Monday, October 31, 2016

What's Up With the Catholic Church and Cremation?

For decades the Catholic  had no issue with Cremation, that is the burning of bodies forming a clean, whitish ash.  Just recently they've issued 'guidance' on cremation that more than likely has done another layer of damage to the Catholic version of Christianity.  "Vatican issues guidelines on cremation, says no to scattering ashes" (from CNN).

Basically, the Church is worried that scattering ashes doesn't show proper respect and if you aren't planning to bury the deceased ashes in a proper place of holy reverence, you will be denied a Catholic funeral.  So . . . the millions of people that have been cremated and the ashes reside on the mantle or scattered in various places, aren't going to be resurrected at the end of the world?  See what I mean by damage?  I am sure there are many, many people who are now seriously concerned for the fate of their deceased loved ones whose ashes were scattered or something more creative, like being pressed into a diamond or shot into space.

Why?  What is the big deal?  Can't an omnipotent Deity handle such things?  Apparently not . . . or . . . it's the Church itself that can't handle it.  What would the Church's objection to such activities be based on?  The cynic in me has to wonder how much of this is based on their faith or how much is based on using their faith to bolster business?

A lot of people seem to forget that churches are businesses. The Catholic parish I grew up in had three schools, a physical church, rectory for the priests and a convent for the nuns.   It was quite a facility, but today it's down to just the church and some friends tell me it's a satellite church not in regular use. The other buildings have been sold off and all have secular uses now, like a magnet school in what was once my elementary school.

While that's only one example, there have been many where the schools and parishes have been merged to save expenses in running so many facilities, in other words 'downsizing', which is certainly not a theistic term, it's what happens when a segment of any business isn't holding its own. When you think of the Church as a business, you might see some things in a different light. For example:

"But after Henry [VIII] became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive. 
You see, Henry was desperate with desire for Anne — but Anne wanted a wedding ring. The problem was, Henry already had a wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the pope refused to annul that decades' long marriage. So Henry broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, declared himself the head of the Church of England and divorced Catherine so he could marry Anne. 
Suddenly, eating fish became political. Fish was seen as a " 'popish flesh' that lost favour as fast as Anglicism took root," as Kate Colquhoun recounts in her book 'Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking'
Fishermen were hurting. So much so that when Henry's young son, Edward VI, took over in 1547, fast days were reinstated by law — 'for worldly and civil policy, to spare flesh, and use fish, for the benefit of the commonwealth, where many be fishers, and use the trade of living.'
In fact, fish fasting remained surprisingly influential in global economics well into the 20th century."(source)
I am sure there are many examples where business of faith and the business of business intersect.  America's "Blue Laws" are a great example.  A set of laws specifically designed to enforce the religious requirements of one set of religious beliefs! 

The cynic in me has to wonder if the Church has noticed a downturn in the number of burials at Catholic cemeteries and are fixing the blame on the popularity of cremation and the many alternative choices for the remains that don't include a ceremony and internment in a sanctified ground, one that would add to the Church's coffers.  After all, one of the reasons given to me [taught during my Catholic school years] about the Catholic Church's antipathy to contraception was simply that the best way to increase the population of theists is to breed them, so contraception is evil!  One of the reasons for the Fish on Fridays was to bolster the fish industry!  Whatever religious trappings you want to dress things up in, there is a business impact from these many decisions.

So now we have a change in rules governing cremation!  Why would this suddenly become an issue?  USA Today ran an article discussing the changing cultural around burials and cremation, including this shift in the Catholic Church.
 "Although cremation has happened since prehistoric times, for centuries the Catholic Church viewed it as pagan and forbade the practice. Church leaders feared it would interfere with the resurrection of the body and the body reuniting with the soul, which Catholics believe is when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.
In 1963, the church changed its policy, though it still prefers a full-body burial, said the Rev. Michael Diskin, assistant chancellor for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and spiritual adviser for the diocese's Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries.
"The church does allow people to choose cremation as long as it is not a formal denial of the church's teaching of the resurrection of the body," Diskin said." (USA Today:  Cremation Trends Changing Death Rituals)
All of this reminds me of an old joke.  
"Muldoon lived alone in the Irish countryside with only a pet dog for company. One day the dog died, and Muldoon went to the parish priest and asked, "Father, my dog is dead. Could ya' be saying' a mass for the poor creature?"Father Patrick replied, "I'm afraid not; we cannot have services for an animal in the church. But there are some Baptists down the lane, and there's no tellin' what they believe. Maybe they'll do something for the creature."
Muldoon said, "I'll go right away Father. Do ya' think $5,000 is enough to donate to them for the service?"
Father Patrick exclaimed, "Sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus! Why didn't ya tell me the dog was Catholic?"
I've heard the joke several different ways, but the punchline is always the same.  Certainly makes you think about the reasons the Church's policy has changed.  I wonder if anyone has done an economic analysis of this?

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