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Religion & Cremation

There’s one faith most people associate with cremation, and that’s Hinduism. Honestly, it is unique among the world's major religions because cremation is essential to the belief system, where cremation is seen to usher the soul into the next world or its rebirth into the next life. Open-air cremations are practiced regularly in India. In the holy city of Varanasi, bodies are burned atop wood-fueled pyres on the banks of the Ganges River.

Unlike Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam all have traditions that frown upon cremation, if not strictly prohibit it. In fact, Islam instructs its followers to bury their dead as quickly as possible, preferably within the day of the death.

Orthodox and Conservative Jews adamantly oppose cremation on grounds of biblical and Talmudic rulings. Many Liberal and Reform Jews support cremation as an option. And one can fully understand that the history of Nazi cremation of Jews during the Holocaust greatly influences the general opinion of both secular and religious Jews against cremation.

Christianity, of course, is a diverse faith. Some denominations prohibit cremation because it as a departure from the belief in resurrection, while others allow cremation in cultures where it's customary.

The Roman Catholic Church's long-time opposition to cremation was relaxed in the 1960s, when the church stated that cremation was allowed without penalty. Today, Requiem Mass can be held with a body that would be cremated or, upon permission of the local bishop, with the cremated remains.

Not surprisingly, it’s the Protestant denominations which have historically been more open to the idea of cremation and even advocated for burial reforms at the turn of the century.

Today, religious views and historical traditions may still have a strong influence on funerary practices, societal, economic and ecological needs are often the driving forces for families and individuals making the choice for cremation.

It’s commonly known that a cremation-based funeral can cost thousands of dollars less than a burial funeral, prompting many to choose cremation as their means of disposition. Those in the funeral service profession have often found that in a society where people are often transient and move away from their hometown (as in the U.S. today), cremation allows for easier transportation and storage of the remains. It also adds flexibility, in that cremation lets family members schedule services at a more convenient time.

Many people are also becoming more aware of the environmental impact of traditional burials, which use an enormous amount of resources, such as rare woods and metals in the casket and cement for a required bunker to line the grave sites, and release toxins from embalmed bodies. The open space used for cemeteries is also a concern for crowded urban areas and for those countries where open space is at a premium.