"Hot" religious topics

Cremation among present-day Judeo-Christians.
Cremation statistics in the U.S. and Canada.
Cremation information and supplies.
Resomation & Green Burials

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Is it wrong for Christians to choose cremation?:

Some factors which favor cremation:
bullet 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.

bullet The cost associated with the purchase and perpetual care of a grave site or tombstone is avoided.

bullet It allows scattering of the remains in a place of significance to the deceased.

bullet 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.

bullet Cemetaries often occupy large areas of urban real estate that can be better used for other functions.

Some factors that favor burial:
bullet God selected burial at Moses' death (Deuteronomy 34:6).


Most of the reference to burning of a body in the Bible are instances of:

bullet punishment for criminal acts,
bullet punishment for improper behavior,
bullet killings by Pagans, or
bullet destruction of idols and evil material.

bullet St. Paul appears to favor burial. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, he discusses how God will raise the decomposed body of a believer. The symbolism used is that of planting a seed and having new life rise from the decaying seed.

bullet The Christian church has advocated burial since its inception. They reserved burning for people that they considered Witches and other heretics. They exterminated tens of thousands of them, mainly during the 15th to 18th centuries in Europe and into the 19th century in South America.

bullet Cremation can be an aid to murderers. Once a body has been cremated, it cannot be exhumed and analyzed for poisons, signs of trauma, etc.

Various religious groups have taken a variety of positions on cremation:

bullet 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

bullet RBC Ministries suggested a cautious approach. 2

bullet 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

bullet 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

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Cremation statistics:

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

According to the Cremation Association of North America, Canada’s cremation rate was 72.1 per cent in 2018. This rate will probably continue to increase, because cremations are much less costly than conventional burial in a casket. 22

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Past and projected data for the United States:

The following chart shows data from the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) in 2009: 7,11,20

United States Data
Year Number of cremations % of all deaths
1985 289,081 14.9%
1995 488,224 19.2
1998 553,000 24.1
1999 598,721 25.0
2000 625,399 26.2
2003 722,535 29.5
2004 741,598 30.9
2005 784,764 32.3
2006 815,369 33.5
2007 832,340 34.3
2014   47.0
2015   48.5
2025 projected figure   54.3%

In 2009, their projected figures showed that about the year 2020, cremation would become more popular than burial in the U.S. This turned out to be a pessimistic date.

The following chart shows data from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) in 2017: 7,12

United States Data
Year Percentage of cremations % of burials
2005 32.3% 61.4%
2010 40.4 53.3
2015 47.9, 48.5 45.2
2016 50.3 1. 43.5
2020 projected figures 56.2 37.8
2025 projected figures 63.8 30.3
2030 projected figures 71.3 22.7
2035 projected figures 78.8 15.3

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 became more common that burial during late 2015. 18

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Data from Canada:

Canadian Data
Year Number of cremations % of all deaths
1929 to 1933 141 0.13%
1939 to 1943 6,319 1.1
1949 to 1953 12,225 1,9
1960 4,537 3.3
1970 9,188 5.9
1980 32,423 18.9
1990 42,797 32.5
2000 106,747 47.7%
2009 - 68.4% 10
2017 - 70.5% 21

Data for the year 2017 is the most recent available as of late 2019. 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

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Cremation rates elsewhere in the world:

According to Wikipedia, the:

"Cremation rates vary widely across the world with some countries like Japan, Nepal and Thailand having a rate over 95% while majority-Catholic countries like Italy, Ireland and Poland having lower rates. Factors include culture and religion; for example, the cremation rate in Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic majority countries is much lower due to religious sanctions on cremation, whereas for Hindu or Buddhist majority countries the cremation rate is much higher. Cemetery fees impel towards the choice of cremation." 17

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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.

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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 reports 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, the liquid is drained from the chamber. 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 called "alkaline hydrolysis" or "bio-cremation." It is legal, but not necessarily available, in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wyoming. By mid-2019, over a dozen states have authorized its use. 22 In Canada, it has been legalized in Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. 15

During 2018-JUN-22, the Bereavement Authority of Ontario made an unannounced inspection of the Newcastle Funeral Home Ltd. in Newcastle, ON, Canada. The inspectors issued an immediate suspension of bio-cremation and proposed to revoke the crematorium operator license.

Carey Smith, registrar and CEO of the Bereavement Authority, said:

"There were some compliance violations noted in the inspection of the alkaline hydrolysis establishment."

Trevor Charbonneau, owner and funeral director of the Funeral Home, said:

"All I can really say is that we’re appealing the decision."Â

During 2019-JUL, Public Health Ontario issued a report saying that the alkaline hydrolysis process may not destroy human prions. Prions are proteins that can transmit neurodegenerative diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Â Since the remains of the process are flushed down the municipal sewer, they may represent a health hazard.

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A fourth option: Green Burials (a.k.a. Natural Burials):

These are simple burials in which the body is wrapped in a sheet or shroud, as quickly as possible after death before it starts to degrade. It may be taken to a cemetery as is, or in a simple, biodegradable box. It is lowered into a hole dug in the earth, and covered over with soil. That way, the body and its contents degrade and return to fertilize other animals, plants and trees. There is no embalming, cremation, etc. Often the hole is dug by hand to minimize pollution. The plots are often marked with a simple river rock that has been engraved with the person's name and perhaps a short message. 19

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Sources of more cremation information and materials on the Internet:

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Related essay:

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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.

  1. 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
  2. Article at RBC Ministries at: http://www.gospelcom.net/ cannot be safely accessed.
  3. "Body and soul: Why is cremation forbidden," Being Jewish website, at: http://www.beingjewish.com/
  4. Rabbi Gary A. Huber, "Is cremation allowed in Reform Judaism? What is your policy regarding this funeral practice?" at: http://www.qn.net
  5. Cover story, USA Today, 1995-DEC-5
  6. Philip Jackman, "Cremation now a hot option," Globe and Mail, 1998-SEP-9
  7. "Statistics about cremation trends," Cremation Association of North America, undated, at: http://www.cremationassociation.org/ This article is no longer online.
  8. "Historical Cremation Data: United States vs Canada," Cremation Info, undated, at: http://www.cremationinfo.com/
  9. "Cremation," part of "Pastoral Guidelines: Church Positions Regarding the Sanctity of Human Life," Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 2002, at: http://www.goarch.org/
  10. "Statistics," National Funeral Directors Association, (NFDA), at: http://www.nfda.org/
  11. "2008 Statistics and Projections to the Year 2025: 2009 Preliminary Data." as quickly as possible after death before it starts to degrade. , 2010.
  12. Antonia Blumberg, "Americans Are Opting For Cremation Over Burial At The Highest Rate Ever," The Muslim Times, 2017-JUL-30, at: https://themuslimtimes.info
  13. 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," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican, 2016-AUG-15, at: http://www.vatican.va/
  14. "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/
  15. Irene Klotz, "Resomation:' Dissolving Body for Eco-Friendly Burial," ABC News, 2011-SEP-06, at: https://abcnews.go.com/
  16. "Alkaline Hydrolysis Laws in Your State," Nolo, 2018, at: https://www.nolo.com/
  17. "List of countries by cremation rate," Wikipedia, as on 2019-MAR-19, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  18. Vanessa Quirk, " 'We’ve mastered weddings—but the funeral needs a lot of work': Inside the new death industry, " Quartz,2017-APR-04, at: https://qz.com/
  19. Ellen McCarthy, "Green burials’ are on the rise as baby boomers plan for their future, and funerals," Washington Post, 2014-OCT-06, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  20. "Cremation Rate Rises to 48.6 Percent as Public Attitude Changes," Cremation Association of North America, 2016-AUG-09, at: https://www.newswire.ca/
  21. Erin M, "2019 Funeral Trends," 2019-JAN-02, Affordable Burial and Cremation, at: https://www.affordableburialandcremation.ca/
  22. Andrew Duffy, "More research needed on low-temperature liquid cremation, Public Health Ontario says," Ottawa Citizen, 2019-JUL-25, at: https://ottawacitizen.com/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2019-DEC-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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