Cremation Versus Burial – How To Decide Which Is Best?

By: Les Fee
Friday, January 29, 2016

Choosing between burial and cremation is a deeply personal decision, and one that is difficult for many people. Over the last several years, cremation has gained in popularity, surpassing burial as the most popular choice. That being said, however, several factors must be weighed when making the decision.

The Major Differences

Let's begin by looking at some of the differences and distinctions between cremation and burial. When a body is cremated, it is incinerated so that all that remains are ashes. With a burial, the body remains intact. Both cremation and burial can take place immediately after death, following a traditional funeral service or before a memorial service. In the case of a burial, the body can be interred in the ground or entombed in a mausoleum. By comparison, cremated remains can be kept by the family, scattered, buried in the ground, or entombed in a columbarium. Of the two, cremation is generally the more economical choice.

Respect For The Remains

When we speak to people who are deciding between burial and cremation, some common themes and questions recur. One of the most common concerns people express is a desire to be respectful of the deceased’s memory and by extension of their body. It's interesting to note, however that for some people, that means preserving the integrity of the body, while for others, the thought of allowing the remains to decay underground is simply unacceptable.

In many cultures and faiths, viewing the body is an important part of the funeral ritual. Many people mistakenly believe that choosing cremation as an option makes this impossible. In fact, it is not uncommon for a viewing to take place before cremation.

Impact on the Environment

If choosing an option that is environmentally friendly is important to you, then there are pros and cons for both burial and cremation. There is some debate among supporters of either choice as to which has the least negative impact on the environment. Some believe that a significant amount of pollutants are released during the cremation process, while others cite the lack of biodegradability of materials used in traditional caskets as well as the toxicity of embalming fluids as the reason why they feel cremation is a better green choice.

There has been a recent rise in popularity in what is commonly known as natural or eco-burials. These types of burials do not use embalming fluids and coffins are made of environmentally friendly and biodegradable materials.

Religious Beliefs

The view on cremation varies greatly among Christians. The Catholic Church forbade cremation until the 1960s when the ban was lifted. It does require, however, that the cremated remains be buried rather than scattered or taken home by the survivors.

Baptist and other fundamentalist Christian denominations as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church do not permit cremation, while the Methodist seventh day Adventist and Lutheran churches do.

Judaism has traditionally shunned cremation; however, some Jews now accept the practice.

Cremation is required in some eastern religions including Hinduism and Buddhism. While Sikhs prefer cremation for cultural reasons, burial is not prohibited. Cremation is forbidden for Muslims.

The choice between burial and cremation is a difficult and deeply personal one. If you find you are still struggling with it, you may want to discuss it with your family members or other loved ones. You can also seek the assistance and council of a funeral professional.


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