Human companionship with animals is an almost-universal feature throughout all of the planet. And the animals speak a universal language with us. Compassion. Love. Kindness. Empathy. They are there when we need them the most–to help us through tragic events, to enthusiastically greet us upon our return home, to invariably break something that we also hold dear. But we forgive them because without those creatures in our lives, life would have a little less meaning. Many of us treasure animal companionship. Be they dogs, cats, ferrets, cockatiels, rats, or bunnies, companion animals are a very important part of the lives of animal lovers. As a consequence of the joy animals bestow upon us, we naturally care for their well-being, safety, and happiness.
Animals are by definition godless. The Judeo-Christian version of the supernatural offers no eternal reward for non-human animals. Jesus did not die on the cross to save your pet iguana from eternal emptiness. Your pet turtle will not be resurrected upon the second coming. Indeed, in the bible animals are merely tools to be utilized on the field, slaughtered as offerings to the lord, traded for virginity. Yet, followers of Christ are not immune from the power of love for our fellow non-human earthlings.
When Christians (and other believers) ask me “if there is no god then isn’t life meaningless?” I say no. No one, even devout Evangelicals, have any reason to believe that their kitty’s life is meaningless even though there is no reason to believe that there is actually a dog and cat heaven. At least, I haven’t met anyone above the age of reason who still believes in dog and cat heaven. Animal lovers, despite their religion or lack thereof, fully understand the meaning in our animals’ lives. Our animals find meaning in the comfort of companionship, in food, in barking at would-be intruders wearing brown shorts, in chasing “mysterious” red laser points. Even though they can’t articulate their thoughts in a way that we can understand (yet??), we have no reason to believe that our companion animals suffer through a life without god.
Even in the wild, where human love has not penetrated, we have no reason to believe that an elephant’s life is meaningless merely because it hasn’t read the bible. The great apes are cherished for their human-like traits and intelligence. And, no one believes that apes don’t find meaning in their relationships and playful activities. Many of us feel at least a small sting of guilt when we see wild bears or orcas in captivity. Why? Because we’ve deprived them of the natural meaning of their lives.
All non-human animals are godless (as far as we can tell). At least, none of them believe the Genesis-through-Revelation story. None of them have formed religious institutions with memetic-like communication structures to reinforce their beliefs in the minds of other non-human animals. No. The closest thing to god in our companion animals’ lives is we, their companion humans. And we are a constant let down in our animals lives. Forgetting to feed them. Not taking them on enough walks. Rubbing their faces in their messes. And just not showing them 100% of our attention. Yet, despite all of our failings, they forgive us because they know that we exist and will continue to love them.
If our fellow animals can find comfort, happiness, and meaning in life without having to believe in a supernatural agency that will save their immortal soul, then it should be pretty clear to the believer why atheists can find comfort, happiness, and meaning in life too.