A defense of Revelation 5:13, as evidence for the existence of a lesser Heaven of beasts.
|"Then I heard every creature – in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them – singing: To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!"
Here we see Biblical evidence that, contrary to popular assertion, God does not consign sinless creatures to annihilation at physical death.
This applies to beasts and all non-animal life. Note that humans are animals albeit special animals (as evolution makes more clear), hence why "beast" is used rather than "animal" in the semantics of the following answers to objections.
Objection 1: "That is just metaphorical language. It doesn't mean any such thing."
It is only a metaphor in the sense that God does not have to sit on a physical throne of wood or metal, in some geographic location, with a choir surrounding it. Calling it meaningless or misleading for that reason is a bit like calling Genesis meaningless or misleading because the world is not merely 6,000 years old.
Objection 2: "How can this be? Only humans have the Rational aspect of the soul, which Aquinas said was the only immortal aspect."
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, was a great theologian. On this topic, however, it must be noted that both he and the Pre-Christian Philosopher Aristotle, whom he was paraphrasing, lived before it was understood that humans in the womb start out as zygotes. A zygote is a single cell without a brain. A zygote does not have thoughts or emotions.
Nevertheless, the Church clearly teaches that a miscarried zygote still goes to Heaven. Given that zygotes go to Heaven despite the lack of a rational mind, something that was later clarified as part of the Deposit of Faith, the claim that only a rational-minded being can go to Heaven does not apply.
Objection 3: "Going to Heaven requires being morally tested in this life, which beasts are not."
Again, neither are miscarried human zygotes. It can be said, however, that Heaven is more special, and in that sense "in its fullness," for a being that could hypothetically have gone to Hell instead.
Objection 4: "The answer to Objection 1 is unsatisfactory, if you are saying that Heaven, a non-material mode of being, is suddenly a geographic place that contains material objects."
Sensory Qualia are still non-material information even without a rational mind. The Qualium of having had sensations, then, is non-material whether rational or not. Qualia are an aspect of Metaphysical Idealism. More broadly, Idealism says that all things (material or otherwise) exist fundamentally as information in the Mind of God.
A detailed defense of Idealism, however, is another topic entirely. For a summary of that topic, see "The Clarification of Metaphysics."
Objection 5: "Humans are not only rational but can also create imaginary people, places, and events, as authors do. Why would God see fit to preserve any being without that capability?"
Again, the Church clearly teaches that a miscarried human zygote, as opposed to a born human, still goes to Heaven. Zygotes are not capable of creating fiction, either.
Objection 6: "Having any afterlife at all, even if it is lesser or less special as explained above, would make it sinful to kill and eat the other being. Wouldn't it?"
By definition, a Heaven without the possibility of Hell, as explained above, is an afterlife without a Judgment. If you were to commit a murder, you do not know the person's heart and mind as God does, and therefore, you do not know for absolute certainty that the victim won't go to Hell who, otherwise, would have come around and made right with God later in life. In other words, the sinfulness of killing another human lies in arrogating the Judgment Seat from God, for which reason God alone should decide who lives and who dies.
Granted, murder risks more directly the Salvation of the one who kills. The reason God takes away the Salvation of a murderer, however, is for arrogating God's judgment seat.
Objection 7: "You are ignoring why Jesus never came as either beast or Angel, but only as a human."
No, Jesus came to redeem sinners. Humans separated ourselves from both God and the rest of Creation via our sins. Jesus came to save us from sin, and from the Everlasting Death (also known as Hell) made possible by sin.
Objection 8: "Jesus said that one must be born again, in Baptism, for eternal life. Are you saying that beasts, plants, bacteria, and so forth, can be baptized?"
Again, Jesus came to redeem sinners. Jesus described what is required of a sinner, not of a being incapable of sin.
Objection 9: "The Book of Revelation describes the New Creation, which is the second material reality that God will create at the end of time. It does not describe the Beatific Vision, which is the purely spiritual Heaven that exists now."
True. The only caveat is that God is not bound by our linear experience of time. In God's non-linear time, the New Creation has already existed ever since the Destruction of the Second Temple, in AD 70. Thankfully, this also means that your human loved ones need not wait for a billion or a trillion years to see the New Creation. Between God's non-linear version of time, and the significance of the Second Temple having been destroyed when it was, the Beatific Vision is likely always very short.
The Destruction of the Second Temple, and its significance for the New Creation, was also prefigured by the Assumption of Mary. Saint Mary, Mother of God, was the real Tabernacle and the final replacement for the one in the Temple. When she was Assumed with her material body, it became clear that the New Creation is material as well as spiritual.
Objection 10: "Why would Divine mercy forbid annihilation of such creatures at physical death? Non-existence is not bad."
Most philosophers of religion disagree. One of the main solutions to the Problem of Hell is an abstract appeal to the mercy of God, calling annihilation a fate worse than Hell. A lesser Heaven, the Choir of Revelation 5:13, is not Hell. The same theodicy, therefore, applies all the more strongly.
Objection 11: "The answers to Objections 2, 3, and 5 are unsatisfactory, if you are also justifying abortion. The Church is abundantly clear that abortion is wrong."
This plays into Divine Foreknowledge. Unlike natural miscarriages, victims of elective abortions are genetically and physically fit, such that they could hypothetically have survived as post-natal humans outside the womb. Even without any thoughts or emotions for an early enough elective abortion, God can see what that person's thoughts, feelings, and actions would hypothetically have been, had (s)he survived.
Objection 12: "What about the rest of Revelation 5? This chapter describes a vision."
Yes, it does. The vision, however, is not merely a dream or hallucination. It is a Valid Apparition concerning the final state of the New Creation. There would be no mention of "all creatures" around the throne of God unless all creatures were somehow part of that final state. There is, and so they are.
Objection 13: "What makes humans unique, if not the mere existence of an afterlife?"
The capability to sin, and the consequent Judgment, are what place humans in need of a Savior.
Objection 14: "Even without a Judgment, any afterlife would place non-human life also in the Image of God. Wouldn't it?"
No, the Image of God is a statement of humanity's role and relationship with God. It also pertains mainly to this life. See "A Commentary on the Image of God" for a more detailed treatment.
Objection 15: "The idea of a lesser Heaven is seemingly incoherent. Can you even make sense of it?"
Here is how to make sense of it. A Heaven with the possibility of Hell is intrinsically even more rewarding than a Heaven without that possibility. Herein lies the coherence of the concept.
Objection 16: "The Book of Revelation is merely a commentary on Romans 8. Why would Paul spend the rest of that chapter speaking only of Christian believers, only to spend 2 or 3 verses speaking of all life?"
False premise: Saint John of Patmos did not write Revelation as a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 8 or otherwise. Instead, he wrote it based on a Valid Apparition, much like the later apparitions at Guadelupe, Lourdes, Knock, and Fatima.
Objection 17: "Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 is based on fear for annihilation of humans, not hope for any other life."
Yes primarily, and while additional layers of meaning may or may not be present for that passage, it is in any case Old Testament. As Christians, we are called upon to interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, not vice versa.
Objection 18: "All the objections above are answered, but the question remains of why. Why would you interpret Revelation 5:13 (and other parts of Revelation as when Jesus rides a horse) in the semi-literal terms of an afterlife of sorts, a lesser Heaven?"
Given that both Nature and Scripture have the same author, the natural sciences can be of use to interpret Scripture. Evolution makes clear that all life is related in a grand genealogy. Other species, although not the Image of God themselves (and again, see "A Commentary on the Image of God" for more on that topic), are all genealogically related to humans. Not in the Beatific Vision but rather in the New Heaven and New Earth that lie beyond it, that great genealogy will be accounted for by a God who used it as a tool of Creation.
Objection 19: "What about nuisance creatures, such as gnats, tapeworms, or certain bacterial cells (specifically for bacterial species that are pathogenic)?"
In the final state they have no need to act as parasites any longer, nor do you have any need for a purely physical (or unglorified) body free of them.
Objection 20: "A Heaven of any kind fundamentally requires the possibility of Hell. So how can there exist a lesser Heaven that doesn't?"
No, clearly it does not. Children who die before the age of reason have no possibility of Hell, either.
Objection 21: "By any such argument, reincarnation would be more economical."
The very idea of "economical" implies "spending," which in turn implies a finite resource. There are no such limits on God's creative power.
Objection 22: "When you have answered so many objections, doesn't that tell you something?"
It matters not how many objections were raised, as long as all of them were in fact answered.
Quod Erat Demonstrandum.