Cremation and Christianity

Both of my parents were cremated. Both had been born Christian but became agnostic so there were no religious questions involved. My father died at home in Hawaii and my mother brought his ashes to the mainland in a cardboard box and no permits (not legal). We scattered his ashes on the slopes of Mt. Shasta. My mother also died at home in Hawaii. Part of her ashes were taken out to sea and part were scattered on Mt. Shasta. We had memorial services for each parent and found the scattering the cremated remains with our own hands a profound and comforting experience.

Modern cremation was developed in 1870 and the first cremation was done in that same year. The ceremony included quotations from Darwin and from Hindu scripture.

Both the Greeks and the Romans practiced cremation while early Christians placed the body in a catacomb or buried it. Cremation was shunned as being a pagan practice.

Today, cremation is becoming more popular with 28% of all remains being cremated and this figure is growing rapidly. The main reasons for this increase are cost and concern for the environment. The cost of cremation runs from about $500 to $2000 compared to the average cost of a funeral at $6000, not including the burial plot.

In cremation, the body is placed in a wooden box or casket and then put into the crematorium where temperatures are 1400 to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. The cremated remains consist of bone fragments and particles. These are then finely ground.

Different Christian organizations have different beliefs about cremation but it would be fair to say that all have some degree of distaste for it. All the mainstream Protestant churches allow it while fundamentalist, Catholic, and Orthodox churches have a variety of stances.

The Catholic Church banned cremation in 1886 and lifted the ban in 1963. The original ban had less to do with the practice itself and more to do with the “anti-Catholic” ceremonies accompanying it. The Church believed that anti-Catholic organizations, especially the Freemasons were behind the practice of cremation. Even after the ban was lifted, the Church required an intact body for funeral Masses to be held. In 1997 the Church allowed funeral masses to be held with cremated remains. Today the Church allows cremation while “earnestly recommending” burial.

The Eastern Orthodox Church does not strictly forbid cremation but urges its members to adhere to traditional burial. It will not conduct a funeral Mass for cremated remains. The Orthodox believe that the body will rise at the Second Coming and therefore the body must be respected.

The Assembly of God permits cremation but strongly prefers burial pointing to the practice in both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Because Pagans practiced cremation, may have felt that cremation is anti Christian.

Fundamentalist Christians condemn cremation, arguing that there are many passages in the Bible about burial or entombment. Also they believe that the body must be intact for the Second Coming although God will heal those whose bodies have been destroyed through no fault of their own. The increase in the number of cremations is connected by Christian fundamentalists with the “rapidly increasing apostasy from the Word of God.” Cremation is condemned as a heathen practice.

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