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"Hot" religious topics

Cremation among present-day Judeo-Christians.
Cremation statistics in the U.S. and Canada.

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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.

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

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

bullet

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

bulletpunishment for criminal acts,
bulletpunishment for improper behavior,
bulletkillings by Pagans, or
bulletdestruction of idols and evil material.

bulletSt. 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 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.

bulletCremation can be an aid to murderers. Once a body has been cremated, it cannot be exhumed and analyzed for poisons.

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

bullet The People's Gospel Hour condemned the practice.

bullet The Roman Catholic Church used to condemn the practice. 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, they have accepted cremation.

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.

bullet

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:

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 BC, 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.

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

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
2015 projected figure   46.0
2025 projected figure   58.8

Their projected figures show that about the year 2020, cremation will be more popular than burial in the U.S. We have requested more recent data from CANA.

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 percenage of cremations appear to have increased continually since that time. 8

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

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.

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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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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. "Is it wrong for Christians to arrange for their bodies to be cremated," RBC Ministries at: http://www.gospelcom.net/
  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 Funderal Directors Association, (NFDA), at: http://www.nfda.org/
  11. "2008 Statistics and Projections to the Year 2025: 2009 Preliminary Data." Cremation Association of North America, 2010.

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 Sources of cremation information and materials on the Internet:

  • Cremation Specialists at: http://www.cremation.com/index.asp

  • Internet Cremation Society at: https://cremation.org/

  • Jewelry Keepsakes supplies cremation jewelry that holds a small amount of ashes or other keepsake items. They also supply photo memorial jewelry, memorial urn rings, etc. See: http://www.jewelrykeepsakes.com/

  • 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/

  • Everlife Memorials supply cremation urns & jewelry. Delivery within the 48 contiguous states is free. See: http://www.everlifememorials.com/

  • 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/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-FEB-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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