Cremation is the burning to ashes of a person's body after death, rather than burying the body or otherwise honoring it. Often the ashes of a cremated corpse are then dispersed over water or land.
Cremation has ancient pagan origins, and implicitly denies the resurrection of the body. In Western cultures, cremation is most favored by atheists. It has always been prohibited by Judaism and Islam and is still prohibited by the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic Church prohibited cremation until 1963, which it changed its policy to merely disfavoring cremation. Until 1997, the Roman Catholic Church did not allow cremation until after the funeral mass, but then it relaxed that rule if a local bishop approves of cremation prior to the funeral mass, and Catholic cremations have greatly increased partly for economic reasons.
The Nazis heavily used cremation. The 1949 Geneva Convention, an international treaty governing wartime, prohibits cremation: "Bodies shall not be cremated except for imperative reasons of hygiene or for motives based on the religion of the deceased."
In 2006 in the United States, about one third of the 2.3 million persons who died were cremated. This fraction is expected to increase further. Cremation rates are much higher in other countries: 75% in Japan and 70% in England.
Christian Opposition to Cremation
Christians have expressed several objections to cremation:
- the body is in the image of God and should be respected
- cremation is a pagan practice
- the body is an integral part of the person, not simply a vehicle for the soul
- burial of a Christian should be in imitation of Christ's burial
- cremation implicitly denies, and may interfere with, the resurrection of the body
It is a theological issue whether cremation interferes with the ultimate resurrection of the body as accepted by virtually all Christians in the Nicene Creed. Minucius Felix's Octavius is cited by those favoring cremation, though his statements are not entirely persuasive.
In the Middle Ages, cremation was only allowed when necessary, as in disposing of diseased bodies.
Jewish Opposition to Cremation
Orthodox and Conservative Judaism has always prohibited cremation. This respects their belief in bodily resurrection. In modern times, the memory of the use of crematoria during the Holocaust has reinforced the Jewish opposition to cremation.
Catholic Position on Cremation
The Catholic position for two millennia was that cremation did not treat the body with the respect warranted for God's image. The respect for life also required a respect for the body in death.
The Church relaxed its prohibition on cremation in 1963. "In 1963, the Catholic Church lifted its prohibition forbidding Catholics to choose cremation. Canon 1176 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states, 'The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed, it does not however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.'"
Hindu Position on Cremation
Since at least 1900 B.C. Hinduism has supported use of a funeral pyre to burn a body after death.
- JEAN PICTET, COMMENTARY, GENEVA CONVENTION I, GWS, at 178-79 (1952).
- Article 17, second paragraph.
- St. Thomas Aquinas rejected the view that a person is a soul trapped in a body, observing that a soul by itself would not be a human. Robert Pasnau's introduction to his translation of Summa Theologiae explains that Aquinas is "quite clear in rejecting the sort of substance dualism proposed by Plato [...] which goes so far as to identify human beings with their souls alone, as if the body were a kind of clothing that we put on." See Aquinas, St. Thomas (2002). Summa Theologiae 1a, 75-89, trans. Pasnau, Hackett Publishing. ISBN 0-872-206-130.
- Christian acceptance of the resurrection of the body has been a central doctrine since at least Paul. 
- Felix stated, "Every body, whether it is dried up into dust, or is dissolved into moisture, or is compressed into ashes, or is attenuated into smoke, is withdrawn from us, but it is reserved for God in the custody of the elements. Nor, as you believe, do we fear any loss from sepulture, but we adopt the ancient and better custom of burying in the earth." full text of Octavius.