Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Green Police won't even let us die in peace

"By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
Apparently, being buried in the ground is not "green" enough for the High Priests of the Church of Environmentalism. Neither is cremation. Not only are we vile polluters while we walk the earth, but our massive carbon footprint even follows us to the grave. Or, rather, the crematorium.

The Green Burials website reports that if you choose cremation, you're harming the environment:
"There are air pollution issues caused by cremation, even the fillings in our teeth contribute to the mercury in the atmosphere. Older burners have been replaced by double burners which burn off many pollutants, however cremation releases dioxin, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide."
The BBC reports that mercury pollution is a byproduct of vaporized tooth fillings. It is blamed for up to 16% of UK mercury emissions. Since the UN (what else) Heavy Metals protocols is forcing UK government bureaucrats to reduce mercury emissions from "cremains," the UK equivalent of the EPA is requiring costly new filtering devices on all crematoriums by 2012. It is estimated this will add 30-40% to the cost of a cremation.

At this point, you may be wondering, as I am, why they can't just yank the fillings out and solve the problem. Not to be insensitive, but if your dear departed loved one is being incinerated, I'm thinking they're not going to miss the filling, right?

But that would be way too easy.

Meet the liquefaction unit And say "ewww" with me.

From the BBC:
"The unit by Resomation Ltd is billed as a green alternative to cremation and works by dissolving the body in heated alkaline water.

The facility has been installed at the Anderson-McQueen funeral home in St Petersburg, and will be used for the first time in the coming weeks. It is hoped other units will follow in the US, Canada and Europe.

The makers claim the process produces a third less greenhouse gas than cremation, uses a seventh of the energy, and allows for the complete separation of dental amalgam for safe disposal."
If you're squeamish about these things, you might want to stop reading now:
"The system works by submerging the body in a solution of water and potassium hydroxide which is pressurised to 10 atmospheres and heated to 180C for between two-and-a-half and three hours. 
"Body tissue is dissolved and the liquid poured into the municipal water system. Mr Sullivan, a biochemist by training, says tests have proven the effluent is sterile and contains no DNA, and poses no environmental risk.
"The bones are then removed from the unit and processed in a "cremulator", the same machine that is used to crush bone fragments following cremation into ash. Metals including mercury and artificial joints and implants are safely recovered." [emphasis added]
So you won't have to fuss with choosing an urn or deciding where to display it in your home. You won't have to bother with scattering the ashes over the Pacific Ocean or Mt. McKinley. Your loved one will be POURED INTO THE MUNICIPAL WATER SYSTEM!! And ingested by someone. Can I get an "ewww?"

In the United Kingdom, where the Green Police have their knickers in a twist about mercury vapors from cremations (and are likely blustering about bodies taking up valuable green space in cemeteries), the cremation rate has gone from 34% in 1960 to 72% in 2008.  

Russell Moore notes that the traditional "Bible Belt" areas of the United States are the least likely to cremate, while the Pacific Northwest and Northeast are in the 75%+ range.

File:2006 US cremation rates map.svg

Moore acknowledges that this may be more tradition than theological opposition to cremation:
"One would be hard-pressed to find a more predictable map of the so-called Bible Belt than to look at the states where cremation is still least socially acceptable: from the Catholic/Baptist gumbo of Louisiana through the mountains of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. This is not to say that Bible Belt Christians have a theological position on cremation; most don’t. There is an unthinking, almost instinctive revulsion, a revulsion that can thus be lost in the decades to come."
That said, throughout history, Christians have always buried their dead.  It wasn't until recent times that cremation became an acceptable option.  David Jones, Associate Professor of Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a thoughtful research article notes that the adoption of cremation was a rejection of traditional Christian doctrine:

"It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that the church’s position on cremation came under serious attack. As [Russel] Moore notes, this challenge initially came from certain “anti-Christian ‘freethinkers’ who saw in the act of cremation a defiant rejection of the resurrection of the body.”
At our church, there is a small cemetery right outside the window of the sanctuary. Sometimes our pastor mentions I Thessalonians 4:
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first" (I Thess. 4:16).
I always gaze out that window and wonder what that day will be like.  Our pastor once told us that several years ago someone noticed a foul odor and some runoff in the creek below the cemetery, which sits on a hill.  It turns out that some of the "residents" of the cemetery were doing the "to the dust you shall return" thing right there at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.  

Somehow, the same God who created Adam out of the dust of the ground will put all those cells, bones, muscles and teeth - minus the mercury-tainted fillings -  together again.  He will reunite body, spirit, and soul, whether it is buried, cremated, burned at the stake, or liquefied and poured down your kitchen sink.  That's too amazing for my mind to comprehend!

And so while in the end, it won't hinder or alter God's plans in any way whether we are cremated, buried in the ground or buried at sea, I think it's wise to arrive at a decision thoughtfully and with some theological implications in mind.  David Jones summarizes his report with some principals to guide the decision (and none of them include consideration of your carbon footprint):

"First, church history witnesses considerable opposition toward cremation with the normative practice of the church being burial. Second, while Scripture is silent on the specifics of how to treat the deceased, both the example of biblical characters and the general trajectory of related passages seem to be in a pro-burial direction. Third, the body is theologically significant; thus, both the act of and the imagery conveyed by the treatment of the deceased ought to be weighed carefully."
Jones acknowledges that this is an adiaphora issue (that is, one that is not essential to the Christian faith - it is neither required nor forbidden). However,  how we as Christians regard, treat, and bury our dead says something to the world about our faith and our respect for life.  

Personally? I want the message at the end of my life to be something more meaningful and significant than, "I am a resource-sapping pollutant to be purged from the earth like that 3-month-old pasta salad in the back of the refrigerator."


Shawn said...


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