The Human Side of Animals by Royal Dixon is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Chapter XV - The Future life of Animals
"Ah, poor companion! when thou followedst last
Thy master's parting footsteps to the gate
Which closed forever on him, thou didst lose
Thy best friend, and none was left to plead
For the old age of brute fidelity.
But fare thee well. Mine is no narrowed creed;
And He who gave thee being did not frame
The mystery of Life to be the sport
Of merciless man. There is another world
For all that live and move—a better one!
Where the proud bipeds, who would fain confine
Of their own charity, may envy thee."
—Southey (on the death of his dog).
The old belief is still prevalent that the Bible teaches that of all living creatures man alone is immortal. This erroneous belief springs out of man's egotism, however, and is not substantiated by the Scriptures. Among many of the Old Testament writers we find that immortality was assured for neither man nor animals; whereas, with the larger revelation of the New Testament, immortality is no longer questioned for any living creature.
There are, of course, many supposedly intelligent people who deny to animals the power of reason, and attribute all their marvellous powers and abilities to blind instinct. It is, therefore, not the least bit surprising that the vast majority of people believe that when an animal dies, its life principle dies also. The animating power, they believe, is destroyed, and the body returns to the dust.
These mistaken conclusions are largely, if not wholly, due to two passages of Scripture, one of which is in the Psalms and the other in Ecclesiastes. The one most often quoted, from the Psalms, runs in the authorised version: "Nevertheless, man being in honor, abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish." This verse is frequently quoted as decisive of the whole question. The other passage, which is found in Ecclesiastes, reads: "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?"
It is upon the authority of these two passages that we are supposed to believe that when an animal dies, its life has gone forever, departed, expired. In this new age of thought and discovery, we do not attempt to explain a passage of Scripture, no matter how simple it may appear to be, without referring to the original text, that we may see if the translator has kept the true sense of the words and adequately expressed their significance, remembering that words often change their meaning, and that the original use of a word may have conveyed exactly the opposite meaning to that which we at present attach to it.
But if we accept the passage just as it stands, with the literal meaning of the words as is usually understood, there is but one conclusion—animals have no future life. Death ends all for them. But, on the other hand, if we are to take the literal interpretation of the Bible only, we are forced to believe that man, as well as the animals, has no life after death. Surely the book of Psalms is full of examples to support this literal interpretation. For example, "In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave, who shall give thee thanks?" Again, "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence." Or, "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." These quotations could be greatly added to, and if taken in their literal sense, we would reach but one conclusion—death ends all for every living creature! Nothing in all the literature of the earth could be more gloomy and discouraging than these quotations with numerous others that contemplate death. Yet, vain man takes one little passage that seemingly denies a future life to animals from the same book that many times over denies a future life to mankind; in fact, there are five times as many Scripture passages claiming for man that all ends in death as there are for animals. Over and over we are told that those who have died have no remembrance of God, and cannot praise Him. The Bible speaks of death as the "land of forgetfulness,"—the place of darkness, where all man's thoughts perish. Nothing more than this could be said of the "animals that perish!"
Other Biblical writers referred to mankind as those who "dwell in houses of clay," and Job says: "They are destroyed from morning to evening; they perish forever, without any regarding it." In another place he says: "As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away, so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more." Again he speaks of "the land of darkness and the shadow of death," and says: "Man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: so man lieth down, and riseth not." Job laments the pitiable conditions of his life, and complains that life was ever granted to him, and that even death can bring nothing to him except extinction.
Yet, if we examine Ecclesiastes, the book in which we find the single passage upon which many people base a belief in the non-future existence of animals, there are passages which are really no more positive as to the future of mankind. For example, "I said in my heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them. As the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath, so that a man has no pre-eminence over a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to the dust again." Again it is said: "For the living know that they shall die, but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten;" and "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest."
By interpreting these words literally, there is but one conclusion relative to a future spiritual life, namely, that there is absolutely no distinction between man and his "lower brother" animals, and that when they die they all go to the same place. It is emphatically said that after death man knows nothing, receives no reward, and can do no work. Job has the same gloomy strain running through his writings, and Ecclesiastes gives a most morbid and gloomy view of death.
However, no modern Biblical scholar accepts these passages in this literal light, for it is known that they were written symbolically, or as parables, and were not intended to be literally interpreted. They have a spiritual significance. We are, however, not interested here so much with this spiritual sense as we are with the literal implication of the translation. Therefore, according to this literal meaning of the two texts, if we accept them to prove that animals have no future life, we are forced to believe by at least fourteen passages, of equal if not greater power, that man shares their same fate after death. No man has a right to select certain passages from the same book of the Bible and say that they shall be accepted literally, and that other passages of equal merit shall be interpreted otherwise. They must all be treated the same.
All scholars are familiar with that remarkable eleventh book of Homer's Odyssey, known as the Necromanteia, or Invocation of the Dead, and in it Ulysses descends into the regions of the departed spirits to invoke them and obtain advice as to his future adventures. One commentator says: "He sails to the boundaries of the ocean, and lands in the country of the Cimmerians, who dwell in perpetual cloud and darkness, and in whose country are the gates leading to the regions of the dead." All is darkness, discontent, hunger; nothing is said of virtue, wisdom, beauty, happiness. Only bitter gloom! No wonder this heathen poet considered, with such views of a future life, sensual pleasures as the chief object of this life.
The following dialogue between the inhabitants of the earth and the dweller in the regions of the dead—between Ulysses and Achilles—is remarkable for its horrible depiction of the future life:
"Through the thick gloom his friend Achilles knew,
As he speaks the tears dissolve in dew.
'Comest thou alive to view the Stygian bounds,
Where the wan spectres walk eternal rounds;
Nor fear'st the dark and dismal waste to tread,
Thronged with pale ghosts familiar with the dead?'
To whom with sighs, 'I pass these dreadful gates
To seek the Theban, and consult the Fates;
For still distressed I roam from coast to coast,
Lost to my friends and to my country lost.
But sure the eye of Time beholds no name
So blessed as thine in all the rolls of fame;
Alive we hailed thee with our guardian gods,
And, dead thou rulest a king in these abodes.'
'Talk not of ruling in this dolorous gloom,
Nor think vain words (he cried) can ease my doom.
Rather I'd choose laboriously to bear
A weight of woes and breathe the vital air,
A slave for some poor hind that toils for bread,
Than reign the sceptered monarch of the dead.'"
Yet, even this outpouring of hopeless words by the heathen poet is encouraging when compared to the writings of the Psalmist, of Solomon or Job, for those who have gone beyond the grave still have memory, an interest in their friends on earth, love and desire. But no such hope exists for man, if we are to accept literally all the passages of Scripture which have been quoted. By such interpretation, man passes after death into eternal darkness, forgetfulness, silence, "where there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom—where even his very thoughts perish." If these particular passages are to be accepted as final on the subject, there is no future life for either man or animal. They are too definite to admit of any interpretation that might soften or alter their meaning.
It may be shocking to some to compare the belief of an ancient Greek and the teachings of a Latin Epicurean with the sacred writings of the Bible. Yet, it may be even more startling to point out that some of the teachings of the Epicurean sensualist are quite as good as some of those of the writers of the sacred texts, and that those of the Greek poet are far better and more spiritual! There is no denying that these are the facts, if we are to be bound by literal interpretation, unless we throw to the winds all reason and common-sense.
This leads us back to the point previously mentioned; and we must determine if the authorised version gives a full and truthful interpretation of the Hebrew original. Even a man who does not pretend to scholarship knows that it does not. The word "perish," for example, is not found at all in the Hebrew text, nor is the idea expressed; the words which our translation twice renders as "beasts that perish," is, in the original Hebrew, "dumb beasts." By comparing a number of the translations of the Psalms, into various languages—Psalm XLIX, for example—we find that few, if any, of them suggest the idea of "perishing" in the sense of annihilation. First, let us consider the Jewish Bible, which is acknowledged to be the most accurate translation in the English language, and carefully read it. In verses 12 and 20 of the above Psalm, where the passage is found, the translation reads: "Man that is in honour, and understandeth this not, is like the beasts that are irrational." In a footnote the word "dumb" is offered as an alternative for "irrational." Brunton's translation of the Septuagint is similar, and reads: "Man that is in honour understands not, he is compared to the senseless cattle, and is like them." Wycliffe's Bible, which is translated from the Vulgate, reads thus: "A man whanne he was in honour understood it not; he is compared to unwise beestis, and is maad lijk to tho." The "Douay" Bible, put forth by the English Catholic College of Douay and which is received by the Catholic Church in England, gives the passage: "Man, when he was in honour, did not understand; he hath been compared to senseless beasts, and made like to them." Many other versions might be cited, and very few of them even suggest the idea of annihilation. If, for argument's sake, we suppose that the word "perish" has been correctly translated, it by no means follows that annihilation is signified. Read, for example, the tenth verse of the same Psalm in our authorised translation: "For he seeth that wise men die, and likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others." Certainly no intelligent person would interpret this passage as declaring that the wise and the foolish and the brutish have no life after the body dies.
It is plain, therefore, that we may dismiss forever the idea that the Psalmist believed the beasts had no future life, and the citation may be rejected as absolutely irrelevant to the subject, and the only one that appears to make any definite statements as to the future life of the lower animals. Every student of the Bible will at once recognise how necessary it is that the original meaning of the Hebrew text should be known, and that the Psalmist should not be accused of setting forth a doctrine of such great importance, whether true or false, when he may never even have thought or suggested it.
MEN CRUELLY TAKE THE LIVES OF THESE DENIZENS OF THE WILDWOOD, REJOICING IN THEIR SLAUGHTER, BUT THE ANIMAL SOUL THEY CANNOT KILL.
TWO PALS. THERE IS BETWEEN MAN AND DOG A KINSHIP OF SPIRIT THAT CANNOT BE DENIED.
Having disposed of the possibility of a misunderstanding of the real meaning of the "beasts that perish," let us consider the quotation from Ecclesiastes, the only one that refers to the future state of animals. "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" We find an admission here that, whether the spirit ascends or descends, man and beasts alike have the immortal spark. The Hebrew version is precisely the same as our authorised translation. Read, not an isolated verse, but the entire passage:
"For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even the one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
"All go to one place; all are of the same dust, and all turn to dust again.
"Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
"Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion; for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?"
These verses tell their own story. It matters little whether Solomon wrote this book in his later years; it is, in any event, the confession of one who has had all the good things of this world, and who saw the emptiness of them all, and who sums up life with the words "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Finally the author ironically advises his readers to trust only in the good of their labour.
Thus it is shown that the quotation from the Psalms in no way justifies the belief in the annihilation of beasts, and that the one from Ecclesiastes has been entirely and wrongfully misunderstood and interpreted. In no way do the Scriptures deny future life to the lower animals, but in all ways, if intelligently understood, imply that man and beasts have, equally, a share in a future life beyond the grave.
As we have found out that the Scriptures, contrary to the popular belief, do not deny a future life to our lower brethren, the animals, let us see if they actually declare a future world for them in the same way that they do for man. Man's immortality, as we know, is taught in the Old Testament rather by inference than by direct affirmation. This is possibly due to the fact that the writers of the manifold books, which were at a late date selected from a large number and made into one big volume which forms our Bible, thought as a matter of course that man lived on after death, and never thought it necessary to assert that which every one knew.
But if we accept the teachings of the Old Testament, inference gives much stronger testimony to the immortality of animals than it does to the immortality of man, for while in neither case is there a direct assertion of a future life, yet there is no direct denial of future life to the animals, as has been shown to be the case with man.
All Divine Law includes a protection for the beasts, and the laws of the Sabbath were in essence a spiritual and not only a physical ordinance. The ancient Scriptures have innumerable provisions against mistreating or giving unnecessary pain to the lower animals; and these provisions stand side by side in the Divine Law with those which speak of man. Note, for example, the prohibition of "seething a kid in its mother's milk." Again, there is a statement that the ox in treading out the corn is not to be muzzled, lest he suffer hunger in the presence of food which he may not eat.
In the following sentences from the Book of Jonah, it is plainly seen that the Deity has not failed to take notice of the animals: "And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?" Again, in the Psalms, "Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine." Other passages that proclaim God as the protector of beasts, as well as man, might be cited, for the Bible makes frequent mention of them. Each of these Scriptures unquestionably proves that God has an interest in all His creatures, and that each shares His universal love.
No one can deny that Genesis, ninth chapter and fifth verse, refers to a future life for beasts as well as man; it is a part of the law which was given to Noah and which was the forerunner of the fuller law handed down through Moses: "Surely, your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of every man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man." According to the Mosaic law, an ox which kills a man is subject to death, exactly as a human murderer. Why should the animal be punished by death, if he has no soul to be forfeited?
It should be remembered that while there are no Scriptural passages that definitely promise immortality to animals, there are many which infer it. Moreover, we should not expect to gain definite information on the subject from the Bible, for it was written for human beings and not for animals. If there are few direct references to the future life of man, surely there must be still fewer to that of animals!
But just as man has for countless ages had within himself an everlasting witness to his own immortality, so do we find that all who have really become acquainted with the lower animals, with their unselfishness, parental love, devotion to duty, generosity, wonderful mentality, and self-sacrifice—all those who know them realise that they are subject to the same moral law as man and share with him a future life.
Lamartine beautifully expresses a future hope for his faithful dog:
"I cannot, will not, deem thee a deceiving,
Illusive mockery of human feeling,
A body organized, by fond caress
Warmed into seeming tenderness;
A mere automaton, on which our love
Plays, as on puppets, when their wires we move.
No! when that feeling quits thy glazing eye,
'Twill live in some blest world beyond the sky."
Who can say that from the depths of the wide ocean, from regions unknown, and lands unexplored by man; from the remotest islands of the sea, and even from the far icy North, there are not animal voices ever rising in praise of our common Creator? The Bible says: "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works," and, "All Thy works shall praise thee, O Lord,"—surely these endorse the above statements. And why should man define the limit of God's goodness, His love, care, and attention to the wants and needs of all His creatures?
The distinguished animal authority, Dr. Abercrombie, admitted that animals have an "immaterial principle" in them, which is distinct from matter. But he does not say that this principle, or soul, will live after death, as it is supposed to in man. However, many scholars both of ancient and modern times hold this opinion. Broderip, in his Zoological Recreations devotes much space in referring to ancient philosophers and poets, Christian Fathers, and Jewish Rabbis that have believed in the immortality of animals. The heroes of Virgil have horses to drive in the Elysian fields; the Greek poets gave to Orion dogs. Rabbi Manesseh, speaking of the resurrection, says, "brutes will then enjoy a much happier state of being than they experienced here," and a number of scholars, like Philo Judæus, believe that ferocious beasts will in a future state lose their ferociousness. Among more recent scholars who hold this belief is Dr. John Brown, who boldly says: "I am one of those who believe that dogs have a next world; and why not?" The Rev. J. G. Wood said: "Much of the present heedlessness respecting animals is caused by the popular idea that they have no souls, and that when they die they entirely perish. Whence came that most preposterous idea? Surely not from the only source where we might expect to learn about souls—not from the Bible, for there we distinctly read of 'the spirit of the sons of man,' and immediately afterwards of 'the spirit of the beasts,' one aspiring, the other not so. And a necessary consequence of the spirit is a life after the death of the body. Let any one wait in a frequented thoroughfare for one short hour, and watch the sufferings of the poor brutes that pass by. Then, unless he denies the Divine Providence, he will see clearly that unless these poor creatures were compensated in a future life, there is no such quality as justice."
Eugene T. Zimmerman says: "I cannot help but think that my faithful dog, and playmate of my younger days, will have some form of a future life."
We do not recognise an absolute spiritual barrier of separation between man and animals. Man is an animal—the first of animals; but it does not of necessity follow that he will always continue to be so. By what right does he presume to deny a soul and a continued spiritual existence to lower animals? Are we not all of us fellows and co-workers, partakers of the same universal life, sharing alike a common source and destiny? This has always been the faith and insight of the child, whose simple wisdom we ever turn to for truth and guidance. And in our clearer realisation of the oneness of all life, we will extend to all creatures the Golden Rule, showing them the love and consideration we would have shown to us.
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Dixon, Royal, 2006. The Human Side of Animals. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/19850/19850-h/19850-h.htm#Page_234
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