Post-Rapture pet care: What will happen to your cats and dogs on Judgment Day?

Answers to your questions about the news.
May 20 2011 3:15 PM

No Dogs Go to Heaven

But they don't go to hell, either.

Judgement day. Click image to expand.
Participants in a movement that is proselytizing that the world will end this Saturday gather on a street corner in New York City

The Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday that a New Hampshire company is offering post-Rapture pet care for Christians who believe, according to the predictions of Christian radio personality Harold Camping, that Judgment Day is this Saturday. Those willing to pay the (recently increased) $135 fee for the service seem to be operating under the principle that their pets will not be saved. But what is the official word on Fido's chances of making it through the Second Coming?

Julia  Felsenthal Julia Felsenthal

Julia Felsenthal is an assistant at Slate.

Not very good. Like all matters of theology, the question of animal salvation is complicated and subject to much interpretation. Camping, who has not been affiliated with a church since 1988, believes that animals do not have souls, and therefore do not experience salvation or ascension to heaven. An animal, when he dies, simply ceases to exist. Many mainstream Christian theologians agree with him. Since the high Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church began framing its understanding of nature and the supernatural in Aristotelian terms, the standard Christian interpretation has been that human beings have an immortal soul, and cannot die, but other forms of life do not, and can.

Animal-loving Christians beg to differ. They point to the presence of animals in certain Bible passages that describe how Heaven might look. In Acts 10, for example, the apostle Peter has a vision of a great sheet descending from heaven, and opening up to reveal "all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air." And in Revelation 5:13 animals gather peacefully around God's throne.

Literal interpretation of the Bible can, of course, be misleading: Animals in the Bible often appear for symbolic purposes. Though Peter's vision could point to the existence of heaven populated by animals, theologians tend to interpret Peter's vision of this celestial motley crew as God's way of demonstrating his own inclusivity—a realization that then leads Peter to infer that he can preach Christianity to Gentiles as well as Jews.

Nevertheless, some heavyweight Christian philosophers have sided with the animal-lovers. John Wesley, whose preaching eventually became the basis of Methodism, wrote in the 18th century of the restoration of "the whole brute creation," i.e., the animal world. Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian active around the turn of the 20th century, also made reference to animal life in his writings on salvation. And in the 20th century, C.S. Lewis struggled with the question of animals' place in heaven. In The Great Divorce, a Divine Comedy-esque fantasy of a trip through heaven and hell, Lewis works through the scripturally difficult notion that, through their relationship to humans, pets might actually enter the realm of heaven.

More recently, a Franciscan Friar named Jack Wintz has taken up the mantle of animal salvation. In 2003, he wrote an article for the Catholic magazine St. Anthony Messenger titled "Will I See My Little Doggy in Heaven?." Wintz points to the stories of creation, Noah's Ark, and Jonah, and to the vision of St. Francis of Assisi—that all living beings are part of a single family—as evidence for God's plan to save all creatures, not just mankind. In 2009, Wintz adapted the article into a book called Will I See My Dog in Heaven?. One year later, he repackaged it under the more confident title, I Will See You in Heaven.

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Explainer thanks Deirdre Good of General Theological Seminary,Roger Haight of Union Theological Seminary, Obery Hendricks of New York Theological Seminary, Christopher Morse of Union Theological Seminary and author of The Difference Heaven Makes, and Father Elric Sampson of the Order of Friars Minor.