Do all dogs go to heaven? Pope Francis this week staked out his position in that crucial debate when he told a little boy whose dog had recently died that paradise is open to all of God’s creatures (paywall).
His position contrasts starkly with that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who took after Ivan Drago (video) and said that when animals die, they just die. The consensus among the Christian denominations seems to be that, as Pope John Paul II said in 1990, animals do have souls. But they don’t all agree on whether or not they’re welcomed into heaven along with people.
Among other religions, Mormons have a clear position, declaring that yes of course animals can go to heaven. Here’s what a few other faiths have to say about the issue.
Islam offers no clear answer. In Islam all souls are eternal, including those of animals. But in order to get to heaven, or Jannah, beings must be judged by God on Judgment Day, and some Muslim scholars say animals are not judged as humans are. Others say that they are judged, but it’s unsettled what exactly happens to them thereafter. The Qur’an does say that those who enter paradise can have whatever they want, so perhaps you could just bring your pet.
Buddhism says that among the realms a being can be reborn into, there are several “heavens,” though they are not permanent places. Eventually the cycle begins again and one is reborn into another place, and this continues until Nirvana. Buddhism also sees animals as sentient beings like humans, and says that humans can be reborn as animals and animals can be reborn as humans. So given that, the question of whether or not animals can go to heaven doesn’t really apply to Buddhists. Humans and animals are all interconnected.
Hinduism also outlines a type of reincarnation, in which a being’s eternal soul, or jiva, is reborn on a different plane after death, continuing until the soul is liberated (moksha). Animals have souls, but most Hindu scholars say that animal souls evolve into the human plane during the reincarnation process. So, yes, animals are a part of the same life-death-rebirth cycle that humans are in, but at some point they cease to be animals and their souls enter human bodies so they can be closer to God.
Judaism is rather fuzzy on whether or not “heaven” or “hell” exists. There are various places mentioned in Jewish texts that bear resemblance to heaven and hell, but they’re difficult to parse out. So it should come as no surprise that Judaism is also unclear about whether or not animals can go to these places. Some rabbis say they do, others say they do not.
What’s clear, however, is that animals do have souls in Judaism. Jews who keep kosher don’t eat the blood of birds and mammals because that’s where their souls are said to be held. That leads us right back into the unclear zone, however, as there’s no consensus on what an animal “soul” is, and whether it is as important or as divine as a human soul.
But since Judaism clearly says that animals are created by God, are capable of suffering, and need to be cared for, I hereby declare (as a Jew) that my dog can come with me to heaven. Cats are not welcome, as I am allergic.