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Religious Views on Cremation

Christianity


In Christian countries and cultures, cremation has historically been discouraged, but now in many denominations it is accepted.


Catholicism


Christians preferred to bury the dead rather than to cremate the remains, as was common in Roman culture. The Roman catacombs and veneration of relics of saints witness to this preference. For them, the body was not a mere receptacle for a spirit that was the real person, but an integral part of the human person. They looked on the body as sanctified by the sacraments and itself the temple of the Holy Spirit,and thus requiring to be disposed of in a way that honours and reveres it, and they saw many early practices involved with disposal of dead bodies as pagan in origin or an insult to the body;


The idea that cremation might interfere with God's ability to resurrect the body was refuted as early as the 2nd-century Octavius of Minucius Felix, in which he said: "Every body, whether it is dried up into dust, or is dissolved into moisture, or is compressed into ashes, or is attenuated into smoke, is withdrawn from us, but it is reserved for God in the custody of the elements. Nor, as you believe, do we fear any loss from sepulture, but we adopt the ancient and better custom of burying in the earth." And while there was a clear preference for burial, there was no general Church law forbidding cremation until 1866. Even in Medieval Europe, cremation was practiced in situations where there were multitudes of corpses simultaneously present, such as after a battle, after a pestilence or famine, and where there was an imminent fear of diseases spreading from the corpses, since individual burials with digging graves would take too long and body decomposition would begin before all the corpses had been interred.


Beginning in the Middle Ages, and even more so in the 18th century and later, rationalists and classicists began to advocate cremation again as a statement denying the resurrection and/or the afterlife,although the pro-cremation movement more often than not took care to address and refute theological concerns about cremation in their works. Sentiment within the Catholic Church against cremation became hardened in the face of the association of cremation with "professed enemies of God." When some Masonic groups advocated cremation as a means of rejecting Christian belief in the resurrection, the Holy See forbade Catholics to practice cremation in 1886. The 1917 Code of Canon Law incorporated this ban, but in 1963, recognizing that, in general, cremation was being sought for practical purposes and not as a denial of bodily resurrection, the choice of cremation was permitted in many circumstances. The current 1983 Code of Canon Law, states: "The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching."


There are no universal rules governing Catholic funeral rites in connection with cremation, but episcopal conferences have laid down rules for various countries. Of these, perhaps the most elaborate are those established, with the necessary confirmation of the Holy See, by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and published as Appendix II of the United States edition of the Order of Christian Funerals.


Although the Holy See has in some cases authorized bishops to grant permission for funeral rites to be carried out in the presence of cremated remains, it is preferred that the rites be carried out before cremation, in the presence of the still intact body. Practices that show insufficient respect for the ashes of the dead such as turning them into jewelry or scattering them are forbidden for Catholics.


Anglicanism and Lutheranism


In 1917, Volume 6 of the American Lutheran Survey stated that "The Lutheran clergy as a rule refuse" and that "Episcopal pastors often take a stand against it." Indeed, in the 1870s, the Anglican Bishop of London stated that the practice of cremation would "undermine the faith of mankind in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and so bring about a most disastrous social revolution." In The Lutheran Pastor, George Henry Gerberding stated:


Third. As to cremation. This is not a Biblical or Christian mode of disposing of the dead. The Old and New Testament agree and take for granted that as the body was taken originally from the earth, so it is to return to the earth again. Burial is the natural and Christian mode. There is a beautiful symbolism in it. The whole terminology of eschatology presupposes it. Cremation is purely heathenish. It was the practice among the Greeks and Romans. The mass of the Hindoos thus dispose of their dead. It is dishonoring to the body, intended for a temple of the Holy Ghost and to bear the image of God. It is an insidious denial of the doctrine of the resurrection.


However, Protestant churches welcomed the use of cremation at a much earlier date than the Catholic Church; pro-cremation sentiment was not unanimous among Protestants, however. The first crematoria in the Protestant countries were built in the 1870s, and in 1908, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey—one of the most famous Anglican churches—required that remains be cremated for burial in the abbey's precincts. Today, "scattering", or "strewing," is an acceptable practice in many Protestant denominations, and some churches have their own "garden of remembrance" on their grounds in which remains can be scattered. Other groups also support cremation. Some denominations, like Lutheran churches in Scandinavia, favour the urns being buried in family graves. A family grave can contain urns of many generations and also the urns of spouses and loved ones.


Methodism


An early Methodist tract titled Immortality and Resurrection noted that "burial is the result of a belief in the resurrection of the body, while cremation anticipates its annihilation." The Methodist Review noted that "Three thoughts alone would lead us to suppose that the early Christians would have special care for their dead, namely, the essential Jewish origin of the Church; the mode of burial of their founder; and the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, so powerfully urged by the apostles, and so mighty in its influence on the primitive Christians. From these considerations, the Roman custom of cremation would be most repulsive to the Christian mind."


Eastern Orthodox and others who forbid cremation


On the other hand, some branches of Christianity oppose cremation, including some minority Protestant groups and Orthodox.[84] Most notably, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches forbid cremation, as a custom, but not dogmatically. Exceptions are made for circumstances where it may not be avoided (when civil authority demands it, or epidemics) or if it may be sought for good cause,[clarification needed] but when a cremation is willfully chosen for no good cause by the one who is deceased, he or she is not permitted a funeral in the church and may also be permanently excluded from liturgical prayers for the departed. In Orthodoxy, cremation is perceived by some a rejection of the dogma of the general resurrection.


The Church of God (Restoration) also forbids the practice of cremation, believing it to be a pagan practice.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has, in past decades, discouraged cremation without expressly forbidding it. In the 1950s, for example, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie[87] wrote that "only under the most extraordinary and unusual circumstances" would cremation be consistent with LDS teachings.


However, more recent LDS publications have provided instructions for how to dress the deceased when they have received their temple endowments (and thus wear temple garments) prior to cremation for those wishing to do so, or in countries where the law requires cremation. Except where required by law, the family of the deceased may decide whether the body should be cremated, though the Church "does not normally encourage cremation.


Hinduism and other Indian origin religions


Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism practice cremation. The founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha, was cremated. For Buddhist spiritual masters who are cremated, one of the results of cremation are the formation of Buddhist relics A dead adult Hindu is mourned with a cremation, while a dead child is typically buried. The rite of passage is performed in harmony with the Hindu religious view that the microcosm of all living beings is a reflection of a macrocosm of the universe. The soul (Atman, Brahman) is the essence and immortal that is released at the Antyeshti ritual, but both the body and the universe are vehicles and transitory in various schools of Hinduism. They consist of five elements - air, water, fire, earth and space. The last rite of passage returns the body to the five elements and origins. The roots of this belief are found in the Vedas, for example in the hymns of Rigveda in section 10.16, as follows,


Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered,

O all possessing Fire, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way unto the Fathers.

When thou hast made him ready, all possessing Fire, then do thou give him over to the Fathers,

When he attains unto the life that waits him, he shall become subject to the will of gods.

The Sun receive thine eye, the Wind thy Prana (life-principle, breathe); go, as thy merit is, to earth or heaven.

Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters; go, make thine home in plants with all thy members.

— Rigveda 10.16


The final rites, in case of untimely death of a child, is usually not cremation but a burial. This is rooted in Rig Veda's section 10.18, where the hymns mourn the death of the child, praying to deity Mrityu to "neither harm our girls nor our boys", and pleads the earth to cover, protect the deceased child as a soft wool.


Sati


The act of sati refers to a funeral ritual in which a widowed woman committed suicide on the husband's funeral pyre. While a mention of self-immolation by one of several wives of an Indian king is found in a Greek text on India, along with self-immolation by widows in Russia near Volga, tribes of Thracians in southeast Europe, and some tribes of Tonga and Fiji islands, vast majority of ancient texts do not mention this practice. Rare mentions of such cremations in aristocratic circles appear in texts dated to be before the 9th century AD, where the widow of a king had the choice to burn with him or abstain. Ancient texts of Hinduism make no mention of Sati; its early medieval era texts forbid it, while post 10th century medieval era texts partly justify it and criticize the practice. The practice of sati, grew after 1000 CE, becoming a particularly significant practice by Hindus in India during the Islamic wars of conquest in South Asia.


This practice was made illegal in 1829 during the British colonial rule of India. After gaining independence from British colonial era, India passed a series of additional laws. The Indian Sati Prevention Act from 1988 further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting, and glorifying of sati.[100] In modern India, the last known case of Sati was in 1987, by Roop Kanwar in Rajasthan. Her action was found to be a suicide, and it led to the arrest and prosecution of people for failing to act and prevent her suicide during her husband's cremation.


Bali, Indonesia


Balinese Hindu dead are generally buried inside the container for a period of time, which may exceed one month or more, so that the cremation ceremony (Ngaben) can occur on an auspicious day in the Balinese-Javanese Calendar system ("Saka"). Additionally, if the departed was a court servant, member of the court or minor noble, the cremation can be postponed up to several years to coincide with the cremation of their Prince. Balinese funerals are very expensive and the body may be interred until the family can afford it or until there is a group funeral planned by the village or family when costs will be less. The purpose of burying the corpse is for the decay process to consume the fluids of the corpse, which allows for an easier, more rapid and more complete cremation.


Islam

Islam strictly forbids cremation. Islam has specific rites for the treatment of the body after death.


Judaism


Judaism traditionally disapproved of cremation in the past (it was the traditional means of disposing the dead in the neighboring Bronze Age cultures). It has also disapproved of preservation of the dead by means of embalming and mummifying, a practice of the ancient Egyptians.


Through history and up to the philosophical movements of the current era Modern Orthodox, Orthodox, Haredi, and Hasidic movements in Judaism have maintained a strict biblical line against cremation, and disapprove of it as Halakha (Jewish law) forbids it. This halakhic concern is grounded in the upholding of bodily resurrection as a core belief of traditional Judaism, as opposed to other ancient trends such as the Sadduccees, who denied it as well as the clear wording of the Torah in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:23 "Bury, you will bury him the same day; for the (unburied body) is a curse to God" with both a positive command derived from this verse to command one to bury a dead body and a negative command forbidding neglecting to bury a dead body. Some from the generally liberal Conservative Jewish also oppose cremation, some very strongly.


During the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the Jewish cemeteries in many European towns had become crowded and were running out of space, in a few cases cremation for the first time became an approved means of corpse disposal among the emerging liberal and Reform Jewish movements in line with their across the board rejection of traditional Torah ritual laws having mandatory standing. Current liberal movements like Reform Judaism still support cremation, although burial remains the preferred option.


In Israel, where religious ritual events including free burial and funeral services for all who die in Israel and all citizens including the majority Jewish population including for the secular or non-observant are almost universally facilitated through the Rabinate of Israel which is an Orthodox organization following traditional Jewish law, there were no formal crematories until 2004 when B&L Cremation Systems Inc. became the first crematory manufacturer to sell a retort to Israel. In August 2007, an orthodox youth group in Israel was accused of burning down the country's sole crematorium. The crematorium was rebuilt within weeks by its owner Aley Shalechet, and the retort replaced. Since that incident, cremation has taken place in Israel without interruption.


Other


Baha'i


The Baha'i Faith forbids cremation, "He feels that, in view of what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said against cremation, the believers should be strongly urged, as an act of faith, to make provisions against their remains being cremated. Bahá’u’lláh has laid down as a law, in the Aqdas, the manner of Bahá’í burial, and it is so beautiful, befitting and dignified, that no believer should deprive himself of it."


Zoroastrianism


Traditionally, Zoroastrianism disavows cremation or burial to preclude pollution of fire or earth. The traditional method of corpse disposal is through ritual exposure in a "Tower of Silence", but both burial and cremation are increasingly popular alternatives. Some contemporary adhererents of the faith have opted for cremation. Parsi-Zoroastrian singer Freddie Mercury of the group Queen was cremated after his death.


China


Neo-Confucianism under Zhu Xi strongly discourages cremation of one's parents' corpses as unfilial. Han Chinese traditionally practiced burial and viewed cremation as taboo and as a barbarian practice.


Traditionally, only Buddhist monks in China exclusively practiced cremation because ordinary Han Chinese detested cremation, refusing to do it. But now, the atheist Communist party enforces a strict cremation policy on Han Chinese. However, exceptions are made for Hui who do not cremate their dead due to Islamic beliefs.


The minority Jurchen and their Manchu descendants originally practiced cremation as part of their culture. They adopted the practice of burial from the Han, but many Manchus continued to cremate their dead.


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