ANIMAL SOULS AND RELIGION
Norman W Wilson, PhD
Soul refers to that essence or life force in a living entity. In many early cultures, there was no distinction between human animals and non-human animals or trees, rivers, plants, mountains, or the heavenly bodies. All things were alive. The Ancient Egyptians called this life force Ka. As mankind has become more technologically based, his belief in a living natural world has given way to systematized religious dogmas. Somewhere along the way, a good deal of his spirituality has been lost or given up, replaced with an unquestioning belief in science—a science that provides answers.
For many, there is a sense of great loss. Others are seeking a return to the spiritual and certainly among these efforts is a belief that animals have souls and that those souls migrate to an afterlife world of existence. When you look at this photo of a young kitten, what do you see? Do you see a living thing with a soul? What about this photo of a fawn? Many people believe their dogs have souls. What do you see in this photo of a golden retriever? Do you catch a glimpse of that essence which gives life? And let’s not leave out our feathered friends.
What do religions say about animals having souls? There is a wide divergence of opinions, even within the various branches of religions. There is also disagreement about animal souls being immortal, that is, if they survive the death of the body.
The following statement by Pope John Paul in 1990 may come as a shock to many. He said, “. . . animals possess a soul” and “In this respect, man created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures.” A few short years later in 1998, during the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church declared, “human beings are co-partners with the rest of creation” and “the redemptive purpose of God in Jesus Christ extends to the whole of creation.”
Vasu Murti in his They Shall Not Hurt Or Destroy reveals an extraordinary litany from the Bible supporting the idea that animals have souls. Here are a
few textual references: Genesis 1:21,24, Genesis 2.7, Genesis 1:30, Numbers 16:22, The Book of Judith, Ecclesiastes 3:19-20.
Those who adhere to the Mormon Religion find in texts of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints a very specific statement: “We do believe in an afterlife for all mankind as well as animals.” It can’t be any clearer than that.
Judaism, on the other hand, indicates some uncertainty. One of the reasons for this is in Hebrew, there are five different words that are translated as soul: nefesh, ruach, neshamach, chayaah, and yechidah. Judaism does, however, indicate that the soul of an
animal is at a lower level when considering the soul of human beings. Both survive the death of the body.
In Islam, we find a somewhat different take on animal souls. Animals do live on after death, but on the Day of Judgment, “the bodies of animals will be transformed into dust after the state of reckoning, but their spirits will live eternally.” The religion that takes the basic question head on is Hinduism. The Hindus have a god named Ganesh, who is part human, part elephant. For the Hindu, animals live on after passing. Here is found the belief that all animals have a soul.
Buddhism holds the notion of the rebirth of all life but not as an individual. There is a rejoining of the universe and rebirth as someone or something else.
The question about animals having a soul has been answered. The issue does not end with that conclusion. A new question comes to the surface: Do animal souls go to “Heaven” and will those be reunited with their human counterpart? What do you think? Will you see your pet in Heaven?
Photos by: Suzanne V. Wilson Photography