Even though most of us don’t like to think about our ultimate demise, it’s a fact that one day we will leave this world and our earthly possessions behind. All around the world, people deal with death and treat the bodies of their loved ones differently. Funeral rites vary from country to country, but the major factor that plays a role in how last rites are performed is religion.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Which Religions Encourage or Allow Cremation?
- Which Major Religions Discourage or Are Against Cremation?
There are numerous religions all over the world, and every religion has different views on what is acceptable regarding last rites and funeral traditions. While some bury the body, others choose to cremate it. What a person’s views are on funeral rites mostly depends on which religion they follow.
Over the last couple of decades, the idea of cremation has gained a lot of popularity. However, you and your loved ones ultimately decide what to do with cremains. If you don’t know what your religion says about cremation, or you want to learn about the views of other religions regarding cremation, read on!
Which Religions Encourage or Allow Cremation?
In America, a predominantly Christian nation, cremation is on the rise. What caused this to occur?
Immigrants from around the world with varying beliefs came to the U.S., whose influences led a large cultural shift. People’s interest in religions such as Buddhism increased over time, which in turn popularized cremation as a funeral option.
Even though the practice of cremating a body after death is now more common than ever, several cultures and religions have rules strictly prohibiting cremation. Others have flexible rules that don’t forbid cremation, but still frown upon it. Let’s take a look at what religions cremate their dead and what their ideology is behind allowing it.
Buddhism is one of the religions that encourage cremation. The Buddhist traditions on dealing with the physical remains of humans have evolved over time. Early in the third century, forest burials were in practice, which was followed by mummification and then sky burials.
Sky burial is seen as the ultimate act of compassion in which even your remains are of use to birds and animals. This is still followed by quite a few Tibetans. After the birds and animals are done with the body, the remains are then cremated or placed in a sanctuary.
The spiritual founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha, was cremated on a funeral pyre and many choose to follow his example through cremation. The family can then choose to enshrine the cremated remains or scatter them as they deem fit. While cremation is the more traditional option, a family can choose to bury their loved one’s body, as well.
One religion that strongly encourages cremation is Hinduism. According to Hindu beliefs, cremation not only helps with the disposal of physical remains but also aides in ushering the soul of the deceased into the hereafter for its reincarnation/rebirth.
The cremated remains can be kept by the family, or they can be scattered. In Hinduism, the belief is that the soul itself is inherently pure. However, the soul needs a vessel, i.e., the body, to live in.
However, the body is prone to worldly attachments and desires. Upon the death of the individual, the soul leaves the body and enters another body until it achieves Mukti when it has reached perfection. Hindus believe that cremation helps the soul in getting closer to Mukti.
In the past, the Catholic Church didn’t support cremation. However with the changing times, it is now acceptable for Catholics to be cremated. One mandatory tradition that continues is the presence of the body at the Funeral Mass.
This means that cremation should be done after the funeral mass is over. The cremated remains can either be entombed, buried at sea, or placed in the ground. However, as a Catholic, remains should not be scattered.
Lutherans also accept cremation, and you can have a traditional Lutheran funeral along with cremation. Similarly, Methodists don’t oppose cremation, and if it is your wish as a Methodist to be cremated, you can do that without it interfering with traditional Methodist funerals.
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5. Anglicans or Baptists
Anglican Church doesn’t forbid cremation, and you can get the body cremated before or after the funeral. In the Baptist faith, there is no ban on cremation either.
6. Reformed Jews
For Jews, like many Christians, the rules regarding cremation vary. Even though conservative Jews don’t allow cremation, a Rabbi can still perform the funeral rites of a cremated person.
Cremation is becoming very popular amongst Reformed Jews, and several Reform rabbis willingly perform funeral rites and are present at the interment of a person who has just been cremated.
When it comes to internment and cremation, there are no religious rules at all, and the Quakers can choose themselves whether they want to be cremated or buried.
As a Quaker, you can choose to get urns for ashes and then enshrine the urn or scatter the ashes.
8. Jehovah’s Witness
Jehovah’s Witnesses differ from other Christians since they don’t believe in the physical resurrection; rather, they believe that it is the spirit that will be resurrected, and thus, they don’t need a physical body for the resurrection.
Therefore, there are no religious rules that prohibit cremations. Members of this religion are advised to follow the local customs and norms when it comes to burying the dead bodies of their loved ones.
Which Major Religions Discourage or Are Against Cremation?
Several religions prohibit cremation and have various rules that don’t allow a follower of the faith to be cremated.
Islam strictly prohibits its followers from cremating the remains of a Muslim. Of all the religions, Islam is one that most strictly opposes cremation. Even though there is a little bit of flexibility regarding cremation in other Abrahamic faiths such as Judaism and Christianity, there is no room for cremation in Islam.
Muslims are forbidden to be a witness of such an event and are not even allowed to give it their stamp of approval for non-Muslims. The belief in Islam that results in such strictness is that the dead body needs to be treated with the same respect as it was given when the person was alive and breathing.
The body acts as a reminder that this life is fleeting, that we all will die one day, and that we should live our lives in the most pious manner possible. In an Islamic funeral, the physical remains are buried in the graveyard after the funeral prayers have been performed.
Mormons don’t prohibit cremation, but it is not encouraged, either. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints prefer burying the body. Unlike other Christians, they believe that the soul is inextricably tied to the body.
Due to this, they usually avoid cremation unless the law requires them to do so. For the most part, they don’t prohibit cremation, and if as a Mormon you are cremated, it doesn’t preclude you from getting an LDS memorial service.
3. Presbyterian/Eastern Orthodox Church
Although there are no rules that prohibit cremation in the Presbyterian Church, most Presbyterians don’t support cremation. They believe that the body is sacred, and it should be buried in the ground, intact. The Eastern Orthodox Church also prohibits cremation.
4. Orthodox Jews
Orthodox Jews don’t believe in cremation and strictly prohibit it. They believe that the physical remains should be buried in the ground, completely intact.
Take Care of Your Loved Ones – Even in Death
It’s very hard to be separated from our loved ones. After spending years together and creating wonderful memories, the idea that they will leave us one day can be very difficult to understand and process.
There are several reasons why people get cremated. Religious views shape the way they approach burial traditions such as cremation. Hopefully after reading this article, you have gained enough knowledge to understand which religions cremate their dead and which have laws that prohibit it.
Deciding what will happen to our bodies while we live will ensure that your loved ones won’t have to make any hard decisions in their state of grief and will help to guarantee that your final wishes are respected.
- Talbot, Mary. “Budhist Death Rites.” Teachings, Tricycle, December 2012. tricycle.org/magazine/buddhist-death-rites.
- Carey, Tanith. “My Father’s Hindu Funeral.” Family, The Guardian, March 25, 2011. theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/mar/26/father-hindu-funeral-cremation-tanith-carey.
- Wooden, Cindy. “Final Resting Place. CNS News, Catholic News Service, October 25, 2016. catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2016/final-resting-place-vatican-releases-instruction-on-burial-cremation.cfm
- Contributing Writers. “How Do Lutherans Regard Organ Donation and Cremation?” ELCA, ELCA Manual, January 2013. download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/How_do_Lutherans_regard_organ_donation_and_cremation.pdf
- Marant, Morgan. “Quaker Funeral Traditions.” News and Articles, Funerals360, October 6, 2015.funerals360.com/blog/funeral-customs-and-traditions/world-funeral-customs-quaker-funeral-traditions/#:~:text=Emotional%20Tone%20on%20Quaker%20Deaths,to%20have%20had%20on%20Earth.
- Hegarty, Siobhan. “Coronavirus Cremations Horrific for Muslims.” ABC Radio National, ABC, March 31, 2020. abc.net.au/news/2020-04-01/coronavirus-cremations-and-muslim-jewish-death-rites/12105842.
- Jones, Morgan. “What the Church Has Actually Said about Cremation.” Mormon LIfe, LDS Living, October 24, 2018. www.ldsliving.com/What-the-Church-Has-Actually-Said-About-Cremation/s/89558