A remake of the 1989 movie “Pet Sematary,” based on the horror novel by Stephen King, has wrapped production and is expected to be released early next year. According to the author’s official website, the novel tells the story of a Chicago family who moves to a small town in Maine where local children have built a cemetery “for the dogs and cats killed by the steady stream of transports on the busy highway.” Another graveyard lies beyond the one for pets, “an ancient Indian burial ground” with sinister properties.
King isn't the only author to delve into the apparent afterlife of pets (in his case a zombie resurrection). A 1913 book by Elliott O’Donnell entitled “Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter” begins in its preface, “If human beings, with all their vices, have a future life, assuredly animals, who in character so often equal, nay, excel human beings, have a future life also.” O'Donnell then makes a religious argument that animals have a place in heaven.
Q. Beyond the scares of King's and Elliott's supernatural stories and other horror tales throughout the ages lie questions for theologians: Are animals capable of making moral choices, and if so, can dogs and cats go to heaven? Or is a pet cemetery the final resting place for the four-legged loved ones buried there?
Do animals have souls? The Kabbalah teaches us that there are different levels of souls:
An animal can have at least the first level of soul, instinct but some animals can rise to the second level of soul. In fact, the Hebrew word for dog is Kelev, which translates as “like the heart.” As we know, in the ancient world the heart was seen as the seat of emotion, hence, the concept that dogs must have ruach, spirit or emotion.
The most interesting use of this concept deals with reincarnation. Yes, Judaism believes in reincarnation. It is called Gilgul Nefesh, transmigration of souls. Most Kabbalists believe that reincarnation only goes from human to human differing from Hinduism. However, there is a minority school of mystics who believe for your sins you can be reincarnated as something other than human, either animal, vegetable or mineral.
Thus, I am asked, “Could Hitler be reincarnated?” I have and will continue to answer, “Yes!”
“As a fire Hydrant in Beverly Hills. Pee, dog, pee with emotion!”
May all your reincarnations be good ones!
Rabbi Mark Sobel
Temple Beth Emet
I’m with the guy who said that if human beings can get into heaven, then surely animals can too. They’re capable of all the same virtues and vices we are, and even their vices seem more innocent somehow, more purely driven by DNA than by whim, selfishness or cruelty. Some people question whether animals have souls, but anyone who’s ever spent significant time with them knows that they do.
Of course, this whole question is theologically outdated. Progressive theologians have, first, stopped thinking of heaven as a “place” where one “goes,” and instead view eternal life as a state of being, a union into the invisible, impalpable heart and presence of God.
Second, we have all but stopped framing eternal life in moral terms, as a matter of reward and punishment for deeds done in life. Morality is too time- and culture-bound to be an adequate framework for eternity. (Does an 18th century slave owner go to hell, who was acting within the moral compass of his day?) And even if morality is a factor, God’s capacity for mercy far exceeds ours, making a divine mockery of any human pronouncement of punishment, and making human ideas of reward irrelevant.
Though not all of them show it, animals have as much or more capacity than we do, to imitate and share in the nature of God. My dog is far more capable of unconditional love than I am, and also more able to achieve a state of pure enjoyment of life — both very God-like qualities.
So although we don’t really know what “heaven” is, nor what the parameters are for “getting into” it, since animals are capable of sharing in the nature of God, then surely they belong in heaven.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge
Real life holds enough horror for me, thus I feel no need to read Stephen King’s books and mostly avoid scary movies too. Right now earthlings seem to be having a particularly rough patch, so yes, by all means, let us focus on fantasy for a bit. Who wouldn’t enjoy knowing that there can be another life, better than the one we lived, after we die?
But even our imaginings have roots in reality. Mr. King endured major traumas as a child, suffered painful injuries in a hit-and-run accident as an adult, and has spoken openly about his years of binging on drugs and alcohol, including delivering his mother’s eulogy while he was three sheets to the wind. I see the image of a grieving son, numbing himself to get through his mom’s funeral, reappearing later in his novel as a zombied pet.
Animals have no life after this earthly one. Yes, our bodies will try to return to the earth, which to me is a kind of everlasting life — as much as they can given our ridiculous burial practices of caskets, vaults, and embalming — but consciousness will cease with physical death. We will exist in the memories of those we leave behind, and in any artifacts that survive to be experienced in the future, as author King’s books will be.
Beyond that, our time here is our one chance, be it heaven, hell or some of each. It is entirely up to humans which of those we make it, for ourselves and for the other animals.
Except for the Stephen King movie “Pet Sematary,” the notion of a pet cemetery never crosses my mind. My idea of pet cemetery is a hole in the backyard, but I know that some people think of their pets as children and so burial in a dedicated place seems right to them. As to whether the animals justify such treatment is another thing altogether, and what some would call "Fluffy" other cultures would call "delicious," and it makes one wonder what it would be like in heaven if all the billions of KFC chickens wound up underfoot in that eternal state.
I only recently passed by a pet cemetery as I was going through San Bernardino, and it got me wondering about the place so I inquired. It seems that those of you who would be excited to visit and have a Coco experience or enjoy some Halloween-y fun are out of luck, unless you actually have an animal buried there. But are there really canine, feline, equine and other "ines" spooking about the graveyard? No, and I think Elliot O'Donnell abandoned his minister father's teaching saying, “Man—save in cunning—is nothing superior either to the dog, horse, or other mammalia.” Christians would disagree with this statement, as God created man (alone) in his own image, and it was in the image of man that God appeared as Jesus Christ. He didn't come as a pig to bring salvation to swine, although I do not doubt that animals have souls, as they are most definitely alive and they exhibit personality. I hold that only man has an enduring spirit with an everlasting destination either above or below; animals are neither punished nor rewarded for their moral capacity to obey God and so existence ends here for the animal kingdom. Could God bring Fluffy back for the pleasure of his saints in paradise? I suppose he could, but would it really be the same creature or something more on the order of a clone since Fluffy had literally ceased to be?
The Bible is clear that death for humans translates to an afterlife. It says little about animals except that we are to care for them while they are here. The issue of animal fate is really not of paramount importance to Christian doctrine, so feel free to disagree.
Rev. Bryan Griem