Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

April 1, 2004 | 29 comments
By

We recently had to put our dog down. It has been a traumatic experience in our family and has given rise to the inevitable theological quandry: What is the precise spiritual status of animals?

I have repeatedly heard people cite to Moses 3:7 — “all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word” — as a proof text for the claim that animals have souls (or at least dogs; I don’t think that anyone believes that cats have souls). However, if you look carefully at the scripture, it won’t really bear this interpretation. First, it mainly seems to be reconciling the dual creation accounts in Genesis: one is spiritual and the other is physical. Second, in context it seems that only human beings are directly referenced as having spirits.

Is there a better source for the common Mormon belief that dogs have spirits? If they do, are their spirits co-eternal with God? Are they capable of progression?

Tags: ,

29 Responses to Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

  1. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 7:10 pm

    Cats do too! Someone once quoted in RS that Joseph Smith said that our animals will bear testimony either for us or against us at the judgement. I don’t know if it’s true or not but I really think that all animals have souls.

  2. Russell Arben Fox on April 1, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    Cat hater.

    We had quite a few dogs growing up; most seemed to wander off or die in accidents. Hawker, our Springer Spaniel, was with us for quite a few years before he was run over by a logging truck. We buried him on our property, and my father preached a sermon over the grave making reference to D&C 77:2, which speaks of “the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air.” I have long assumed, on the basis of the temple ceremony, that all the animals have some role to play, and therefore some destiny awaiting them, in the whole of creation.

  3. Matt J on April 1, 2004 at 7:27 pm

    I have no references to anything scriptural or authoritative, just opinions.

    Assuming that animals have spirits, I don’t believe they are in the same league as human spirits. I am at peace with the idea of reincarnation for animals. There are just way, way too many animals to think of enjoying any kind of afterlife with all these resurrected critters. Think of how many insects and what not are born and die everyday. It works to have that many creatures on earth because, well, they all die, usually much sooner than humans. Once this earth is done, all the animals can be used in another mortal world. Maybe some special animals could exist as a resurrected being if they are sponsored by a human. You want a dog, birds chirping in the trees, and a pond full of beautiful fish? You got it.

    Just to throw out another idea. It’s interesting to think of some sort of spiritual evolution, or porgression if you will. As a spirit fulfills the measure of its creation in multiple mortalities, it can move on to a more complete, or God-like, spirit. As its capacity for individual choice grows, so does its potential for completeness. Would the spirits actually grow individually, or would tiny spirits come together to form a greater whole?

  4. Aaron Brown on April 1, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    (1) There was a movie several years back entitled “All Dogs Go To Heaven.”

    (2) The head animator on the film, Don Bluth, is Mormon (really).

    (3) Therefore, Mormons must believe that all dogs go to heaven.

    I rest my case.

    Aaron B

  5. Kaimi on April 1, 2004 at 7:32 pm

    I wonder where you draw the line. Does a dog have a soul? That doesn’t seem so hard to imagine. Does a rat? Hmm, seems a little harder to picture. How about a sparrow? A trout? A spider? A paramecium? Or how about plankton, protozoa, bacteria, viruses? Is there a principled way to draw lines?

  6. Kristine on April 1, 2004 at 7:55 pm

    Nate, I don’t know about all the rest of the dogs, but *your* dog is going to heaven, because a merciful God will want you to have a companion to listen to you talk about contract law after the rest of us can’t take it anymore : )

  7. Adam Greenwood on April 1, 2004 at 7:57 pm

    I did a little bit of research on this for a paper I was writing (not an exhaustive search, by any means) and I was surprised by how little I could find in the standard sources.

  8. Clark Goble on April 1, 2004 at 8:23 pm

    Probably the best argument is from Orson Pratt’s ontology. There all elements are intelligent. (i.e. all constituents of reality have both mind and matter in a single atom) Any living entity has a “master” intelligent atom. For us that means there is one atom of intelligence that is “us” as “us.” Then we add more which when they reach a harmony becomes a spirit. Add more yet and we have a body.

    Thus all animals have a master intelligence. The only question is if this comes from heaven and is resurrected. My recollection is that they are.

    Of course the problem with this view (which Pratt never addresses that I recall – although I’d have to check to be sure) is that if they aren’t resurrected then they are reincarnated in some sense.

    I should hasten to add that Pratt’s speculations aren’t doctrine and there are lots of problems with them.

    McConkie, btw, taught that animals were resurrected. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it was the description of animals in the Book of Revelation.

  9. Cal on April 1, 2004 at 8:42 pm

    I’m new to the site…I just sort of found it and was interested.

    Anyway, I think its interesting how people love to turn animals into little humans. Dogs are a great example of this in American and also Mormon culture. I think we all have experience with people talking for their dog, dressing them up, exclaiming over their human like facial expressions and so on.

    My point, then, is that I think as Mormons we will even project our religion on our dogs, or whatever animal the household happens to hold dear.

    It’s human nature to want to be around something that we love, but could that need also be the source of our explanation regarding where our dog is headed in the life to come? I mean, it would be kind of hard to sit down and explain to our children that their beloved dog is just part of the ground now.

  10. Kevin on April 1, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    The Bible Dictionary interprets the Revelation of John as teaching that animals are redeemed by Christ and resurrected.

    I don’t know how well this scales down. Is this true only for animals with some degree of sentience? Are mosquitoes resurrected? Bacteria? How about my cells that I’m shedding all of the time? And don’t even get me started on vegetation.

  11. Susan on April 1, 2004 at 9:04 pm

    I remember one very interesting experience I had at Signature books was creating an index for the Essential Orson Pratt. When you find yourself collecting entries under categories such as (and I’m probably not remembering this correctly) vegetative spirits (or some such) you know you are in the land of a distinctive theology.

  12. Aaron Brown on April 1, 2004 at 9:09 pm

    All I know is… if there are SPIDERS in the Celestial Kingdom, I’ll settle for life in the Telestial, thank you very much.

    Aaron B

  13. Kevin on April 1, 2004 at 9:32 pm

    An argument can be, and often is, made that not all living things have spirits. The Church remains agnostic on the question of when a fetus acquires a spirit, so it’s doctrinally safe to posit an unspirited embryo. Dr. Stephen Jones at BYU floated a theory that pre-Adamites didn’t have spirits.

    This prompts two questions:
    – What’s a spirit, anyway?
    – If an animal without a spirit dies, can it be resurrected?

  14. Kaimi on April 1, 2004 at 9:37 pm

    What is a spirit, anyway? Is a spirit the same as an “intelligence”? And if so, do animals that have intelligence — however that is defined — also have spirits? I’m not sure.

  15. brayden on April 1, 2004 at 10:21 pm

    I remember asking this question of my mom when I was a kid. She said that our dogs would go to heaven because they were creatures meant to bless us (not sure exactly what that meant now). I then asked her if flies go to heaven, and she said they did not because flies were placed on earth due to Adam’s curse, therefore not worthy of celestial glory. As a child this all seemed quite reasonable, but since then I’ve taken classes on biological ecology and I’m less sure that my mother’s make-shift theology is very sound.

  16. Thom on April 2, 2004 at 9:31 am

    Kevin or anyone – Wait up a second, help me out here.

    Pre-Adamites? What exactly does this word mean? Fowls of the air and every creeping thing created pre-Adam? Dinosaurs? Neanderthals? Someone please enlighten my admitted ignorance.

  17. Mathew Parke on April 2, 2004 at 11:09 am

    Sorry Nate–this isn’t post of the month nomination, just the first spot I could find to comment on the gimmicky nature of having a post of the month. This is something we might do over at bcc–but I sort of expected better of T&S.

  18. Scott on April 2, 2004 at 11:21 am

    Russell referenced the key scripture on the question of whether animals have spirits (D&C 77:2). Since few seem to have noticed it, here it is in its entirety:

    “Q. What are we to understand by the four beasts, spoken of in the same verse?

    “A. They are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created.”

    As for the resurrection, D&C 29:24-25 seems to suggest that animals will take part in it. “For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand.” And, to go back to D&C 77 (verse 3), God tells Joseph that the beasts John saw “are limited to four individual beasts…to represent the glory of the classes of beings in their destined order or sphere of creation, in the enjoyment of their eternal felicity.” While the verse doesn’t expressly state that beasts will be resurrected, the description of them having glory, a destined order, and the capacity for eternal felicity seems consistent with that view. And the broader context of animal-related scriptures in the D&C reveals the sanctity of the life of animals, which is consistent with such interpretations. (It also, to go back to an earlier topic, shows the fundamental weakness of claims that the Word of Wisdom’s restrictions on meat-eating are no longer relevant–e.g., because of improved preservative technology and refrigeration.)

    Scott

  19. Russell Arben Fox on April 2, 2004 at 11:43 am

    Thanks for the full citation Scott; I should have included it. At the risk of treading on sacred territory, I should elaborate on what I said about the temple ceremony above. We’re told that both plants and animals were placed in specific “spheres of creation,” so that they (I believe just speaking of animal life here) may multiply and have “joy therein.” The plain implication seems to be that God loves all creation, including dogs and cats, and intends their lives to be characterized by happiness. I see no reason, especially in light of the scriptures you cite, to assume that the “joy” God speaks of in the case of beasts is of a wholly separate category from the “joy” He wants us to experience. Hence, I assume that animals have both a claim on us in this life, and an eternal destiny of some sort awaiting them hereafter.

    While Adam is right that there isn’t much on the role of animals in creation in the “standard sources,” a deeper search will reveal that many thinkers besides Orson Pratt–George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith in particular–have argued that our moral stewardship over physical creation needs to be informed by a sensitivity for its spiritual worth in the eyes of God. (President Kimball’s condemnation of hunting comes to mind here.)

  20. Aaron Brown on April 2, 2004 at 1:55 pm

    Thom asks:
    “Pre-Adamites? What exactly does this word mean? Fowls of the air and every creeping thing created pre-Adam? Dinosaurs? Neanderthals? Someone please enlighten my admitted ignorance.”

    “Pre-Adamites” refers to human beings who lived on the earth prior to Adam and Eve (like Neanderthals). It comes up as a topic most prominently in B.H. Roberts’ writings. Various Church leaders and members, trying to square the idea of Adam being the “First Man” with the mounting evidence from the fossil record of pre-historic man, postulated that there was life and death before the Fall of Adam, and these pre-Adamites, so called, are who we meet in the fossil record. The idea that “pre-Adamites didn’t have spirits” is a means of distinguishing them from Adam and his progeny, so as to retain the significance of saying that Adam was really “first” of all men, in some sense.

    Aaron B

  21. Thom on April 2, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Aaron, thanks for the assist. While I can imagine it is possible for Adam to be considered the first “man” without having been the first humanoid typed creature on earth, the quotation Scott just elaborated on would tend to shed some doubt or futility in reasoning that pre-Adamites did not have spirits. If the Lord is saying that “all the works” of His hand will recieve a state of Glory, even fido and other the fowl/ beasts, its hard to imagine Neaderthals and the like not falling into this category. A glorified T-Rex should be a thing to behold. My kids would really get a kick out of that.

  22. Heather Oman on April 2, 2004 at 2:42 pm

    Thanks for all the interest on this thread. I made Nate post this because really, this is my question, because I was the one who had to actually take the dog to the vet and watch her do the deed. So I asked Nate two questions: 1) Is there a doggy heaven? (I believe I actually asked the question, in those exact words, to the vet as well) and 2) Am I going to hell for putting this dog down? Nate did not elaborate, but the dog that we had to get rid of was actually just a 12 week old puppy that showed alarming signs of aggression and attacked 2 trainers, bit the vet, and snarled viciously at Nate one night. For the safety of our family, we could not come up with another option.

    My first question seems to have been answered fairly consistently (something is going to happen to all the little beasties of the earth in the resurrection–just not sure exactly what our relationship with them will be). But I am plagued by the idea that we have a responsibility for what we have tamed (i.e., a dog from a wolf). It’s not this poor dog’s fault that his ancestors (and probably most recent progenitor) were mean ol strays that a person dumped somewhere in the woods, and the aggression is a survival tool that works in the woods or as a stray, but one that can not be tolerated in human society. Yet human intervention and then subsequent neglect is the cause of our dog’s aggressive genetics. Is eunthanasia just another form of natural selection? Are we going to be held accountable for that, as poor dominion over the beasts of the field and fowls of the air? Apologies in advance if this opens up some environmental issues that have already been discussed somewhere else.

  23. Russell Arben Fox on April 2, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    Heather, don’t be afraid to open up environmental issues: we love ‘em (see here: http://www.timesandseasons.org/archives/000426.html ; scroll down until Rob jumps into the fray and starts baiting your husband).

    As for our stewardship over the natural world, and in particular the animal kingdom, and hence our obligations to the stray dogs of the world…I think we very clearly have had burden placed upon us. We are to be good gardeners of the earth. Sometimes that will mean putting down vicious creatures. But to the extent that we are responsible (through domestication, destruction of environment, etc.) of turning them into such, then there is, I think, real guilt enters into the equation.

  24. greenfrog on April 2, 2004 at 11:24 pm

    Moses 3:9 tells us that trees have souls. If they qualify, I’d be hard-pressed to deny them to dogs.

  25. Clark Goble on April 3, 2004 at 1:17 am

    But “living soul” doesn’t mean an independent spirit. Rather it means it is living or organic. The way Jewish thinkers tended to think about such things is *very* different than the way western philosophy has thought about it since Aquinas and especially since Descartes.

    I wrote a bit about this on my blog a few months back:

    http://www.libertypages.com/clark/arc0121.html

    I think we have to distinguish souls from spirits. I think the Mormon argument is that we were living souls prior to our birth although our composition was spirit matter and not regular matter.

  26. Ethesis on April 3, 2004 at 11:29 pm

    Well, at the risk of using a proof text and quoting Nibley in the same post …

    Nibley has written about pre-adamic man.

    And, for the proof text …

    Moses 1:29

    And he beheld many lands; and each land was called earth, and there were inhabitants on the face thereof.

    — each land is a different “earth” in terms of its story

    Moses 1:35

    But only an account of this “earth”, and the inhabitants thereof give I unto you. [emphasis added].

    I’d take these texts to say that when God gave the creation story to Moses, purely figurative as far as man was concerned, he also gave him only the story of one of many lands.

    Or not.

    But it is worth a reading of the text in context.

  27. Rod on October 13, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    Genesis talks about all creaters (animals/insects…etc.) were created from God. Job (somewhere in the book) talks about the birds of the air will explain how God did all of this (creation). Revelation talks about the Lions laying down with the Lambs….. Of corse, they have spirits and will return to God as much as we do. Animals are loyal and have no sin in their lives. We were the same way until the test in the garden (Genesis). The Bible was written for man…. not the beasts. I truelly believe they will be there in heaven waiting for us.

  28. Tatiana on October 14, 2005 at 1:06 am

    As do I.

  29. manaen on October 14, 2005 at 2:37 am

    A couple comments:

    As to whether we’ll have our animals with us in heaven, SWK observed that a cattle rancher probably wouldn’t want them all returned.

    As my missionary companion and I waded through a cloud of mosquitos, I said that when I become a god, I’m going to make a world, fill it with mosquitos, and blow it up. He made me promise to let him watch.