DebatingChristianity.com | Right and Wrong


Why do we bury the dead?

Goto page 1, 2  Next

Why do we bury the dead? 
Author: ST88 
Posted: 11/09/2005 03:29 PM 
 
I understand ashes to ashes, and all that. But this strikes me as a reason for cremation, and at least for direct burial in the ground (i.e., without a casket), and/or emtombment -- in the case of Jesus, for example. But direct burial in the ground is sometimes seen as disrespectful to the dead, and many opt to have their deceased loved ones embalmed in impenetrable caskets. How is this ashes to ashes? What are they trying to save?

In my opinion, cemeteries, as they are laid out and structured, are a waste of otherwise usable land. I recognize the need to have a central location for memorial -- as a military facility, for example -- but is there a specific reason why people are buried in large plots?

I think that the balance of memorializing the dead and day-to-day living is skewed too much to memorials. We should remember the dead, but making little permanent shrines to each one of them I think is taking remembrance too far.

What is the reason for and/or purpose of cemeteries?

Do you agree or disagree that cemeteries are a waste of space & why/not?


 
Author: McCulloch 
Posted: 11/09/2005 07:34 PM 
 
In some cities, cemetaries are the only green spaces with trees.


 
Author: Vladd44 
Posted: 11/09/2005 08:09 PM 
 
Well, I doubt I will even get a partial temporary burial.

I plan on going to the body farm http://web.utk.edu/~anthrop/FACdonation.html

Hopefully they will allow my body to rot out in the open somewhere, and perhaps someone can get some good photos of it.


 
Author: The Persnickety Platypus 
Posted: 11/09/2005 10:01 PM 
 
It seems we are negating a viable energy source by burying the dead. I bet granny would give me superb gas mileage compared to that $50 tank of unleaded.



McCulloch brings up a good point, though. Cemetaries certainly help restrict the expansion of the corporate sector. My town could use a lot more cemetarys... I am getting tired of looking at these big ugly department stores and textile plants. I'll take a grassy heap of rotting dead people any day over that new Lowes (and the extra stoplight that came with it).

The philosophy behind burials must relate to the desired human notion of everlasting life. Look at the Egyptian mummies. No one wants to let go of their loved ones. Therefore they chuck them in the ground at some special or signifigant place where they can be visited whenever desired.

Stupid concept, really, but I'm certainly not against the idea.


 
Author: juliod 
Posted: 11/09/2005 10:59 PM 
 








Quote:
The philosophy behind burials must relate to the desired human notion of everlasting life.



My bet is that this only became true after the practice was already established.

There are very good reasons to bury the dead even in a very primitive society. Namely, the basic hygiene issue and the desire to not see your loved ones torn apart by scavengers. Primitive nomads would not have these problems, but once some sort of less mobile society started it would have been essential.

Back then it would have been easy to surround these practical issues with a layer of mysticism.

DanZ


 
Author: ST88 
Posted: 11/09/2005 11:36 PM 
 








McCulloch wrote:
In some cities, cemetaries are the only green spaces with trees.


That is an excellent point. But I wonder how much paving over of the landscape is OK'd because of this idea. Hey we've got open space parks; just look at our cemeteries. Wouldn't this actually stifle the establishment of open/green spaces? After all, cemeteries have their own environmental problems. They have similar problems as golf courses -- i.e., runoff of lawn chemicals, including nitrogen which promotes the growth of fish-killing algae in rivers and estuaries; not to mention the chemicals coming from the caskets and the bodies themselves.

I know that in the 19th century, some cemeteries were the only areas of a town that exhibited artworks. Instead of an art museum, they would have granite and marble statuary among the dead. There are cemeteries in Boston and rural Pennsylvania that people visit just for the artisanship of the memorials. But, like juliod says, this was something that was done after the practice of burial was established -- basically turning something creepy into art. Hey, I love the impulse, but what's the difference between a statue garden and a cemetery? Do we really need the motivation of honoring the dead to create such a thing?


 
Author: Jose 
Posted: 11/10/2005 04:53 PM 
 








juliod wrote:
There are very good reasons to bury the dead even in a very primitive society. Namely, the basic hygiene issue and the desire to not see your loved ones torn apart by scavengers. Primitive nomads would not have these problems, but once some sort of less mobile society started it would have been essential.

I think you're right, Dan. It would be rather unsettling to see the scavengers at work. The microbial scavengers are also a problem, producing as they do their nice volatile chemicals like cadaverine. I'd bet the scavengers and aromas would tend to favor some kind of burial.

Given the mystery of disease not so long ago, it's easy to imagine developing a superstition about death leading to "bad things" for the living. If you found that a little ritual burial solved the problems, you might well make such rituals quite formal. What better way to make them formal than to weave them into your tribal religion? It's way easier to help people follow the "rules" of safe living if you encode them in religious requirements than if you expect everyone to learn all of the reasons behind the behaviors.

There's an active field of endeavor now, that looks for clues to ancient events in the myths of various cultures. The myth of one culture says that when the sea recedes, a great sea monster is about to attack, and everyone should run inland. These people survived the recent Tsunami, because they heeded their cultural beliefs. In the northwest, shrines to earthserpents seem to lie along fault lines. And, by the same token, the break of the Bosporus and creation of the Black Sea some 7600 years ago feels suspiciously like the right time and place to be the event that underlies Noah's Flood.

So, a practice that nearly every culture engages in, with one or another type of ritual, seems likely to grow out of its being "the right thing to do." Perhaps the microbiology wasn't well known when the practice was invented, but it was the reason the practice developed. Building the ritual around it makes it more comforting somehow, especially if part of that ritual is the idea that the departed loved one is now with god, and that we will be re-united when we, too, depart this earth.


 
Author: ST88 
Posted: 11/11/2005 11:51 AM 
 








Jose wrote:








juliod wrote:
There are very good reasons to bury the dead even in a very primitive society. Namely, the basic hygiene issue and the desire to not see your loved ones torn apart by scavengers. Primitive nomads would not have these problems, but once some sort of less mobile society started it would have been essential.

I think you're right, Dan. It would be rather unsettling to see the scavengers at work. The microbial scavengers are also a problem, producing as they do their nice volatile chemicals like cadaverine. I'd bet the scavengers and aromas would tend to favor some kind of burial.


And yet, why burial? Why not burning, as some other cultures practice? Jose, you mention disease as a reason to get the dead under the ground. Wouldn't a primitive society favor immolation of the body (which would coincidentally take care of the microbial problem), rather than interrment? After all, an animal only needs a nose good enough to sniff the through dirt to find a body and drag it out. That, in my opinion, would be just as traumatic -- if not more so -- than watching someone being dragged away from above ground (possibly the reason for the casket?).

I guess I think the answer has more to do with the possibly pre-historical belief that the body somehow contains the "essence" of who the person was, even after death, and that this essence must be returned to some sort of collective Great Link that is a part of the earth. If true, it would mean that early spiritual beliefs in the West revolved around ancestors, much as they do in some African and South American cultures, and not around deities that take care of the ancestors.


Re: Why do we bury the dead? 
Author: mrmufin 
Posted: 12/04/2005 03:29 PM 
 








ST88 wrote:
Do you agree or disagree that cemeteries are a waste of space & why/not?

The whole burial ritual kinda boggles my mind. I never really understood it, which is why I pretty much think that cemeteries are a bit of a waste. When I die, my body will be donated as an anotomical gift for medical and/or scientific research. Fer cryin' out loud, it's the least I can do...

Regards,
mrmufin


 
Author: Chimp 
Posted: 12/08/2005 09:50 PM 
 
Burning a corpse to ash ( as opposed to very well done ) requires a good
deal of heat/time, the fatter the longer.
The fuel for this may not have been plentiful, but dirt is fairly available...

Full version