Post 5.4 - Soul

A Facets Reader asks:
Do animals have a soul?
Short answer #1: I don't know if I have a soul to know if animals do.

Short answer #2: Some Christian dogma states that only humans have souls.

Short answer #3: I had a childhood caregiver who believed her dog was the reincarnation of Julius Caesar.

So. Um. Yeah.

Putting all of that aside, we need a working definition of what a 'soul' is in order to discuss this in any meaningful way.

So here's the definition supplied by Dictionary.com:

soul [sohl]

-noun

  1. the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part.
  2. the spiritual part of humans regarded in its moral aspect, or as believed to survive death and be subject to happiness or misery in a life to come: arguing the immortality of the soul.
  3. the disembodied spirit of a deceased person: He feared the soul of the deceased would haunt him.
  4. the emotional part of human nature; the seat of the feelings or sentiments.
  5. a human being; person.
  6. high-mindedness; noble warmth of feeling, spirit or courage, etc.
  7. the animating principle; the essential element or part of something.
  8. the inspirer or moving spirit of some action, movement, etc.
  9. the embodiment of some quality: He was the very soul of tact.
  10. ( initial capital letter ) Christian Science . God; the divine source of all identity and individuality.
  11. shared ethnic awareness and pride among black people, especially black Americans.
  12. deeply felt emotion, as conveyed or expressed by a performer or artist.
  13. soul music
Hmm. It seems even the dictionary can't move away from a Christian paradigm for this word, since it references humans so much.

Ok, let's take the first definition and modify it slightly: 
soul [sohl]: n. the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in living beings, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of a living being as distinct from the physical part.
So if we analyze this question based on this definition, I think the initial answer is yes; animals are living creatures, are capable of feeling emotion (even if only limited levels, depending on the species), are capable of conscious thought and conscious action. Some animals are clearly cunning and complicated in their thought processes toward achieving a specific goal.

Now, as to the second and third parts of the definition, it all becomes murkier. But then, I think it can be murky for humans, too, dependent on personal belief. The soul or spirit is not a measurable phenomenon, simply a belief. Research into the workings of the brain continue to show that our sapient consciousness is an emergent property, which is a fancy way of saying that we are greater than the sum of our parts. The brain, while orderly in some ways, is a bit messy in how it all functions.

Growing up, when I thought of the "soul" or "spirit", I imagined it inhabiting my abdomen or the center of my being - not my head. To me, it's an energy imprint, changing shape and color based on a person's current emotional state and experience. A bit New Age-y, but we're having an unusual discussion here.

I think we can agree, however, that animals also possess a collection of experiences and memories, some have overt jobs, some are unexpected heroes - clearly more than the sum of their parts. Even a wild gorilla saved a human child a few years back.

I think if you believe in a human soul, you have to necessarily believe in an animal soul. It isn't just a question of spirituality, because one could further assume that any deity would apply different rules to a non-sapient creature than to one who could choose to be good or bad rather than act solely on instinct, training, or some form of causal logic. And I think any pet owner would agree that they would want to be in an afterlife with their pets - or it wouldn't be heaven or paradise or whatever positive word they might use. Animals also have different dispositions and personalities, just as humans do, and for many of the same reasons of evolution and upbringing. Abused animals and abused children both carry such scars for life, for example.

I also know it is often a great comfort to think of a lost loved one being comforted and simply kept company by previously deceased, devoted pets. So if there is a Heaven or a Paradise or Elysian Fields or whatever, it's probably crowded.

So that's my opinion. Thanks to the Facets Reader for the topic suggestion.

Have a question or a suggestion for a topic? E-mail me at facetsblog@gmail.com.

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