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The “Hindu-ization” of American belief

The “Hindu-ization” of American belief

Cremation is on the rise in the United States, especially during the present economic downturn. Cremating the remains of a loved one is generally much cheaper than have them embalmed and buried in a casket. But there may be more to this trend than simple economics.

The New York Times has a long article (linked below) that reports on the trend, and the way that even groups in American society like African Americans, who have long found cremation to be unacceptable, are beginning to consider it as an option. Apparently it’s not just economics driving this change. According to the article, there’s been a shift in popular religiosity as well.

““America is becoming Hinduized in this way,” said Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and the author of “Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America.” “We’re increasingly seeing the human as essentially spiritual and gradually giving up on the Judeo-Christian idea of the person in the afterlife.”

Still, Lorice L. Ottenbacher of Virginia Beach explained that her husband’s choice to be cremated, while largely motivated by his beliefs, also had an economic component.”

More here.

For a long time Jews, Christians and Muslims have resisted cremation as an option because of the hope of the bodily resurrection expected when God remakes the world. So is it really a shift in belief or simple economics driving the change noted in the article? Do Christians still emphasize the bodily resurrection, or has it become more spiritualized in your experience?


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For what it’s worth, I really recommend Jonathan’s blog post on the topic. It is exactly how I, for one, feel about the matter at hand. It’s all about stewardship, as he puts it, for me. Thanks, Jonathan!!

My decision is certainly about stewardship, of finances and the earth. I think a certain amount of this may also be driven by location. I live in New York City, so I’d have to be buried relatively far outside the city, where it would be a burden for people to visit, and where, of course, plots and niches are extremely expensive. Mostly, I like the idea of being inurned in my church’s columbarium, which is one wall of the sanctuary. It makes me feel like I would be where I most belong.

That said, I wonder to what extent geography (that is, density of where one lives as well as proximity to increasingly-scattered families) plays a part in the decision process. I can say with certainty that I never thought of Hinduism or Hindu concepts when making the decision 🙂

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

I am not sure that I see a “Hinduization” here, but several trends. One factor that outweighs cost is often an issue of convenience. In a culture where funerals take up too much time and effort and persons cannot “drop everything” anymore to attend (even the local fast food is open on Christmas day, for pity’s sake), people often opt to dispose of the body quickly and then schedule some sort of memorial at a later time. The deceased usually attends in some sort of way in terms of a cremation urn or similar container.

My personal suspicion is that, although there are some with cost or “green” concerns, having the corpse make a quick and sanitary disappearance has to do at least in part with our inability to deal with the reality and finality of death. Long before any burial customs, we would simply rot where we fell, like all of God’s other creatures on the planet. Death is messy; rotting flesh smells, yet it is the “real thing” for most of us. This was not “in doubt” at the time of Jesus, “Iam foetet,” “Already he stinks” was the word of the family of Lazarus when Jesus asked for the tomb to be opened.

As to cost, it is true that burial plots can be costly, but a casket need not be. All that is required is a basic container due to laws about who/how corpses may be handled. Even cremation requires some sort of basic container in most locations, if only a glorified cardboard box. If the burial is done in a short period of time, embalming may be optional. Most people do not understand that current funerary embalming does not prove longterm preservation of dead flesh, but simply “delays” it slightly in order to have time to complete funerary customs.

On a personal preference level, I find cemeteries to be places of comfort where I can “visit” the memories and memorials of my deceased ancestors. They also serve a genealogical purpose. I look forward to lying in the ground with my ancestors. I see no reason to waste energy with incinerating my remains. The “slow burn” of enzymatic and bacterial degradation will take care of that, no matter any wishes I might have to the contrary.


This analysis is wrong on so many levels. Here’s my take:

Leslie Scoopmire

The implication is that if one bevlieves in a bodily resurrection one should not dornate organs, either. I believe that the bodily resurrection is metaphorical, I believe in organ donation after my death, and I believe embalming and burial is not only disgusting and a waste of money, but I believe we are described as “ashes to ashes” at the start of Lent for a reason. This is not Hindu, it is rational.

Paul Woodrum

Never thought about cremation being Hindu and would question how many Christians do. Personally I prefer heat to cold, instant ashes to slow slime, in death a smaller footprint, and more dependable institutional than family maintenance. As to the Resurrection of the Dead, I figure God can work with what he’s given including the ashes of a good many martyrs.

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