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The Chain of Being

Do Animals Have Souls?

It's not easy to avoid the Chain of Being around here, living with a dozen+ cats, two dogs, and various tropical fish.

That count is somewhat arbitrary, as it does not include the several semi-feral beasts living in the woods near the house, who have come to expect from me some assistance in fulfilling their basic dietary needs. I recall a line in "The Little Prince" by Saint Exupery about becoming responsible for those whom you help. Iím afraid that responsibility sometimes tells on me.

Some would question whether animals have souls. That question almost always marks the asker as a Jew or a Christian. Most other religions seem to have resolved the question in the animalsí favor. I donít know exactly what a soul is, but I think I know it when I see it. I donít always see a soul in a Jew or a Christian. I always see a soul in an animal.

As always, the question is not one of type, but of degree. Judeo-Christian religions believe that man was created to have dominion over the animals. They believe that a definitive demarcation line may be drawn, to separate them from the animals.

In my experience, no such line exists. Humans may pride themselves in the fullness and complexity of their emotions -- but I see every human emotion and behavior displayed in my animal wards: love, anger, jealousy, pride, humor, slothfulness, generosity, happiness, sympathy, despair. The only difference I can detect is that, unlike humans, animals are incapable of deferring expression of those states. And animals never exhibit, in absolute terms, sinful behavior Ė unless you include some occasional, unpredictable, raw maliciousness. But that is usually a well-deserved reaction to our inconsiderate treatment of them.

I know what youíre thinking. No, I'm not a vegetarian. But, were it not for the miracle of American packaging, I probably would be. I'm still capable of temporarily suspending belief that the juicy red slab of steak on my plate actually came from a fellow planetary citizen with sad brown eyes Ė and with a soul.

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