Dogs in heaven?

Pope Francis consoled a little boy who was distraught over the loss of his dog by saying, "Paradise is open to all of God's creatures," reports The New York Times. As an atheist, heaven and hell are of little consequence to me; I live my life trying to be as good a person as possible, without self-interest in mind (well, mostly...). So why do I care that the leader of one of the world's biggest, worst, and most conservative cults said animals are allowed into heaven? Because this could be great news for animal rights.

Humans have always placed themselves above animals, even today. I do that, too; I value a human life more than the life of a different animal. Sentience is on a sliding scale, and humans score the highest. With that said, animal lives do have value, like any life. Many animals are capable of thought and feeling, like humans; we are not as unique as we'd sometimes like to think. With this realization comes the thought that we cannot simply use and abuse animals; if animals can think and feel, they also matter, and then we must be considerate of them.

This is not good for business. Conservatives want to limit animal rights so animals can be used to turn a profit. They aren't human after all, right? Conservatives don't even want to consider that animals can think and feel. But if more people are convinced animals "have souls", as they must if they go to heaven, it will not be as easy to continue with animal abuse; we'll have to start treating animals humanely.

It's not as easy to use and abuse animals if one must consider that they, too, are living creatures that think and feel. It's only by stripping them of what we consider "human" qualities that we can see them as resources. Perhaps now that Pope Francis—a huge religious leader—has implied that animals can be sentient beings like humans, as science supports, and that they matter, we'll see more people ask themselves how we can treat animals the way we often do. If there's one quality that has been predominantly human through the ages, it is cruelty. Help end cruelty to animals. Support animal rights!