There’s not a cat in hell’s chance of convincing some people

In a recent social media discussion someone said, a little glibly I thought, that animals do not have souls. If that’s true it’s good news for our two cats who would otherwise be surely destined for the eternal fires or at least a spell in purrgatory (sorry about that).

Both Willoughby and Tamarisk are unquestionably guilty of the sins of pride, arrogance, greed, wilful defiance, larceny, lack of consideration for others, deceit, manipulation and psychological bullying. There’s more, but I don’t want to paint our pets too darkly because, on the plus side, they give us a lot of love, loyalty, tolerance and forgiveness.

Anyone who exhibited behaviour along the lines of this grab-bag of feline frailties would be in need of some spiritual self-reflection at the very least, but our cats, though often knowingly naughty, get off scott-free. We’ve tried appealing to their better natures, mentioning the possibility of divine disapprobation but they just look at us with bland insolence as if to say; “Oh, it’s nice that you are concerned about our spiritual welfare but we have no souls, remember?” and tear some more shreds out of our sofa.

On the other hand, when we had our black labrador, who sadly now lives only in our memory, it was like sharing our house with a Jesuit priest. Breeze put the ‘dog’ into dogma and regarded Suze and I as living saints; I was infallible of course but I think he saw Suze as being a bit doctrinally suspect, and he had a string of rubber sausages which he used as a rosary. Never was there a more hieratic hound; he even wore a dog collar. If Breeze’s tail had been just a few inches longer he would have been into self-flagellation (a hair shirt would have been redundant) – consumed with remorse after the smallest peccadillo he would come slinking to me for absolution, on receiving which he would get into his bed and tell his sausages.

But maybe the glib correspondent mentioned at the start of this piece is right; animals don’t have souls. I’m fine with that but it means of course that neither do we; it is merely species arrogance to think otherwise. Animals’ emotional intelligence often exceeds our own, they have much to teach us and to deny our close spiritual kinship with all living creatures is to devalue or ignore our greater power of understanding, one of the very qualities that make us human.

Our comprehension of the world and our ability to enact change upon it should make us humble before the mysteries of nature, it should make us less self-obsessed and behave more responsibly, it should make us try to make amends for all the harm we have done and continue to do. Souls or not, in this we certainly do stand in need of redemption.

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