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Do pets go to heaven?

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This blog is not all philosophical, rational-Christianity heaviness. Inspired by a post on the blog Hacking Christianity, which I found via Entrecard (see my widget at right, under "Blog Love"), I thought I would post about this topic, which is deeply important to all children (including, as Hacking Christianity points out, Bart Simpson) — and not a few adults.

Do cats and dogs go to heaven?

The Catholic short answer is "No." Certainly they do not have free will nor immortal souls and therefore do not participate in God's plan for salvation. But the long answer seems a lot more complicated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has only a short section on animals (CCC 2415-8) which says little beyond the need to respect God's creation. Against Heresies, by the second-century church father St. Irenaeus, is sometimes quoted in the discussion of animals in heaven:
Neither the structure nor the substance of creation is destroyed. It is only the "outward form of the world" (I Corinthians 7:31) that passes away – and that is to say, the conditions produced by the fall. And when this "outward form" has passed away, man will be renewed and will flourish in a prime of life that is incorruptible, so that it is no longer possible for him to grow old any more.

The context here is a refutation of the Gnostic heresy, which held that creation and the material world are evil. Considering what Irenaeus' purpose was in writing the above, it is clear that he was not addressing the question of whether our pets go to heaven.

Being rational about pets in heaven

Let's assume that some animals do go to heaven. The animal kingdom contains a spectrum of complexity; some very simple organisms are included as "animals." Related to these are certain one-celled organisms as well as fungi. (In evolutionary terms, animals and fungi are more closely related to each other than either is to plants.) Unless one wants to argue that mushrooms and molds are in heaven, there must be some cut-off point, with creatures on one side enjoying heaven and creatures on the other side stuck with the final death. It seems like the cut-off would be arbitrary, but this cannot be, since nothing about God is arbitrary.

One might speculate that animals go to heaven by merit of having been loved by humans. In other words, our pets go to heaven, but wild creatures do not. The idea that human love confers some kind of immortality on animals is alien to Christian thought; you cannot "love" someone or something to heaven, be they human, animal, vegetable, or mineral.

That leaves only one final argument in favor of pets in heaven: that since we will be happy there, we will have everything we need to make us happy — including beloved pets. That's a nice thought, but a childish one. We already know that everyone we love will not necessarily be in heaven (Catholics believe in hell), so the happiness of paradise must be possible without the actual presence of loved ones. I tend to think that part of perfect happiness will be the peaceful acceptance of those things that bother us here on earth, such as separation from beloved humans and pets.

Always with us

In a way, our pets will always be with us. In heaven we will be united with God, and God exists outside of time, so in a mystical way I think we will be somehow reunited with the good of creation throughout time, including our pets. And, of course, our love and the memory of our pets' natural love will always stay with our intellects, even in heaven. But I cannot find room in Catholic teaching for the idea that pets will be physically present with us after the Resurrection of the Body, the article of faith enshrined in the Creeds.

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