Since we are at the beginning of the year I think it would be good to stir up some controversy. It is the surest cure for boredom. The easiest way to do that, which holds true for all of us, is to talk about something I really don’t know much about. But as in the case of many a commentator, lack of knowledge of a subject is really no restriction on having an opinion on that subject. Indeed, understanding of a complex subject and firm opinions on a subject usually are in inverse proportion to each other.
In any case it was widely and erroneously reported that Pope Francis declared all dogs go to heaven. That never happened. That lack of factual occurrence did not of course stop a blitz in the news. Just about anything about Pope Francis gets a blitz in the news anyway! However, there was another Pope, Pope Paul VI, who did in fact tell a boy who was very sad over the death of his pet dog that the boy would see his dog again in heaven. But that was a while ago and so not news worthy.
However this false news report got a lot of attention and has raised the issue of having and enjoying our pets in paradise. And so I would like to share what I think about that.
The Scriptural basis for expecting to see your pets in heaven comes from St. Paul. In the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans St. Paul states: “For creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In this wonderful passage St Paul expresses a profound hope for the redemption of all creation. Not only is this a great Scripture quote for all environmentalists, it also is positive for all pet lovers. For since pets are part of creation, ergo in St. Paul’s view, they are also awaiting “redemption.”
So do all dogs go to heaven? I am hesitant to say that. We cannot say for sure that all humans go to heaven, so I am reluctant to claim that privilege for dogs. My personal view is that many dogs do go to heaven. Certainly service dogs, working dogs, rescue dogs, police dogs, hunting dogs and watch dogs: all canines that served loyally on earth. Also all the dogs that are faithful friends and companions are certainly in heaven. In short the great majority of dogs go to heaven. However it is questionable that dogs that chew up cell-phone, tv-remotes, and other electronics are heaven bound. Also, I am quite skeptical that yappy, nervous little dogs that bark incessantly will make it. I cannot see how heaven would be paradise with such yappy annoying creatures running around.
Cats, in my opinion, are more problematic. Certainly some cats go to heaven, but only after a period in purgatory atoning for their indifference and lack of concern for others.
Most birds go to heaven. Grackles do not.
Goldfish mostly go to limbo, where they are perfectly happy in a natural state. Indeed that is pretty much the state they are in on earth, swimming around in a bowl, and they mostly don’t notice any change or difference between the states of being alive and being deceased. In either case existence is pretty simple.
Snakes, with their unfortunate association with the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, would seem to have a very slim chance of slithering into heaven, though we should not be too anxious to limit the mercy of the Almighty.
About gerbils, pot-bellied pigs, mice, skunks, ferrets, turtles and other exotic pets I have no hard and fast opinions. In cases such as this I think it best to adopt a “wait and see” attitude. Some day we will know for sure one way or the other.
None of this is, of course, doctrine. It is rather my theological reflections on this issue. Perhaps you see it differently. I can think of no better way to begin the New Year than with a juicy theological discussion!