(Photo of Will Rogers courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."--Will Rogers
I had to chuckle at both this story and the mention of it in The Lead. We recently had a bit of a theological quandary about the prayer list. Without going into the story too deeply (I really don't care to "out" anyone, because I think it was all done with a sincere heart and great earnest-ness) the short version is this: I am the editor of our parish weekly e-news and one of the "keepers of the prayer list." What is a person supposed to do about a dog showing up in the prayer list requests?
Now, bottom line was that the dog was not placed on the prayer list, but the owner was. But there was a staggering amount of discussion I ended up entering into and a discovery that this was a very visceral topic. I found out a lot about who in my parish thinks that dogs and cats at least, have souls. (We did not extend this conversation beyond dogs and cats, so mercifully, we did not get into the eternal ensoulment of white rats, goldfish, and boa constrictors.)
But what this discussion did was really ask me some very basic and unanswerable questions about the nature of the soul, the nature of my relationship with God's creation through my pets, and what it really means to be a keeper of the prayer list and the trust I have been given about the souls of the individuals in our congregation.
Let me start with my own viscerally held belief. I truly believe that my dogs have souls. I believe that all created beings have them. (One of my friends and I can be irritated at the drop of the hat over a line John Spong once used in one of his books about saying dogs didn't have souls. We laugh that out of all the controversial things John Spong has said over the years, that's the one we want to fight with him about.) Unfortunately, the Bible is rather mute on the topic. It's clear that the Bible speaks quite openly about people having them, but it's a little vague about the rest--only a couple of references like in the Psalms with lines about man and beasts being saved, things like that--which tells me whatever we choose to believe on the topic is not a deal-breaker with our own salvation.
However that belief comes with some incongruities, then, on how well I acknowledge the ensoulment of all living beings. It means I believe cows have souls--yet I eat them. It means I believe skunks have souls, yet I shoot them when they are too near my house. It means I believe mice have souls, yet I gleefully set out mouse traps and live to hear the snap of their demise when the little boogers have invaded my house. It means I believe ticks and spiders have souls, and I squash them with no guilt or shame whatsoever.
What it all boils down to, I think, is that we are not simply stewards of creation--we are all part of creation and we interact with the rest of creation in a variety of ways. Some of these interactions are good, some bad, but probably most are rather indifferent, really. Perhaps it's not so much about the brass tacks of that interaction than it is how we change our interaction with humans as a result of these intersections with creation.
My two dogs are a window into what I'm capable of in loving others, and the unconditional love that dogs have for "their" people influence me in how to love unconditionally. Worrying about their ensoulment (or not) should be a lesson in how we cannot control and micromanage others. Are we ready for this kind of radical inclusion?