Cremation and Tradition
Cremation and Religion
Cremation vs. Burial
Cremation vs. Burial
Cremation vs. burial is a important discussion to have for any family contemplating how to proceed upon the death of one of its beloved members. The first thing to consider when having such a discussion about whether a person should be buried or cremated is that care should be taken to assure that the discussion does not evolve into a debate. This is important because debates are almost always characterized as having a single winner and a single loser, and for something as emotionally charged as the discussion of cremation vs. burial, it is important that a family reach a consensus as opposed to a state in which one side wins and the other loses. Consensus breeds a culture and love, compassion and dignity that can be passed down to succeeding generations. To help with such discussion that may come about in your own family, this article lists a number of important things to consider when weighting the question of cremation vs. burial. Probably the most important issue to consider on this topic is, simply put, religion. In some cases, a proper consideration of religion will lead directly to a unquestionable decision about cremation vs. burial. In the Jewish faith, for example, cremation is very explicitly forbidden by the religion's sacred texts and, accordingly, by all elders in the faith. Practically speaking, also, the practice of cremation brings to mind the horrible experience of the Holocaust, in which millions of Jewish people were cremated (often while still alive) cruelly in the 1940s. So, even if, as has happened in other religions, some Jewish people may be intellectually willing to allow cremation in accordance with Jewish law and tradition, it seems highly unlikely that such a sentiment will gain much momentum in the faith strictly on an emotional basis. Other religious faiths such Islam are also equally opposed to cremation for a variety of reasons that point back to the commonly accepted interpretation of religious texts. In these cases, families of those who clearly devoted their lives in service to their religion would do well to set aside any question of cremation vs. burial and simply adopt the choice of the deceased's faith. (And, from a point of view of respect and dignity, it is important to do this even if others in the family do not celebrate the same faith.) So, this is to say that, in some cases, the discussion should – from a moral perspective – not be at all an involved on – and it should certainly never evolve into a debate. The question should hardly warrant even a breath of discussion: in cases of someone devoutly of the Jewish, Islamic, or any other faith in which cremation is forbidden, burial is simply the only option. The opposite is true of Hinduism and other religions that are based in the philosophies and traditions of the Eastern World. These faiths practice cremation exclusively. That means their participants are morally and ethically entitled to the same treatment as described above on the question of burial vs. cremation: cremation is simply the only option.
This leaves many families still in a quandry, we realize: many religions of the world (we daresay most even) have only relatively recently decided that cremation is an acceptable practice. The Catholic church is but one example of a church that prohibited cremation for centuries before finally in the late 20th century formally re-instating it as something in line with its laws and Biblical interpretation. But, even while formally allowing the practice, cremation is still to be done in the Catholic church only by sctrict rules and guidelines. So, while the question burial vs cremation is now ultimately left to be decided by each individual in the Catholic church, the church leaders themselves have left uncovered at least a small bias in favor of burial. Followers of other many other religions, such as most of the Protestant branches of Christianity, face a similar quandary: the church officially condones cremation, but sends many other signals that demonstrate a preference for burial. And even those who subscribe to no particular religion at all receive little reliable help from cultural cues on the question of burial vs. cremation. Popular political novels of the mid 20th century (Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and others) all cast cremation in a negative light by describing it as a quick and convenient way for shallow, thoroughly brainwashed societies to cope most effectively with the inherit mortality in all of mankind. People who die in those stories are quickly incinerated and just as quickly forgotten, and the reader is made to see that such a demise is a cruel and dangerous by product of an insane culture. Meanwhile, a lot of great literature and progressive political thought that has come about since those powerful books paints cremation in a decidedly more positive light. Cremation, in this sense, is a means for a person to quickly return to his or her most natural state – in line with all of the spiritual elements of the universe – and to do so with a minimum amount of harm to the natural world.
So, in each of these cases we've mentioned above, the cremation vs. burial question represents a difficult decision, and, clearly, there is no moral high ground for one to stand on in support of either option. So, if religion and philosophy are not helpful in such cases, here are a few other things that families should consider very carefully before making any final decisions. First, there is the emotional perspective of the discussion of cremation vs. burial. For many survivors, cremation may be an unwelcome choice simply because it has an air of finality about it. Once a cremation has been done, a person's physical body is no longer available in any form, and that is simply too uncomfortable a proposition for some people. The emotional trauma of a cremation can be mediated in such cases with the use of memorial products such as traditional grave markers or cremation urns specifically designed to consistently harken pleasant memories of a loved one's time on earth. But, if your family has even one member who objects to cremation on an emotional ground, then all care should be taken to assure that that person's feelings are treated with dignity and respect as you carry on through the discussion of cremation vs. burial. And finally, an important consideration is simply cost: cremation – because it relies upon fewer memorial products and services than burial – is often far less expensive. For many families, choosing cremation (an option that can cost as little as $1000 as opposed to burial which can run up to $10,000 or more) is the only logical choice, and there is much to be said for such a position in the discussion of cremation vs. burial. But care should be taken to assure that your family is not rejecting other important considerations simply because cremation is the least expensive. Many families often find that, for religious and emotional reasons, burial is worth the extra price.
So, the bottom line is that cremation vs. burial is not an easy choice to make for many people, and, to assure healthy relations for years to come after a death in the family, great care should go in to making the final choice.