More Questions about Animals

1) Question: How does the Course feel about eating animals versus vegetarianism? Knowing that animals are but illusions, is it right to kill them and eat them? Do they suffer in the slaughterhouse?

2) Question: I am overwhelmed by the suffering of animals. My eighteen-year-old kitty is dealing with kidney issues. How can lessons like Lesson 14 say this isn't real? Here she is, and were it not for huge intervention she would be yowling in pain. Help!

3) Question: My question is concerning the death of my cat. I know that the Course says that all life is with our Source and we are here like a dream. Does this include animals as well? My cat Mama and I spent fourteen wonderful years together, and I miss her so much. She was a big part of my life, lasting longer than most of my relationships. Is my cat Mama home with God? And will I know her again?

Answer: We get a lot of questions about animals. We've had so many, in fact, that we already have two other Q & A's on the topic: one by me and another by Robert. But the questions above were not dealt with directly in those Q & A's, so I thought it would be worthwhile to write one more — especially since I am the Circle's resident cat lover.

Before I do that, though, I'll summarize the answers to the previous two animal Q & A's, since those answers are relevant to these new questions. The most important thing to understand about animals, I think, is that in the Course's view, they are part of the Sonship, just like human beings. Just as is the case with us, their bodies are illusions, but behind each body is the mind of a holy Son of God. Animals, then, are really not that much different from us.

The major difference between them and us is simply that we are more awake than they are: we are, relatively speaking, more aware of the mind of the Son of God in us. (For this reason, the Course often uses animals as symbols for egoic elements in us.) Therefore, we have a responsibility to our animal brothers: As the "leading edge" of the Sonship, we need to awaken more deeply and extend the healing effects of our awakening to animals. If we do so, the Course tells us, they will recognize the Son of God in us and even lay gifts at our feet in gratitude for that recognition. They will "salute [us] as savior and as God" (W-pI.156.5:4).

Now, with that background in mind, let's turn to our three questions.

Eating animals

The Course material says nothing whatsoever about whether it is okay to eat animals or whether we should be vegetarians. And it's difficult to determine even indirectly from the Course's teachings what to do in this area. On the one hand, as I've mentioned, animals are not mere illusions; their bodies are illusions, but they are Sons of God like us. One might conclude on that basis that we shouldn't eat them. However, the Course also sees plants (like blades of grass) and even inanimate things (like grains of sand) as part of the Sonship, so if "Don't eat members of the Sonship" is our rule, we're in deep trouble. After all, we have to eat something.

I suppose one rule a person could follow would be that the more "unconscious" something is, the more permissible it is to eat it. Using this rule, eating a plant would be more appropriate than eating an animal. And there are many good reasons for vegetarianism, from nutritional reasons to ecological ones. Yet to me, none of this adds up to a definite Course-correct stance on the issue. So, I think that ultimately, each of us needs to consult with the Holy Spirit on this matter. That, of course, is what the Course would have us do with any decision.

The suffering of animals

Sadly, I don't think there's any doubt that animals suffer in the slaughterhouse when they are inhumanely killed. There used to be a view, famously held by Descartes, that animals didn't actually feel pain, a view that tragically justified all sorts of animal cruelty. But anyone who has ever spent any time with animals knows how ridiculous it is to believe that they don't suffer. They are living beings and Sons of God. They suffer just as we do.

I too had an elderly cat (named Alimar) with kidney problems, so I can certainly empathize with the questioner (whom I have given a more personal answer privately). He also had arthritis, was deaf, had an ear with pieces missing from a fight, and had all sorts of other health issues. While there was no doubt that for many years he was living a happy life in spite of his difficulties (anyone with a cat knows when that cat is content), I still felt sad for his aches and pains. And it was a terrible day when Alimar finally declined to the point where he had to be put to sleep. I and my ex-wife shed many tears that day. Our poor little guy!

How can lessons like Lesson 14 (which has us repeat "God did not create that _________, and so it is not real") say such suffering isn't real? Well, this certainly doesn't mean that it doesn't feel real to everyone involved. What lessons like this are getting at is simply that, however terribly real pain feels to us and to our animal brothers right now, it is only a dream: a nightmare with no effect on reality, a nightmare from which everyone involved, human and animal alike, will eventually awaken. God did not create suffering of any kind; He loves His creations and wills only joy for them. So, suffering cannot be real in any ultimate sense.

This may sound like cold comfort when your beloved kitty is yowling in pain. And in that moment, our focus on a form level will rightly be on alleviating that pain any way we can, using all of the ordinary earthly means at our disposal. Yet speaking as a long-time Course student, I can honestly say that the longer I've been with the Course, the more powerful the practice of repeating lines like those from Lesson 14 has become for me. In my experience and in the experience of many other Course students I've known, it really is comforting to realize that what I am beholding is just a dream. I am immensely grateful that God is a God of pure Love, Who didn't create a world in which such terrible suffering was truly real. And thank goodness that the true Self of my elderly cat who passed away is at this very moment basking in light of our Father's Love.

The death of animals

What happened to Alimar and Mama when they died? What happens to all of our animal brothers when they die? The Course doesn't say anything explicitly about this, but since they are part of the Sonship, I assume that their path is essentially the same as ours.

To me, this means several things: 1) As I alluded to above, their true Self is already with God and always has been. Like us, they are "at home in God" (T-10.I.2:1), safe in God's heavenly embrace. 2) However, like us, when they die they don't immediately awaken from the dream and recognize that they are at home in God. That is something which happens only at the end of the journey to awakening that all of us are on. 3) So, presumably they simply go on to the next stage of their awakening journey, whatever that may be. I don't know what that looks like, and the Course doesn't tell us anything specific. It simply says that "birth was not the beginning, and death is not the end" (M-24.5:7). The journey continues in some way, in some form.

The good news for all of us who have had beloved animal companions is that we will certainly see them again. In a statement that I think is mainly about human beings but can certainly be applied to our nonhuman brothers as well, the Course puts it succinctly: "All who meet will someday meet again" (M-3.4:6). Whether we meet again at some later point on the journey to God, or not until all of us are back in God's embrace, our reunion with all our loved ones, human or animal, is guaranteed. Thank God!

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