Atheism Central for Secondary Schools
|Site links||Animals' souls - the shallowness of Christian moral guidance|
"God exists not only in man but in everything that lives"
Only 19% of vets believe that animals have souls - does this mean most vets don't believe in god?
But man is freer than all the animals, on account of his free-will, with which he is endowed above all other animals.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 91, art. 2.
The basis of the distinction between animals and people is that it was people - Adam and Eve - who ate from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. We are the only ones who can look to the future and determine which moral course to take. This puts us one step above the animals (or perhaps less privileged) - or less favoured.
We share 98% of our genes with the pygmy chimp.
Dr. Venter - head of Celera Genomics - who have identified the 26,588 (approx) genes on the human genome - finds that all but 300 of them are shared with mice. Our common ancestor with mice lived about 100 million years ago. "So it looks, therefore, as though the differences between mice ands people have more to do with the way genes are regulated than with what they actually produce."
The Economist Feb 27th 2001 (Science and Technology).
"Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion - several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven. . . . The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste."
"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man."
"[He] possessed beauty without vanity, strength without insolence; courage without ferocity; and all the virtues of man without his vices."
Lord Byron's epitaph for his dog
Catholic Encyclopedia link on Life here
England moral arbiter of the nation
Please note: It is clearly the case that complex issues are involved in our relationship with animals and our stewardship of the natural world. The writer is firmly of the opinion that human beings are animals, is opposed to hunting animals for pleasure, and is strongly supportive of the Great Ape Project. This is not necessarily the viewpoint of other atheists or humanists.
Moral issues related to animals are best addressed by applying rational principles rather than appealing to 'divine revelation', which, in common with numerous other moral questions is incapable of producing a moral answer. In part this is because religions are not based on an underlying set of moral principles but a cacophony of the prejudices of the religious hierarchies of former times and those who invented the religious texts upon which they are based. The problem of the status of animals demonstrates this point admirably.
Christian readers may wish to contact the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare here in the UK. The General Secretary is a former editor the The Catholic Herald - details available on request. The writer has nothing but admiration for the efforts of this group to improve the moral teachings of the Catholic church.
Moslem visitors to this site should visit Submission or Submission in Arabic to see that the Moslem world also includes those who reject traditional Moslem teaching on animals - dogs in particular - and can quote from the Qu'ran to do so.
The Church of England occupies a special position in the (unwritten) Constitution of the United Kingdom whereby it considers itself the moral arbiter of the nation - entitled to speak with authority on any moral theme. It unofficially shares this position with the Catholic Church, which is often perceived as being less wishy-washy in its views and so more reliable if a single definitive opinion is required. The Catholic Church, though not integrated into the Constitution also has the advantage of a more dedicated following than the C of E. The other sources of moral rightness accessible to the media and to government are the Moslem religion and the Jewish one. These both have the disadvantage of being more diverse and less centralised than either of the above. It is, of course, a great pity that the non-religious sources of moral guidance are less easily identifiable since they are made up of an even wider and more diverse group of thinking individuals - nor do they have the political privilege and financial muscle of the major religions.
Both government and the media often appear to assume that religion is the only legitimate source of moral guidance - the purpose of this article is to demonstrate the shallowness of this supposition in the case of Christianity.
The word animal is derived
from the Latin anima = soul but despite this Christianity has traditionally
taught that animals have more in common with stones than with human
beings (interestingly, in medieval Europe animals were often seen to
be satellites of Satan - the devil had horns, cloven feet and a pointy
The writer was taught at his (Catholic) school that everything on Earth, including all the animals, was put here to satisfy the needs of mankind, and that there was no fundamental difference between animate and inanimate things - only we were different. Joseph Rickaby SJ, an influential Jesuit theologian said, as did Descartes, that animals had no souls, no rights and no feelings and were no more than automata - like clocks - and if they squeaked or made noises when damaged this was equivalent to the mechanical sounds a clock would make if it fell to the floor and was similarly damaged. This attitude was reflected in the behaviour of Pope Pius lX when he sought to prevent the setting up of the Italian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on the grounds that animals have no souls. (Click here for more on Pius 1X.) Thomas Aquinas is also regarded as an authority as denying that animals have souls but contradicted himself elsewhere writing: 'we 'must use animals in accordance with the Divine Purpose lest at the Day of Judgment they give evidence against us before the throne' (source currently unavailable - please write in if you know it).
The unwritten assumption
was also that we could continue to exploit these things on the basis
that 'God would provide' and that there would be no lasting damage to
the basic system that ensures our survival - the ecosystem. A similar
logic applies to birth control - God does not want us to use it (rhythm
method excluded) so that means if we do not do so there will be no fearful
consequences since God could not possibly require of us something which
is intrinsically harmful. Alternatively, of course this could be the
way God wishes to bring about the end of the world since it is difficult
to think of anything more devastating to the planet than the continued
growth of the human population.
Ecological issues aside, however, what would factors would we need to consider if we discovered that animals have souls? E.g:
We would also need to consider whether animals go to heaven or not, whether they have original sin, and whether there can be good animals and bad animals with only the good ones going to heaven. If all animals go to heaven we would need some explanation as to why god had decided to be so unfair to us.
Clearly, some pretty major
ethical issues are involved here plus some potential lifestyle changes
which would have an immense impact on human affairs. In particular
- in the 2000 years in which Christianity has been around we would have
to know why Christians have largely ignored the plight of literally
billions of animals that must have met their deaths at the hand of mankind
or been treated cruelly. Think of the lions that the Romans killed in
the arena at the Coliseum, for example (not only Christians died there).
It is not just a passing ethical issue that can be put off till later.
So what a surprise it would be if you were told that no less a figure than Pope John Paul 11 believes that animals have souls! We would be surprised because we would expect an enormous outpouring of grief that so many animals have been killed by so many Christians over such a long period of time. We would expect to hear of great debates in which it was worked out which animals should be included on the list of those possessing souls and precisely how we should treat them. We should expect to hear priests telling little boys that stamping on ants was the kind of thing they should mention during confession (unless, of course, ants can be definitely determined as not being on the list).
Well, in a public audience on January 19th 1990 Pope John Paul 11 said "also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with smaller brethren" He pointed out that in Genesis "the way in which man was created suggests a relationship with the spirit or the breath of God. And one reads that after having created man from the dust of the earth, the Lord God 'breathed life into his nostrils and man became a living soul.'" He went on to say that animals have the breath of life and were given it by God. So, in this respect, man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures. Although the pope's statement was reported in the Italian press it was not reported in the UK and was ignored by British Catholic publications.
Unsurprisingly, this caused a kerfuffle in the church! The church did not say that as a precautionary measure, until such things can be worked out in detail (assisted by great quantities of praying for guidance) we should refrain from killing any animal. No! Instead of announcing the matter to the world as being of the utmost priority the church has remained strangely silent. We have not heard pious debates over the status of the different animals designed to give us peace of mind while the situation is clarified. No opportunity has been given to biologically inclined Cardinals to seek divine revelation on whether Symbion pandora (of no recognised animal phyla) should be considered an animal for religious purposes. Then again - what about protoctists? - an entire taxonomic kingdom - not plants - not fungi - not bacteria - no souls?
No! The argument has been "Do animals have 'immortal' souls or souls that are not immortal?" We might call the latter 'ordinary' souls. We wonder what benefits having an 'ordinary ' soul might confer on an animal - perhaps only having an 'ordinary' soul might entitle us to kill the animal and eat it - thus depriving it of its 'ordinary' soul. I wouldn't give two hoots for a soul like that, speaking personally (a representative of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare described the debate as 'sophistry'). It would also seem a little difficult to understand why it has taken 2000 years for Christianity to consider the possibility of varying 'flavours' of souls!
Of course Pope John Paul
11 is not the only Christian who has detected that animals have souls.
Martin Luther certainly believed animals went to heaven "Be thou
comforted, little dog," he said. "Thou too in Resurrection shall have
a little golden tail." (Note that Martin thought animals had 'immortal'
souls - so did my aunt.) St. Paul said that animals would be
redeemed. Additionally, Pope Pius Xll said that 'any unnecessary
harshness towards animals and any reckless desire to harm them must
Much more recently John Austin Baker, the former Bishop of Salisbury, and a champion of animal rights commented - "Thomas Aquinas and the scholastic tradition said very clearly that animals have not got souls and this has been used in the past to justify any exploitation of animals on the grounds that they are just things. Others have said that animals' consciousness was so limited that they needed to be appendages of good human beings to be capable of enjoying the life in heaven. But that puts paid to 99.9% of all living creatures. You surely don't have to have high rational intelligence like human beings in order to have the possibility of a relationship to transcendent or eternal life." (So he thinks that animals probably do have souls.)
So do viruses go to heaven?
"Oh, no", says Bishop Baker, quoting Hillaire Belloc's poem 'He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small. If streptococcus is the test, I love him best of all.' No, no, there are a great many complicated organisms which are as far as we can see are not sentient and are purely mechanical. So I suppose if you're going to draw a line you probably would say that all the trillions of mosquitoes are unlikely to go to heaven."
The writer does not, of course, believe that animals have souls - but it is clear that the Christianity does not provide any credible moral guideline in this very important ethical field. Certainly having, or not having a soul, is central to what it is to be human - and the same would stand for animals. Despite this Christianity makes a mockery of itself by emphasizing the importance of humans having souls when, having had 2000 years to think about it, it is unable to determine whether animals have souls and, if so, what kind. It is an ethical stupidity of the grandest proportions and demonstrates the shallowness of Christian moral guidance.
We cannot expect intelligent answers to moral questions from such a bunch of charlatans whose own contradictory teachings make them a laughingstock. Neither the Church of England nor those of any other faith have the moral credibility to pretend they represent the moral spring of the nation.
Remember, of course, that the writer is of the opinion that human beings are animals and that no animals have souls. The whole question of souls has been morally damaging in that it has falsely and artificially separated us from the animal kingdom and degraded animals to the level of mere automata.
In the Moslem religion according to Hadith (sacred books), "anything a dog touches must be washed seven times, the final time in dust" - also: "If a monkey, a black dog, or a woman passes in front of a praying person, his prayer is nullified." However, to give it its due, the Qu'ran appears to contradict these teachings regarding dogs and refers specifically to dogs in a positive manner. Essentially the Qu'ran considers the creations of God as perfect [32:7] and, for example, forbids slitting the ears of animals as defacing their fair nature created by God [4:119]. However, this does not apply to monkeys in the Qu'ran: "Let me tell you who are worse in the sight of GOD: those who are condemned by GOD after incurring His wrath until He made them (as despicable as) monkeys and pigs, and the idol worshipers. These are far worse, and farther from the right path."[5:60] The Qu'ran gives no indication why monkeys are so disfavoured. Palestinian Authority appointed Mufti Ikrama Sabri, recently (2000) branded Israeli settlers "sons of monkeys and pigs" perhaps referring to the quotation above. Many Moslems appear to think that monkeys are evil in some way - perhaps believing that they are animals which have been occupied by Djinn (genies). Belief in Djinn long predates the Moslem religion - however, the Qu'ran teaches that Satan shall reproduce whenever a human being is born, and that this reproduction is in the form of a Djinn to serve as a constant companion of that person. On the Day of Judgment, the Djinn companion serves as a witness against the human counterpart Qu'ran:[43:38; 50:23, 27]. This would be enough to make anyone feel creepy!
A part of this material is adapted from an article entitled 'Yap yap yapping at heaven's door' by Virginia Ironside in the Independent 19th June 2000. However, Virginia Ironside did not make the criticisms of Christianity made here. She went on to say:
"These days there is increasing awareness of animal rights, and scientific research shows we are far more closely related to monkeys than we thought previously - we share 98% of our genes with pygmy chimps. Not only that, but as we're starting to fear the advances of science over nature, so we seek the old precepts of primitive religions that all animals have spirits, all inanimate things don't. Perhaps our power and intelligence is leading us away from our spirit and our soul, goes the reasoning, perhaps animals have innate wisdom and are nearer to God, whatever that is. Institutionalised religion all emphasise the dominance of man, and the creation of categories with man at the top; now paganism is coming back into fashion, with a return to our primitive religious roots."
Glaringly absent from religious discussion is the question of the early varieties of human from which we evolved or to which we are related. It's not a problem if you're a Moslem, of course, since your religion simply teaches that they didn't exist and that in fact there are no extinct species of any kind of animal e.g., Dodos (but would accept they existed if they can still be found living somewhere)! All fossils or archaeological discoveries that contradict this viewpoint are said to be fakes.
For religions prepared to accept the existence of other species of man - such as Neanderthals - there is a problem. Why has there been no debate as to whether these people had souls? If they did why did god allow them to go extinct (presumably without revealing himself to them)? For that matter, why was god so neglectful of all those who lived before Christ, Mohammed, Mormonism etc? (or perhaps Neanderthal men living in France could have been members of the Church of England). And why weren't they mentioned in the Bible, Talmud etc? If they didn't have souls what is it that makes us different from them?
Pope Pius lx (1846 -1878 - beatified September, 2000) cannot easily be ignored since he played a very important role in the development of the modern Catholic church. He proclaimed the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary 1854 (curiously, this teaching apparently does not say that Mary didn't have sex or that Christ was not the result of a union between an egg or a sperm - see here) and Papal Infallibility 1870; he also placed special emphasis on Devotion to the Sacred Heart which few Catholics could say anything intelligent about today. His pontificate was the longest in history. He sought to prevent the setting up of the Italian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on the grounds that animals have no souls. He centred power in the Vatican, refusing to compromise with modern spiritual ideas. His devotion inspired a cult following that continues to this day. The first stage in his canonisation (making him a saint) was begun 1985. (It was suspended in favour of Pope Pius X11, then when Pope Pius X11's Nazi collaborations were revealed it was reactivated, although the Vatican denies that this was the reason. Interestingly, it is considered by many that when Pope John Paul 11 asked for forgiveness for the church's treatment of the Jews over the centuries he was referring to Pius 1X. From our point of view it is also notable that Pius lX referred to the Jews as 'dogs'.) The canonisation process has been restarted.
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