Pope Francis is cheating.
In previous attempts to restore honor to Catholicism (if such honor ever existed) and to bring the Church into the 21st century (or into the 20th, at least), Francis has said that gays “have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community” and declared that evolution and the Big Bang are not at odds with faith. But now he’s shamelessly courting a much broader, more passionate constituency: dog owners.
The New York Times reports that Francis, while consoling a “distraught little boy whose dog had died,” told him “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” The Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals saw his remarks “as a repudiation of conservative Roman Catholic theology that says animals cannot go to heaven because they have no souls.” (The article does not consider the possibility that no creature has a soul because the soul is a fiction of the human imagination.)
This news has brought much relief to dog owners who worry that when their pet dies, it is simply dead. Countless authors, meanwhile, are celebrating the Pope’s confirmation of what they’ve believed all along—authors of books such as Dog Heaven, Even Bad Dogs Go to Heaven, Biblical Proof Animals Do Go To Heaven, Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates, and pretty much everything Jack Wintz has ever written.
I could not find a single book on Amazon that acknowledges that if dogs can go to heaven, then they can go to hell, too. (Here are a few candidates.) Nor has anyone considered the practical ramifications of dogs in the afterlife; I suppose there’s not much of an audience for a title such as Stepping on Dog Shit for Eternity. But dog-loving Christians who believe in heaven should consider such ramifications—above all, how dogs would be treated by humans in heaven.
The sacred texts provide a few clues. Here's a selection of the many references to dogs in the King James Bible:
Revelation 22:15: “For without [are] dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”
Philippians 3:2: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.”
Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, [so] a fool returneth to his folly.”
Luke 16:21: “And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”
1 Samuel 24:14: “After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea.”
Isaiah 56:10: “His watchmen [are] blind: they are all ignorant, they [are] all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.”
2 Peter 2:22: “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog [is] turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
Granted, these aren't references to actual dogs, but to humans. It’s a slur—sometimes a homophobic one. I’m no biblical scholar, but “dog” seems to be the second-most common pejorative in the Bible, after “whore.” If being compared to a (vomit-eating) dog is about as bad as it gets, then what does that say about how dogs are treated in heaven? Dog lovers rejoicing over Pope Francis’s remarks should consider whether their pet’s posthumous welfare might be improved by not ascending after all.