This book, written by Jon Katz, attempts to answer a question we will never really know the answer to: do animals have souls? It has been pondered by many of the world’s greatest thinkers, Aristotle and Plato included. Despite that and my own beliefs on the matter, I was interested to read Katz’s take on it.
Katz lives on a farm in upstate New York and (up until recently) shared his life with sheep, goats, donkeys, chickens, steers, cats and dogs. He uses experiences with his animals to explore the idea of animal spirituality. He sees in them individuality and remarkable self-awareness. He also wonders if it is their souls he is communing with or if he is projecting onto them – a human need to feel a connection to a world most of us are very disconnected with.
He attempts to objectively approach the topic by researching poets, philosophers, animal behaviorists and a pastor, which ends up being the most poignant discussion in the book. While some of the chapters don’t seem to flow into one another, reading as more individual essays rather than a cohesive story, Katz manages to inject humor and levity into what is a very serious subject. He never crosses the line into sappiness, over-tugging on readers’ heart strings. He is aware of his own tendency to anthropomorphize his animals but remains grounded by appreciating animals’ true nature. That is, they are not human and have their own unique gifts and place in the world which is not superior or subordinate to us, just different. Maybe, he wonders, that in and of itself is soulfulness. Maybe we rob them of soul when we only see them in human terms.
In the end of course the question really comes down to one of perspective, as most things do. How do you define soul? (Katz never does in the book.) Oh, that. Plato spent most of his life pondering that one. Some other little questions Katz alludes to in the book: Does one need to have a conscience to have a soul? Is having a soul equivalent to having an afterlife?
Talk amongst yourselves.