Magazine article The Spectator

Barking Dogma

Magazine article The Spectator

Barking Dogma

Article excerpt

IT was the dog or. rather, the exact location of the dog. Understand that and you understand the mystery of the religious conversion which never was.

We know that Alan Clark was, in his last weeks, on the verge of being received into the Roman Catholic faith. Father Michael Seed, that famous winner of souls for Rome, went so fat`cir as to claim success. Newspapers authoritatively reported that Clark had departed from the Church of England shortly before he departed this life.

And then his wife suddenly denied that any such thing had happened. There was talk of certain -doctrinal difficulties>' which Mr Clark was unable, finally to overcome; and therefore.before historians come to blows over Mr Clark's views on transubstantiation or the Virgin Birth, I think I can solve the mystery here and now by pointing you to the dog that did not bark.

The dogs, called Tom. did not bark, for the good reason that it was dead. As Mr Clark's family announced that 'he would like it to be stated that he regarded himself as having gone to join Tom and the other dogs'. and though Father Seed is a persistent man. Clark must surely have been disappointed to find that his belief in some doggy heaven was not compatible with orthodox Roman Catholicism.

When considering the eternal question of whether Fido or Laszlo is wagging his tail in Heaven, whether there is a cat-flap in the Pearly Gates, Catholics turn to St Thomas Aquinas and there they find that yes. animals have souls in the sense of an animating principle, the spark of life. the fizz in the lemonade. But animals, said Aquinas. do not have immortal souls, since immortality of soul is bound up with rational.ity - memory, intelligence, free will qualities essential for comprehending God's glory, for judging between right and wrong, and for getting into Heaven.

This is a hard teaching; and one is driven to speculate that Mr Clark, in his devotion to the animal kingdom, finally took comfort in the more flexible approach of Anglicanism. The most advanced thinking has been done by l ord Habgood. the former Archbishop of York. He has suggested that the higher apes. because they show some linguistic ability, some sense of themselves and evidence of being able to learn. might have souls that are almost human. He is, as he has bashfully acknow-ledged, the Primate of all primates.

Animals rca,i enter Heaven, says the nuance-prone cleric, especially pets whose animal status is transformed by their close relationship with humans. 'It is not fanciful to regard them as having entered our world to such an extent that they will remain permanently part of what we are, in this life and the next.' But if you tax him on the eternal joys of lesser creatures, you are met with episcopal uncertitude. 'Well,' he told me, 'I hope there are no mosquitoes in Heaven, but God only knows.'

Andrew Linzey, a theologian and fellow of Mansfield Colle,e. Oxford, who is a critic of 'humanocentrism', is less hesitant. Not only does he believe that higher mammals are capable of a greater degree of rationality- that is directed, purposeful activity- than commonly thought. He extends the same generous appreciation to earthworms because, as he says, 'I would not dismiss the possibility of them engaging in purposeful activity.'

Like Lord Habgood, he is not so much interested in the existence of the immortal soul, but simply takes it that animals will be in Heaven because, to quote the declaration from last year's Lambeth conference, `the redemptive purpose of God in Jesus Christ extends to the whole of creation. …

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