The new animal spirituality: Do all dogs go to heaven?
- ReligionLink www.religionwriters.com
SEPT. 3, 2003
The new animal spirituality: Do all dogs go to heaven?
Churches of almost every denomination, as well as many Jewish groups, are
bringing animals to the front of religious consciousness - and in some
cases, right up to the altar. Clergy are performing animal blessings,
funerals and even weddings. While animal spirituality has long been
debated, interest is turning into actions designed to recognize animals'
The attention shouldn't come as a surprise: Almost six in 10 American
households include a pet, compared with one in three that includes a
child. And animals have long been revered in religion. Buddhism regards
animals as beings in different stages of reincarnation. Hinduism and
Jainism embrace vegetarianism out of respect for all life. Islam teaches
respect for animals as part of God's creation.
The shifts in thinking are happening among Christians and Jews, who have
long debated the spiritual role of animals. The Greeks believed that
animals had souls, but Thomas Aquinas did not - at least not souls that
survived death. So when God gave man "dominion" over the earth and its
creatures, did that entitle humans to treat animals as they wished? Or
did that give them the responsibility to care for animals as they would
each other? In the eyes of God, are animals of equal or lesser worth than
human beings? And if they have souls, is it acceptable to eat them?
Some credit the animal rights and environmental movements for renewed
religious interest in animals. Others say it is a result of a return to
the roots of religious traditions, where animals have always had a
revered, if forgotten, place.
A few of the recent developments:
The Blessing of the Animals, a celebration once marked by Roman
Catholics on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), is now
celebrated by many Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Methodists and
the United Church of Christ.
This year, for the first time, the American Academy of Religion has
organized a group of scholars who will discuss the roles of animals in
religion at its annual convention Nov. 22-25, 2003.
Ministers of many denominations now offer their services for pet
funerals, weddings and blessings. Some churches have established pet
cemeteries in sanctified ground.
Animal rights activists are reaching out to religious groups as allies.
People are becoming vegetarians and vegans because of their religious
Books by Christian and Jewish theologians, scholars and other thinkers
have branched out from religion publishing houses to the mainstream
publishers. Chief among these has been Dominion: The Power of Man, the
Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully (St.
Martin's Press, 2002) and On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of
Compassion for Animals by Stephen H. Webb (Oxford University Press,
Animals and the spiritual have made it into mainstream culture with the
popularity of movies such as Seabiscuit, My Dog Skip and All Dogs Go to
Heaven. Hallmark now carries pet sympathy cards, some with religious
Questions for reporters
Which local congregations will observe the Blessing of the Animals on
Oct. 4, and why? Have any begun observing it recently? What do clergy and
participants say is gained from these ceremonies?
How does recognizing the spirituality of animals contribute to humans'
understanding of their own spirituality? How do pet owners' views differ
from those who don't own pets?
Has there been a shift in attitudes in the last few years? If so, what
do people attribute that to?
Do any clergy or worshippers think that religious organizations carry
concern for animals too far?
There are endless arrays of pet products and services on the market
now. How do pet owners say that acknowledging their pets' spirituality is
different from pampering them?
Do houses of worship see acknowledging animals' spirituality as a way
of reaching out beyond their congregation?
What do non-Christian religious groups say about their beliefs about
In what other ways do religious groups in your area show concern for
Follow a pet owner through the process of nursing a pet through
illness, planning the funeral and grieving for the animal. How does the
owner talk about the pet's soul and spirituality?
Why it matters
Some theologians say that a common respect for animals as spiritual
beings could serve as a bridge between religions because it rises above
doctrine, rituals, and practices. They point to the fact that every major
world religion - Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam -
recognizes animals and man as of divine origin.
Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster is an assistant professor of religion and
philosophy at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas She teaches
courses on religion and animals and is co-chairwoman of the new American
Academy of Religion animals and religion group. She says many theologians
are thinking deeply about whether only humans have souls and go to
heaven. She also notes that the current interest in the spirituality of
animals is making a leap from a religious setting to the secular setting
as more animal shelters and pet hospitals bring in clergy to perform
blessings. Contact 512-863-1669, hoboster@....
Dr. Paul Waldau is a clinical assistant professor at the Center for
Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University School of Veterinary
Medicine in North Grafton, Mass., and author of The Specter of
Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals (Oxford University
Press, 2001). He is also co-chairman of the new American Academy of
Religion group on animals and religion. He says organized religion's
recent appreciation of animals is a response to several things going on
in the broader culture - scientific evidence of the intelligence of many
animals, the environmental movement, a growing recognition of the
unnecessary harshness and cruelty toward animals raised for food, and a
rise in the number of people who keep pets. Contact 508-887-4671,
Jay McDaniel, professor of religion at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.,
is a mentor for a new two-year doctor of ministry program at the United
Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, on spirituality, sustainability and
interreligious dialogue, a portion of which will focus on bonds between
humans and animals. He wrote the book Of God and Pelicans: A Theology of
Reverence for Life (Westminster John Knox Press, 1989). He says the
recent move toward recognizing animals as "spiritual friends" extends
from a growing global realization of the interconnectedness of all life.
He says concern for animals can be a common bond among people because no
matter what their religious beliefs, if people see an animal being
abused, they are concerned. Contact 501-450-1366, mcdaniel@....
Stephen Webb is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash
College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and a member of the American Academy of
Religion's new group on animals and religion. He is author of On God and
Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals (Oxford University
Press, 2002) and Good Eating: The Christian Practice of Everyday Life
(Brazos Press, 2001), which includes a chapter on animals in heaven. He
says Christians need to rethink Jesus' death as a kind of ritual
slaughter. In his death, Jesus took on not only human suffering, but all
suffering, including animals', he says. That, he argues, places animals
in heaven. Contact 765-361-6264, webbs@..., webbs101@....
Carol J. Adams is a writer, lecturer and author of several books on
religion and vegetarianism, including The Inner Art of Vegetarianism
(Lantern Books, 2000). She says every religion opposes meat-eating at its
roots - the secular idea that "it's a dog-eat-dog world" - but that this
has been lost over generations. She can discuss the varying
interpretations of "dominion" in Genesis and says a re-examination of
this passage could open up conversations about religion's responsibility
to animals. She says she thinks people have resisted a broad concern for
all animals out of fear that caring and grieving on such a large scale
could overwhelm them. Contact 972-680-3042, cja@....
Laurelee Blanchard is the campaign consultant for Farm Sanctuary's
"Sentient Beings Campaign," which seeks basic rights for animals. The
group plans to do outreach to religious groups and people because, she
says, people who practice religion are likely to be more open to
extending compassion beyond humans. Contact 808-575-7694,
Kim Sheridan is the author of the Animals and the Afterlife: True
Stories of Our Best Friends' Journey Beyond Death (EnLighthouse
Publishing, 2003). She says that as more people have brought animals into
their homes, they have increasingly come to see them as spiritual
teachers and guides. Pets become "centers of peace" and the bearers of
unconditional love - a quality many associate with God. Because of that,
she says, animals can teach humans to have unconditional love for others.
Contact 760-740-8787, media@....
The 2003/2004 National Pet Owners Survey found that 62 percent of U.S.
households have pets, up 10 million since 1992. The annual survey is done
by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, a nonprofit pet
According to 2002 U.S. statistics, 35,705 of the United States'
105,456,124 households include children under age 18.
See the results of a 2001 ABCNews/Beliefnet.com poll that asked whether
animals have souls.
Read an article from Science & Spirit on the origin of animal souls.
Read a Beliefnet.com article by T. Griffith Foulk on whether dogs have
The Christian Vegetarian Association is an ecumenical association that
promotes a vegetarian diet and animal ministry.
ChristianVegans.com is an organization of people who eat no animal
products because of their religious convictions.
Read an Aug. 16, 2003, article by Tom Kisken in the Ventura County Star
about animal rights activists reaching out to Christians.
Read a September 2002 article by Marianne Arbogast in The Witness, an
Anglican/Episcopal feminist magazine, about the history of the movement
toward animal compassion in Christianity.
The Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals wants to raise
awareness of animals within the Christian community in the United Kingdom
STATE BY STATE
American Catholic magazine maintains a state-by-state list of churches
that host annual Blessings of the Animals for the feast day of St.
Francis, which is Oct. 4. The list was last updated in 2002.
IN THE NORTHEAST
The Rev. Richard Burgess is pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church
in West Haven, Conn., and has offered a Blessing of the Animals ceremony
for five years. He says the service is a wonderful evangelism tool
because no more than 20 percent of participants are from his own church.
He says that blessing animals is an affirmation of creation and that pets
can be a bridge between humans and other parts of God's creation. Contact
Roberta Kalechofsky is the founder of Jews for Animal Rights and Micah
Publications of Marblehead, Mass. She recently participated in a panel on
reaching out to religious groups at the Animal Rights 2003 conference.
She requests that reporters contact her by email first at
micah@... and that they identify themselves fully in the
Linda Marks is a body-centered psychotherapist in Newton, Mass., who
has written extensively on animals and spirituality. She says the shift
in attitudes about animal spirituality is related to a broader cultural
shift towards reintegrating the feminine into daily life, including
religion and spirituality. Having a more feminine outlook, she says,
makes people more attuned to the spirituality of animals. Contact
The Rev. Valerie Haven is a United Church of Christ minister and an
animal communicator (who says she communicates with animals, both alive
and dead) in Boston. She says that in the last 10 years, people have
begun to see animals as mirrors of their own spiritual paths. She says
people - especially Christians - are awakening to the spirituality of
animals as environmental issues become a higher concern of the church.
Contact 617-859-1704, Ashara@....
IN THE EAST
Dr. Richard Schwartz is author of Judaism and Vegetarianism (Lantern
Books, 2001) and lives in Staten Island, N.Y. He maintains an online
collection of writings on Judaism, vegetarianism and animals rights and
has written that the Hebrew term nefesh chaya, which means "living soul,"
was applied in Genesis to animals as well as people. Contact
Helen Smink is involved in the animal ministry at St. Andrew's
Episcopal Church in New Providence, N.J., which has been holding a
Blessing of the Animals in honor of St. Francis of Assisi for 12 years.
This year, the church will hold the service on Sept. 28 in its own pet
cemetery. Contact 908-464-4875.
Quest for Health Unlimited is the practice of Pamela Saylor, an
ordained interfaith minister and animal communicator (who says she
communicates with animals, alive and dead) in Dover, Pa. She conducts
animal funerals and blessings and says she has had "people come to God"
through their animals. Contact 717-292-2446, pam@....
(Note: She asks that reporters put the words "animal communication" in
the subject line of emails.)
IN THE SOUTHEAST
Richard Foltz is an associate professor of religion at the University
of Florida and a member of the American Academy of Religion's new group
on animals and religion. Contact 352-392-1625, rfoltz@....
The Rev. Regina Hyland is author of God's Covenant with Animals: A
Biblical Basis for the Humane Treatment of All Creatures (Lantern Books,
2000). Hyland is also director of Humane Religion, a division of Viatoris
Ministries of Sarasota, Fla., which publishes Humane Religion, a
bimonthly magazine. Leave a message for callback at 941-924-8887, or
The Rev. Scott Fuller is pastor of Pembroke Manor United Church of
Christ in Virginia Beach, Va. His church began holding a Blessing of the
Animals service in 2002 at the request of many of his parishioners. He
says the service is one of his church's most popular events and draws
people from a spectrum of religious backgrounds. Contact 757-490-8290,
IN THE SOUTH
Monsignor Allen Roy, pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in New
Orleans, has held a Blessing of the Animals every October for 30 years.
This year it will be held on Oct. 19. He says that when he blesses
animals he is blessing the idea of family, which is central to the
church. Contact 504-394-5492, aroy@....
The Rev. Mark Witte hosts the Blessing of the Animals for St. Timothy
Roman Catholic Church in Union, Ky. Contact 859-384-1100,
Barbara Wells operates Dixie Memorial Pet Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn.,
and is the founder of a pet loss support group. She says that thinking of
lost pets as having a soul and going to heaven is one of the biggest
comforts to grieving owners and that it can be a source of anguish and
conflict when an owner's religious group does not believe that pets have
souls. Contact 901-873-4127, bgwdixie@....
IN THE MIDWEST
Marianne Arbogast is the former associate editor of The Witness, an
Anglican-Episcopal magazine. She has written about the development of the
idea of the animal soul and animal rights in the Christian tradition. She
lives in Detroit. Contact 313-843-3613, mariannearbo@....
The Rev. Thomas Hughson, S.J., is an associate professor of theology at
Marquette University in Milwaukee. He is a member of the American Academy
of Religion's new group on animals and religion and will present a paper
titled "Wolves and Religion: Can Christianity Assimilate 'Religious
Experience' of Animals?" at the November meeting. He says recognizing the
spiritual nature of animals can deepen one's religious experience of what
it means to be a creature in relationship with a creator - something he
thinks Western civilization has largely lost. Contact 414-288-5859,
Jack Truman is pastor of the Universal Equalitarian Church in Lamar,
Mo. The church's motto is "Where All Species are Created Equal." Contact
Judy Carman is an animal rights activist in Lawrence, Kan., who started
a prayer circle for animals. She recently participated in a panel on
reaching out to religious groups at the Animal Rights 2003 conference.
IN THE SOUTHWEST
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Stillwater, Okla., holds an annual
Blessing of the Animals. Contact Mary Hileman, 405-624-0141.The Order of
Nazorean Essenes in Fredonia, Ariz., is a religious order of
Buddhist/Christians. They maintain a vegan diet based on beliefs in the
spirituality of all living things. Yesai Nasrai is the spiritual
director. Contact by email only, asayya@....
Minister Lynn Turner conducts weddings, funerals and blessings for
animals in Houston, Texas. She says animals have souls because they are
created by God and therefore reflect the divine. Contact 281-478-6126,
IN THE WEST/NORTHWEST
Susan Chernak McElroy is author of Animals as Guides for the Soul
(Ballantine Books, 1999) and lives in Oregon. Contact romacernak@....
The Rev. Louis Vitale is pastor of St. Boniface Church in San
Francisco, Calif., which holds an annual Blessing of the Animals on or
near the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, for whom the city was named.
Kathryn Paxton George is professor and chairwoman of philosophy at the
University of Idaho in Moscow. She can talk about the changing ideas
among Christians about animals, vegetarianism and morality. Contact
Daniel A. Dombrowski is a professor of philosophy at Seattle University
in Seattle and the author of books on religion and animal rights,
including Babies and Beasts: The Argument from Marginal Cases (University
of Illinois Press, 1997). He credits the animal rights movement with
causing people to examine what their religious traditions say about man's
relationship to animals. This has led to divergent interpretations of
what it means to have "dominion" over the earth and its beasts. Contact
Christopher Chapple is a professor of theological studies at Loyola
Marymount University in Los Angeles. He can discuss Asian religions and
animals. Contact 310-338-2846, cchapple@....
John Alexander is owner of Pet Blessings, a Newport Beach, Calif.,
mail-order business specializing in St. Francis of Assisi cat and dog
tags. He says business has been growing. Contact by fax (714-464-4713) or
email only, customercare@....
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