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Do Animals Have Souls? Part Three

Do Animals Have Souls? Part Three

In times of tribal animism, the boundaries between animal and man were relatively indistinct. All of nature was suffused with the essence of the supernatural, and everything had souls, including rocks, trees, horses, and jackrabbits. Later, as increasingly sophisticated cultures evolved across the ancient world, the lines between us and other species tended to remain fluid. The Aztecs and the Egyptians thought some human souls became bees when they died; the Greeks and the Japanese said some became butterflies.

But with the rise of the world’s great religious traditions came the first ideas of a transcendent God or absolute higher power, and the first sense of a dimension within the human self–the soul–that was specially connected to it. Generally speaking, religions both East and West thought animals had souls, too, but they were souls of a lower order, bound up in physical passions and trapped by mortal existence. The human soul, on the other hand, was privileged with immortality. According to Western theology, that was because humans alone had reason and free will; in Eastern thought, it was due to the fact that our unique capacity for self-awareness gave us the all-important potential for attaining enlightenment. But in either case, it was only the human soul that could escape the bonds of this earthly plane to share eternal life at its maker’s feet.

From the perspective of religious salvation, therefore, animals are clearly out of luck. Yet history’s canvas is filled with images of yogis and saints who loved their animal brethren and honored them as moral and spiritual beings. Twentieth-century Indian sage Ramana Maharshi taught that animals could reach enlightenment directly without needing to advance first through human birth. He was famous for having close spiritual relationships with dogs, cats, cows, peacocks, squirrels, birds, and monkeys; his favorite cow, Lakshmi, is said to have achieved final liberation when she died. Back in the day, fish supposedly poked their heads above water to hear St. Anthony preach. St. Martin de Porres trained animals in ethics and virtue, and St. Francis gave sermons to flocks of birds from around the world. Once, Francis even tamed the terrible wolf of Gubbio, walking straight into its lair and demanding that it stop eating the local livestock–and the local townspeople. To everyone’s surprise, this tactic actually worked: the wolf bowed its head, placed its paw meekly in the saint’s hand, and followed him into town, where the people agreed to keep it well fed in exchange for its pact of peace.

With the advent of science, the religious belief in sharp distinctions between humans and animals has taken somewhat of a beating. As Bekoff explains, it is consistent with evolutionary biology that everything humans have (including souls), animals have, too–if perhaps in less developed form. “Variations among different species,” the argument goes, “are differences in degree rather than differences in kind.” Charles Darwin called this idea evolutionary continuity, and it has become a fundamental axiom in the study of animal behavior. Yet while some scientists such as Bekoff probably take Darwin’s insight too far by saying that the only major difference between us is that animals don’t cook their food, there are others who recognize far more significant distinctions.

In her studies of the chimpanzees at Gombe, for instance, Goodall concluded that their lack of a spoken language has been a fundamental evolutionary ceiling, making it impossible for them to develop higher capacities like shared moral codes. “Chimpanzees show behaviors that seem likely precursors to human morality–as when a high-ranking individual breaks up a fight to save a weaker companion,” she writes, “but for the most part, in their society, ‘might’ is ‘right,’ and the subordinates have to be submissive whether or not they are in the wrong.”

Where all this leaves us is ambiguous at best. As philosopher Daniel Dennett says, “Current thinking about animal consciousness is a mess.” Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori even goes so far as to say that robots possess the unquenchable spark of awakening known as Buddha-nature. Robot souls? I guess anything’s possible, but it’s hard enough to come up with definitive answers about animals, let alone artificially intelligent machines. There is one more realm of evidence we have yet to examine, however. And there, things operate by a different set of rules entirely.

Do Animals Have Souls? Part One
Do Animals Have Souls? Part Two

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Inspiration, Pets, Spirit, , , ,

By Ross Robertson, EnlightenNext magazine

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6:45PM PDT on Mar 18, 2011

Any thing that haseart and breaths has a soul, for it has feeling, it crys, it knows love and gives Love back. Even in The Bible it speaks of them having souls. God created them for he loved them. ( Not elavoution spelled wrong but thats a joke, )

5:42AM PDT on May 11, 2010

Great article, thank you!

12:28PM PDT on Oct 22, 2009

Emily M.: - Ahem. "Lower animal life" - what might that comprise, pray? Are e.g., domesticated felines, or cats; equines; seals; parrots, to name but a few species, "lower animal life"?

I really do not go along with this "divvying up" of animals into "higher forms" and "lower forms". In my opinion, all living creatures have a "soul" - some form of "soul" - given that everything that lives and breathes is sentient (even if we poor, dull humans cannot comprehend the form this takes). All of life is energy, and if we humans have "souls" then so do all the animals. I do not accept that humans are at the apex of creation, with all other life forms ranking below us, in tiers, right down to the very base of the metaphorical pyramid. Every sentient creature feels pain and pleasure - maybe this is "soul"? Only humans and "special animals" have souls? Who are these elect "special animals", Emily?

4:07PM PDT on Jul 15, 2009

From a different perspective.I studied for many years "auras" - your energy field. Every living thing has an energy field. Sometimes I can see auras - like the ancient artists putting halos on the heads of the statues of the saints. Einstein therory of M "something or other" says there are many planes that we can cross over into. Your individual energy field always was & always will be - So my point is I sometimes can see people's auras and animals and trees etc. There are 2 for animals/humans. The small gray type radiating from the organs in the body working, the large golden one is your soul nature.Humans have it, guide dogs, helping dogs, war dog & high IQ animals. Regardless of my churches belief, I know humans have it and special animals have it. I have not been able to see the golden one on lower animal/plant/life. So I believe animals have souls. Emily

9:31AM PDT on Jun 14, 2009

thanksss...
Kabin

Konteyner

3:24PM PDT on Mar 13, 2009

PS...Animals don't need salvation...They don't commit sin.

3:21PM PDT on Mar 13, 2009

This is interesting.Why would'nt an animal have a soul...after all they are the sinless beings of this big cruel world.My pets have more love,kindness,and compassion than most humans have. Its the so called human animal that causes all the problems....I detest people who say he acted like an animal...Why not say he acted like a human.......I have never known an animal to shoot people, murder people,rob the elderly,all the horrific crimes against human,and animal are caused by man. Every problem on earth is caused by man. I will listen to someone who has been to heaven,and came back,and said there was not an animal in sight....until then I stay with my beliefs...Animals have souls.....Its the humans I would have my doubts about. I LOVE ANIMALS...and,humans that love,and respect them.

8:05AM PST on Dec 26, 2008

i`LL TRY TO EXPRESS MYSELF,YOU KNOW MY ENGLISH NOT TOO GOOD..SINCE AMIMALS, SPECIALY SOME, ARE ABLE, SOMEHOW TO UNDERSTAND THAT THEY ARE BELOVED, AND GET QUICKLY WHEN WE ARE HAPPY, OR SAD, IN TROUBLES,, THEY HAVE A WAY TO SUPPORT and FACE THOSE THINGS, WHEN I SEE THE EYES OF MY DOG (TRESPELEQUE), and show me clearly that he loves me, ain`t imagining, is true, he also shows sad when i am sad, and with his tonge caress my face,
he also becomes jealous from another animals that i touch, when i`m in rush, he aparts but specially when he want`s me to touch him, a said that the only part he miss, is to talk, i am sure you herad this before..they`ve got ANIMA, that animates his body, an animated spiritual one..what is loyalty, faithfully, can all this exist without spirit or soul,? i don`t think so..thanks for sharin your thougths and ideas..bye

10:50AM PST on Dec 22, 2008

The more people I get to know, the more I love my cats. Of course animals have souls. This is yet one more reason why I'm a vegan.

10:01AM PST on Dec 19, 2008

i'm not too sure about that japanese robot dude. does he have a god complex. he builds robots with souls? or is it that a lost soul can find a home in a machine?

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