Manataka American Indian Council

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Do Animals Possess a Soul?

By Lee Standing Bear Moore and the Spirit of Takatoka


Most people in the world believe in showing devotion and reverence for a Higher Power, God, Creator, a deity or deities.  And, most people believe the soul is the spiritual essence of a human being.  But, there is controversy about the question of whether an animal possesses a soul.


Many pet owners may consider it difficult to believe they will not see their friends in heaven.  All animals have a personality, memory, emotions and different ways they commune with each other, the environment and humans.  It may be hard to believe that animals are no more than complex biological devices that have no spiritual feelings and when they die, they are gone forever.  Are animals that feel love and devotion just a biological machine without a spirit or soul?  And if so, what makes human beings any different?


Many people assume higher functioning animals, such as dogs and cats have souls, but at what point do we deny other species of animals, birds, fish, insects, or microbes the distinction of possessing a soul?  Do rabbits have a soul?  What about mice and gophers?  How about a snake or an amoeba?


A Senior Writer for and, Matthew McDermott of New York, says “…Scientific studies are showing us that many animal species have rich emotional lives, complex social interactions and advanced cognitive powers. Some even have a sense of fairness, and of right and wrong. The traditional Western scientific view—that animals are little more than unthinking, unfeeling biological machines, sharply distinguished from humans—is being upended. Though that process is certainly far from complete, last summer a conference of neuroscientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, produced “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.” Publicly proclaimed on July 7, 2012, it basically states that animals and humans are conscious and aware to the same degree as one another.”


Some religions, especially those believing in reincarnation, believe animals also possess a soul.  Some religions argue against the idea.  Many people admit they simply do not know the answer to that question.


Is there any evidence to prove the question one way or another?  We must assume the idea of animals having a soul is not important to most prominent theologians who avoid or simply dismiss the question entirely.  But, that is not to say there is not a great deal of discussion on the topic.  Every religious body presents a number of writers who strongly express their opinions.


While researching this article, Google returned 7,720,000 results in 2.7 seconds. Amazon gave us 475 books that mention the subject.  We reviewed a large number of websites and books but not one produced any significant evidence either way to prove the question about animal having a soul.   


So, how are we to know?


There are no expressed statements that animals do not have souls in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious books.  However, many Jews, Christians and Muslims say that only human beings have souls. 


From my own experience with a local Catholic church, the priests and nuns there believe that animals do not have a soul.  But, I also know that other Catholics believe animals have a ‘provisional’ soul that is limited to life and ceases after death.  Another group of Catholics believe that pet owners will not see the souls of their pets in heaven for the simple reason that they do not have immortal souls.


Even though the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not directly address the question of whether an animal has a soul, in 1990, Pope John Paul II publically declared that animals, like humans, were given the ‘breath of life’ by God"...also animals possess a soul… In this respect, man, created by the hand of God, is identical with all other living creatures..."  This was the first time in history the Roman Catholic Church directly addressed the issue. Even though the Holy Father pointed to a new direction, many Catholics continue to view animals as having only a temporary soul.


According to Vatican author, Mimmo Pacifici in Rome, Italy “…This affirmation of the Pontiff has aroused enormous interest the world over and has overjoyed many thousands of Catholics who for many years have been deeply concerned that the Church should reiterate and give back to animals the proper respect and moral dignity due to the animal world which is often discriminated against and long been considered inferior to that of men…”


A respected Reformed Presbyterian minister, James Montgomery Boice wrote Foundations of the Christian Faith where he says that humans have a body, soul, and spirit.  But he also believes that animals have only a body and soul.


According to Thomas M. Haley, a minister of the Disciples of Christ Christian Church, we do not have a statement concerning whether an animal has a soul or not.  “…However, I would suggest this idea would not be poo-pooed and referred to as scandalous.  My personal belief is that animals have souls and personalities similar to humans.  I know, I want to and I will see all my pets when I reach heaven – All God’s creatures have souls,” writes Reverend Haley.


The Reverend Dr Fred D. Wilcoxson, PhD, BCCC, PC, a Priest St Luke's Episcopal Church, Cleveland, TN says, ".... It is my belief that all living creatures have life (a soul) breathed into them by God the Son and that this soul will return to the Son when that animals earthly life is ended...they where all given a soul, and place in the circle of life. God the Creator of all things may have given man stewardship over the animals (which has been poorly managed over time) but did not leave them here for eternity..."


Ecclesiastes 3:19: "After all, the same fate awaits human beings and animals alike. One dies just like the other. They are the same kind of creature. A human being is no better off than an animal, because life has no meaning for either."

Ecclesiastes 3:21: "How can anyone be sure that the human spirit goes upward while an animal's spirit goes down into the ground?"

Many Evangelical Christians say that animals have a soul in the sense that they possess life, but in no way do they possess an eternal spirit According to Baptists, there are no biblical references to say that animals will be resurrected like humans.


Liberal Protestants, Anglicans, Methodists and Christian Orthodox are largely on the fence but lean towards the idea of acceptance that animals have souls.  Uncertainty exists in each church about whether animal souls are immortal.


Mormons (1810 CE) are certain about their belief about the souls of animals.  Melanie Cooper a spokesperson for the Church of Latter Day Saints writes, “…we do believe that all animals were created by our Father in Heaven they posses souls. Further we believe that animals existed as spirits, as did humans, before they came to earth. We call this period of time the pre-existence or premortal life…”  The Prophet Joseph Smith said that John of Revelations “…heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them…”


Sikhism (1469 CE – 1750 CE) is world's 5th largest religion that believes in vegetarianism and all things are equal.  “,,,Sikhs are very strong in their belief of reincarnation. All animals including humans have soul and our soul goes through different life forms until we purify it to become One with God…”


Judaism (1500 BCE – 63 BCE) says that animals have souls but will not be with people in paradise.  According to Rabbi Ilan Emanuel of South Street Temple in Lincoln, Nebraska, animal souls are at a lower level and not reunited with God in the afterlife.  "That doesn't mean the animal soul does not survive death, but it's probably not … with you in heaven," he said


Islam (600 C.E.) is fairly clear on the question of whether animals have a soul.  According to Counsellor Waleed Ahmed Najmeddine, “…Everything that Allah created has a soul… this includes the plant and animal kingdoms, the mountains, seas and oceans, planets, stars, for example, as each of them worships Allah in their own way. They do not have a free will as do humans and the Jinn.”  Some people of the Islamic faith believe the bodies of animals will be turned to dust after death and others say after the time of reckoning “…their spirits will live eternally…”


Over One Billion followers of Hinduism, (800 - 600 BCE) believe that every single being in the animal kingdom has a soul and has eternal life. According to Kaiyalya Jnani, insect life, plant life, and animal life are all forms of human beings from previous reincarnations and “…are stages in the cosmic life cycle of every soul atman. On its cosmic journey every soul is required to work out its karma to remove the impurities within. Only then the soul atman (the spiritual life principle of the universe) regains its original pure pristine form.”


Buddhism (543 BCE) has an interesting slant on the question of animal souls. Buddhists believe all souls, including those of animals and human beings rejoin the universe after death and cease to be individuals.  These souls are later reborn as someone or ‘something’ new.  This concept differs significantly with reincarnation. As a theme throughout the 84,000 teachings of Buddha, is the idea of “anatta” that proposes the way to reach enlightenment is to remove “self” and meditate on the infinite being of God.  This means there is no heaven and there is no life as individual souls after death. 


Many American Indian cultures believe that animals possess spirits from the Creator. The whole of creation including all things in the cosmos are permanently imbued with the spirit of God, and as such, all of nature is One, regardless of whatever form or presence they may exhibit over time. 


The American Indian philosophy developed thousands of years before the advent of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and most of the other forty major religions of the world. American Indian philosophy may be a synthesis of all these religions with regard to its advanced thought on the existence of the soul of the animal.  American Indian cultures not only believe that all God’s creatures have souls, but they also include mountains, rivers, trees and plants and the air we breathe all have souls.


In ancient times, American Indian cultures believed that all of creation communicated with each other without the use of spoken words or sounds, a kind of mental telepathy, using a higher form of consciousness through vibration.  This ‘knowing’ was confirmation of the Oneness of all things.  

"From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things: the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals, and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery." -- Chief Luther Standing Bear, Sioux


According to Don Coyhis, an elder of the Mohican Nation and publisher, “The Great Spirit has six things that make up this life force. They are life, love, intelligence, soul, principle, and truth. These are the reasons the life cycle continues. None of this can be altered by man, but we can have access to these powers any time we wish…”


Many American Indians cultures believe all living things have a spiritual aspect and are part of the universal, omnipotent spirit of God.



This survey of world religions shows there is no rock-solid evidence to prove that animals do or do not have a soul.  Likewise, there is no concrete evidence that says humans do or do not have a soul. 


Do animals have souls?  It is impossible to know using the dogma and doctrine of religion.  Using logic as our guide, it remains difficult to tell.  So, why not err on the side of love and accept all things on the same equal ground?


Therefore, because man has the opinion that all human beings have a soul, it would seem fair to believe that animals also have one too.  Further, we could conceivably believe that all living things have a spiritual aspect of themselves, a soul.  Going one step more, would it be impossible for us to believe that all things, animated and inanimate, have a spirit from God – because all things are created by God?  If that idea becomes possible, would it not then be plausible to believe that all forms of matter represent part of one huge spirit?  


In such a belief, all things in the universe become brothers and sisters.  All things require our respect and love, even down to the least among us – a flea or a fly, a worm or a tick.  This concept is not new.  American Indian philosophy has held this to be true for millennia.  It is an idea whose time has come to be understood, felt and acted upon by all human beings, regardless of their dogmatic religion.



“…For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” 



 “Who knows that the breath [spirit] of man ascends upward and the breath [spirit] of the beast descends downward to the earth?"  Ecclesiastes 3:19-21