Monday, February 17, 2014

Sky Burial

Is burial a religious institution, or even a religious ceremony?  It can be, but even atheists don’t just leave their dead lying around.  There is a reason from the natural law, a compelling state interest even to even secular governments, that something must be done to dispose of the dead that will limit the spread of disease and, frankly, the smell.

Now imagine that the New Age becomes very popular in the US (not much of a stretch), and there is a growing interest in practicing “sky burial” in imitation of the Tibetans and some American Indians.  (“Sky burial” means simply exposing the dead body to the elements and to scavengers.)  The argument would be made that “sky burials” must be permitted at every cemetery, that laws and attitudes prohibiting it are merely bigoted and out-of-date, and that coffin-makers must be required to provide the platforms on which the dead are exposed.

Many people would find this distasteful, but for some the reaction would be merely be aesthetic, and they could easily be won over as long as the argument was about abstractions like “freedom” and “equality” and not about what actually happens.  They would soon enjoy the thrill all sophists feel when they think they are clever enough to get away with something they really know they should not be doing.

Many people would argue (correctly) that sky burials are not “burials” at all, and that "burial" means the covering of a body, not its exposure.  They would say that whereas "burial at sea" stretches this notion, “sky burial” simply annihilates it; "sky burial" is a ritualistic way of refusing burial.  They might find themselves having to attempt legislative definitions of the word “burial” as “the covering of a dead body sufficiently to prevent the sight and smell of decay and to prevent any scavenging of the body by birds or dogs” -- even though they thought that definition had been obvious to everyone.  The success of this argument in the courts cannot be guaranteed.

Does this mean that sky burial is inevitable, and we had all better get used to the idea of the neighbors tossing grandma's corpse up in the nearest tree?  Is our only defense that we find such behavior contrary to our religion?  Not at all.  

[Edit 7-3-2015:  There should be a paragraph break here.  What I was talking about up to this point really had to do with what we can know with reason, even if we do have religious reasons to accept it.  We must not abandon reason even if everyone else does, because like God, Mother Nature is not mocked, and she is considerably less forgiving to those who abandon reason and so fail to foresee the consequences of their actions.  

The remaining sentences are a reminder that we do have religious certainty that no sinful fad is truly permanent.

By the way, I assume the reader understand that this is meant as an analogy for a topic much in the news today.]

We can be very sure -- on the explicit basis of Divine Revelation, in fact -- that things will, sooner or later, get much, much worse than they are now, when people will gladly cut off their noses to spite their faces, or more accurately, to mar the image of God in them.  But things will also get much better than they are now, and great saints will bring the Gospel to all corners of the earth, including the USA.

No comments:

Post a Comment