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The Divine Life of Animals: One Man's…

The Divine Life of Animals: One Man's Quest to Discover Whether the…

by Ptolemy Tompkins

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201515,329 (2.83)None



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"Wherever you are going, they are going too." -James Herriot

This book is part philosophy, part religion, part biology. Tompkins attempts to answer the question that any animal lover has asked themselves at one time or another: Do animals have souls?

He looks at this question through the lens of Greek philosophers, Judaism, modern Christianity and The Buddha, among others. He also explores humanity's relationship with animals from prehistoric times up to the present. The result is a fascinating look at man's obligation to all living creatures of this earth.

A quote from the final chapter:
"What are we called upon to do when we see a suffering animal that we can't help, or when we watch a beloved pet come to the end of its life before our eyes? Paradoxical as it may seem, what we are called on to do is simply to believe. Believe the voice within us that assures us that no matter what certain scientists or clergy people or whoever else might have to say to the contrary, the soul of that departing animal is real: every bit as real as our own soul, and different only in its specific character and capacity--the varied charms and faults and glories and limitations that go to making it specifically and unrepeatably itself and not another. The tug in our hearts when we feel compassion for an animal is actually the whole invisible hierarchical world pulling at us--pulling and urging us to remember that it is out there, whether we can see it or not, and that it holds a place within it for every living creature." ( )
  saramllr | Dec 23, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307451321, Hardcover)

A Self-Interview by the Author
Ptolemy: So, you can’t really be serious with the title of this book, can you? Animals don’t possess “divine” lives. They’re carbon-based products of natural selection--organisms with limited capacities for intelligence while they’re alive, and when the synapses in their brains flutter to a stop at death, that’s the end of it. I don’t see what, exactly, is “divine” in any of this.

Ptolemy: It’s true that if you are a big fan of Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained or Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, or if you agree with Stephen Hawking’s general ideas about the nature and meaning of life in the universe, you’ll likely be highly skeptical about this book. But I would argue that it is entirely possible to embrace the discoveries of science and also be open to the possibility that the very specific and personal consciousness that animates a particular animal is capable of surviving the death of “the animal body,” as the church fathers used to call it.

Ptolemy: Speaking of church fathers, is this just some Christian argument about God “miraculously” allowing an animal’s consciousness to continue?

Ptolemy: No. Some people suggested, when the book came out, that because I wrote for Guideposts magazine for some years, the book is really Christian apologetic disguised as a genuinely open-minded exploration of the spiritual lives of animals. In fact, I make a number of fairly audacious statements about the Christian faith in the book. For example, that Christianity wouldn’t be what it is today without certain ideas about the divinity of animals that arose in the Paleolithic era, or about another, different set of ideas that arose with the arrival of agriculture many thousands of years later. I think that if we go far enough back in time to encounter the truly cosmic dimensions of the Christian religion, we make all kinds of discoveries about its relation to nature, and to other religions, that we might never have suspected.

Ptolemy (switching tack): Hmm. This sounds awfully complex, not to mention un-scriptural. I just want a book that will affirm that the soul of my dog is safe in the arms of Jesus, and that I will see her again when I go to heaven myself someday.

Ptolemy: Actually, the arguments in the book aren’t all that complex. After all, I’m a layperson, not an academic, and most of the time in the book I’m just trying to distil what I’ve learned from others. There are a lot of people who have a very basic, straightforward faith that there is something at work in the life of their pet that will not be extinguished at death. My suspicion is that those people are entirely correct, but I didn’t really write the book for them. I wrote it for people who want to believe what their hearts and intuitions tell them--that there is something more to animals than their physical bodies--but who feel like they live in a world that won’t allow them to believe that. I have a lot of respect for science, but I don’t have so much respect for what is sometimes called scientism--the freezing of certain scientific hypotheses into laws and the refusal to change them when they need to be changed. The fact is, science hasn’t disproved the existence of the spiritual world, and people who claim it has are, in my view, failing to see the whole picture. I tried to write a book that could be read with profit by a number of different kinds of people: an open-minded Christian, an agnostic with Buddhist leanings...even a straight-out unbeliever. Though in the case of that last reader, it’s definitely possible that, despite my best efforts, the book’s arguments will only provide fodder for ridicule. But you know, if you’re afraid of people ridiculing you, you really shouldn’t be writing a book on a subject like this to begin with.

Ptolemy: Do you have any pets yourself?

Ptolemy: Yes. At the moment, I’m the whole or part-time owner of two dogs (a Chihuahua and a schipperke), two cats, and five goldfish.

Ptolemy: What do they think of the book?

Ptolemy: Nothing. Neither dogs nor cats--nor goldfish for that matter--can read, or even conceptualize what a book is. Animals aren’t people in fuzzy suits. But you don’t have to think they are to believe that they have a spiritual component that’s genuinely real, and that survives the death of their bodies. To make that point in a believable way is why I wrote the book.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:08 -0400)

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"Anyone who has ever mourned the loss of a cherished pet has wondered about the animal soul. Do animals survive the death of the body, or are they doomed to disappear completely when they leave this world behind? Both scientists and religious authorities have long scoffed at the idea of animals in heaven. Yet the question endures. In this wise, immensely readable book, Ptolemy Thompkins embarks on a quest for the answer--taking us on a top-speed tour of the history of the animal soul" --Cover, p. 2.… (more)

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