Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reezus Reist Ris Ry Rord Rand Ravior

Why wouldn't our lickity pals be able to chase that frisbee through the pearly gates? A heaven without our furry friends would seem like rather less than a delightful place.

But that doesn't mean that there might not be folks out there whose theology is friendly. As I fished around in my noggin for a hypothetical reason some compulsive Calvinist might deny eternal reward to a pup, I was only able to come up with one. So, here goes:

For many Christians, it is axiomatic that a prerequisite for entry into heaven is professing faith in Jesus as one's Lord and Savior. In fact, that's a pretty standard refrain for those who would consider themselves pure-bred orthodox. If faith in Jesus is a necessary prerequisite for salvation, then dogs and cats and sea monkeys are pretty much out of luck. Just getting Ms. Barkerton not to poop on the rug is hard enough. But getting her to speak and...believe in the salvific power of Jesus Christ? I'm not sure that even the most dedicated megachurch doggie training ministry could pull that one off.

From that radical position, salvation is two things. First, it is intensely anthropocentric. Meaning, about humans, kids. True, deep and right relationship with the Creator is only something that applies to humankind, which is made in the image of God. Other creatures, being less Goddy, are just SOL. Second, the fulfillment of that right relationship with our Creator can only be worked through faith in Jesus Christ. As animals...even the smarter ones...are not capable of having that faith, they're presumably just consigned to nonexistence. Their earnest howling and meyowling isn't part of the heavenly choir.

If your pastor is a heartless pharisaic sunnavabeetch, this is what he'll tell your children when your dog dies. Should that be even a remote possibility, I recommend finding another church.

But this theological position...which is the only one I could come up with...has within it a major flaw. Beyond it's obnoxiousness, I mean. If we are being truly orthodox about the purpose of Christ's saving work among us, we understand that work as undoing the brokenness that was wrought in the Fall. From that second creation story in Genesis, humankind drifted out of the perfect awareness of our place in Creation and with our Creator. We ate of the knowledge of evil...for we already knew the good...and drove ourselves from the Garden. By we, I mean "human beings." From a strictly Biblical perspective, there is no evidence that any other creature other than the serpent shares in our fallen state.

Dogs aren't fallen creatures. Neither are gerbils or hamsters. I'm not so sure about some cats, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. And if animals are not fallen, then they are not in need of reconciliation and restoration to be what God meant them to be. We're messed up, sure. We find all sorts of ways to not be the gracious, just, and loving beings we are intended to be. But they already are what they were intended to be. As such, there is no doctrine of sin that could meaningfully apply to them. And if that's the case, well, there's no reason that the pets of even the most rigidly orthodox can't join them in the hereafter.

Of course, this is all working within the framework of orthodox Christian thinking. Though I buy it in part, I'm...well...not quite that person.

So next post, I'll get around to presenting my own spiritual sense of this pressing, pressing issue. ;)