Death is the one thing that will eventually come to all of us. But when the time comes to make your own arrangements or those of a loved one, will you choose burial or cremation? Burial is still the most common funeral arrangement in the United States, but cremation is getting more popular.
Each choice has its own pros and cons, and there are religious or ethical considerations to take into account as well. Burial fits in well with most religious traditions, but it’s expensive. Cremation can be cheap, but also slightly detrimental to the environment. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of cremation and burial so you can make the best choice for yourself or a loved one.
Pros and Cons of Burial
Burial is arguably the oldest funeral tradition — people have been burying their dead for at least 100,000 years, if not longer. Many people choose burial for religious reasons, as many world religions require believers to bury their dead. Judaism is one example; Jewish people believe that the body and soul remain connected after death, and that harming the body through cremation causes harm to the soul.
Many Christians also believe that the Bible calls for burial, thanks to the belief that one day, the bodies of believers will be resurrected and reunited with their souls. Christians who believe this worry that cremation will damage the body too much to allow for this anticipated resurrection. However, other Christians posit that, since God is all-powerful, He should able to repair a body damaged by cremation, just as He should be able to repair a body damaged by fire or even by many years of natural decay.
However, arguments for burial go beyond the religious and spiritual. Many people choose burial because they simply don’t like the idea of cremation. Burial leaves behind a physical grave that loved ones can visit to pay their respects. Some people want loved ones to be able to view their body at a funeral service, and mistakenly believe that choosing cremation won’t allow for this. Still others feel that it’s necessary to treat the body with respect by burying it instead of cremating it.
Burial has its drawbacks. It’s usually much more expensive than cremation. It can be environmentally harmful if embalming fluids and certain casket materials are used, although “green burials” that dispense with embalming and use eco-friendly caskets are becoming more common. If the family can’t have a service right away, burial may not be practical. And just as some religions dictate burial, others, like Buddhism and Hinduism, require their followers to cremate.
Pros and Cons of Cremation
Cremation is already very popular in Europe and other parts of the world where land for burial plots is scarce. Its popularity in the United States is also growing; the National Funeral Directors Association expects cremation to surpass burial in popularity by the end of 2015, and by 2030, cremation rates are expected to be as high as 71 percent. Cremation can be cheaper than burial. While a burial with a vault may cost more than $8,300, a cremation can cost as little as $1,000. This fact alone has led many people to choose cremation for themselves or a loved one. It’s not that people are cheaper than they used to be, but hard economic times have made it difficult or impossible for many families to afford the high costs of burial.
While some religions forbid cremation, others require it. Cremation allows more flexibility for loved ones, since they can choose to delay the service. Those who want a grave can bury the remains, while those who don’t care about a grave can scatter the remains at a significant location or keep them in an urn at home. However, while many people choose cremation because they believe it’s better for the environment, that’s not necessarily true; it takes a lot of fuel to cremate a body, and the process can release a lot of pollution.
Finally, just as some people feel the process of cremation is disrespectful to the body, others are uncomfortable at the thought of their body in a casket under the ground. For these people, the thought of a quick, clean cremation is comforting. Since the body will return to dust eventually anyway, many argue, cremation just hurries that natural process up a bit.
Burial remains the more popular choice for American funerals, but cremation is gaining favor. Both types of arrangements have their benefits and drawbacks. Whether you want a burial or favor cremation, it’s perhaps most important to go ahead and make your funeral plans in advance. That way, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing your wishes will be honored, and your loved ones will be spared the stress and expense of making these vital decisions during what will surely be one of the most difficult times of their lives.
Updated: August 11, 2015