"Hot" religious topics
Cremation among present-day Judeo-Christians.
Cremation statistics in the U.S. and Canada.
Resomation: a third alternative
Is it wrong for Christians to choose cremation?:
Some factors which favor cremation:
||Tt can be more economical, because a simple container can be used in place of an
expensive casket. That leaves more money for the survivors.
||The cost associated with the purchase and perpetual care of a grave site or
tombstone is avoided.
||It allows scattering of the remains in a place of significance to the deceased.
||Some people would rather have their body disposed of quickly by heat rather than allow
it to decay in a grave and perhaps be eaten by worms.
||Cemetaries often occupy large areas of urban real estate that can be better used for other functions.
Some factors that favor burial:
Various religious groups have taken a variety of positions on cremation:
||The People's Gospel Hour condemned the practice.
The Roman Catholic Church used to totally condemn the practice of cremation in all circumstances. In fact, the
only German Catholics formally excommunicated by the Church during World War II were not prison
guards at extermination camps or other mass murderers. They were
three individuals who promoted cremation. 1 In recent years, the church has reluctantly accepted cremation.
During 2016-AUG, the the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an:
"Instruction regarding the burial of the deceased
and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation." 13
The Instuction states, in part:
- "Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places. ... burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body." ... [The Church] cannot ... condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison” of the body. ... the burial of the faithful departed in cemeteries or other sacred places encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints. ..."
- "When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area, which has been set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the competent ecclesial authority/"
- Ashes are not to be stored in a home, divided among family members, scattered into the air, land or sea, or preserved in mementos, jewelry, etc.
- A Christian funeral is to be denied a person who has requested that their body be cremated and the ashes scattered. 13
||RBC Ministries suggested a cautious approach. 2
||The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America opposes cremation. They state that:
"The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place. The Church does not grant funerals, either in the sanctuary, or at the funeral home, or at any other place, to persons who have chosen to be cremated." 9
||Most Christian groups, except for Eastern Orthodox Churches now take a neutral stance.
According to the Being Jewish website:
"Cremation is completely banned by traditional Jews. Orthodox and
Conservative practice would allow it only in a time of plague. Otherwise,
interment in a Jewish cemetery is mandated." 3
These beliefs are
reinforced by recent memories of the millions of Jews who were cremated in
the death camps of Nazi Germany. However, some rabbis in the Jewish Reform
movement support cremation if it is the wish of the deceased. 4
The cremation rate, compared to burial, is very high in some countries. It is 100% in Japan and 85.4\% in Switzerland.
As North American society becomes progressively more secular, it is expected that
cremation will continue to gain in favor, and become the normal method of disposing of bodies. A
second factor is ecological sensitivity: some people do not want their remains to utilize
badly needed land.
The number of cremations in North America has increased dramatically in recent years. The creation rate was only 5% in 1962. 5 As of 1996, about 21% of Americans and 36% of
Canadians are cremated at death. Percentages vary from 75% in British Columbia, Canada, to 61% in HI, 50% in
WA,... 7% in LA, 4% in GA, 3% in MS and 1% in Newfoundland. 6 The high number in British
Columbia is partly caused by the large transient population in the province, and the
presence of many Hindus and Sikhs who are almost always cremated. Back in 1998, Cremation was predicted to
be the most common method of disposing of bodies in Canada by about 2015 CE. 6 In reality, it happened very early in the 2000's.
Past and projected data for the United States:
The following chart shows data from the Cremation
Association of North America (CANA) in 2009: 7,11
|United States Data
||Number of cremations
||% of all deaths
|2015 projected figure
|2025 projected figure
In 2009, their projected figures showed that about the year 2020, cremation would be more popular than burial in the U.S.
The following chart shows data from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) in 2017: 7,12
|United States Data
||Percentage of cremations
||% of burials
|2020 projected figures
|2025 projected figures
|2030 projected figures
|2035 projected figures
The Cremation Info website indicates that the earliest cremation records in the U.S. show that only 41 cremations were performed during 1876 to 1884. The number of cremations and the percentage of cremations appear to have increased continually since that time. 8
Cremation may have became more common that burial during the year 2016.
Data from Canada:
| Canadian Data
||Number of cremations
||% of all deaths
|1929 to 1933
|1939 to 1943
|1949 to 1953
Data for the year 2000 is the most recent available as of early 2011. It appears that cremation became more popular than burial in Canada circa 2001.
There are over 30,000 funeral homes in the U.S. and Canada offering cremation services.
There are also hundreds of cremation or memorial societies. The Internet Cremation Society 1 has links to many cremation service providers.
The National Funeral Directors Association reported that
"... since 2012, the percent of Americans who feel it is very important to have religion as part of a funeral has decreased from 49.5 percent to 39.5 percent. 14
Cremation as an alternative to burial today:
CremationOption.com describes the modern cremation process and discusses its environmental and social impact in comparison to burial in a casket.
Resomation: a third alternative:
A new approach to disposal of bodies has been developed that is more environmentally friendly than burial and cremation. ABC News rports that the body is placed:
"... into a capsule-like chamber, which is then filled with water and a chemical called potassium hydroxide, which is highly alkaline -- the opposite of acid.
The water is heated and gently circulated. After two- to three hours, all that is left of the body is bone, which is then ground down into a powder to be returned to the family."
The process is formally known as alkaline hydrolysis. It is legal, but not necessarlly available, in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wyoming. In Canada, it has been legalized in Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. 15
References used in the above essay:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- James W. Fraser, "Cremation: Is it Christian?", Loizeaux Brothers,
Inc., (1965); Pamphlet available from The Peoples Gospel Hour, PO Box 1660, Halifax
NS, Canada, B3J 3A1
- Article at RBC Ministries at: http://www.gospelcom.net/ cannot be safely accessed.
- "Body and soul: Why is cremation forbidden," Being Jewish website, at: http://www.beingjewish.com/
- Rabbi Gary A. Huber, "Is cremation allowed in Reform Judaism? What
is your policy regarding this funeral practice?" at: http://www.qn.net
- Cover story, USA Today, 1995-DEC-5
- Philip Jackman, "Cremation now a hot option," Globe and Mail,
- "Statistics about cremation trends," Cremation Association of North America, undated, at: http://www.cremationassociation.org/ This article is no longer online.
- "Historical Cremation Data: United States vs Canada," Cremation Info, undated, at: http://www.cremationinfo.com/
- "Cremation," part of "Pastoral Guidelines: Church Positions Regarding the Sanctity of Human Life," Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 2002, at: http://www.goarch.org/
- "Statistics," National Funderal Directors Association, (NFDA), at: http://www.nfda.org/
- "2008 Statistics and Projections to the Year 2025: 2009 Preliminary Data." Cremation Association of North America, 2010.
- Antonia Blumberg, "Americans Are Opting For Cremation Over Burial At The Highest Rate Ever," The Muslim Times, 2017-JUL-30, at: https://themuslimtimes.info
- Prefect Gerhard Cardinal Müller, "Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation," Congregaton for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican, 2016-AUG-15, at: http://www.vatican.va/
- "NFDA Cremation and Burial Report Shows Rate of Cremation at All-time High," National Funeral Directors Association, 2017-JUL-17, at: http://www.nfda.org/
- Irene Klotz, "Resomation:' Dissolving Body for Eco-Friendly Burial," ABC News, 2011-SEP-06, at: https://abcnews.go.com/
- "Alkaline Hydrolysis Laws in Your State," Nolo, 2018, at: https://www.nolo.com/
Sources of cremation information and materials on the Internet:
- All States Cremation Society of Colorado is the original cremation-only service in that state, providing simple, dignified and affordable cremation choices. See: http://www.allstatescremation.com/
- Cremation Resource is a fascinating resource containing helpful information on how to make decisions concerning cremation, how the procedure is done, strange and bizarre gravestones, and many other topics. See: http://www.cremationresource.org/
- Cremation Specialists at: http://www.cremation.com/index.asp
- Everlife Memorials supply cremation urns & jewelry. Delivery
within the 48 contiguous states is free. See: http://www.everlifememorials.com/
- Internet Cremation Society at: https://cremation.org/
- Memorials.com supplies over 7,500 cremation urns, as well as keepsake jewelry, headstone, grave markers. etc. See: http://www.memorials.com/
- Perfect Memorials supply quality wood, bronze, glass, metal and
marble cremation urns for both people and pets. Their selections also include
keepsakes, 14K jewelry, infant and other memorial products. See: http://www.perfectmemorials.com/
- Psyche Cremation Jewelry supplies glass pendants containing ashes embedded in high strength borosilicate glass for durability. See: https://psychecremationjewelry.com/
Copyright © 1997 to 2018 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-JUL-31
Author: B.A. Robinson