Cats, dogs, contraception and Rick Warren

Do all dogs go to heaven? Rick Warren thinks so, and he believes cats will enter paradise too according to an interview the mega-church pastor gave to ABC’s Jake Tapper for This Week on Easter Sunday. The influential pastor of Southern California’s Saddleback Church offered his views on the immortality of animal souls as well as comments on a wide range of issues including the implications of the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate.

While the ‘doggies in heaven’ angle provided a light touch to the interview, it also opened the door to a potential discussion of the theological and moral questions animating the contraception fight waged by the Catholic Church against the Obama Administration HHS mandate. However, the opportunity was lost to push Rick Warren on the coherency of his theological and political arguments as ABC treated the issue as a joke.

Yes, you heard me right — all ‘dogs go to heaven’ has a bearing on the question of the morality of artificial contraception. But ABC missed it.

Which leads me to ask two questions. Why did they miss it? And even if they were aware of the issue, where they wise to let it go?

Why did they miss it? One reason might be that given by New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer. In a recent GetReligion post by my colleague Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Oppenheimer responded to a question about media coverage of religion by saying in part:

It’s not skeptical enough. … We either treat religion with reverence, or we treat is as a human-interest curiosity … the truth is that the mainstream media is not critical enough. It misunderstands religion, sure — but is still oddly hands-off and reverent.

Oppenheimer is right about the media’s treatment of religion as being too soft and too reverent. But it is not for the reason he suggests. Most reporters do not know what questions to ask when speaking to faith leaders, and when they do hear something they often as not do not appreciate its importance.

We can see this in the This Week interview. In a segment entitled “Rick Warren: Contraception Debate About ‘Greater Principle’ of Religious Freedom” Tapper asked Warren several strong questions about his advocacy against the mandate. Warren encapsulated his opposition to the mandate stating that while he had no objections to contraception, he did believe:

There is a greater principle, and that is do you have a right to decide what your faith practices? I would be just as opposed to someone making a law that says every Jewish deli now has to serve pork. Well, I would be — I would protest that. Why? There are 100 other delis  you can get pork at. Why do I have to insist that the Jewish delis also serve pork? There’s plenty of places to get contraceptives.

Tapper’s political radar, skills and experience were evident when he questioned Warren. At one point Warren stated:

… Most or many religious organizations insure themselves. We insure ourselves here at Saddleback Church. I have 350 staff. We have a self-insurance program, where we do our own insurance. So we’re basically robbing from ourselves to pay for ourselves.

TAPPER: But weren’t you already required to do this under California law?

WARREN: That’s not the issue. The issue is on a national level, on a national level, to start limiting churches and their organizations, the church and organizations — or any organizations, whether it’s Christian or not, in what they believe that that limits what they do with their school or their health care, that is a violation of the First Amendment, in my opinion.

Let me say I am not examining the merits of Warren’s answers, but applauding Tapper’s skill in asking the right questions that served to draw out the implications of Warren’s thinking.

But a second segment, where Tapper asked questions of Warren submitted by audience members, showed the Oppenheimer effect in action. In her blog, USA Today‘s Cathy Lynn Grossman commented on the theological exchange between Tapper and Warren. She wrote:

Early on in the interview, ABC invited folks to raise questions on social media and one viewer tweeted a query: if “faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.”

Warren, a Southern Baptist, keyed in on the essentials of salvation — a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ. He told the tweeter, “I do believe that. And I believe that because Jesus said it… Jesus said ‘I am the way.’.. I’m betting my life that Jesus wasn’t a liar.”

Warren explained that God’s grace is the only ticket, that our works on earth cannot earn heavenly passage, although, he joked, “Most of us want to have enough.. good works to get into heaven, but enough bad works to be fun.”

Bottom line, says Warren, “I’m not getting to heaven on my integrity. I’m not getting to heaven on my goodness. I’m getting to heaven on what I believe Jesus said is grace…”

Grossman then stated these words were:

“evangelical gospel. But where Warren goes next may not be. Tapper relays a Facebook question: Do dogs go to heaven?

Said Warren, “Absolutely yes. I can’t imagine God not allowing my dog into heaven.”

Cats, too, Warren added. “Why not.”

The “Why not” answer Warren gave to cats in heaven could also have served as a great link back to the issue of the HHS mandate. For the theology that animates Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical that sets forth the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception, is informed by the same issue that is involved in the question about animals in heaven. While I think it safe to say that all traditional Christians, not just Evangelicals, believe in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, I would disagree with the contention that Evangelicals on the whole object to the proposition that animals go to heaven.

Critics such as Peter Singer have held that Christianity has no moral regard for the welfare of animals. Singer prefaced his account of Christian thought regarding animals with the statement: “To end tyranny we must first understand it.”

But as Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey has noted, there is “an ambiguous tradition” about animals in Christianity. Thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Fenelon, and Kant and have held that animals do not have rational, hence immortal souls. Descartes defended a distinction between humans and animals based on the belief that language is a necessary condition for mind and as such animals were soulless machines (Descartes, Discourse on the Method)

Others theologians, philosophers and writers as diverse as Goethe, St John of the Cross, C.S. Lewis, Bishop Butler, and John Wesley held the opposite view and believed that animals will find a place in heaven. Billy Graham is purported to have said:

I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness’ in heaven. If it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.

That may be all well and good, you say, but what has any of this to do with the healthcare debate?

As Janet Smith notes in her book, Humanae Vitae: a generation later, in Catholic moral teachings one of the differences between humans and animals is that while animals engage in reproductive sexual congress to create another member of the species, humans engage in procreative sexual intercourse “wherein they cooperate with God to bring into existence a new immortal being.”

The soul of Man is immortal while the soul of an animal is mortal. Thomistic theology holds that animals possess sensate souls that can respond effectively to the environment around them. However, animals do not possess rational souls — being able to reason about reality. The sensate soul is mortal while the rational soul, created in the image of God, is immortal. And it is this distinction between mortal and immortal souls that prevents animals from going to heaven, and prohibits contraception in Catholic moral teaching.

For the Catholic Church, Dr. Smith notes:

sterlization, abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, and production of animals for “farming” of organs for transplantation are all permissible for animals. Yet the Church finds none 0f these actions permissible for Man. Again it is because of the nature of Man, not the nature of the  biological processes per se, that Man must not interfere with these processes.

When Rick Warren responded “why not” when asked whether there are cats in heaven, it prompted the question of what was distinctive about mankind, and closer to home, what was immoral about contraception. Why privilege one theological view of humanity or of the soul (one Warren admits not sharing) over against another?

Which leads into my second question. Had the reporter recognized the theological linkage between the two issues would it have served any useful purpose to ask this question? On a secular news show should all questions come back to a secular base? Or when interviewing a religious figure, should theological questions be asked that draw out the thinking and beliefs of the subject?

Is the Oppenheimer effect at work here? Is Rick Warren a political leader or a religious leader? Is his theology or methodology coherent? Is that even important? Am I aiming a bazooka at a fly? Should we give religious leaders a pass on their theology and hold them accountable only on their secular beliefs?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Print Friendly

About geoconger
  • Kristen

    Reminds me of most cocktail parties I attend. Just don’t go there. Everyone will realize soon enough you have a bazooka, and they really don’t care enough to question if you kill the fly, even in their presence.

  • Jerry

    If I can be permitted a digression, the issue of dogs in heaven is one thing that an old Twilight Zone episode, The Hunt explored. A key part of the plot:

    Simpson tells the angel about his experience at the first gate, commenting “Son, that’d be a helluva place without Rip!” The angel replies “Mr. Simpson, you ain’t far wrong – that is Hell! Heaven’s up yonder apiece,” pointing up Eternity Road. When asked by Simpson why the gatekeeper at the gate to Hell wouldn’t let him bring Rip inside with him, the angel explains that the reason Rip was not allowed in was because the dog would have been able to smell the brimstone and alert Simpson that something was wrong. The angel says, “You see Mr. Simpson, a man, well, he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!”

  • Mike O.

    Should we give religious leaders a pass on their theology and hold them accountable only on their secular beliefs?

    That’s an intriguing question from an intriguing article. To me, I’d guess it comes down to a question of whether the main message of a story is what or why. For most of the stories regarding the HHS debate, the what (the Catholic Church citing 1st amendment reasons for opposing the mandate) is far more pressing than the why (the religious reasoning why the church opposes several items required in the mandate).

    The government (including the court system) in these types of cases isn’t going to start sifting through the catechism to argue against the church’s stance. Instead they are going to compare the rights of the church versus the rights of employees. That’s the crux and that’s what the reporter should focus on. A reporter can definitely question any institution’s stance, religious or not. He just has to make sure he’s not doing it at the expense of the heart of the matter. So for this example, Rick Warren’s position on cats and dogs going to Heaven is tertiary at best.

    Now in the case of a more straightforward religious story, I would say that a more questioning take on religious dogma could be in order. Take a story that’s seen almost as much GR coverage as the HHS story, Harold Camping. I would have liked to have seen more skepticism when people who were interviewed would say things like, “Harold Camping is wrong because the bible says X and/or Y”. Statements like that should be defended in the same manner as if someone in an article cites a law or an event in history as to why they act or think a certain way.

    Note, I’m not looking to dredge up that story, nor start a religious argument. I just want to compare what type of stories I think writers can let theology questions go and when they can’t.

    There is one exception though where I think that a writer should always without fail question a subject’s theology, no matter the topic at hand. If a person says they have a personal relationship with their creator, are inspired by the Holy Spirit, or indicate some other strong communication with the divine then that’s one thing. If a person says that and on top of it says their creator told them they are for or against something, it’s the reporter’s duty to find someone else who also was divinely inspired and states the creator takes the opposition position. Rarely are the conflicting claims hard to find, and in those cases a little scrutiny shows that at least one (likely both) are lying in their assertions of divine inspiration.

  • Stan

    I absolutely agree with Mike O.’s point: “If a person says they have a personal relationship with their creator, are inspired by the Holy Spirit, or indicate some other strong communication with the divine then that’s one thing. If a person says that and on top of it says their creator told them they are for or against something, it’s the reporter’s duty to find someone else who also was divinely inspired and states the creator takes the opposition position.”

    Allegedly God told Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum (and, for all I know, others as well) to run for President. I cannot remember a single reporter questioning these statements. Journalists seem to think that it would be rude to question “private” religious believe even when these beliefs are evoked to justify public, political positions.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    This is a great post. Incredibly inside baseball. But for us players, a great post…1:-{)>

  • Bull Schuck

    I don’t understand. If Warren doesn’t have a theological issue with contraception, then why is it remarkable that he purports another worldview that supports the same theology? Should the author have connected the dots to show what we already knew? IF Warren had said that he has serious theological concerns with contraception and then stated “Yup, Rover is going to go to Heaven,” then yes, he needs to reconcile those viewpoints. Anything else is just a rehash.

    • geoconger


      In your post you write “Should the author have connected the dots to show what we already knew?”

      I don’t know what we already knew, and I don’t know what Rick Warren knows. I assume Rick Warren follows a particular line of thought — but unless he is pressed to explain, defend or clarify this thought we really don’t know anything other than what we assume.

      Warren is advancing a political argument based upon theological principles. A good reporter would press Warren on the coherence of these principles as they relate to the political issues under discussion. Steering clear of the theological issues when speaking to religious leaders is an example of the Oppenheimer effect.

      Put another way … ABC has decided that Rick Warren’s views are of sufficient relevance to allot air time to an interview with him. Rick Warren is a religious figure who has exerted an influence on politics. He is supporting the Catholic Church in its fight with the Obama Administration. Not all religious figures are supporting the Catholic Church — why does Warren? What theological principles is he drawing upon to support the Catholic Church when he is also advancing a viewpoint that undercuts the theological rationale for the Catholic Church’s argument on contraception? Is this a political act being cloaked in religious words? Is this a religious act that is being placed in the public arena for political debate? I don’t know the answers to these questions and nobody else knows them either because no reporter has followed upon on these points.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    A lot of interesting debate. I’m afraid most reporters (and many readers) would get lost in the theological weeds here.
    But in covering the Obamacare mandates story there seems to me there is no real need to get into any theology. In general, it should make no difference what a church teaches for it to be protected from government coercion by the First Amendment.

  • Rick Warren

    As I said in the interview, the Bible is silent about animals in eternity, (except in metaphor, like “the lion shall lay down with the lamb.I don’t believe they have a soul. But many people assume that if an animal doesn’t go to heaven, you are condemning them to hell. hey do not have the moral capacity to

  • Rick Warren

    (I was interrupted) They do not have the moral capacity to reject the gracious love of Jesus Christ so they certainly won’t be in hell! The author of the article is correct… most reporters are untrained in asking astute theological questions, so they ALMOST ALWAYS frame every issue in political terms. Jake is great friend and reporter and I was pleased with the ABC edit of the interview. Just realized a lot had to be left out, as is always the case.

  • http://Faith&Reason cathy grossman

    George, I’m mystified. Why, if you are noodling somewhere in this essay (there are about 18 different points in it and I admit, I could not follow most of them) that secular reporters don’t follow through on theology, did you completely fail to pick up the quotes from Rick Warren in my original post?

    Below is from my post:

    I was curious about the theology. If you — or your pet — is an unrepentant sinner, does your dog roast with you for eternity?

    No, the dog gets wings, you don’t. Warren explained the difference when I sent my question to him Monday:

    People miss heaven because of their rebellion against God’s offer of love, by rejecting Jesus. But dogs, which have no ability to sin nor moral conscience, do not have an ability to reject Jesus.

    It is the same principle as a baby, young child or mentally challenged individual. The Bible calls them “safe,” not “saved.” In Proverbs we read, “The Lord preserves the simple,” which includes persons without the ability, capacity or moral conscience to reject Jesus.”

  • Karen

    I believe that there is a Jewish midrash that says dogs will go to Heaven (inherit a share in the World to Come) because they barked when the Egyptian soldiers were coming to kill baby sons among the Hebrew slaves. Cats, a representative of an Egyptian god, have no such exemption.

  • Ann


    Is Rick Warren a political leader or a religious leader? Is his theology or methodology coherent? Is that even important? Am I aiming a bazooka at a fly? Should we give religious leaders a pass on their theology and hold them accountable only on their secular beliefs?

    From the Tapper Interview:

    WARREN: The Constitution says freedom of religion, not just freedom of worship


    coherent – an argument, theory, or policy) Logical and consistent.

    I know that many individuals on GetReligion are very emotional about the religious freedom issue related to the contraception mandate and will not like my comment. Warren does not argue a theology reason to be against the mandate. My questions:

    Have the religious freedom arguments for the contraception mandate been unbiased, logical, and consistent?

    Does the religious freedom argument only apply to specific Christian beliefs?

    As most individuals that use the freedom of religion argument for the contraception mandate, to be unbiased and consistent Warren and other Christians would also argue for all the religious freedom cases that have lost at the US Supreme Court level since polygamy in Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879); animal cruelty laws; compulsory military service; safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws; compulsory vaccination laws; drug laws; traffic laws; social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws; child labor laws; environmental protection laws; and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.

    Another inconsistent/ignored argument that indicate Obama was the first instance of religious freedom and contraception mandates from the Tapper Interview:

    TAPPER: But weren’t you already required to do this under California law?

    California is just one of several state laws for contraception mandates. Detail on state laws:

    Apparently the U.S. Supreme Court does not consider contraception mandates to be unconstitutional. If they found the contraception mandate to be unconstitutional the U.S. Supreme Court would be overturning laws in many states and laws/court decisions related to other religious freedom issues.

    In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for review in the case of Catholic Charities v. Dinallo, Case No. 06-1550. The case involved a 2002 New York statute entitled Women’s Health and Wellness Act which mandated that prescription drug coverage plans in health insurance policies must include coverage for contraceptives. A consortium of Catholic and Baptist charities sued claiming that the law violated their First Amendment religious freedoms.

    In October 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request by Catholic Charities to review a similar law, the California Women’s Contraceptive Equity Act.

  • J

    I find Deacon Fred’s analysis of the animals in heaven issue more persuasive that Rick Warren’s. :)

    I’m kind of glad that Jake Tapper didn’t get religion in this case-shows he was thinking about truly important stuff.

  • Bull Schuck

    geoconger & Ann,

    I fail to see an incoherence between “all dogs go to heaven” and “no objections to contraception.” Again, if he were talking about theological reasons to support the RCC on this, then we’re talking about something different. But he’s talking about this purely on political grounds.

  • Bull Schuck

    But Ann, the points you make about incoherent political viewpoint are dead on.