go-To-Heaven theology seems downright sensible.

  2. I wonder if hydra have souls according to them? Does the soul extend to all animals? Or just the cute fluffy ones?

  3. I’ve always wondered if we retain our character and psychological flaws in heaven: schizophrenia, social anxiety, anger issues, etc. And if we don’t, are we really the same person?

    Along those same lines, do aggressive dogs retain their aggression? Or is every man and beast “upgraded” to something more lubby dubby?

    1. God made animals behave on the ark not to mention managing their mountains of merde on that small boat. In heaven, the task will be easier, the merde can be hidden behind fluffy clouds.

  4. That made me laugh.

    And yes, it’s this kind of theology that makes it the most obvious that religion is based on wishful thinking.

    Sadly, I personally know many religious folk in my native Denmark who take it for granted and consider it eminently reasonable to think that pets have souls.
    My guess would be that it’s a way of justifying their love of their pets. It seems to me that they think it would be wrong to love a soulless, (merely) material animal, since for them only things that are secretly magical, somehow, can have any value at all. It’s all part and parcel of the Christian disgust with the profane, bodily, physical world.

    I happily love my soulless, naturally and artificially evolved dog. It’s conscious, feels joy and pain, and knows me individually (if not personally). What’s not to love?

  5. I can’t wait to meet my intestinal bacteria in heaven! I wonder whether the tuberculosis which I was cured of will be there too.

  6. The fun thing is that this theology directly contradicts the theology of many of the heroes of science-religion compatibility. It’s one of the last roles for God in creation evolution that they see: the soul didn’t evolve, but was inserted at some point in humans by God. But that doesn’t work anymore if animals have souls too.

    1. It also ignores one of the primary traditional role of the soul in theology, which is responsibility for making moral choices (aka “sinning”). If animals have souls, then presumably they can sin. And thus presumably need to be redeemed. And thus, presumably bunnies had their own Jesus Rabbit, and aardvarks crucified their own anteater Christ, and jellyfish murdered their own squishy redeemer.

      I also wonder if any of these writers is vegetarian, and if not, if they think it is murder to kill something with a soul.

  7. “It all contributes to the palpable irrationality that will eventually bring down religion?” I would like to think this analysis to be true, but, in reality. I think is little more than very wishful thinking. This nonsense actually fortifies and reaffirms the “faith” of the credulous.
    ~Rev. El Mundo

    1. While some deconvert due to evidence and argument, and others due to ridicule, religious belief itself seems to be the result of psychological stress. From here at

      Rather than religion being an integral part of the American character, the main reason the United States is the only prosperous democracy that retains a high level of religious belief and activity is because we have substandard socio-economic conditions and the highest level of disparity. The other factors widely thought to be driving forces behind mass faith—desire for the social links provided by churches, fear of societal amorality, fear of death, genetic predisposition towards religiosity, etc—are not critical simply because hundreds of millions have freely accepted being nonreligious mortals in a dozen and a half democracies. Such motives and factors can be operative only if socio-economic circumstances are sufficiently poor to sustain mass creationism and religion.

  8. It seems like your notion of personal identity as information encoded in the brain makes platform transfer more not less reasonable. Not that that vindicates all this fluffery.

    1. your notion of personal identity as information encoded in the brain

      Whose notion is that? As opposed to the genome, which soaks up one type of information from the environment (Shannon information) because it has to due to selection, a developed mind is much less dependent on that and have a substantial ‘thought metabolism’ processing going.

      In some theories I suspect the difference between a mindless brain and a minded one may even lead to loss of information (paring of neurons, loosing Kolmogorov complexity).

      makes platform transfer more not less reasonable

      Not really. It seems much of the mind is embodied, so to make another platform (say, an AI) would mean understand and emulate much hardware as is, and possibly later do the much harder work to replace it as software. (Theoretically possible, but may be practically impossible with reasonable resources of, say, time.)

      The engaging thing with a soul is that it doesn’t have to be empirically possible, just a fancy.

    2. It seems like your notion of personal identity as information encoded in the brain

      That’s certainly not my notion. My notion is that personal identity is the brain. Platform transfer isn’t feasible, because the information is inseparable from the platform – the information is part of the platform.

      1. Yes, that is the case. I’ll admit I was rather generous about “personal identity” as I was discussing the feasibility of using another “platform” for our type of mind (say). An exact replica will likely never be feasible.

  9. When I go to heaven I expect to trampled to death by god knows how many sheep, pigs and cattle, even before I can see Him! Mind you I liked rabbits best, especially with onion gravy Mmmmm, until my daughter got one for a pet and then they were off he menu.

    That’s just not fair!

    Then my remains will be pecked over by several hundred chickens and turkeys. I suppose that will save on feed – but will we eat in the afterlife. So complicated!

  10. Well this is really good news. Hopefully this means that scientists that die prematurely can carry on their important work on fruit flies and zebra fish when they cross over to the other side.

    Cheers all,

  11. “It all contributes to the palpable irrationality that will eventually bring down religion in America”

    Irrationality will not bring down religion in America. People are very good at living with, and even being proud of, irrationality. What people cannot abide is looking foolish.

  12. So Heaven’s infested with vermin, now? Hooray for all the cockroaches!

    “Pre-modern cultures … were apparently able to see animals as undying spirits dressed, for the moment, in mortal bodies.”

    Once again, Christians go back to the Pagan well to make Christianity more palatable to the masses.

    1. In the Catholic Church of my youth, such views would have been seen as heresy. In the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, Friar Jack might have been burned at the stake.

  13. Ecclesiastes 3:21

    “Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?”

    The bible is a fickle mistress.

  14. You should see doggie Hell.

    Steaming puddles of piss on kitchen floors, thousands of torn-up bedroom slippers, hundreds of holes dug in pristine vegetable gardens, discarded chew toys, designated areas for rolling in feces, barrels full of broken leashes and spiked collars, and the barking… OH THE INCESSANT BARKING!

    And Satan himself, holding a rolled-up newspaper…

    It’s hideous, I tell you.

  15. What about the hell of pet roosters crowing every morning for millennia times a billion or so. Sleeping-in is out in heaven now, I’m not going.

  16. “I can’t wait to meet my intestinal bacteria in heaven!”

    In heaven your intestinal bacteria will be millions of times more numerous than here on earth, since there have been so many generations of them. Where will they all live?

    Heaven won’t be much fun for symbionts that reproduce much faster than their hosts, as there won’t be enough hosts to go round.

    1. I misread that first sentence as “millions of times more numinous.” Such is the glory of God, that our gut flora should outshine the sun.

    2. Will tapeworms and other parasites still infect hosts? What will cholera bacteria be doing? Do small pox and polio viruses have souls? Have Tomkins, Hobgood-Oster and Friar Winz considered these questions?

  17. Hmph. Dogs not going to heaven is what turned me towards atheism, way back in second grade…

    But since ticks and fleas would also have to go, I wonder, do flea collars work in heaven? Or do fleas just not make you itch?

  18. Imagine all the pissed off creatures arriving in heaven during The Flood. “Gee, God, did ya have to essentially wipe out a few million species just to drown the wickedness of one?”

  19. So when dogs get to heaven do they get their testicles and ovaries back?

    What about all the cows we ate for hamburgers? Are they there too? Will they be happy to see us? If not, is it really Heaven for them? I think we need some new apologia here, otherwise chicken heaven and Colonel Sanders hell will necessarily be the same.

  20. All you guys are heretics.

    Scripture ™ is very, very clear in dividing Everything Else ™from that which is in the Likeness of God ™.

    Therefore, on the one land (let’s call it the Left Hand) you have animals and fish and flowers and birds, etc. and all the things that crawl, fly, walk, trot, prance, leap, etc.,

    and on the Right Hand you have


    I hope this clears things up.

  21. I strongly doubt the existence of souls, but I must admit, on the outside chance that there are such things, I cannot see why souls would be confined to a particular species. In a certain sense, this marks a progression in theistic thinking.

    1. It makes no sense, though — as I said above, one central role souls play in Christian theology is they are what qualifies one as a moral agent. Possessing a soul is what allows one to sin — without a soul, one cannot sin, and thus one cannot be saved (since there is nothing to be saved from). The notion of animals sinning is prima facie absurd.

      Now, if one wants to tautologically reduce a “soul” to merely “that bit that goes to heaven”, then I suppose animals could have souls. But then the whole notion of human redemption goes out the window.

  22. The question of souls and their allocation was raised by Sam Harris in “Letter to a Christian Nation”. He came up with an obvious issue (which I have to admit I’d never considered – so it was only obvious retrospectively). Anyhow, if a zygote has a soul and the resultant embryo splits to form identical twins do they only have half a soul each? Or alternatively if two early embryo’s fuse to form a chimera does the resulting person have two souls? Just asking!

    1. The Catholic Church has thought of this one. The soul is not implanted until twinning or merging is no longer possible. If it’s a miracle that physical bodies have souls, then it doesn’t make much difference when they get them. (I suspect I am still waiting for mine.) The delay does undermine anti embryonic stem cell arguments and some of the extreme anti-abortion positions.

  23. Clearly, when those theologers were talking about animals they meant mammals. Who would have thought the possession of an allantois would be so significant?

    But wait! To borrow from another thread, will Paul the Clairvoyant Octopus go to heaven?

    1. If Paul the Octopus truly is a psychic why not call the Sea Life Centre and they can ask Him in his preferred manner – a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ in baited boxes.

      Then we can all wait with ‘bated’ breath for His answer – Sorreeee!!

  24. Just tonight I listened to “Astronomer” Hugh Ross explaining how man was unique and animals didn’t have souls because different Hebrew words were used in the Bible for their creations.

    That was after he explained that evolutionary theory failed because it didn’t explain the origin of life; that there was no evidence of chemical evolution before biogenesis; that the long-term bacterial evolution experiments had disproved evolution; that the science had proved that in the entire universe there was no other intelligent life; that the periodic extinctions on Earth were God’s plan for regulating its temperature; and sixty other kinds of nonsense.

  25. I used to hang around the ‘Family Life’ (baptist) forums for the LOLz. One day, someone asked the question ‘What happens to babies that were not old enough to accept christ and get saved’. After some considerable debate, the majority decided that all who were unable to get saved, including infants, would burn. Within a fortnight, another poster asked what becomes of our dead pets. Would they get through the pearly gates? You already know the answer. By an overwhelming majority it was decided that, yes, Fluffy would make it to paradise and we would all get to meet our deceased mammals again. They weren’t so reassuring about pet reptiles however. There’s a moral there. Somewhere.

  26. Who wouldn’t want to see Fluffy again, disporting herself amongst the clouds and chasing celestial mice (who apparently never get caught)?

    I just passed the one-year anniversary of losing my favorite cat in a sudden and mysterious death (was fine in the morning, kidneys shut down completely that night). Imagining her running around in some cloudy sky-garden seems like a sick abomination to me. The thought does not seem appealing at all.

  27. I don’t know why, but I imagine that for most of the animals, their heaven would be an endless pile of food and attractive members of the other sex.

    That said, though, do plants go to heaven? Or rocks, for that matter?

  28. Better to be of little faith, instead of little thinking, little reason, little common sense as are people who believe in going to heaven based on no evidence whatsoever.

  29. Just because some authors publish some books claiming that animals have souls doesn’t mean it is really and truly Christianity. It’s an opinion that the authors sell as Christianity, because he or she is simply playing on people’s wishful thinking to make money. In reality, the church makes no concrete claims for or against the concept of animal souls, and if they make a tentative statement, it is usually against the existence of animal souls. Despite this, animals deserve respect and good treatment. Or at least, that is how it is in the Catholic church. Whoever wrote this book does not speak for the whole.

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