Animals Have Souls
One widespread rationalization in Christian circles, often used to
justify humanity's mistreatment of animals, is the erroneous belief that
humans alone possess immortal souls, and only humans, therefore, are worthy
of moral consideration. The 19th century German philosopher, Arthur
Schopenhauer, condemned such a philosophy in his On the Basis of Morality.
"Because Christian morality leaves animals out of account," wrote Schopenhauer, "they are at once outlawed in philosophical morals; they are mere 'things,' mere means to any ends whatsoever. They can therefore be used for vivisection, hunting, coursing, bullfights, and horse racing, and can be whipped to death as they struggle along with heavy carts of stone. Shame on such a morality that is worthy of pariahs, and that fails to recognize the eternal essence that exists in every living thing, and shines forth with inscrutable significance from all eyes that see the sun!"
According to the Bible, animals have souls. Texts such as Genesis 1:21,24 are often mistranslated to read "living creatures." The exact Hebrew used in reference to animals throughout the Bible is "nephesh chayah," or "living soul." This is how the phrase has been translated in Genesis 2:7 and in four hundred other places in the Old Testament.
God breathed the "breath of life" into man, and caused him to become a living soul. (Genesis 2:7) Animals have the same "breath of life" as do humans. (Genesis 7:15, 22) Numbers 16:22 refers to the Lord as "the God of spirits of all flesh." In Numbers 31:28, God commands Moses to divide up among the people the cattle, sheep, asses and human prisoners captured in battle and to give to the Lord "one soul of five hundred" of both humans and animals alike. Psalm 104 says God provides for animals and their ensoulment:
O Lord, how innumerable are Thy works; in wisdom Thou hast made them all! The earth is full of Thy well-made creations. All these look to Thee to furnish their timely feed. When Thou providest for them, they gather it. Thou openest Thy hand, and they are satisfied with good things. When Thou hidest Thy face, they are struck with despair. When Thou cuttest off their breath, in death they return to their dust. Thou sendest Thy Spirit and more are created, and Thou dost replenish the surface of the earth.
Similarly, the apocryphal Book of Judith praises God, saying, "Let every
creature serve You, for You spoke and they were made. You sent forth Your
Spirit and they were created." Job 12:10 teaches that in God's hand "is the
soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind."
Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 says humans have no advantage over animals: "They all draw the same breath...all came from the dust, and to dust all return."
The verse that immediately follows asks, "Who knows if the spirit of man goes upward, and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth?" The exact Hebrew word for "spirit," "ruach," is used in connection with animals as well as humans. Ecclesiastes 12:7 concludes that "the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
This position was taken by Paul, who called himself an apostle to the gentiles. Paul spoke of God as the "giver of life and breath and all things to everyone." (Acts 17:25) In his epistle to the Romans 8:18-25, Paul wrote that the entire creation, and not just mankind, is awaiting redemption.
Revelations 16:3 also refers to the souls of animals: "The second angel poured out his bowl upon the sea, so that it turned to blood as of a corpse, and every living soul that was in the sea died." The exact Greek word for soul, "psyche," was used in the original texts.
Jesus repeatedly spoke of God's tender care for the nonhuman creation (Matthew 6:26-30, 10:29-31; Luke 12:6-7, 24-28). Jesus taught that God desires "mercy and not sacrifice." (Matthew 9:10-13, 12:6-7; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:29-32) The epistle to the Hebrews 10:5-10 suggests that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the prophets (which Paul, and not Jesus, regarded as "so much garbage"), but only the institution of animal sacrifice, as does Jesus' cleansing the Temple of those who were buying and selling animals for sacrifice and his overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. (Matthew 21:12-14; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:14-17)
Jesus not only repeatedly upheld Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:17-19; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 16:17), he justified his healing on the Sabbath by referring to commandments calling for the humane treatment of animals!
When teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, Jesus healed a woman who had been ill for eighteen years. He justified his healing work on the Sabbath by referring to biblical passages calling for the humane treatment of animals as well as their rest on the Sabbath. "So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham...be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" Jesus asked. (Luke 13:10-16)
On another occasion, Jesus again referred to Torah teaching on "tsa'ar ba'alei chayim" or compassion for animals to justify healing on the Sabbath. "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?" (Luke 14:1-5)
Jesus compared saving sinners who had gone astray from God's kingdom to rescuing lost sheep. He recalled a Jewish legend about Moses' compassion as a shepherd for his flock.
"For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? Who among you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?
"And when he has found it," Jesus continued, "he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'
"I say to you, likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance ...there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Matthew 18:11-13; Luke 15:3-7,10)
"The compassionate, sensitive heart for animals is inseparable from the proclamation of the Christian gospel," writes the Reverend Andrew Linzey in Love the Animals. "We have lived so long with the gospel stories of Jesus that we frequently fail to see how his life and ministry identified with animals at almost every point.
"His birth, if tradition is to be believed, takes place in the home of sheep and oxen. His ministry begins, according to St. Mark, in the wilderness 'with the wild beasts' (1:13). His triumphal entry into Jerusalem involves riding on a 'humble' ass (Matthew 21). According to Jesus, it is lawful to 'do good' on the Sabbath, which includes the rescuing of an animal fallen into a pit (Matthew 12). Even the sparrows, literally sold for a few pennies in his day, are not 'forgotten before God.' God's providence extends to the entire created order, and the glory of Solomon and all his works cannot be compared to that of the lilies of the field (Luke 12:27).
"God so cares for His creation that even 'foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' (Luke 9:58) It is 'the merciful' who are 'blessed' in God's sight and what we do to 'the least' of all we do to him. (Matthew 5:7, 25:45-46) Jesus literally overturns the already questionable practice of animal sacrifice. Those who sell pigeons have their tables overturned and are put out of the Temple (Mark 11:15-16). It is the scribe who sees the spiritual bankruptcy of animal sacrifice and the supremacy of sacrificial love that Jesus commends as being 'not far from the Kingdom of God.' (Mark 12:32-34)
"It is a loving heart which is required by God, and not the needless bloodletting of God's creatures," concludes Reverend Linzey. "We can see the same prophetic and radical challenge to tradition in Jesus' remarks about the 'good shepherd' who, unlike many in his day, 'lays down his life for the sheep.' (John 10:11)"
English theologian Joseph Butler (1692-1752), a contemporary of John Wesley's, was born in a Presbyterian family, joined the Church of England, and eventually became a bishop and dean of St. Paul's. In his 1736 work, The Analogy of Religion, Bishop Butler became one of the first clergymen to teach the immortality of animal souls. "Neither can we find anything in the whole analogy of Nature to afford even the slightest presumption that animals ever lose their living powers, much less that they lose them by death," he wrote.
The Reverend John George Wood (1827-89) was an eloquent and prolific writer on the subject of animals. A popular lecturer on the subject of natural history, he wrote several books as well, such as My Feathered Friends and Man and Beast--Here and Hereafter. Wood believed most people were cruel to animals because they were unaware that the creatures possessed immortal souls and would enjoy eternal life.
One of the most scholarly studies on the issue of animal souls was undertaken by Elijah D. Buckner in his 1903 book The Immortality of Animals. He concluded: "...The Bible, without the shadow of a doubt, recognizes that animals have living souls the same as man. Most of the quotations given are represented as having been spoken by the Creator Himself, and he certainly knows whether or not He gave to man and lower animals alike a living soul, which of course means an immortal soul."
Influenced by Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, the Church of Rome maintained for centuries that animals lack souls or divinity, even though such a doctrine contradicts many biblical passages. Previously, during the Synod of Macon (585 AD), the Church had debated whether or not *women* have souls! Women in the Western world (in the East, the situation is worse!) are finally being recognized as persons in every sense of the word--social, political and spiritual. Animals have yet to be given the same kind of moral consideration.
Jewish writer Mark Matthew Braunstein writes in his 1981 book, Radical Vegetarianism:
Pope Innocent VIII of the Renaissance required that when witches were burned, their cats be burned with them; Pope Pius IX of the 19th century forbade the formation of an SPCA in Rome, declaring humans had no duty to animals; Pope Pius XII of World War II stated that when animals are killed in slaughterhouses or laboratories, '...their cries should not arouse unreasonable compassion any more than do red-hot metals undergoing the blows of the hammer;' and Pope Paul VI in 1972, by blessing a battalion of Spanish bullfighters, became the first Pope to bestow his benediction upon one cruelty even the Church had condemned.
In Christianity and the Rights of Animals, the Reverend Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest, responds to the widespread Christian misconception that animals have no souls by taking it to its logical conclusion:
But let us suppose for a moment that it could be shown that animals lack
immortal souls, does it follow that their moral status is correspondingly
weakened? It is difficult to see in what sense it could be. If animals are
not to be recompensated with an eternal life, how much more difficult must
it be to justify their temporal sufferings?
If, for an animal, this life is all that he can have, the moral gravity of any premature termination is thereby increased rather than lessened...In short, if we invoke the traditional argument against animals based on soullessness, we are not exonerated from the need for proper moral justification.
Indeed, if the traditional view is upheld, the question has to be: How far can any proposed aim justify to the animal concerned what would seem to be a greater deprivation or injury than if the same were inflicted on a human being?
"Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to learn from the Higher Animals," writes Unitarian minister Gary Kowalski, in his 1991 book, The Souls of Animals. "Just because they haven't invented static cling, ICBM's, or television evangelists doesn't mean they aren't spiritually evolved."
Kowalski's definition of "spiritually evolved" includes "the development of a moral sense, the appreciation of beauty, the capacity for creativity, and the awareness of one's self within a larger universe as well as a sense of mystery and wonder about it all. These are the most precious gifts we possess...
"I am a parish minister by vocation," Kowalski explains. "My work involves the intangible and perhaps undefinable realm of spirit. I pray with the dying and counsel the bereaved. I take part in the joy of parents christening their newborns and welcoming fresh life into the world.
"I occasionally help people think through moral quandaries and make ethical decisions, and I also share a responsibility for educating the young, helping them realize their inborn potential for reverence and compassion. Week after week I stand before my congregation and try to talk about the greatest riddles of human existence. In recent years, however, I have become aware that human beings are not the only animals on this planet that participate in affairs of the spirit."
Kowalski notes that animals are aware of death. They have a sense of their own mortality, and grieve at the loss of companions. Animals possess language, musical abilities, a sense of the mysterious, creativity and playfulness. Animals possess a sense of right and wrong; they are capable of fidelity, altruism, and even self-sacrifice.
"Animals, like us, are microcosms," says Kowalski. "They too care and have feelings; they too dream and create; they too are adventuresome and curious about their world. They too reflect the glory of the whole.
"Can we open our hearts to the animals? Can we greet them as our soul mates, beings like ourselves who possess dignity and depth? To do so, we must learn to revere and respect the creatures, who, like us, are a part of God's beloved creation, and to cherish the amazing planet that sustains our mutual existence.
"Animals," Kowalski concludes, "are living souls. They are not things. They are not objects. Neither are they human. Yet they mourn. They love. They dance. They suffer. They know the peaks and chasms of being."