Friday, October 13, 2017

Honor your mummy

On Facebook, I answered some questions from a curious unbeliever:

1.) Is there a “proper” Christian way to dispose of a body? 
Or is it all good, so long as there’s at least some well-meant attempt at a funeral rite?
Or is the notion of a “proper Christian burial” a more modern (man-made) idea.
2.) How come? 
Specifically, if there is a divine command to treat bodies in such a way, is there a “reason” given.
3.) If the soul is what’s important, and the flesh is — I’m not religious so forgive the words — dirty, or sinful or mostly irrelevant, etc. wouldn’t that leave treatment of the corpse kind of unimportant (spiritually speaking).

i) I consider cremation to be a legitimate way to dispose of the body. 

ii) Christian theology doesn't regard the body as dirty or sinful. Indeed, the body qua body can't be sinful: only agents can sin.

iii) Customs like a Christian funeral, memorial service, and/or graveyard service are ways to put death in a theological context, as well as honoring the life of the particular decedent (if his life was honorable), consoling mourners, as well as evangelizing attendees who don't normally come to church.

If incineration and burial are both on the table, is there anything that is particularly off the table?

Before commenting on specifics, there's the issue of symbolic reverence. For instance, a picture of your wife is not your wife, but if someone vandalized a picture of your wife, you'd resent that because the picture represents your wife. To vandalize a picture of your wife is to symbolically dishonor your wife.

It's analogous to funereal customs. The body of the decedent represents the decedent. If it's the body of a serial killer (say), there might be something to be said for ignominious disposal of the remains. But that aside, Christian funereal customs are designed to honor the memory of the decedent–among other things. 


From a Christian standpoint, that clings too much to this life. We need to be more heavenly-minded. 

Christians believe in honoring your mummy, just not mummifying her.

Sky burial?

i) To my knowledge, that's associated with Buddhism. Buddhism has a tragic worldview. Nothing lasts. Nothing we care about is permanent. So we should practice detachment. 

Sky burial represents the opposite extreme of mummification. It views the life history of individuals as essentially dispensable and disposable. That's in part because Buddhism is atheistic. 

ii) In addition, Buddhism subscribes to reincarnation, so there's nothing special about the decedent's body, since there is no one body that uniquely matches his body. He will have many unrelated bodies over the course of many lives. 

Donating one’s body to science?

Organ donation is morally commendable in principle. However, that's becoming abused. There's a trend to euthanize patients to harvest their organs. 

Burial at sea?

That can be appropriate for sailers and fishermen. Reflects their livelihood. And sometimes that's a necessary alternative to burial. 

Butchered and cleaned for consumption?

That goes to the ethics of cannibalism in general.

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