What does Swedenborg say about animals in the afterlife? Will people be reunited with beloved pets after they die? Is there a doggie heaven with unlimited treats and squirrels to chase?
Swedenborg sees a clear spiritual difference between humans and animals. Here’s how he describes it:
“People who have convinced themselves [that we will not continue to live as spirits after death] tend to think that animals live and sense just the way we do, so that they too have a spiritual nature like ours; yet this dies along with their bodies. However, the spiritual nature of animals is not the same as ours. We have an inmost nature that animals do not, a nature into which the Divine flows and which it raises toward itself, in this way uniting us to itself. So we, unlike animals, can think about God and about divine matters of heaven and the church. We can love God because of these matters and by engaging with them; and so be united to him; and anything that can be united to the Divine cannot be destroyed. Anything that cannot be united to the Divine, though, does disintegrate.” (Heaven and Hell #435)
A major theme in Swedenborg’s writings is that our spiritual destiny is a matter of choice. We have to first understand the difference between good and evil, and then make a conscious choice when confronted with a moral dilemma, not just once but over and over throughout our lives. It’s the cumulative result of all of our choices that determines where we go after we die. (For more on this, see Swedenborg’s book Divine Providence, especially sections 71-99.)
Animals don’t have the capacity to make that type of conscious choice. For example, if a delivery person walks onto someone’s lawn and is bitten by a dog, was that a rational decision on the dog’s part? Did it watch the person coming and think, “Is biting this person the right thing to do? What are the potential consequences of my actions? Is this violence truly necessary?” Probably not, right? Swedenborg would say that a person has to be at least capable of asking those questions in order to be spiritually responsible for his or her actions. If we didn’t have the awareness of right and wrong that allows us to be spiritual people, then we couldn’t enter the afterlife.
So, do all dogs go to heaven? Swedenborg would say no. In heaven, he says, the animals are actually correspondences: like everything in the environment of the afterlife, they represent spiritual principles at work and can appear or disappear depending on the needs of the moment. If a person does see a dog in heaven, for example, it means that someone nearby—maybe even in the physical world—is experiencing a desire to express spiritual truths; it doesn’t mean that a particular dog has made the transition from the physical world to the afterlife.
But, he adds, none of this means that animals on earth can’t also reflect the divine.
Everything in the universe, Swedenborg tells us, was created and is sustained by a living energy that emanates from the Divine. He describes that energy as pure love and wisdom, and when he talks about the way it enters into and affects us, he uses the term influx. Animals experience influx too, but in a different way.* When a bird cares for its chicks, for example, or a dog acts to protect its human companions, those animals are expressing divine love unconsciously, in a purely natural way.