Friday, December 12, 2014

Dogs in Heaven

- At the Desert Retreat House -

In an attempt to console a distraught little boy whose pet dog had just died, Pope Francis told the child, "Paradise is open to all God's creatures." That one little, seemingly offhand remark sent shock waves through the entire world. The story appeared on the front page of the New York Times this morning and it was the lead story on the TV news shows.

While it may not seem like such a big deal that a pope might say that dogs go to heaven, it's actually a pretty "fringy" thing for a pope to say- quite a departure from traditional, Western, Catholic thinking. As a matter of fact several conservative-minded bishops and theologians were aghast at the Pope's  remarks, claiming that this one offhand comment about dogs in heaven was "a repudiation" of Roman Catholic doctrine."

As far as I'm concerned,  if the "dogs in heaven" remark does indeed repudiate traditional doctrine, I'm very glad it does so.

A traditional Catholic/Christian worldview is essentially medieval and very "human-centered."  Human beings are considered to be more important than other species or other forms of life. The world of nature (including the animal world) exists to serve human needs. It's this kind of attitude that allows human beings to think that "Mother Nature" belongs to them and gives them license to pollute the air or poison the oceans as long as people are comfortable and gratified.

A simple statement like "paradise is open to all creatures" helps shift the center of importance away from an exclusive focus on human beings, recognizing that we all belong to one another. "Mother Nature" doesn't belong to us, bur rather we belong to "Mother Nature."  Humans are not more important than dogs or fish or birds or air or water - all have equal value, all the "many" are woven into ONE fabric of "being."

Hearing about dogs in heaven also helps to rethink what "going to heaven" might actually mean.

From a traditional, dualistic, medieval, human-centered worldview, only human beings have souls. Souls are "spirits" locked inside bodies, and when a person dies the soul is released and travels out to or up to a "place" called heaven to spend eternity with an eternal being whose name is "God"

But thinking about a paradise "open to all creatures," may indeed serve as a catalyst to challenge  some of this antiquated and rather simplistic medieval way of looking at things.

As I see it, the soul is the "life force" inherent to anything or anyone that has being. We are all joined together by a common energy, "the energy of love" "the energy of God," and nothing that dies ever stops being because you can't kill energy. So, when anything or anyone dies it simply returns to that energy from which it came.

In that sense, paradise is indeed open to all creatures - of course dogs go to heaven, so do snakes and plants and trees and fish, as well as human beings.  Paradise is open to all creatures.

I don't have a clue of what it will be like when I die, and to be honest I don't expect I will see my dogs come running up and licking me in the face while we all float around on clouds.  But I know for sure that my death is not my ending nor is it the ending for my dogs. We have always been connected in the flow of life, and that connection will never come to an end.