Humane Religion Magazine
July - August 1998 Issue
This month, one of our readers sent a copy of an article that appeared in a religious publication.* The author did not write it to promote animal rights or animal welfare. His editorial was based on a TIME/CNN poll that queried people regarding their belief in the existence of heaven. (Eighty-one percent said they were believers.)
The author focused on the fact that although the great majority believed in its existence, ideas about heaven are too often dictated by the beliefs—and prejudices—of theologians. And one of the ways in which he made this point was by relating a conversation he once overheard.
He and some friends were spending a day at the zoo. They were standing near the leopard's habitat when he overhead one of the zookeeper's talking with another visitor.
"The zookeeper was saying how much he loved the animals in his care. He said ever since he was a boy, he had always loved all kinds of animals. Then the conversation took an unusual turn. I could tell by the tone in the zookeeper's voice that this was something which still troubled him after many years."
It turned out that the man was still troubled by something he had been taught in his church. He went on to relate that as a boy, he regularly attended Sunday School. And there came a time when the class was discussing heaven as a place of happiness and goodness, in which there is no sorrow or disappointment.
Although the teacher was talking about the happiness that humans would enjoy, the boy knew that without the other creatures he loved, heaven would not be complete. But when he asked about this the teacher answered, with absolute certainty, that there were no animals in heaven.
She told him "animals don't have souls, so they CAN'T go to heaven." And The zookeeper said after that, he never went back to Sunday School. The author of the article wrote "I suppose that for him, a heaven where only people were allowed entrance was just too empty, too bleak. Where were all the other glorious, wonderful creatures he loved? Was everything besides people consigned to oblivion?"
Unfortunately, far too many religious people do consign to oblivion—or to hell—other human beings, aswell as animals. This attempt to dictate who, or what, will be found in heavenly places is not new. The religious people of Jesus' time also had very definite ideas on the subject. But Christ made it clear that man-made standards, which define eligibility for a place in God's kingdom, are not binding on God.
He had been teaching a group of people in the Temple court when some religious leaders came to challenge him. "While he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him...'Who gave you this authority,' they asked." (Matthew 21: 23) In answer to that challenge, Jesus debated with them for a while and finally told the self-righteous religious leaders: "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." (Matthew 21:32)
This scripture should encourage those who have been told by theologians, and other religious spokesmen, that because of their beliefs—or their species—certain beings will be excluded from heaven. It is man, not God, who limits love, goodness and compassion to those that he considers deserving. The Bible has very little to say about life hereafter, and it certainly does not say anything that excludes animals from eternity.
And as far as Sunday School teachers, or any other adults who cause children to lose hope in the goodness of God are concerned, they might do well to review what Jesus had to say on the subject. "Jesus called a little child and set him in the midst of them and said....Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:2,6.) #
* THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE JOURNAL