Many of us have been following the drama of where to bury the Boston bomber who died in a shootout with police. No cemetery in Massachusetts will take the body, and it’s not an option to bury him in Russia. Finally, a Muslim cemetery in Virginia took his body, and Virginians aren’t happy about it. In this article, I learned that Muslims have a prohibition against cremation. Knowing that cremation is frowned upon by the LDS Church, I thought it might be interesting to come back to my series on the book Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie. Under the heading Cremation (it is the same in the 1958 and 1979 editions), Elder McConkie writes:
CREMATION. See DEATH, FUNERALS, GRAVES. Cremation of the dead is no part of the gospel; it is a practice which has been avoided by the saints in all ages. The Church today counsels its members not to cremate their dead. Such a procedure would find gospel acceptance only under the most extraordinary and unusual circumstances. Wherever possible the dead should be consigned to the earth, and nothing should be done that is destructive to the body; that should be left to nature, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen 3:19)
Even though McConkie says “The Church today counsels its members not to cremate their dead,” I thought it would be interesting to see what the church actually says. The Ensign from 1991 is softer on the topic than McConkie, but it does seem to agree with him on certain parts. The article emphasizes that this is not the official church position.
Where do Latter-day Saints fit into this picture? We reaffirm the perspective that the body is good and, as a creation of God, is to be respected. But as the Church has moved into nations other than the United States, there has been recognition that cultural practices differ. Generally, Latter-day Saints in the Western world have felt that nothing should be done which is destructive to the body. That should be left to nature. Church leaders have counseled that only in unusual circumstances or where required by law should cremation take place. 11
Ultimately, after consultation with the Lord and with priesthood leaders, the family must decide what to do. If the person has been endowed, some special instructions are available for the family from local priesthood leaders. Even if a body is cremated, a funeral service may be held if the ashes are buried or deposited in a mausoleum. 12
Where there is no overriding reason to cremate, burial is still the preferred method of handling our dead. In the end, however, we should remember that the resurrection will take place by the power of God, who created the heavens and the earth. Ultimately, whether a person’s body was buried at sea, destroyed in combat or an accident, intentionally cremated, or buried in a grave, the person will be resurrected.
I was surprised to see a pretty impressive history of cremation in the Ensign.
The earliest regular cremations in the Middle East seem to have been among the Hittites (c. 1740–1190 B.C.) 2 and the Philistines (c. 1200 B.C.) 3Even so, cremation was paralleled in both civilizations by the practice of burial. However, in Hindu and Greek thought, cremation pointed to the impurity of the body. Fire was seen as the vehicle of regeneration or rebirth. 4
In Asia, the custom received wider acceptance after the Buddha was cremated. Since he set the example, many Buddhist countries such as Indochina, Korea, and Japan practice cremation. 5 (Interestingly, cremation was not popular in China, probably because of the strong Confucian influence, which emphasized respect for one’s ancestors.) In Japan, the first recorded cremation was that of the monk Dosho in A.D. 700, an example which was followed by the Empress Jito in A.D. 704, which gave imperial sanction to the practice. Even so, cremation declined in medieval Japan.
In the West, cremation was common among the Greeks and the Romans. It was the mode by which the bodies of the Caesars were destroyed. 6
Among the Jews, cremation was generally not practiced. The Mishnah forbids cremation as an act of idolatry. 7 In those rare instances when cremation did take place, it was a sign of unrighteousness (see Amos 6:10) or of punishment due a criminal. (See Lev. 20:14, Lev. 21:9; Josh. 7:25.) 8
Christianity likewise opposed cremation. This reluctance to cremate can basically be traced to the Jewish and Christian belief that when God created the body and all other things, he pronounced them “very good.” (Gen. 1:31.) The body was God’s creation and, according to Christians, it would rise with the spirit in the resurrection. Thus, to cremate it would be an act of disrespect before God.
A change occurred, however, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The unsanitary conditions of many cemeteries in western Europe caused people to reassess the way they treated their dead. Movements recommending cremation began around 1860, and in 1884 a judicial decision legalized cremation in Britain. France legalized it in 1889, and today it is legal in more than three-fourths of the world’s nations. The reasons are widely known—cremation is hygienic, requires little land, and is appropriate to rapidly growing urban areas. 9 Today, 10 percent of the dead are cremated in the United States, 20 percent in Canada, and 60 percent in Britain. 10
So what is official church policy? Now that the Handbook of Instructions is available on the internet, here’s what it says.
The Church does not normally encourage cremation. The family of the deceased must decide whether the body should be cremated, taking into account any laws governing burial or cremation. In some countries, the law requires cremation.
Where possible, the body of a deceased member who has been endowed should be dressed in temple clothing when it is cremated. A funeral service may be held (see 18.6).
From my experience, funerals are unnecessarily expensive. Is it really necessary to spend over a thousand dollars on a coffin (and that’s according to the discount website Best Price Caskets)? Then you can spend $895-$7195 on a burial vault. Some cemeteries require a vault because if the coffin collapses under the weight of the dirt, the ground sinks. A vault keeps the ground level for mowing the lawn. But funeral homes will try to sell you on the idea that some vaults prevent moisture from entering the coffin. Is this really a good idea? It slows down decomposition. Do we really care if water gets in the coffin? I don’t. Of course funeral homes try to sell you a lot of services when you’re most vulnerable, and it can really add up.
Cremation on the other hand is generally less expensive. When I die, I don’t want my family wasting money burying me, and I’m open to the idea of cremation. What are your thoughts on cremation?
Personally, I have no objection to cremation. All my grandparents were cremated (they weren’t members, though my parents are), and I have heard my father puzzling over why LDS would be so opposed to it; he felt the opposition exhibited a lack of faith in the power of the resurrection. I have yet to ask my parents what their wishes would be for themselves though.
In Japan cremation is the norm, though it is perhaps different to cremation elsewhere: the long bones are retained, and are buried with the ashes, and graves are visited every year. It is customary to pay ones respects to the bones prior to burial, as was the case when my husband’s grandparents died.
Green burials (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2004/jul/08/thisweekssciencequestions1) are becoming more popular in Britain, not only are they cheaper in terms of type of casket, but they viewed as better for the environment because rapid decomposition of the body in the ground, a return to nature, is the aim. Therefore, there is no embalming, and there are no fixed headstones or memorials, though a shrub or plant can be used. Caskets are cardboard, papier mache or for the more upmarket willow, bamboo or wicker. There are a number of green burial sites around the country.
I’ve always understood that the counsel against cremation was because we are created in the image of God. To destroy that image after death through cremation is an affront to God Himself. Thus, out of respect for the image of God, we bury (and counsel others to bury) the dead, putting the destruction or alteration of His image squarely in His own hands (through natural processes). I have no idea where I got this understanding from, but it makes sense to me.
Well, boy, if they don’t like cremation I suspect they really wouldn’t like me donating my body to science after I die.
I don’t have any problem with cremation, though I know my mom was heartbroken when her mother requested it, and to honor her mother she had to follow-through, even though dear old Elder McKonkie made her feel horrible for doing so.
To me, the body is just a shell, it has no real significance after death.
Such an interesting discussion on the larger sense of God being no respecter of persons. If some laws of the land require cremation, does God view that person’s burial or lack of it as a issue for the afterlife. It would seem not. So why not those that choose it for financial reasons, as not to burden their remaining family with a money issue?
Dust is dust in my opinion. My own parents are walled up in a mausoleum by their choice. As most of my deceased family. In that case, they don’t even make it to the earth. That seems to violate all religion’s precepts on burial.
The official church policy is simple and straightforward. The family decides.
Given a choice between cremation versus embalming/stainless steel coffin/concrete vault, please give me cremation — I want to be dust or ashes so I can come forth when the angel blows the trumpet on resurrection morning. If cremation is wrong because it isn’t natural, then embalming/stainless steel coffin/concrete vault must also be wrong (and even worse).
But cremation isn’t wrong, is it? It’s a choice. And the Mormon dislike for cremation probably comes from culture and folklore rather than firm doctrine.
Yes, burial is okay with me, in a wooden coffin (or maybe even just a blanket) — but I’ll take cremation before the modern burial practice.
My teenage daughter:
“for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen 3:19)
wants to be cremated (ash=dust) mixed with soil (soil=dust) put in a plant pot, and have a pot plant planted over the top (returning to the earth as in circle of life type idea).
My father’s body was cremated. He died last year at home, my brother and I dressed his body, the guy from the crematorium came and picked up the body and took it away. Total cost: $375. We had a memorial service afterwards, but there was no coffin there. I’d mention which member of the Twelve spoke at the service, but I have no reason to suppose that he either approved or disapproved of the cremation.
A nearly destitute woman in our ward died a few months ago. She had the typical funeral–coffin, hearse, etc. Cost her family $15K.
I can’t understand why the typical faux-embalming and make-up and hairdressing and putting a body in a box in the ground is somehow seen as more respectful to the body than putting the body into a hot flame where all the impurities are burned away. It’s all just oxidation anyway–that happens faster and cleaner in fire than in a box in the ground.
#3 Jenn’s comment made me think about donation to science. The church does not oppose organ donation: “The donation of organs and tissues is a selfless act that often results in great benefit to individuals with medical conditions. The decision to will or donate one’s own body organs or tissue for medical purposes, or the decision to authorize the transplant of organs or tissue from a deceased family member, is made by the individual or the deceased member’s family.”
If the Lord’s power can sort out resurrection when one body part may live on in another person, I suspect He can handle cremation (which must be a relief to all those who live in countries that require cremation).
I think what my amily does with my corpse should make them happy. I won’t be using it at the time.
I absolutely believe that prohibitions against cremation are folklore. To LDSA’s comment #2 above, if memory serves, Jews didn’t like hanging for similar reasons that cremation is bad–it is not respectful to God. Jews, Christians, and Muslims share in the folklore. If someone dies in a burning building, God is still going to resurrect them. It just seems silly to put these stupid rules on how a person dies or is cremated. All will be resurrected no matter what happens to the body.
In being against cremation has got to be one stupid, stupid idea the Church got. If we are all resurrected anyways what difference does it make? Practically everyone who died 3000 years is dust anyways and God will resurrect them so why not people who were cremated today? I think it’s purely a cultural idea of being against. We had a very faithful guy in our stake get cremated a few years simply because his family couldn’t afford a burial and serioulsy who cares what state the body is in when he is resurrected anyways
Destroying can take many forms – cremation just happens to be one of the faster and more visibly shocking forms. Countless members (and countless individuals regardless of their theological background) destroy their body every day through what I perceive to be poor choices (i.e. horrendous diets, lack of exercise, etc.). Yet, somehow we don’t really equate that to “destroying” their body, even if that’s the logical parallel.
If we take the “dust” scriptures seriously, I have no reason to believe that an embalmed body is somehow better than a cremated body. And, as for my own inclinations, I’m not a big fan of chemicals in any part of my life, let alone a feigned attempt at immortality through elixirs of chemicals injected in my organs, veins and throughout my body, all aimed at preserving my dead corpse forever.
Likewise, I’m not sure how a chemically preserved body is somehow better in God’s eyes than one that is turned to ash…
My family has implicit instructions to cremate me when I’m gone. It is just as great a miracle to resurrect ashes as it is to raise a body out of the coffin. We have these man-made opinions floating around as doctrine. I don’t think Christ has a preference either way.
And BTW…who cares what Bruce R. McConkie says about anything? Mormon Doctrine was proven to be filled with errors. The book had 700 pages…filled with 1100 errors. So much for Brother McConkie being the authority on doctrine.
Yes Bruce, I mentioned the errors in my first post on the series. The series is designed to look at Mormon Doctrine to see how it holds up to scrutiny today.
When we look at the gruesome methods people die: eaten by sharks/alligators, burned at the stake, crushed by a building, cooked (Fried Green Tomatoes), it seems pretty silly to have qualms about cremation. Certainly this is Judeo-Christian folklore that’s made its way into our church.
I like the idea of both green burial and cremation. I am not a big fan of pumping chemicals into my corpse to preserve it somehow. I don’t see the point to that except that it might help finance a mortician’s swimming pool.
Double-bag me and leave me on the curb.
1) Donate my body to Science Fiction
2) only two “pallbearers” needed for my “coffin” – no Rubbermaid ‘Roughneck’, galvanized steel for this boy
3) Cremate? Like the late George Carlin, I want to be blown up. A W88 warhead, set to the full 475kT yield, on a boat about 200 miles past the Farelleons ought to suffice
Do we get a vote?
My wife’s grandmother passed away about two years ago. She had an open casket funeral and, without being too graphic, she looked terrible. The mortician had not done a great job making her look peaceful. But why should she have looked peaceful? She was dead, not taking a nap. Several family members were traumatized all the same.
Read about the sorts of things morticians do to prepare the deceased for viewing, and then explain to me how that’s not desecrating a corpse (but cremation is).
When I die I am getting cremated. If the church has a problem with that, then it can pay $8,000-$11,000 for a burial. As long as my family is paying the bill, we are all going to heaven at a discount.
My bigger argument with my husband is about the church service. I want to skip the boring LDS chapel service and just do a Celebration of Life in the Cultural Hall. I don’t want my friends to have to work at my funeral, so I just want to order in pizza, root beer floats and cheesecake for family and guests.
My husband want to have the typical LDS service with ladies making funeral potatoes. He says it’s my funeral and he can do what he wants. And he likes funeral potatoes. What a party pooper. I did tell him to make sure he buys a new suit for my funeral and get a decent haircut. He needs to be dating at my funeral because he won’t make it a week without a woman cooking for him. The boy can barely make toast.
*Not to worry, I’m not going anywhere. We just got our kids raised and we are looking forward to finally having fun after 26 years of being good example for the children.
Heather, I hear you regarding LDS funeral practices. My brother was a reporter, and it was a pretty big news item when he died. The media wanted to videotape the funeral. Because it was in an LDS church, they said no, and they felt they were in charge of my brother’s funeral. I almost threatened to move the funeral to a funeral home, where we would have had more control, and could have allowed cameras if we wanted.
I know that Elder Packer has some pretty strong feelings that a funeral is a church service. While I don’t have a problem with having some spiritually uplifting thoughts at a funeral, the purpose of the funeral is to remember the dead; it is not a place to proselytize. I am seriously considering asking that my funeral not be at a church in order to have better control over what happens. The funeral should be to remember the dead. It is not another version of a boring sacrament meeting, IMO. The church has done a terrible job at creating spiritually uplifting services, and seems to prefer that they are as boring as possible. I don’t need them ruining another funeral.
At my brother and sister’s funerals, we have laughed and cried. We have honored my siblings. Because of my brother’s “fame”, a general authority gave a lecture on the Plan of Salvation. Truly it was the worst part of the funeral. But they wanted to make sure it was a missionary opportunity in addition to being a funeral, and it was poor taste, IMO.
My wife’s cousin died a few years ago. He wasn’t active, and asked a Baptist preacher to conduct the service, though it was held in an LDS building because it was much larger than the Baptist building. It was the most unusual funeral I can ever remember attending. We sang “Amazing Grace” at the grave, though I think the preacher was surprised that most LDS didn’t know the words. It was an odd mixture of LDS and Protestantism.
Put the “Fun” in a FUNeral, I say. None of that wailing and playing dirges.
Of course, some would like it sooner than later for yours truly – like what happened to the MI6 agent in “Nawlins” at the beginning of “Live and Let Die”. Will the band segue into a lively jazz number?
I concur, MH. Cremation for me. And you bring up an excellent point. The Packer version of LDS funerals are quite off- putting. Went to one for my brother-in-law who was a kind and generous man a few years ago and watched a stake president set the non-members hair on fire with his 20-minute monologue on Adam’s Fall.
People should research how the family of George Albert Smith had a non-member speak at his funeral in the Tabernacle. That was a great testimony of how the Gospel had led President Smith to affect all people for good.
A few of you may remember this old post about “Taking the Fun Out of Funerals”: http://mormonmatters.org/2009/06/02/taking-the-fun-out-of-funerals/
Thanks for that link Hawkgrrrl. Interesting reading. A number of older people in my ward have their funeral services all planned out, exactly how they want them to be. I attended just such a funeral last year, and it was lovely. Most of the family were non-members, and they got to stand up and speak about their father/grandfather. There was a lot music, as requested by the deceased. Some of the hymns were not LDS hymns, but we were still able to sing them (with more enthusiasm than most of the LDS hymns get on a Sunday), and even a Christmas carol solo (in the middle of summer) because he really liked the carol. I think the Bishop said a few words about the resurrection, but was appropriately brief.
I contrast that to the funeral of an elderly man in my ward back when I was a teen. Not such a happy affair. He had converted in his 70s, and been through the temple. His family were not especially happy about it. There was a huge amount of animosity, with the church and family basically falling out over the dressing of the body, the funeral arrangements, and dedication of grave etc. Personally I think the church should have just backed off in those circumstances. Surely, all the ritual we have surrounding the dead is for the comfort of the living, and is of no eternal significance to to the dead person. But it seems like some of us behave as though it is.
I had always assumed that I’d be buried as a way to better preserve my body for resurrection, but after reading the highly readable book Stiff, which details the way that the body decomposes after death (even with all those nasty chemicals injected into the body), I changed my mind. I’m totally on board with being cremated. My husband and I are both in agreement, especially should anything happen to either of us in the next 10 years. We’re still young and haven’t settled down anywhere and neither of us can claim a place where we’d want to be buried as our “final resting place.” We’ve decided that until we’ve settled down, the surviving person will have the deceased cremated and hold on to their ashes until they’ve settled someplace where the ashes can be interned (and they can still visit) or our ashes will simply be buried together when the other person dies. I’d much rather be carted around as ashes in an urn (and still remembered) than be forgotten in some cemetery that will most likely be far away from any family members and will not be visited by my own husband once he moves away. (We move a lot.)
You might not have a choice. You might be driving an old Pinto home from the temple, get rear-ended and the car explodes and burns you up. Every year a few people die in fires and are partially cremated against their desires.You might be running the SLC Tribune marathon and a better bomber than the recent pair of clowns in Boston blows you into little pieces and President Monson’s pigeons eat some of them and that part of you ends up on His windshield. You never know. A just God is going to compromise your resurrection because of the unusual circumstances of your passing and final disposition? Nonsense.
Dust to dust. That was in an extremely dry climate. I would propose a different “translation.” Mud to mud.
Our modern culture effectively has hidden the natural process of decomposition from most of us. Ever drive by a bloated deer beside the road that you can smell for 5 miles? It gets worse. Without embalming the insect larvae (maggots) feast on about 80% of your remains then pupate into flies. Again you might not have a choice. If you die and nobody finds your remains for about a week or more….
Even if they do you still might not have a choice. Your remaining spouse or children decide. They don’t have to honor your wishes and often won’t. My mother didn’t want to be buried in my father’s family cemetery. She went first. Guess where we put her? They misspelled my dad’s name on his own headstone. He thinks its funny and won’t allow it to be corrected. Guess what my siblings are going to do the day after his funeral?
Conflict of interest anyone? The funeral industry in early 20th century Utah had strong kinship ties with LDS church leaders. Sort of a natural bond. Often non-LDS churches have cemeteries on the property. Does it surprize you that the most profitable option is so commonly recommended?
Here in the Bible Belt, the bias toward conventional funerals is hard-core.
the whole embalming ritual is part of the morbid open-casket scene, regardless of whether the deceased is an octogenarian or a five-day old infant. And what it really crazy, is when they prop the deceased up in a sitting position to look out on the mourners while a Hard-Shell preacher does an altar call. I’ll go with Hawk on her post from a few years ago. Put me in a dinghy in an open stream, soak me in petroleum and light a match — a la Beau Geste.
HawkChick, thanks for the link to the post about viewpoints on LDS funerals…entertaining, to put it mildly! MeatLoaf as part of the music? Don’t forget “I would anything for Love (But I won’t do that)”. Would make a great finale. I’d rather have Styx’s “Grand Illusion”, especially if the band members would reunite with Dennis DeYoung just to give yours truly a great sendoff.
Have to modify slightly my previous request for using a W88 warhead for a “quick” (and the dead) cremation. Can’t risk flash burns to passerby and the slight fallout issue. Would have to get a thick steel cable and a 1000 lb. anchor (the weapon itself, sans penetration aids, weighs only about 650 lbs and would drift w/o an anchor), lower the device and the corpus indelecti of yours truly (wrapped in canvas and a body bag) to a depth of at least 600 feet. The trick would be to keep ships at least 2 miles away from the detonation point; the fireball would be no more than about 250 feet in diameter and would last only about 2.5 seconds, but the shock wave could capsize small craft that got too close. I could have a lead tamper substituted in the secondary stage; this would reduce the yield to ONLY about 40kT (fireball would be about 75 feet in diameter and last about 1 second) but hopefully that would still vaporize the body.
Contrary to common perception (Whitley Strieber’s Warday novel, 1984, though entertaining, is technical crap and anti-nuke hysteria), an underwater detonation wouldn’t touch off a tsunami. The energy that produces even a moderate tsunami well exceeds the combined potential yield of all the world’s nukes by a wide margin. Folks, we “hew-mons” are like competing bands of fleas arguing about ownership rights to the dog.
The funeral business is a goose laying golden eggs. Do you think maybe others might have inclinations in your direction and you could charge them the big bucks to dispose of them in this way? Different options at different costs. You might be onto something here.
I was thinking about cremation and then having those 3 little metal coronary stents fished out of my ashes that cost $50,000 each and making necklaces out of them for my surviving family members to wear night and day to help them remember to stay on their low cholesterol diets.
I used to work in a FUNeral home. The director, an inactive member (the guy could drink almost anyone under the table) always kept an active, temple-worthy member as a mortician so he’d have the local LDS business.
I like the idea of going out with a bang, and having played the recent Powerball lottery and having the fantasy of what to do with $600 million, I figured it’d be the most certain method of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” (or fallout to fallout). If anything, my solution would prop up the market for recycled nuclear fuel as there’s a glut due to decommissioning ex-Soviet weapons.
Watching yet another rerun of “You Only Live Twice” and Spectre’s method of disposing of “Number 11” took care of execution, disposal, and keeping the piranhas fed. An efficient criminal organization, and the leader is even nice to cats.
Thank you all for your information both serious and entertaining. I’ve thought a lot about cremation lately, since I turned 65. My thoughts are swinging that way lately because I just can’t leave my family with the expense of a standard LDS funeral. I’m a single working person and can honestly say that I’m not able to put aside the money on a burial plan or any other savings for a funeral. It’s day to day and hand to mouth for me, but thankful I have some income. My three children are in absolutely no position to finance a standard funeral. I’m an endowed person, but have been inactive in the church for many years. Obituaries where I live are long, glowing and my-deceased-relative-is-better-than-yours testimonials. My children would be embarrassed as my death resume’ wouldn’t even be a paragraph long. I just want it all to be simple and done with. I’d appreciate anyone else’s feedback, stories, or whatever you have to share with me regarding my feelings as I still sort this out.
When a person is buried the body slowly eats itself into tiny gooey particles that seep into either the coffin or the ground and they really think that the body will be resurrected any easier by burial than with cremation?
I am LDS. My father, not a member, wanted to be cremated. (He died in 1995). I was a little uneasy about the cremation idea, but I honored his wishes. As soon as I saw the granite cremain casket with his name and dates on it, a feeling of peace and comfort filled me and I knew all was well. My husband & I both wish to be cremated when the time comes. I have no problem with this method at all. Plus, since our remains will be buried in an out of state cemetery…..it will be so much easier & economical for the family to carry out our wishes. Many of my LDS friends feel the same way about this. The Lord can resurrect us from whatever state we are in. But respect and reverence should be present in all situations concerning the dead.
My will specifies cremation. It strikes me as a clean, honorable way to care for the body after death. It’s good enough for a worn-out flag, which is burned, not buried. I don’t mind the idea of decomposing, but it’s almost impossible to be simply buried without the added expense and fuss of casket, embalming, and vault in the US these days, so unless I’m somewhere that I can be handled with a deep hole and a blanket, burn me.