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 or an afterlife in mind. 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. I do that, too; I value a human life more than the life of a different animal. However, sentience is on a sliding scale. While humans score the highest by far, many animals are capable of thought and feeling. Their lives have value. This means we cannot simply use and abuse animals; if they also matter, we must be considerate of them. The problem is that there are conservatives who are more worried about the corporate bottom line than ethics; if they barely care about the lives of working people, obviously they will care even less about animals.

If more people are convinced animals go to heaven and thus have souls, perhaps they might consider that animals are living beings, same as us, not merely resources for us to exploit as we see fit, which is something religion has long taught. 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 significant religious leader — has implied that animals have souls and matter, we'll see more people ask themselves how we can treat them the way we often do. Help end cruelty to animals. Support animal rights!