Are Dogs Religious? Do Dogs Go To Heaven?

Dear Pastor Roger:
Please allow me a request that is a bit off subject. For all us Casas’ folks who love dogs could you do us a favor. Would you write down your method for training your dogs. Thanks so much.
Sincerely,
Kenton


Dear Kenton,




Let me answer your initial question and then deal with two relevant questions you didn’t ask: “Can dogs be religious? and, Do dogs go to Heaven?”

Julie and I love our dogs. I never knew they could become such an integral part of our lives. As you know in Psalm 23 David mentioned “Goodness” and “Mercy”. These are the names of the two sheep dogs who watch over God’s flock: “Surely, Goodness and Mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”

Several years ago, Becky, our fourteen-year-old border collie, went to be with the Lord. After an appropriate time of grieving, we looked for another dog. Julie fell in love with a lovely Golden Retriever puppy we met in Oklahoma City. We flew home to Tucson with the puppy under Julie’s seat. Since I eventually wanted three dogs, “Surely”, “Goodness” and “Mercy”, we named the Golden, “Surely”.

After several months of chewed-up furniture and our failure to teach her to come on command, we needed help. I knew how to pastor a church. I had no idea how to train a dog. So we went in search of Melanie Guthrie. Melanie has years of experience in dog and horse training and showing. Guard dogs are her specialty. She’s trained many of the movie animals at Old Tucson Movie Studios. Within three weeks Surely was acting like a soldier at dress parade!

We bought our Welsh Corgie from a breeder in Phoenix. When he ripped the cloth skirt off the couch in our den we returned to Melanie. Goodness (we call him “Goody” for short) is a tough, little cattle dog. She needed four weeks with him.

So Kenton, the direct answer to your question is that Melanie is our “method.” Melanie’s phone number is 520-886-1010. Her ranch is on the far-east side of Tucson.

Now I want to locate, “Mercy.” But Julie says, “No.” I have to agree that three dogs are one too many for our household. Who knows? Perhaps, one day we will have “Mercy” watching over us as well.

Now, let’s deal with two questions you didn’t ask: “Can dogs be religious?” and “Do dogs go to Heaven?”

First, can dogs be religious? The answer has to do with theories of the Mind. Mind theories come in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, several essentials are common to all of them if religion is to develop. One essential is the concept of self awareness. Self aware individuals see themselves and others as distinct entities. Only the self aware can conceive of another individual apart from themselves whom they might identify as a separate, divine supreme being.

The next essential is what we might call causal curiosity—most religions look for causes behind things that occur in life. The explanations often take the form of actions attributed to a thinking deity. When lightning strikes and earthquakes rumble humans ask, “Why?” Today, we know the real causes behind lightning and earthquakes. However, in different times and places many cultures attributed the causes to the actions of separate entities called they called “gods”.

The final essential for religion is the ability to have insight into the thinking, motives and intentions of others. For example, was there something that angered the gods and caused them to send a storm in judgment? If so, what could they do to placate the gods to preclude future judgment? Consider the statement: “Life is great. God is blessing me!” All three dimensions of distinct entities, the search for causes and the ability to read into the motives and thoughts of others are demonstrated here. Likewise, consider this statement: “My wheat was destroyed by a swarm of locusts. I probably did something to anger the gods.” Again, here are all three essentials.

Let’s apply the same three criteria to dogs. Are dog’s self aware? New research is pointing to the conclusion that the answer may well be “yes.” The mirror test to see if dogs recognize themselves as distinct from the dog in the mirror is a poor test. Dog’s brains do not understand mirrors in the same way that most all dogs fail to recognize dogs on television or in the same way why dogs do not recognize their masters’ voices on telephones. Goody is not Surely. They both know it. Surely and Goody have different and distinct personalities. I observe is that Surely and Goody both know who they are and who they are not. They are aware of their own needs and have multiple ways of making known their wishes and desires. By the way, researchers have identified over twenty-different barks and sounds that dogs use to communicate both with humans and with other dogs.

Are dog curious? Of course they are. Do dogs search for causes? Of course they do. Surely continually scrapes her nose as she sticks it under the fence to investigate the other side. Goody spends a lot of time investigating the yard to see what he can find. “Do dogs search for the causes of actions and events around them. My daughter’s and son-in-law’s dog Maverick was extremely curious. He learned to turn the door knob to let himself out of the house. He watched Brie and Derrek open the door and figured out the connection between the door knob turning and the door opening. They now lock the door with a key. The key is well hidden and out of Maverick’s reach. Who knows what might happen if they let him have his own key!

Can dogs read the minds, motives and intentions of others? Surely surreptitiously sneaks discarded food from the kitchen garbage can when the opportunity presents itself. She waits patiently until Julie and I leave the kitchen and then sneaks for the garbage. One day I hid around the corner and waited until she made her move. As I stepped out from my hiding place she froze with a look on her face that said, “I’ve just been busted.” She knew—that I knew—exactly what she was up to. She backed slowly out of the kitchen.

Bronwyn and Ricky, my other daughter and son-in-law, have two miniature dachshunds. Bailey lives a life of frantic curiosity; Beauford lives a life of quiet contemplation. The other night Bronwyn finished her bowl of oatmeal and placed it on a tray beside the couch. Beauford never acknowledged the existence of the half-filled bowl. At bedtime all four piled into bed for the night. At 2:00 a.m. Bronwyn awoke to the sound of clanking in the den. She frantically shook Ricky awake and whispered, “Some one’s in the house. You go look in the den!” Beauford was on the couch eating left-over oatmeal; the spoon clanked with each lick.

According to Bronwyn’s interpretation, Beauford knew that if he went immediately for the bowl Bronwyn would remove it. So, he planned carefully for a later maneuver. After she and Ricky were fast asleep he made his move.

Dogs can conceive of other entities. Dogs can discern the causes behind certain actions. Dogs seemingly can read the intentions and motives of others (at least to some degree).

Of course, engaging in these rudimentary abilities does actually not mean nor make any one religious! Conceptualizing and engaging in a working religion involves navigating an incredible number of multiple levels. Trying to sort out the desires of God, the meaning and interpretation of the Scriptures and the relationships with other church people is incredibly complex.

I doubt seriously that dogs are religious.

But, just for a moment, let’s consider an animal species with a much higher intelligence level than dogs. Some chimpanzies are able to communicate with humans by using sign language. Some have over 400 word vocabularies. Some chimp moms have passed on sign language words to their offspring.

The jury is still out over whether chimpanzees are religious! However, it is quite intriguing that during thunderstorms chimpanzees often congregate with their hands in the air and their hair on end as they sway and shuffle together in what some consider a form of dancing. Are they superstitious? Are the afraid? Are they worshipping? Final answers must await further studies.

Let’s consider the final question: Do dogs go to Heaven?

Psalm 49 is called “The Psalm Of The Rich Materialist”. A materialist is one who lives for riches and not for the Lord. Note the contrast between the spiritual man (with body, soul and spirit) who lives for eternity and the materialist (with only body and soul) who lives for the now.

Psalm 49:12-20 declares: “But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish…. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, … death will feed on them…. But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself…. Do not be overawed when a man grows rich,… Though while he lived he counted himself blessed—and men praise you when you prosper—he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light [of life]. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”

The phrase, “like the beasts that perish” implies that there is no life after death for animals. In the same way there is no life after death for materialists. In Psalm 49 materialists are compared to animals who have bodies and souls, but no spirits. If animals have no spirits, then they are incapable of living on into the next life—neither are rich materialists.

On the other hand, I long to see Becky again! So I look to Paul’s concept of redemption in Romans eight. According to Paul the entire creation will one day be redeemed.

Romans 8:18-22 declares: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

Do dogs go to Heaven? Fortunately, Walt Disney has the definitive answer. He even made a movie about it entitled, “All Dogs Go To Heaven?” Can the answer be any clearer than that! I am looking forward to great reunions in Heaven with friends and family. Then, after I see Jesus, I want Becky to lick my hand—and me to rub her tummy—one more time!

Kenton, you did not ask about cats. So, I will. “Do cats of to Heaven?” Who knows! This is one of those $1,000,000 questions. Who can understand what goes on in the mind of a cat!

In closing, Kenton, Thank you for asking your question. I hope you don’t mind me taking some extra liberties in answering it. I had fun. I hope you did to.

Love,
Roger

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