What happens to animals when they die is a question many people wonder about, especially those who form close bonds with animals.
Do animals experience the meaningless oblivion that atheists insist await us all or do they transition to another plane as people of faith believe is their own fate after the body fails?
As we observe animals give and receive joy, love, and also suffer true grief over the loss of their offspring or human companions, it is difficult to still hold that they do not have a soul.
But nor is it easy to imagine that, on completion of our life on earth, we transfer to the afterlife to find it teeming with the souls of every biological creature that has ever lived like some overstocked Jurassic Park — tens of millions of years’ worth of T-Rex’s and every other dinosaur that ever lived and died on earth.
The former is hard to accept as we have experience of forming deep and reciprocal loving bonds with animals, and as love is a spiritual element, that would imply there is something spiritual being loved by us and returning love to us.
The latter is hard to accept because it just seems so bizarre that thousands of trillions of animals would pile up in the afterlife as the earth and possibly other planets swarm and crawl with creatures in a continuous generational cycle.
But life and existence itself is bizarre when you think about it. Something cannot be said to be untrue just because it seems bizarre. In any case, the real estate in the afterlife may well accommodate any number of arrivals. However, believing something exists because we have a deep emotional and spiritual relationship with it is quite rational.
“Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21)
The idea that animals do not have souls has no scriptural basis. It’s just something people communally decided. In my view, they did so to artificially accentuate their own importance in the scheme of things and to God. This came from insecurity as it is not actually necessary to establish uniqueness in order to have intrinsic eternal value and to be counted as a child of God. Others need not be excluded so that we can be included. Our status before God is not a zero sum game.
I used to believe that animals don’t have eternal souls as that is what I was taught, but after contemplating the matter for many years I no longer think that is the case. But nor do I think that animals transfer to the afterlife as is when they die — as humans do.
So how to reconcile my sense that animals have a spiritual counterpart to their biological form yet do not transition to the plane of the afterlife?
If you consider it took God 14 billion years to create and refine a physical environment and body that could nurture a human soul (and who knows how much longer in the preparation phase), then how much more of a monumentally difficult and involved task must it have been for God to create the eternal soul of discrete beings such as humans?
Surely it cannot be that it would take God at least 14 billion years to bring about rocks, plants, flesh and bones that are all temporary states of the fundamental energy that makes up matter yet an instant for God to flash an eternal soul into being?
The eternal soul is a far more complex and profound creation than even we are yet aware and I hold that creating such is an infinitely more involved process than creating the temporary fleshly body that incubates the soul for five to ten decades in its initial phase.
Of course, in many ways, God creating the physical universe, the substantial afterlife universe and the invisible, transcendent human soul are all part of the same process, but each part is still its own process.
I find myself strangely leaning towards a “reincarnation” model when it comes to the dual questions of the formulation of the eternal soul and spiritual nature of animals. I don’t mean I was different people in the past or even an animal.
My hypothesis is God saw to it that evolution would take place and as beings of ever greater complexity emerged on earth throughout the past few billion years, then God perhaps incubated elements of what would eventually become the souls of his human children in those beings.
I don’t hold that the complete soul of an amoeba jumped into a fish egg when it expired and the soul of the fish jumped into an otter and then into higher creatures, and on and on. Rather that as animals live and love and parent and grieve then it seems to me that, especially the higher creatures (some whom have been known to actually die from grief), have remarkably similar biology, psychology and emotional states to human beings. Might it be that this animal biology and psychology and emotional life have a corresponding spiritual counterpart?
Animals, like humans, are driven by their biology and psychology to strive for life, procreation and environmental control/harmony (sound familiar?). We can observe certain animals within a species or even a pack/herd/troupe rise above their peers as they make great efforts in intelligence, bravery, leadership, nurturing, conciliatory behavior, and even sacrifice. All of these are qualities of character that we describe as noble when manifest in human beings. Just as with humans, some animals become selfish bullies and engage in mean and unnecessary torment and even the killing of their peers.
Might it be that God knew or even orchestrated that a vast environment with trillions of animals, millions of different species and millions of communities of animals would all interact among themselves over hundreds of millions of years.
In doing so, some of those animals over many disparate species might refine their natures to the point that God could see to it that the most refined aspect of the nascent souls of the most refined individual animals would be maintained after physical death and become a component or even foundational part of what would eventually form the soul of a human being.
Essentially, all of creation is God’s culture plate and incubator for the ingredients for what will eventually produce a human soul. After all, the entire human physiology is the ecosystem for the raw ingredients that ultimately comprise the sperm which initiate a new physical being when it finds its way to the egg.
So, again, not that this animal re-started as that animal again and again and eventually became a human being. Rather, much of what is the animal falls away at death, both the body and the mind/spirit, but certain spiritual aspects endure and become part of God’s recipe for higher beings, just as some parts of the physical bodies of animals are incorporated into our own via our digestive system.
We also know that God doesn’t flash complex things and certainly not complex beings into existence in an instant. Rather, He uses process and time and the incorporation of basic elements into higher and higher states.
Scientists, even atheist scientists, state that they know of nothing more complex in the universe than the human biological brain. Again, I suggest that the complexity of the human brain and body and the eons-long preparation required to bring it about pales in comparison to the human eternal soul and the process God would have required to set in motion to realize it. Then is it likely that God performs instant magic when He brings about a human soul or that He does so through carefully designed, long, divine process?
Furthermore, there is something elegant about the idea that God used the same animal kingdom to incubate and prepare the human proto-soul as He did to produce the human physical vessel to contain and nurture it.
I don’t believe God does things by halves. God may well realize a creation that is a temporarily lesser being in terms of ability and awareness (we know this as we all were such as babies and children) but not trap such a being and eternally block them from knowing Him fully and attaining maximally great personal development.
Even if such a being lacked a mind that was designed or evolved to have awareness of their inability to be more than they are or know God in full, it would still be a tragic eternal fate just as it is when some conditions trap and block dear human children from full mental and emotional development despite their condition causing them to be blissful in their ignorance. We do not accept that such children should never fully develop and also relate to their parents as peers, so we research solutions and cures.
I do not believe God would accept this eternal limited state for animals should it be that animals do in fact have eternal souls.
And as we hold that the flesh is an accelerant for spiritual development as people grow in their physical life, then what better arena than millions of years of the animal kingdom for God to seed and incubate elements of the eternal, soul of His children who will one day be peers as well as children of God.♦
Peter Stephenson is the founder and CEO of a software startup, and has lived and worked for many years in the USA and Korea, where he combined doing a church mission with writing for a national English-language daily newspaper, The Korea Times. He currently lives in London.
So…you’re saying the human spirit self-evolved over time along with the human physical self? Or are you saying that the human spirit self-evolves over time and when it’s ready it then enters into a newborn human physical body at conception (or whenever). Not exactly sure what you’re proposing here.
The main idea being proposed is that it logically follows that more complex and eternal rather than temporal things surely don’t get flashed into existence in an instant when it takes billions of years just to bring about less complex and temporal things.
If a central thesis of DP is that physical/biological matter is necessary for spiritual development and growth, then that, coupled with the first point, seem to me to indicate that the evolution of animal life on earth would be an ideal culture dish for God to prepare all the elements necessary to bring about a human, eternal soul.
So I’m not saying the human soul evolved over all that time but rather the invisible, spiritual components needed to bring about a human soul did.
Note I differentiate between the spirit world which in my view the DP erroneously or at least subjectively refers to as the “invisible substantial world.” As we know, the afterlife is not invisible. So when I say the “soul,” I’m not referring to the spirit body but rather the invisible soul.
Peter, thank you for this article.
Before I joined the church I was inspired by the Findhorn community in Scotland. My current belief is a variation on what they proposed — namely that each species of plant and animal has a collective or group spirit rather than each organism having its own individual spirit. I believe it takes a certain self-awareness to differentiate an individual spirit from the collective. The vast majority of animals are not sufficiently aware of self, but a very few are, and developing such self-awareness would be part of the evolutionary process.
When I first heard Principle in England this collective spirit for plants and animals was taught in the Principle of Creation lectures I heard. This was because the National Leader of England, Dennis Orme, had come from the Findhorn community. This similarity of explanation in part attracted me to Principle in the first place because of my inspiration about Findhorn.
I think there is room in the panoply of spirit beings for such nature spirits. I regard them as part of the angelic realm and consider relationship with them an important part of our spirituality and a necessary part of resolving environmental issues. Further, I would suggest that any sufficiently complex system can potentially be conscious such that consciousness, at least in the creation, is emergent.
Thanks, David. I appreciate the spirit of your comment but find less logic in it and more poetic impression.
I don’t think self-awareness is a condition of proof for the eternal soul. Babies are not that self-aware but if you look at the life of the late Koko, the sign language talking gorilla, then she could certainly be said to be self-aware.
Also, I don’t believe angels exist. I think the term angel is a “role” and not a species. The idea that God would create a whole species of only one sex is nonsensical. That He would create a species that is fully sentient, intelligent and has a desire for union with an opposite sex partner, then make it so they must spend eons of loneliness and longing, is likewise. That He would create a being that for all eternity can never know Him in full and can only know Him vicariously through others who do have that privilege would be the ultimate cruelty.
I heard a speech of Father’s in person around 2009 where he said, “Angels are not servants. God does not think like that.” That confirmed my long held theory.
The issue is that all languages have two aspects/translations. When a fallen/immature mind hears the word “servant” they think that means “inferior” or “object.” When a heavenly mind hears the word “servant” they think “parent” or “subject.” So when we hear that angels are servants we think that means they are lesser when in fact they were nurturing and in order to nurture you must be more developed, not lesser. Same when Eve was characterized as a “helper” to Adam. Feminists get upset by that phrase. But in reality, in certain areas of life, a man’s wife is also his mother/teacher. She guides him and teaches him to develop, so Adam being said to need a helper by God is a compliment to Eve when seen through a heavenly mind parsing of the language.
Likewise with angels. So I hold that any being from the afterlife who assists someone on earth is in an angelic position, just as a nurse or doctor is not a species but a role description.
Thanks for the reply. I guess we are not quite on the same page here.
The central issue for me is not poetic at all. It has to do with consciousness. For Christianity, mind/consciousness directly equates to supernatural spirit that God somehow magically adds to matter. Although Divine Principle does not subscribe to that position (for example, sungsang never exists separately from hyungsang), I have found this to also be the predominant understanding in Unificationism too. However, science suggests that mind/consciousness in created beings is emergent, not something magically added at birth. We must rethink the traditional explanation of spirit.
There is a specific scientific test for self-awareness relating to recognition of self in a mirror. That a few animals — some chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, and dolphins — can pass the test suggests that perhaps they do have an individual spirit just as human beings do. What about neanderthals? From their symbolic burial practices I think they most likely had individual spirits too.
Adding in the science of complexity and how the “hive mind” of say an ant colony arises, then we can potentially have consciousnesses emerge in any sufficiently complex system — such as an ecosystem or species. This gives a potential explanation for the angelic realm including the “spirit” dimension of animals. It does not require any individual physical body and would be very different to the spirits of human beings.
I am sorry you do not accept the existence of angels. Our relationship with them is undervalued. Developing a relationship with them is an important part of spirituality. Look at Native American traditions. I do not see them as servants. You write, “The idea that God would create a whole species of only one sex is nonsensical.” Absolutely! So that means there are not only male angels but there must be female angels too. We have just not known about them just as we have not known about the Divine Feminine until relatively recently.
There is no need to eat food in the spiritual world, thus no need to grow it. But if we wish to sit down to a meal, we can do so. The meal just appears to our desires. Animal existence is the same as food. They have no soul. Oh, yes, they did give us much love and joy. While in the physical world they were tools to help fallen human beings learn to open our hearts. In the spirit world, if you want to have your dog visit, I am sure you can have it appear. However, because we fallen spirits should be busy trying to get earthly individuals to change so we can perfect our nature, we shouldn’t be too concerned with animals. Rather, we should be focusing on becoming like our Heavenly Parent and love every one, especially ones we could not love while on earth.
One additional comment on the importance of what you are thinking about.
Arguably one of the greatest challenges to our long-term well being is resolving issues surrounding environmental degradation and climate change. This is why Mother has restarted ICUS and tasked it to environmental issues. However, existing efforts, including ICUS, are coming at this from an external perspective. Acknowledging a spiritual dimension to living systems changes the dynamic of what we need to do to heal the planet and how we deal with the Third Blessing.
Thanks again for bringing this up.
In my view, the climate alarms movement was long ago infiltrated and converted into an anti-free market, anti-Western lobby. However, you do make a good point that, in line with my hypothesis, we have all the more reason to be good stewards of our environment.
When teaching the DP, we used to say that what distinguishes man from animals was the ability to have a relationship with the Divine. “Did you ever see a horse pray?” was one of the questions a lecturer may rhetorically ask. We also used to teach that if a person loved a particular animal enough, that animal could be with them in the spirit world. I wouldn’t presume to try to amplify on either of these teachings. I’m not quite sure what goes on inside a horse’s head and although I used to have a great affection for our pet rabbit, Buffy, my spirit has not yet taken leave of my body. But both teachings intuitively seem perfectly acceptable to me.
The teaching that a human being’s state of mind towards an animal can render it an eternal soul is pretty much idol worship. Human beings are not Gods yet (though they very well may be at some point) and it would take more than after the fact sentiment to change the course of another being’s existence from a destiny of oblivion to eternal aseity. Babies don’t pray either but we do not deny that they have eternal souls.
Interesting article relating to dogs, which are sensitive animals and can relate closer and more intimately to human beings. One example is the service dog of the late President George H.W. Bush, “Sully,” that lay near his casket and mourned his owner. The Divine Principle states that animals have male and female characteristics but not a spirit or soul. Your hypotheses could bring more research into this issue, as many people do think dogs and cats somehow have a soul.