Re: [asa] burial customs

From: Merv Bitikofer <>
Date: Tue Oct 27 2009 - 22:41:40 EDT

We don't know how to do anything here in the U.S. without making an
industry out of it. Dying doesn't seem to be immune.

But thanks for the quick synopsis. I suppose if people were poor, they
got a ground burial much like we would imagine today? --(only without
the coffin). I never knew of the little enlightenment situation with
cremation used as an "in your face" tactic used by atheists. It makes
sense, though. We provide the button to push, they push it. We try to
put the button under guard; and everyone feels useful & important in the


George Murphy wrote:
> Quick & dirty: Israelite custom, at least for those moderately well
> to do or better, was to place the body in the family tomb - cf the
> account of the burial of Sarah & subsequent placements of the
> patriarchs in the family tomb. When the body had decayed & only bones
> were left they eventually would have been swept together to make room
> for new arrivals - hence being gathered to the ancestors in a quite
> literal way. Early Christians resisted cremation because it was
> associated with Greco-Roman paganism. That became a more solidly
> entrenched (excuse the pun) custom exacerbated later in the
> Enlightenment when cremation was used by so-called Freethinkers &c to
> proclaim their disbelief in the resurrection. But even the RC church
> has not been dogmatic about this & allowed cremation in the case of,
> e.g., epidemics.
> OTOH traditionally Christian burial was without embalming & often
> without a coffin. ("Casket" is a funeral industry euphemism - caskets
> are for jewels.) At New Melleray, e.g., the monks are simply buried
> in shrouds. Thus they'll decay relatively quickly, bringing out the
> fact that in the long run there's little difference between cremation
> & inhumation as far as what happens to the body. There is no
> fundamental theological reason to prefer burial over cremation, & in
> fact care for creation would seem to point toward the later
> procedure. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
> There are, as you note, other practices - friends & family eating the
> body (e.g., some of my pre-Christian Irish ancestors), placing bodies
> on towers to be picked clean by birds (Zoroastrians), etc. These are
> not likely to catch on today.
> FWIW, my wife & I have made provisions to be cremated (after we're
> dead!) with burial of the ashes (not "cremains", another funeral
> industry abomination) in the memorial garden at St. Paul's, where I
> was on staff before I retired. I've buried some ashes there myself
> after funerals & committals - an instructive experience.
> Shalom
> George
> ----- Original Message ----- From: <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 5:52 PM
> Subject: [asa] burial customs
>> This is a spin-off from all the 'morals' posts. But can anyone give
>> a history
>> of how burial customs for humans came to be? I don't remember any
>> Biblical
>> passages that endorse any specific practices other than the plenty of
>> passages
>> that recognize the "cursed" state of one whose body is left for wild
>> animals or
>> birds. Presumably this is more a reflection on the fact that they
>> have no
>> family or loved ones left (or who care about them enough) to bury
>> them. But in
>> this the Bible may simply be picking up on surrounding cultural
>> values that were
>> already in place, and in fact never really endorses them --i.e.
>> "Thou shalt
>> bury thy dead." I guess it could be implied in some of the purity
>> instructions,
>> given that dead bodies are "unclean".
>> But given all this, what is it today (other than highly $$ motivated
>> funeral
>> industry) that morally motivates us to seal our fresh corpses into
>> concrete
>> vaults where they can now spend decades as rotting mush instead of
>> the mere
>> years necessary if we'd just let nature have at it? How are some of the
>> aboriginals so wrong having a party to eat their dead after they
>> die? As far as
>> I can tell, cannibalism is also a cultural, not a biblical taboo, as
>> long as
>> there is no murder involved. Of course, the local health
>> department will
>> probably have a thing or two to say if a family wants to make a
>> buffet out of
>> their late uncle Johnny. But practical concerns aside, what are some
>> of the
>> sources of these "morals", if that is even the right category for them.
>> --Merv
>> personally, I think being eaten has a lot more appeal than being
>> sealed in a
>> small water-tight box. --the ultimate in economical cremation: let
>> nature
>> scatter you abroad. could be disconcerting to surviving family to
>> see parts
>> laying around, though... I do understand that.

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Received on Tue Oct 27 22:42:20 2009

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