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Cremation Is Not A Sign of a Drift From Church

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Josh Sanburn’s very good piece on the rise of cremations (“The New American Way of Death”) misses a beat when he suggests (without supporting evidence) that cremation is a sign of Americans’ drift from religion. For instance, Mr. Sanburn fails to analyze whether the number of church funerals has declined as the rate of cremations has risen. Indeed, many parishes have incorporated columbariums and memorial gardens for scattered ashes into their churchyards in order to provide exactly the kind of enduring memorial for cremated loved ones that Mr. Sanburn laments is being lost. Cremation is a most orthodox burial choice, since God says to Adam at the dawn of creation, “You [will] return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). Cremation carries more theological legitimacy than having one’s body embalmed, enclosed in a metal casket, and entombed in a concrete vault, from which the body will never return to the earth.

The Very Rev. Barkley Thompson, Houston, Texas