Understanding the relationship between cremation and religion is an important step in deciding if cremation services are right for you or your loved one. For many people, spiritual and religious beliefs are a key factor in helping decide which disposition method is best for you.
Religious teachings on cremation can evolve over time and may be updated in response to societal and environmental factors. Today, many religions leave it up to the individual to decide if cremation is the best choice. Still, some religions do not condone cremation under any circumstances while others mandate it.
To provide a basic understanding of cremation and religion, we have prepared a brief summary of the positions of the largest religions of the world as they relate to cremation. If you are trying to decide if cremation is right for you and have questions about your religion’s stance, we recommend that you consult with your pastor, priest, or spiritual advisor.
Cremation and Religion: Christianity
Historically, the Catholic Church forbade cremation. However, in the early 1960s the Church relaxed the rules and today many Catholics choose cremation. Recently the Church clarified its position on cremation for Catholics and in October 2016, the Pope issued updated guidelines. Today, cremation is allowed but the ashes must be kept in a “sacred place” such as a church cemetery. Ashes should not be scattered or kept in an urn at home.
In general, most Protestant religions have long accepted cremation and leave the decision entirely up to the individual. It is not uncommon to find “scattering gardens” at many Protestant churches.
In general, the Eastern Orthodox Church does NOT permit cremation. However, some new thinking in the Church permits cremation under certain circumstances. In these cases, a priest must approve the process. It is highly recommended that if you practice the Eastern Orthodox faith you consult with your priest regarding the permissibility of cremation before you make arrangements.
Cremation and Religion: Judaism
For those of the Jewish faith, the decision of cremation over burial is not straightforward. Historically, Jewish doctrine strictly forbade the practice of cremation. Today we find the acceptance of the practice depends on the type of Judaism practiced.
- For Orthodox Jews, cremation is strictly forbidden.
- For Conservative Jews, burial is still preferred but cremation is permitted.
- For Reform Jews, cremation is permitted and is becoming increasingly more popular.
Cremation and Religion: Islam
The Islam religion has strict prohibitions against cremation and burial is the only acceptable practice for handling the dead. Muslims must not participate in cremation in any way.
Cremation and Religion: Buddism
The Buddist religion permits cremation. The ceremonial aspects of the funeral are the same regardless of cremation or in-ground burial. For example, chanting is an important part of Buddist funeral rite. If the body is cremated and monks are present, the monks will chant. If monks are not available the family may take over the chanting duties.
Cremation and Religion: Hinduism
In the Hindu religion, cremation is the preferred method of final disposition. The exception to this is babies, children, and, saints, who may be buried in the ground. This exception is said to be because these groups of people are pure and unattached to their bodies.