Mormon Doctrine: Cremation

I took a break from my series on the book Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, but I think it’s time to revisit the book.  Under the heading Cremation (it is the same in the 1958 and 1979 editions), Elder McConkie writes:

CREMATION.  See DEATH, FUNERALS, GRAVES.  Cremation of the dead is no part of the gospel; it is a practice which has been avoided by the saints in all ages.  The Church today counsels its members not to cremate their dead.  Such a procedure would find gospel acceptance only under the most extraordinary and unusual circumstances.  Wherever possible the dead should be consigned to the earth, and nothing should be done that is destructive to the body; that should be left to nature, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  (Gen 3:19)

Even though McConkie says “The Church today counsels its members not to cremate their dead,” I thought it would be interesting to see what the church actually says.  The Ensign from 1991 is softer on the topic than McConkie, but it does seem to agree with him on certain parts.  The article emphasizes that this is not the official church position.

Where do Latter-day Saints fit into this picture? We reaffirm the perspective that the body is good and, as a creation of God, is to be respected. But as the Church has moved into nations other than the United States, there has been recognition that cultural practices differ. Generally, Latter-day Saints in the Western world have felt that nothing should be done which is destructive to the body. That should be left to nature. Church leaders have counseled that only in unusual circumstances or where required by law should cremation take place. 11

Ultimately, after consultation with the Lord and with priesthood leaders, the family must decide what to do. If the person has been endowed, some special instructions are available for the family from local priesthood leaders. Even if a body is cremated, a funeral service may be held if the ashes are buried or deposited in a mausoleum. 12

Where there is no overriding reason to cremate, burial is still the preferred method of handling our dead. In the end, however, we should remember that the resurrection will take place by the power of God, who created the heavens and the earth. Ultimately, whether a person’s body was buried at sea, destroyed in combat or an accident, intentionally cremated, or buried in a grave, the person will be resurrected.

I was surprised to see a pretty impressive history of cremation in the Ensign.

The earliest regular cremations in the Middle East seem to have been among the Hittites (c. 1740–1190 B.C.) 2 and the Philistines (c. 1200 B.C.) 3Even so, cremation was paralleled in both civilizations by the practice of burial. However, in Hindu and Greek thought, cremation pointed to the impurity of the body. Fire was seen as the vehicle of regeneration or rebirth. 4

In Asia, the custom received wider acceptance after the Buddha was cremated. Since he set the example, many Buddhist countries such as Indochina, Korea, and Japan practice cremation. 5 (Interestingly, cremation was not popular in China, probably because of the strong Confucian influence, which emphasized respect for one’s ancestors.) In Japan, the first recorded cremation was that of the monk Dosho in A.D. 700, an example which was followed by the Empress Jito in A.D. 704, which gave imperial sanction to the practice. Even so, cremation declined in medieval Japan.

In the West, cremation was common among the Greeks and the Romans. It was the mode by which the bodies of the Caesars were destroyed. 6

Among the Jews, cremation was generally not practiced. The Mishnah forbids cremation as an act of idolatry. 7 In those rare instances when cremation did take place, it was a sign of unrighteousness (see Amos 6:10) or of punishment due a criminal. (See Lev. 20:14Lev. 21:9Josh. 7:25.) 8

Christianity likewise opposed cremation. This reluctance to cremate can basically be traced to the Jewish and Christian belief that when God created the body and all other things, he pronounced them “very good.” (Gen. 1:31.) The body was God’s creation and, according to Christians, it would rise with the spirit in the resurrection. Thus, to cremate it would be an act of disrespect before God.

A change occurred, however, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The unsanitary conditions of many cemeteries in western Europe caused people to reassess the way they treated their dead. Movements recommending cremation began around 1860, and in 1884 a judicial decision legalized cremation in Britain. France legalized it in 1889, and today it is legal in more than three-fourths of the world’s nations. The reasons are widely known—cremation is hygienic, requires little land, and is appropriate to rapidly growing urban areas. 9 Today, 10 percent of the dead are cremated in the United States, 20 percent in Canada, and 60 percent in Britain. 10

So what is official church policy?  Now that the Handbook of Instructions is available on teh internet, here’s what it says.


The Church does not normally encourage cremation. The family of the deceased must decide whether the body should be cremated, taking into account any laws governing burial or cremation. In some countries, the law requires cremation.

Where possible, the body of a deceased member who has been endowed should be dressed in temple clothing when it is cremated. A funeral service may be held (see 18.6).

From my experience, funerals are unnecessarily expensive.  Is it really necessary to spend over a thousand dollars on a coffin (and that’s according to the discount website Best Price Caskets)?  Then you can spend $895-$7195 on a burial vault.  Some cemeteries require a vault because if the coffin collapses under the weight of the dirt, the ground sinks.  A vault keeps the ground level for mowing the lawn.  But funeral homes will try to sell you on the idea that some vaults prevent moisture from entering the coffin.  Is this really a good idea?  It slows down decomposition.  Do we really care if water gets in the coffin?  I don’t.  Of course funeral homes try to sell you a lot of services when you’re most vulnerable, and it can really add up.

Cremation on the other hand is generally less expensive.  When I die, I don’t want my family wasting money burying me, and I’m open to the idea of cremation.  What are your thoughts on cremation?

9 comments on “Mormon Doctrine: Cremation

  1. That’s why I have enough life insurance to take care of the costs of burial while still leaving enough money for my family. Funerals are an opportunity for the living to say goodbye to the dead. I know that open caskets are not the practice everywhere in the world, but it helped me in the grief process to see the peaceful bodies of my siblings at their funerals. I think it is nice to have a cemetery to go to, should living friends and relatives wish to visit annually, etc. I definitely want to be buried, not cremated.

  2. I can see and agree that cemeteries are nice to visit (though not everyone feels that way), but certainly there can be an open casket prior to the cremation. I expect that you could rent a casket a whole lot cheaper than buying one to stick in the ground.

  3. “Wherever possible the dead should be consigned to the earth, and nothing should be done that is destructive to the body;” Bruce R. McConkie

    This is so ‘in the box’ Mormonism, that it again makes reason stand on its head.

    I would say, “Hey, Bruce, like you said, how many bodies have been burned, blown to smithereens, hacked up, etc, in all of the wars? How many bodies have been lost at sea and consequently eaten by marine life? How many bodies have been embalmed with formaldehyde and other unnatural chemicals by the funeral business, which interfere with and are ‘destructive’ to the natural processes of the body returning to the elements of the earth from whence it came (and I bet that’s what happened to your body when you died)? How come the church doesn’t have anything to say about that unnatural (and to me, disgusting) process?!”

    A body, once devoid of its life force, is just like so much detritus — it has no value whatsoever. It rots away (or becomes desiccated in some arid climates). All bodies, no matter how they end up, essentially disappear eventually (except for perhaps the bone matter, which can be preserved in certain sediments for aeons).

    But it really isn’t so amazing to me that the Mormon church placed (at the time of McConkie), or still attaches a great deal of doctrinal importance to a deceased, physical body while at the same time preaching or emphasizing things eternal, e.g., the spirit and intelligence of a person. Why am I not so surprised? Because the body becomes just another exterior adornment for the religion, like the ostentatiously decorated temples. A dead body laying in a beautiful casket with its occupant garbed in the ‘robes of the Holy Priesthood’ is just another PR statement; another ‘in your face’ attempt to shout out to the world (and to the believers) that, “We are special because, as you can see, we have arcane ritualistic raiment.”

    If you are some sort of a Deist or believer in a Creator, in consideration of all of the billions, and billions of people that have died in so many diverse ways (and just on this planet alone), do you really think it matters to this ‘God’ what happens to all of these mortal bodies when they have ‘died’? Do you really think the ones that had a ‘proper’, i.e., a conventional, Christian or full-fledged Mormon burial, will have some sort of preferential status in the afterlife, or at the time of their expected resurrection?

    And what about this: When one of my sons was on his mission, the church strongly disapproved and consequently convinced him not to return home for a few days to attend the funeral of his MOST beloved, younger (by four years) brother who died suddenly and unexpectedly. And not only wasn’t he their to be with the rest of his grieving nuclear family, I felt as is I had to ‘put on a Mormon face’, conduct myself in the manner of ‘Mormon speak’ throughout the whole event and even state my approval of my other son not being there (the mantra, “There is wisdom in this.”). I felt all of this pressure to ‘perform’ according to expectations that I never felt like I could properly and truly grieve over the loss of my son. To this day I feel guilt or regret because of this — the role I was expected to play, along with my other son’s absence.

    So, what are my thoughts on cremation with regard to the Mormon church? One answer that I have is that although I personally would prefer a simple, graveside burial service (sans embalming), I would opt for cremation any day if it meant that I could grieve naturally and in peace rather than go through all of the Mormon church burial rigmarole and expectations of comportment. In short, the church has no business dictating or making suggestions that would put a grieving family under more duress than necessary. The church should be there to support you according to *your* needs, not theirs.

  4. …sorry for the long post again.

  5. I want to be mummified and then buried. Not that I think what happens to you after death has any effect on anything…. I just want some archaeologist a thousand years from now to dig me up and wonder if I was an ancient king or something. 😀

  6. Apparently it is against Muslim law to cremate. I learned that when they were trying to figure out what to do with the Boston Bombing suspect. See http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/10/18173126-boston-bombing-suspect-buried-in-virginia-county-looking-into-legality?lite

  7. I want to waste a lot of money on my funeral. Lay me in a $15K Grecian copper casket (one of Batesville’s best). Let my wake be a riotous grubfest. Hire a long train of mourners wailing dirges. Take my carcass out to sea, sink it with a W88 thermonuclear warhead to 100 fathoms, and set it off at the full 475 kiloton yield. Then throw one rocking party in my honor. With apologies to Eric Burdon and the Animals, “It’s my death and I’ll will what I want!”

  8. Personally this is what I want. I want to be buried in my own lovely pine wood coffin,with the lid closed. No viewing, no embalming, just refrigeration to cover the law on transporting. No talk about where they think I may be going, but simple reports of my few acts of kindness. Nothing expensive, but give the savings to the PERPETUAL EDUCATION FUND, and nothing to the American way of deathl

  9. I see now sixty days later, that I have stimulated no interest in keeping it simple. I am 82 years young and still marvel about how the conventional expensive funeral is swallowed hook line and sinker, buy almost all, especially if you are a general authority.
    WHAT IS MY GOAL? It is very simple we waste to much money supporting a very lucrative AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH.
    I lived in Lithuania for seven years and helped families dealing with death in that country. Total expenses were $350.00. I built the coffin to bury my dear mother in law.
    I already have my marker in place in a small church cemetery started by my maternal grand father. I continue to show people how they can minimize burial costs.
    1. find a cemetery not required a vault. I have found 5 in Idaho.
    2. notify the mortuary that you want to be refrigerated. )$75.00 for this service) This is only required if you cannot arrange burial in 48 hours.
    3. Bodies can be transported in any private vehicle large enough to contain the coffin.
    The funeral industry tell you must have a transport permit to cross state lines. I question, Have you ever been stopped at a state line for a body check.
    4. Total costs, $1.200 because my cemetery require a vault.
    I make knotty fine coffin kits for $300.00 no flowers, just give books to the library, or make a donation to the purpetual Education fund
    Please contact me if this plan can help you honor the dead, and the pocket book of your next of kin. Boyd J. Hale, standing in guard of your pocket book.

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