Stephen H. Webb
Do All Good Dogs Go to Heaven?
What do you say when your child loses a pet and asks you if her dog will go to heaven? Or, more likely today given the faddishness of vegetarianism, what do you say when your teenager asks you why you eat meat? Indeed, what should the church say to the growing animal-rights movement? Most of us have a beloved pet, but must we love all animals? Is that practical, or even possible? Does even God do that?
The animal-rights movement has been around at least since the early nineteenth century, although classical thinkers often wrote about animals, and some, like Pythagoras, advocated vegetarianism (a term that was not coined until the 1840s). The earliest animal advocates in England were Christians who were also worried about the treatment of children and the working conditions of the poor. In its modern guise, however, the animal-rights movement is often hostile to religion and single-minded in its focus on animals.
Most Christians rightfully distance themselves from a movement that blames Judaism and Christianity for negative Western attitudes about animals. When the animal-rights movement is not scapegoating Christianity for every abused animal, it is turning to bad theology for a supporting framework. Many writers about animals are committed to a pantheistic affirmation of the entire world that leaves no room for the uniqueness of human rationality and responsibility. Such pantheism views animals as manifestations of the divine. In the theology of animal rights, the Fall occurs when men take Genesis literally and set out to dominate nature. Paradise, according to this theology, is not a world where community is restored under a benevolent authority. Instead, paradise would be achieved when the government guarantees every individual's (including every animal's) right to be left alone by everyone else.
There is no doubt that bad theology often drives out good theology, but that should not keep us from asking about the biblical foundations for an answer to the animal-rights ...