Understanding the relationship between cremation and religion is an essential step in deciding if cremation services are right for you or your loved one. For many people, spiritual and religious beliefs are a crucial factor in helping determine what disposition method is best.
Religious teachings on cremation can evolve 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 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 you 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 each person. 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 allows cremation under certain circumstances. In these cases, a priest must approve the process. If you practice the Eastern Orthodox faith, you should 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 a burial is not straightforward. Historically, the Jewish doctrine strictly forbade the practice of cremation. Today we find acceptance of cremation depends on the type of Judaism practiced.
- Orthodox Jews: Cremation is strictly forbidden.
- Conservative Jews: Burial is still preferred, but cremation is permitted.
- Reform Jews: Cremation is permitted and is becoming increasingly more popular.
Islam considers cremation to be unclean; therefore, it has strict prohibitions against the practice. Burial is the only acceptable practice for handling the dead, and Muslims must not participate in the cremation in any capacity.
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 integral part of the Buddist funeral rite. If the cremation takes place when monks are present, the monks will chant. If monks are not available, the family may take over the chanting duties.
In the Hindu religion, cremation is the preferred method of final disposition. Babies, children, and saints are an exception. Burial is permissible for these individuals. This exception is said to be because these groups of people are pure and unattached to their bodies.
Only you and your family can decide if cremation is right for you. Your financial situation, your family customs and traditions, and your religion’s teachings among these. Should you have any questions about your religion and cremation, we encourage you to consult with your priest, pastor, or spiritual advisor. With careful consideration and understanding of how cremation fits with your beliefs, you will be able to make the choice that is right for you.