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Cremation, Catholic Doctrine & Freedom of Choice: Religious Dogmas and Liberty Are Incompatible

Cremation, Catholic Doctrine & Freedom of Choice: Religious Dogmas and Liberty Are Incompatible

… The doctrine of eternal punishment is in perfect harmony with the savagery of the men who made the orthodox creeds. It is in harmony with torture, with flaying alive and with burnings. The men who burned their fellow-men for a moment, believed that God would burn his enemies forever.

Robert Green Ingersoll, Crumbling Creeds, The Twentieth Century, N.Y., April 24, 1890.

Introduction: In the Beginning

I became a Roman Catholic early in life and continued in the faith until I reached the age of reason, of a sort, at about twelve. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to be Catholic, or if I received any special instruction prior to being initiated into the fold but, since my mother and father were Catholic and all my relatives were Catholic, I guess I just went along with the crowd. Besides, I knew nothing of alternatives. I had not heard of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or other isms, and had no idea I could be an atheist, infidel or freethinker. Why then Catholicism?

Well, let me put it this way, borrowing a few stanzas from the Monty Python troupe’s Every Sperm Is Sacred:

There are Jews in the world there are Buddhists

There are Hindus and Mormons, and then

There are those that follow Mohammed, but

I’ve never been one of them

I’m a Roman Catholic

And have been since before I was born

And the one thing they say about Catholics is

They’ll take you as soon as you’re warm

You don’t have to be a six-footer

You don’t have to have a great brain

You don’t have to have any clothes on you’re

A Catholic the moment Dad came…

I had no clothes on when I became a Catholic, at exactly 5:59 am on July 18, 1938 at Misericordia Hospital in Southwest Philadelphia.

So, the Roman Catholic Church got me before I knew where the hell I was, how I got here, who these people messing with me were or the nature of my mission, that is, the meaning of (my) life. Long before I managed to meander 78 years down the road, I realized that theories on the last couple questions could only come from within, informed by experience, education and, as Ingersoll suggested in Improved Man, keeping one’s mind as open as the day to the hints and suggestions of nature.

So, I long ago settled in with a satisfying hypothesis about the meaning of life that seems more plausible every day, namely, there is none. It’s up to me (us) to make it up, and doing a good job of it is key to a good and worthy existence. As Ingersoll observed, life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights.

It is enough, I believe, that we decide for ourselves what to make of our brief time along the narrow vale between the two eternal peaks.

The Long Arm of Catholicism: After the End

While I drifted from Catholicism around the age of twelve, and was gone forever a few years of indifference later, I never lost my sense of wonder at the level of zaniness of which the Catholic Church is capable. In the realm of the bizarre, the Catholic Church never disappoints. The latest example is the Vatican’s new guidelines for Catholics concerning cremation.

Just what Catholics needed: More guidelines from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Not content with a lifetime of inducing guilt, endless rituals, countless obligations, restrictions galore and the fear of endless torture for a single mortal screwup, now Catholics must abide by new rules regarding the cremated remains of their dead.

Want to have scatter, divide or store your ashes or those of a loved one at home, in an urn perhaps? No way. This might somehow stymie a resurrection of sorts. According to an Associated Press story released October 25, 2016, cremated Catholic ashes can no longer be scattered, divvied up or kept at home.

The faithful must be interred in a consecrated hole in the ground, so as not to inflict a brutal destruction on the dead body. Besides, someone might think anything else flirts with pantheism, naturalism or nihilism or, worse yet, individualistic thinking. Just imagine what kind of problems would ensure from individualist thinking.

The only approved place for a dead Catholic in a poetic ashes to ashes, dust to dust state is a church-approved cemetery, temporarily, until the Catholic version of The Rapture comes about and then all will be hunky dory. Provided, of course, you don’t find yourself reassembled, only to be condemned to eternal torment beyond human comprehension. Well, no worries about that, provided you’ve been a good and obedient Catholic – and did not flirt too much with individualistic thinking.

You see, thinking for yourself would represent an impertinence up with which the Church will not put, else soon enough there might be no church.

A Solution

But, there is a way around the new rule promulgated by the cardinals, priests. bishops, lay theologians and canon lawyers who make up the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, created for the express purpose of defending the church from heresy. (It is the oldest of the nine congregations of the Roman Curia, founded by Pope Paul III in 1542 for the sole objective of spreading sound Catholic doctrine and defending those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines.)

What is the way around the Congregation? It is to do what I did when I attained the age of reason, sort of, at 12! Namely, opt for heresy. Become an individualistic thinker. Give up Catholicism for Lent – and the rest of the year before and after Lent. Henceforth, make your own decisions about why you’re here, what it’s all about and how to be a good person while enjoying life.

Oh, and if you care one way or another about what happens to your remains, tell your friends and relatives about your wishes. After all, should they be Catholic, you don’t want them to be constrained by the zany proclamations of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

I wish you all good fortune, sunshine and intellectual prosperity in sufficient abundance to last you through a long life.