Christians and cremation

by Richard on January 24, 2008

Craig says: “Some (mainly older) Christians get in a bit of tiz about cremation.”

This came as a surprise to me. I’ve been working as a minister for a little while (though not as long as some I know ;) ), and I’ve never come across anyone who objects to cremation for ‘religious’ reasons. Perhaps it’s a antipodean cultural thing?

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Kim 01.24.08 at 10:02 am

“Some” hasn’t come across it either. But it’s obviously a hot topic for some folk. Are these pyrophobic Aussies also concerned about being buried upside-down? ;)

2

AJ 01.24.08 at 10:33 am

In the UK, at least, cremation has only been legal for a little over a hundred years - I have no idea why it was outlawed before that.

It only became legal when famous Welsh ‘eccentric’ Dr William Price took it on himself, at the age of 84, to cremate his dead, baby son, Jesus Christ Price. He was arrested, but won his subsequent trial and since then it has been okay to be burned if you so wish (assuming you’re dead, of course.) Making the most of his carbon footprint, Dr Price, himself, was eventually cremated on a two-ton pile of coal on a hill above Llantrisant.

With regard to Aussies being buried upside-down, they presumably have to ensure that the earth is well packed to prevent the deceased falling out, as it were.

AJ.

3

Wood 01.24.08 at 10:49 am

I think it’s actually a British (or European) thing rather than an Australian thing.

I recall that some American colleagues of mine whom I spoke to about this a couple of years back were really surprised that most British people are cremated, and certainly it was a massive taboo in the UK up to the Great War, when we had the situation that so many people were coming back dead that we had nowhere to bury them, and cremation was the only sensible option. So we just got over the taboo and got on with it. They’ve never had that problem in the other great English-speaking countries, so they’ve never had to get over the taboo.

4

Richard 01.24.08 at 12:44 pm

Let’s get this straight, Wood. You’re suggesting that if there’s a peculiarity here, then it is with us and not the Aussies? How preposterous! Where’s your imperialist instinct, your assurance of British cultural superiority, your bulldog spirit?

I prescribe an immediate daily dose of the Mail and the Express. You might yet be saved from this wishy-washy, namby-pamby cultural relativism that seems to have overtaken you.

  ;)

5

Andrew 01.24.08 at 12:48 pm

The English are moving towards cremation. It seems to be a generational thing. The Irish very rarely choose cremation, or in Scotland either. Certainly black cultures prefer burial……

6

Craig Schwarze 01.24.08 at 12:58 pm

Haha - nice topic Richard. I’d heard rumours around the place that some Christians, historically, objected to cremation because it might interfere with the resurrection of the body. And a recent Archbishop of Sydney went so far as to write a tract encouraging burial rather than cremation (!)

So the anti-cremation taboo is still around, and I don’t think it is just an antipodean thing…

7

Wood 01.24.08 at 4:17 pm

That Archbishop wouldn’t have been crazy Archbish Jensen, would it?

8

Kim 01.24.08 at 6:11 pm

If I were “Wood” I would rather burn than rot, woodn’t you? :)

9

DH 01.24.08 at 8:45 pm

Well, I personally would rather have my body in the grave to physically rot with the forknowledge of the fact that we will be resurrected in the Last Day like the 1st century church looked forward to. For me not agreeing to cremation gives acknowledgement to the resurrection of the Saints at the last day as opposed to otherwise. IMHO

10

Craig Schwarze 01.24.08 at 9:52 pm

No, it was Archbishop Robinson who wrote the tract, if I recall correctly

11

Kim 01.24.08 at 10:39 pm

I would be very surprised if it were Jensen, who purports to know his scripture. Paul writes the entire second half of I Corinthians 15 - vv. 35-58 to be precise - precisely to refute and rubbish the nonsensical idea that had arisen in the Corinthian church that corpses will rise and live again.

Verse 50 is the climax of the argument: “… flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” C.K. Barrett concurs with Jeremias’ summation: “‘The parallelism is thus not synonymous, but synthetic and the meaning of verse 50 is: neither the living nor the dead can take part in the Kingdom of God - as they are.’”

We’re gonna get new bodies, folks. Who would want to try to keep the old one, even in its prime?

12

Jan 01.24.08 at 10:54 pm

I saw Craig’s link before I saw the post here and was surprised then that he thought it may have been an Aussie thing. I didn’t find this thought at all except for a few of the older among the brethren group I once was in. I’ve been to quite a few funerals in the last ten or so years and everyone has been a cremation.

13

tortoise 01.25.08 at 9:34 am

An issue on which my advice was sought by a bereaved spouse is whether it’s legitimate - “morally” as he put it but I guess he meant “theologically” too - to divide the ashes. This was motivated by pragmatic family concerns, but the enquirer worried whether this was tantamount to “splitting a body”.

14

Kim 01.25.08 at 9:51 am

Ministerial training any help on that one, Tortoise?
And what was your advice? Something like, “What body?”

O the things ministers have to do to urn their keep!

15

Richard 01.25.08 at 2:35 pm

And the “Worst Pun of the Day” award goes to… :)

16

DH 01.25.08 at 4:10 pm

Well Kim when one reads this passage: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

or

“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[c]”

Then I agree we will have a Glorified body but it will include the physical AND the Spiritual combined. Hense the term “dead in Christ shall rise and those that remain in Christ will rise after that.” Remember, of those that are physically dead, these are Christians souls are in heaven yet they are going to rise at the last day.

It seems to me the understanding is that it will be a transfigured glorified Spiritual with physical type body. That is how Enoch, Elijah, etc. were able to not phyically die so it will be for those who are Christians who haven’t physically died on the last day.

So I agree but disagree at the same time. If you reread my previous post you would see I used the term Glorified or transfigured body. I agree the physical alone or the psiritual alone but there must be a combination when taken the ENTIRE PASSAGE in context. One mustn’t proof text the part on the flesh and blood without readin the passages here I mentioned.

17

DH 01.25.08 at 4:14 pm

Christians will rise at the last day yet they are in heaven. It seems to me if one rereads what I just written in conjuction with this you can see Yes we will have a new body but it will be a glorified transfigured body that includes physical and spiritual attributes. How else can it rise when the spiritual is in heaven already?

18

Wood 01.25.08 at 10:45 pm

So what, you don’t think God is powerful enough to reconstitute ashes?

19

Rachel 01.26.08 at 4:05 am

Cremation has never been a Christian practice, although there has been a lot of digging up bones a year after somebody is buried. My aunt, who is really into Jewish studies, says that cremation is a pagan ritual. I don’t think cremation has entered the Christian consciousness until the past 50 years.

20

Wood 01.26.08 at 6:26 am

Which was my original point. Over here, cremation is far more common than burial, and has been since WWI. It’s a taboo that Christians got over in the UK, but which people in the other English-speaking countries largely haven’t.

21

Kim 01.26.08 at 2:36 pm

In the UK, cremation became legal in 1884, by the early 1970s cremations outnumbered burials, and by the 1990s around three-quarters of all funerals involved cremation. The Church of England was unenthusiastic about the practice until the 1940s when two Archbishops of Canterbury - Lang and Temple - were cremated; the Roman Catholic Church gave official permission for cremations in 1964; the Orthodox Church still frowns upon the practice; most, if not all, Protestants have no problem with it. Orthodox Jews - yes, Rachel -consider it pagan, as do Muslims, but not Liberal and Reform Jews (though burial as well as cremation is found in pagan cultures).

As for the reasons for the displacement of burial by cremation, several have been offered, most of them sociological. The main religiousl reason given is a decline in belief in the “resurection of the body” - which, as I have suggested (above) is bad theology anyway. I can see no theological reason why cremation should be considered “taboo” (as Wood puts it). And, of course, “pagan” practices that the church has baptised (some, admittedly, wrongly, in my opinion) are numerous.

Here endeth the lesson. :)

22

Rachel 01.27.08 at 1:49 am

Wait, I’m confused…are you denying the resurrection of the body? Isn’t that a bit of a problem with ya know, the Nicene Creed and 2000 years of tradition? Wasn’t Jesus bodily raised from the dead?

23

Richard 01.27.08 at 7:27 am

Though I hesitate to speak for him, I believe that what KIm is saying is that ‘the resurrection of the body’ is something altogether more marvellous than the recycling of our corpses.

24

Kim 01.27.08 at 7:47 am

Hi Rachel,

Richard can speak for me! That’s right: God will reconfigure my earthly soma - which is my earthly me - in a quite heavenly way that is not in the least contingent on whether I am buried, cremated, or eaten by sharks; and the best, indeed the only way really, to talk about my eschatological materiality is in poetry.

For my thoughts on the resurrection of Jesus, which was as unique an event as he is unique a person (and, yes, the tomb was empty), see my “Ten Propositions on the Resurrection” at “Faith and Theology”

25

DH 01.28.08 at 3:08 pm

I need to reclarify my position. I agree with would that God will reconstitute ashes,etc. However, my reason for disagreeing with cremation is the implication it gives however false that one does not believe in the physical resurrection. I agree with Richard that the resurrection is much more glorious then the reconstitution of the physcial body (I would use the term recycling of the corpse) but it does include that. I agree it is more glorious than that but it does include the physical reconstitution. Scripture is very clear that there is a transfiguration like Elijah and Enoch.

I agree with Rachel about the concerns about what Kim and parts of what Richard have said. While they might not disagree with the resurrection, their explainations really don’t give credense to an affirmation of the truth of this point in Christianity.

Also, there is another reason which is to help some people who need to see the physical body to comprehend that one is dead. I know some people had more problems with grieving because their loved one was cremated. They kept thinking that the person was still alive, etc. I understand that this is a problem with their psyche. However, I believe there is a responsibility to help people not to be lead astray. If not being cremated helps the greatest amount of people to grieve then to cremate just causes more problems. What phsychologically helps people with cremation? I don’t see a positive on this as opposed to the opposite.

I believe Jesus’s resurrection was a forshadowing of the future physical resurrection of the saints at the last day. Unique? Unique in that Jesus was fully God but it isn’t in that “the dead in Christ will arise first and those that remain will be caught away in a twinkle of an eye”.

26

Kim 01.28.08 at 6:32 pm

Hi DH,

The beginning of your third paragraph makes no sense. At least in the UK one can view the corpse in (what is called) the “chapel of rest”, regardless of the form of its subsequent disposal. Indeed if asked, I encourage folk to do so, for a number of reasons, including the one you mention (i.e. “to comprehend that one is dead”). But, again, this has nothing to do with whether the body is subsequenntly cremated or buried. How on earth cremation contributes to denial eludes me, unless the deceased is the Terminator. Conversely, how is burial supposed to ensure that the deceased is dead in the mind of the mourner? Have old Joe exhumed every so often, just to be on the safe side? “Yup, that’s Joe alright - though he’s been looking thinner lately.” I really don’t think that you have thought this one coherently and consistently through.

27

Richard 01.28.08 at 6:38 pm

>> “Yup, that’s Joe alright - though he’s been looking thinner lately.” :)

28

DH 01.28.08 at 7:06 pm

I basically agree that the Believers will have their bodies reconstituted with a new glorified body at the resurrection on the last day. However, I still disagree with cremation because I do know people who have problems with knowing that a person is dead because the person was cremated as opposed to buried because they actually see the physical dead body before them. With people whose loved ones were buried as opposed to cremated there isn’t this problem or the chance of the person having a problem about thinking the person is not dead is not an issue because again the physcial body is dead before them. I know no person who doesn’t believe that a buried loved one is still alive unless it was a closed casket. However, I do know people whose loved ones were cremated who had more difficulty believing that the loved one was dead. My conclusion as to the problem is that if the loved one was buried there would be a greater chance of this being a problem becuase the survivors can physically see the physical dead body in the casket as being dead not alive. I HAVE thought this one through because I know survivors of both cremated loved ones and buried loved ones and it seems pretty clear that there is less difficulty in mourning for the family members of buried loved ones. It solves one aspect of mourning in the quickest most effiecent way and is much more compassionate for the survivors to have the dead loved one buried as opposed to cremated.

29

Anonymous 08.26.10 at 10:00 pm

Christians at least, probably should not be cremated. why? because like the first century Christians, and others of very strong faith through the centuries: in the past couple of decades, as we near the coming of Christ, there have been many people raised or restored back to life after having died for a short time (a few hours or a few days). this would not be possible, to merely restore life into the body, if it had been cremated or destroyed. Cremation reads: Destroyed. Do i want to be destroying my loved one’s body? NO. If and when God sees fit, He can decompose a body. BUT if He sees fit, He can and sometimes does, raise that body back to life in a short time, and heals it. Complete destruction obviously, causes serious complications and obstructions to this. One might want to destroy one’s enemy’s body once they have died, but not their loved ones.
So this kind of basis, is what most early Christians were probably referencing. Some of them had witnessed the short-term raising of the dead back to life. That kind of “resurrection” which is maybe not he exact same thing as the end times resurrection of everyone. or maybe it is? anyway, see Lazarus, in the Bible: and also, this website: IANDS.org .
This is not to say, that people can’t be resurrected if cremated: they can, but it will not be anytime soon, imho. Best leave the reduction of the human body up to God, to decide whether they stay dead or not. And for this reason I also don’t like the idea of internal embalming either. External ancient embalming unguents only please, and a pretty white crypt with sleeping compartments, that opens from the inside, please.

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