The Theology of Cremation

More people have opted for cremation lately, but others feel it is vaguely anti-Christian, although it is not specifically prohibited in the scriptures or as dogma.  The feeling comes from the ancient belief that we will eternally resemble what is placed in the grave, much as a plant cutting placed in the ground.  Lose an ear and you will spend eternity without one.   Being reunited with loved ones in the hereafter is a common expectation, so we have to recognize each other when we meet on that golden shore, like, “Here comes Uncle Ed with his bald head and missing ear. Hope he’s over his eczema problem.”   Who could possibly recognize a pile of cremation ash? (Oh, there’s Uncle Ed.  Don’t step on him.)

A slight variation is the belief that resurrection requires the body be whole or at least the unattached parts all be there.  If you have that missing ear displayed on the mantlepiece, be sure it is buried with you and all will be well.  Aristocrats guillotined after the French Revolution were buried with their heads between their legs, so they were acceptable even in that condition.

Preservation of the body is common in agricultural societies who know seeds must be whole and carefully preserved for them to regrow, to “come back to life.”   Modern society with its warfare and violent hazards has changed that belief to one that any part, no matter how tiny, represents the complete person.  The discovery of DNA supports this.  After a disaster such as an airplane crash, searchers will try to recover even a scrap of tissue for the next-of-kin that can be placed in the casket with the sandbags.  It makes it easier for the mortuary industry to sell the complete package of a funeral, casket, plot, and gravestone.  And what else could you do with a pink piece of who-knows-what?  Put it in the bird-feeder?  (Not a new idea.  See the posting “Excarnation,” of July 11, 2013.)

I understand the Roman Catholic Church does not prohibit cremation, just discourages it on the grounds the cremated body cannot receive the sacraments.  Sounds reasonable on a superficial level.

Only two people in the Bible were physically transported to heaven: Jesus and Elijah.  A physical transportation was thought to be necessary for someone to return to an earthly existence, as if they simply walked through a door and would return unchanged.  Both Jesus and Elijah are expected to return someday.  If you have no expectations of returning, it will hardly matter.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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