Do Animals Have Spirits and Do They Go to Heaven?
Human beings are of course animals, but animals that have evolved in body, mind, spirit and other powers so as to be distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom. The evolution of the human mind, evidenced in self-awareness, speech and language, signs and symbols, the depth of the unconscious mind and the technological heights of the scientific mind, all contribute to expanding the gap between the human person and other animals. In fact, the distinctive aspect is that of personhood itself.
What is a person? We know from experience the difference between a human being with whom we are familiar and a dog, that qualitatively while we may love both, there is a marked difference in the way we relate to each. We may cynically say we would prefer the undivided camaraderie of a dog to a lover, but most of us really desire the complexity of communion that only another human being can bring. The human is a unique combination of body, mind and spirit that is different in quality from that of a canine.
The difference in quality seems to be distinctively centered on the spiritual aspect of the human. The mark of spirituality is personification itself, which is rooted in consciousness, both of others and of one’s self. The Greek word for “person” means mask or face, and its meaning infers the idea that we derive our personhood through the awareness of others and a relationship to others that demands we “interface” with them. This face is our humanness, and it is the chief quality of the human spirit, manifest in the soul and produced through the complexities of the human mind.
Other animals do not share this attribute. They do not put on a “face” in order to commune with each other, develop layers of conscious thought, and plough through the unconscious mind to root out psychopathologies, or develop a scientific mind in the pursuit of progress or deeper understanding of themselves or the world around them. Animals have souls (if a soul is body, mind, but not spirit), but they are not spiritual creatures precisely because they are not personal creatures. Their interaction with us and with each other is governed by instinct and other genetic or innate qualities.
Other animals are nevertheless valuable because as living organisms they have an experience of mind, but one that is unlike the human mind. They have no unconscious mind. They have no scientific mind. But they suffer, they foster various emotions, they are privy to desire. As sentient entities, they have intrinsic value even if they are not spiritual beings. The human spirit – an evolutionary addition – marks our species as one that can summon the idea of God, and as persons that have the opportunity to relate face to face with divinity, contemplate an afterlife, paradise, and eternality; and it is that attribute that may carry us forward into such realities. This is not the case for other animals, which seem to manifest essence absent individual personhood.