Animals, their spirits and eternal ramifications

Conservative Christianity purports that animals have no eternal spirits. Joseph Smith, never unwilling to defy convention, preached by sermon and revelation the contrary. Eternal existence is not limited to humanity. We have from him, two revelations and one sermon that lay out the simple doctrine. The ramifications of that doctrine, rarely considered, are tremendous for our fundamental beliefs.

In March 1832, while querying the Lord on the interpretation of John’s Apocalypse, Joseph received a revolutionary response:

Q. What are we to understand by the four beasts, spoken of in [chapter 4, verse 6]?

A. They are figurative expressions, used by the Revelator, John, in describing heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created.

At the end of that year, Joseph received a revelation on the resurrection and eternal law. In this, the Lord revealed the fate of the earth:

25 And again, verily I say unto you, the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law–

26 Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it.

It is not particularly evident what these verses actually mean. It is quite certain that these verses, coupled with the personification of the earth in Enoch’s revelation, have stoked the literalist speculation that this planet is a living soul in need of salvific ordinances (1). They do, however and assuredly, extend the resurrection beyond humanity.

It is not until ten years later that we have mention again of animals in the eternities. At the April 1843 general conference, Joseph turns to the Revelator and couples him to the language of Section 88:

John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them. Says one, “I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.” Any man who would tell you that this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beasts giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The four beasts were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect: they were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God. (2)

Joseph lived for a little over a year after that discourse. During this short time, Joseph revealed the fullness of the temple ordinances and doctrines, and gave his most advanced teachings on the eternal nature of spirits and their destinies. It is in light of these teachings that the spiritual nature of animals moves from nice doctrinal incidental to profound theological phenomenon.

Spirit Birth

Joseph Smith revealed two concepts, among many, that color our eternal perceptions: the eternality of our souls and the existence of a female counterpart to God the Father. In Joseph’s lifetime, the former received precious little public discourse, while the latter received none. It was Brigham’s innovative (and no longer accepted) ideas that truly popularized the concept of mother in heaven.

There is no question that before mortality we entered into a parent-child relationship with God. Some assert that there is a physical procreative union between the celestial partners which results in spiritual conception. Literalist speculation was something of a 19th century sport. For example Parley Pratt wrote:

This organized spirit we call a body, because, although composed of the spiritual elements, it possesses every organ after the pattern, and in the likeness or similitude of the outward or fleshly tabernacle it is destined eventually to inhabit. Its organs of thought, speech, sight, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling, etc., all exist in their order as in the physical body; the one being the exact similitude of the other. This individual, spiritual body, was begotten by the Heavenly Father, in his own likeness and image, and by the laws of procreation. (3)

If this is how human spirits are created, then how are the spirits of animals created? Orson Pratt espoused a concept of spiritual atomism that was ultimately denounced by Brigham Young’s First Presidency (though somewhat adopted by such authorities as Joseph F. Smith). In his theory our spirits are made of independent spirit particles and these same particles are the substance of all things spiritual:

Now can it be supposed that these particles were inactive and dormant from all eternity until the received their organization in the form of the infant spirit?…If they were once organized in the vegetable kingdom, and then disorganized by becoming food of celestial animal, and then again re-organized in the form of the spirits of animals, which is a higher sphere or being, then, is it unreasonable to suppose that the particles have, from all eternity, being passed through an endless chain of unions and disunions, organizations and disorganizations, until at length they are permitted to enter into the highest and most exalted sphere of organization in the image and likeness of God? (4)

More explicitly, he states that “the spirits of both vegetables and animals are the offspring of male and female parents which have been raised from the dead.” (5)

While such authorities as Heber C. Kimball believed that celestial procreation extended beyond humans (6), I imagine that most Mormons would reject the doctrine of Heavenly parents for all forms of life. Those that do accept a physical spiritual conception, I imagine, believe that God made the spirits of animals and plants in a non-procreative fashion. In fact, a First Presidency statement in the 1909 Improvement Era states formally that God organized the spirits of animals (7). It is, however, arguable whether belief in a human spiritual procreation and animal non-procreation is a consistent theology.

Another option is to reject procreative spirit creation. Joseph Smith, himself, taught the doctrinal basis for such a position in the last general conference of his life:

Is it logic to say that a spirit is immortal and yet have a beginning because if a spirit have a beginning it will have an end – good logic – illustrated by his ring. All the fools learned & wise men that comes and tells that man has a beginning proves that he must have an end and if that doctrine is true then the doctrine of annihilation is true. But if I am right then I might be bold to say that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. He could not create himself – Intelligence exists upon a selfexistent principle – is a spirit from age to age & no creation about it (8)

While perhaps iconoclastic to common belief, the doctrine of eternal and uncreated spirits is much easier to reconcile to concepts of free agency, predetermination (i.e., doesn’t support it like created spirits) and evolution. There is also a significant body of teachings that the parent child relationship with God need not be physically procreative.

Atonement/Resurrection

We believe by revelation that animals will be resurrected and exist in heaven. They are resurrected by the power of Jesus Christ and the effects of the fall are remediated. Beyond that simple belief many interesting speculations have been proposed. Parley Pratt suggested:

If the question be asked for what Christ died? The answer is, first, He died for all of Adam’s race. Secondly, for all the animal and vegetable productions of the earth, as far as they were affected by the fall of man. The lion, the wolf, the leopard and the bear, and even the serpent, will finally feel and enjoy the effects of this great restoration, precisely in the same degree in which they were affected by the fall. Thirdly, Christ died for the earth itself, to redeem it from all the effects of the fall, that it might be cleansed from sin and have eternal life. (9)

While it is hard to square with Joseph’s original teaching that non human spirits fulfill their measure of creation and are exalted, Joseph Fielding Smith conjectured that there would be plants and animals in every kingdom of glory (10):

We are to understand that there will be beasts of various kinds, after the resurrection, in each of the kingdoms, telestial, terrestrial and celestial. It would be a very strange thing for any of the kingdoms to be devoid of animal and plant life. These kingdoms will be very beautiful in their immortal state. Even the telestial will surpass the comprehension of mortal man. They are the creations of the Almighty and therefore they will be perfect in their own sphere, for the Lord creates no imperfections and it is his purpose, according to the divine plan, to make all of his creatures as happy as it is possible for them to be under the conditions of their immortal states. (11)

Beyond the conjectures of authorities, there are pragmatic questions that evolve from animal and plant resurrection. The total biomass of bacteria that has lived on this planet is astronomical. If it is all resurrected, there will be a lot of slimy stuff in heaven. Additionally, some animals change sex in their lifetimes — in what form are they resurrected?

Beyond the technicalities and bizarre speculation, the eternal nature of all life is a beautiful testament to our faith. While progressive Christianity tries to wrestle the spirits of animals from their conservative faith, we have, by revelation of God, a witness to their reality.

_______________________

  1. E.g., see Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation edited by Bruce R. McConkie. vol. 2 pg. 320-321.
  2. History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. vol. 5, pg. 343-344.
  3. Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology/A Voice of Warning. pg. 58-59.
  4. Orson Pratt, The Seer. pg. 102.
  5. ibid. pg. 38
  6. JD 5:172; JD 6:36
  7. Editor’s Table. (1909) Improvement Era vol. 13, no. 1 pg. 81.
  8. Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph. pg. 361.
  9. Pratt, P. P. (1883) Contributor vol. 4, no. 4, pg. 130.
  10. This is also odd in contrast to JFS’s own beliefs regarding the fate of non-celestial humans:

    In both of these kingdoms [i.e., the terrestrial and telestial] there will be changes in the bodies and limitations. They will not have the power of increase, neither the power or nature to live as husbands and wives, for this will be denied them and they cannot increase. Those who receive the exaltation in the celestial kingdom will have the “continuation of the seeds forever.” They will live in the family relationship. In the terrestrial and in the telestial kingdoms there will be no marriage. Those who enter there will remain “separately and singly” forever. Some of the functions in the celestial body will not appear in the terrestrial body, neither in the telestial body, and the power of procreation will be removed. I take it that men and women will, in these kingdoms, be just what the so-called Christian world expects us all to be – neither man nor woman, merely immortal beings having received the resurrection.
    (Doctrines of Salvation. vol. 2, pg. 287-288.)

  11. Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation. vol. 2, pg. 68; see also JFS’s more metered statement in Answers to Gospel Questions vol.2, pg. 51:

    As to where the beasts, birds, and fish, and all other creatures will go after the resurrection we can only express an opinion. John saw many of them in heaven in the presence of God. It is very probable that they, like mankind, will be distributed in the various kingdoms, celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. We may well believe that in each of these kingdoms such creatures will be assigned.

Comments

  1. …First Presidency statement in the 1909 New Era states.

    Typo alert; feel free to delete this comment.

  2. Stapers on form again.

    Conservative Christianity purports that animals have no eternal spirits.

    Hey, is this true?

  3. Ronan, this is probably the most interesting example I found in a cursory search – they seem to be uber conservative/literalist.

    Jared, I don’t get what you are getting at.

  4. J. Stapely,

    You obviously mean Improvement Era, not New Era. You’ve got it correct in the citation (#7).

  5. Great, I just spelled your name wrong. Sorry.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your post.

    You bring up the question of bacteria or particular form in the resurrection. Let me broaden it a little. A basic biological principle is the relationship of form and function. It is easy to imagine a resurrected horse running around the heavenly plains, or maybe a tiger without sharp teeth chasing a ball of yarn. But for other creatures, their “way of life” is so intimately tied up in things considered part of a fallen existence that it is difficult to imagine what a heavenly version of the creature would do. In a sense, such creatures would cease to exist because there would (presumably) be so little in common between the resurrected and earthly versions.

  6. Thanks…I am a dork.

    That is an interesting concept, Jared. E.g., viruses. Hard to imagine them existing without cell death.

  7. Not all viruses go for cell death–but that’s my dorkiness coming out.

    Still, some might not think viruses count in the resurrection. But what about other, more complex parasitic life forms? They have an existence of their own and they are built to be good at what they do. Often blood is involved. With no blood, and presumably no parasitism going on, I have a hard time imagining what such organisms will be doing.

    Perhaps there is a threshold of joy that a life form must be able to experience in order to be resurrected. That’s one of my speculations, anyway.

  8. rob Osborn says:

    One little tid-bit about your post.
    The quote of “separately and singly” by JFS hinges off of a misunderstanding of section 132:17 where the true meaning of the verse states nothing about the two lower kingdoms. Because of this misunderstanding our whole teachings of those two kingdoms and the sexes and relationships are totally off base in my opinion.

  9. Really, really interesting, J. You ought to write it up and send it in to one of these Mormon studies publications I keep hearing about. What’s the name of that one . . . Dialup?

    Of course, being a lawyer, I immiediately wonder as you did how this works on the margins. Are we really going to have gazillions and gazillions of plankton in Heaven?

    I’m reminded of the phrase, “fill the measure of their existence.” That’s what animals are to do. Maybe some of them fully fill the measure of their existence here on earth. Others, maybe not.

    Some of the questions about, for example parasites, would probably be affected by ideas from another doctrine about which we know very little — the manner in which animals were affected by the fall. All we know is that animals coexisted in some paradisical state. This implies that lions didn’t eat lambs — they ate something else, I guess, or didn’t need to eat. The same presumably would apply to parasites and other creatures — they exist now in their fallen state, but would be restored to a pre-fallen state of perfection and would be changed and perfected.

    And who is to say that the measure of existence of a lion or a bonobo or a virus or whatever doesn’t involve literature and music and maybe even blogging? I can’t say what limits, if any, will be on other creatures — I’m still trying to figure out what the measure of _my_ existence really means.

    Anyway, great post — good stuff.

  10. Mark N. says:

    My pet Dalmatian dog seems to love me. No doubt she hasn’t a clue as to where I go all day when I go to work, or what I do there, or why it’s important (assuming that it actually is important). She has a simple existence, and a more limited brain than mine so that she doesn’t (I hope) go through periods of depression by comparing our relative abilities and intelligence. For all intents and purposes, she’s “retarded” by comparison to humans. Simple things make her happy, but sometimes I have a very difficult time believing that eternal progression won’t also apply to her in some way. Is she doomed to being nothing more than a dog for eternity, content with the occasional handout of a food treat or a rawhide bone or a walk through the neighborhood? Will that be enough for her? With that be enough for God?

  11. Kaimi,
    You’re assuming that “the Fall” was a literal event, of course…

  12. Elisabeth says:

    This is a fascinating post, J. So do you think that there was one pair of, say, horses that were the originally created horses – from which all other horses are descended? How does evolution work into this?

    (I’m reading “The Ancestors Tale” right now, and feeling a bit confused by the technicalities of gene convergence and the search for the common ancestor. It’s a great book, though.)

  13. E., personally I shy away from literalist readings of the creation narrative. I like Joseph’s idea of uncreated spirits and think it works quite well with secular concepts like evolution. I do of course believe in an historical adam, but that is a topic for another day.

  14. As to where the beasts, birds, and fish, and all other creatures will go after the resurrection we can only express an opinion. John saw many of them in heaven in the presence of God. It is very probable that they, like mankind, will be distributed in the various kingdoms, celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. We may well believe that in each of these kingdoms such creatures will be assigned.

    My question about this is what did certain animals “do” to be assigned to a lower kingdom?

    Our theology teaches that children who die before reaching the age of accountability automatically obtain the celestial kingdom. The quote above suggests that animals will be distributed throughout the kingdoms. Why wouldn’t they be resurrected to Celestial perfection? Did they not repent? Are they knowingly in opposition to God’s commandments?

    ???

  15. Talon, this is obviously conjecture on his part. See the comment in the footnote. That said, I agree that it doesn’t mesh with Joseph’s teaching and the broader Mormon doctrines of accountability.

  16. greenfrog says:

    For a thought-provoking read about the mental lives of animals, try Temple Grandin’s _Animals_In_Translation_. She has some provocative ideas about the effects of co-evolution of dogs and humans. She’s also got a fair amount to say about animals filling the measure of their creation, though she uses different terminology.

  17. Ronan,

    Um, yes, but so do J’s sources for this post, no? I mean, take a look at the Pratt quote.

    And besides, of _course_ the Fall is real. I mean, when was the last time you saw a year that didn’t have a September?

    I rest my case . . .

  18. J.

    This is a very interesting post. Thank you for all the great references and stuff. This will take me some time to digest.

  19. My two cents:

    Everything was created spiritually before it was created physically. So I would say that animals do have eternal spirits. (I would also say the same for plants. I’m not sure what to think about rocks.)

    Not only that but I had a deeply personal experience a few years ago. It was the night before my (then-fiancee) and I moved back to North America from Japan. We’d spent three years there teaching ESL and having a good time but felt it was time to move on in our lives. We both agreed that we didn’t want to raise a child in Japan. (And our families would never forgive us for getting married so far away anyway! ) So everything was up in the air. I would have to immigrate to Canada, we’d both have to find new jobs and then there was the wedding to plan only a few months after we got back. I was really confused and stressed. So I said a long, rambling prayer and told God how worried I was about everything. Then I reached a point where I had nothing left to say and I told God that I was ready to be quiet and listen. There was silence and then He spoke. I heard him on some fundamental level that touched my heart, my mind and my spirit all at the same time. He said “Lili misses you.”

    Lili was my dog. She’d been dead for 2 1/2 years.

    Somehow that was exactly what I needed to hear. I felt comforted and able to handle this change in my life. And I know that when I return to Heavenly Father, Lili will be there to hurl herself at me just as she used to.

  20. Mark Butler says:

    We should be careful to distinguish between plants and animals here. Start with the very etymology of the term animal – anima, as in animated, having a mind of its own.

    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that dogs and cats, fowls and fishes, etc. have free will, emotions, and so on. But a plant? Fungi, bacteria, mold? If the latter has intelligence it is so primitive as to not meet the Smith-Roberts definition of intelligences at all.

    Also, the Holy Ghost ministers unto the telestial all the time. I do not see why animals cannot. Glory is more than just a place. I am confident dogs count it great service either way, especially with a realistic (i.e. scriptural) concept of the telestial glory as a place for the repentant, not some sort of penal colony.

  21. I’d never thought about resurrected vegetation before. John 12:24-25 is running through my mind now: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” All flesh is grass, indeed.

  22. Well, it may be that viruses are as alive as mad cow disease is. But, most diseases are rebuked as a single entity rather than as many, which makes one think that they may be more like a field of grass or a grove of aspen than a herd of cows.

    Interesting thoughts.

  23. Ed Snow says:

    I wrote the definitive study of “The History of Mormon Pets” which can be read in a very sloppy format here: (scroll down a bit on this Sunstone online page)

  24. Ed. You are a very, very funny man. Seagulls as Danites, lol.

  25. Ed Snow says:

    J., when I typed “definitive” study, there was supposed to be a [clearing throat insert] typed in there [but I'm an idiot when it comes to html, among other things]. You, however, clearly are the man born for that project!

  26. Tesseract says:

    So do you think if we eat in heaven that we will all be vegetarian? or will not even eat plant life either? Maybe some weird manna substance.

    If the lion is going to lay down with the lamb in heaven it kind of seems like we won’t be eating the lamb either…

  27. Well, there is the ressurected Lord who ate fish…but we could only speculate. Some, like Orson, seems to have believed in some sort of consumption. I have no clue.

  28. Seth R. says:

    One of the things I wonder about is whether how similar the spirit creation of stuff like “plankton” is with the spirit creation of human beings.

    For example, is an individual plankton possessing of a spirit-body that can be expected to endure after death? Or do plankton obtain spirit from some amorphous “spirit bank,” to which that spirit returns after death?

    Exactly what guarantees do we have that every last microbe will participate in the Ressurrection? Is that just reserved for humans? How about dolphins, dogs, and dinosaurs? Is there a cut-off in life-form complexity, below which resurrection is simply not the same, or doesn’t happen at all?

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