Thursday, April 14, 2016

Probably prohibited by law in most places

Discussing the subject of Christian burial with a brother, I opined that having the body enclosed in a wooden or metal casket and then submerged in a concrete vault in a cemetery was to me an option worse than cremation. The Church of which I am a member, the Greek Orthodox, summarily refuses Christian burial rites (the Memorial Service) to those who choose to be cremated, at least that’s my understanding, though I’ve never seen it enforced. Then again, I’ve only known lapsed or non-Christians to have been cremated. I know why the Church rejects cremation. It’s because cremation seems to denigrate the body, a basic belief of classical Gnosticism—spirit good, matter evil—whereas biblical Christianity and its ancestor biblical Judaism pronounce both spirit and matter good.

Furthermore, I stated my preference would be to be buried in a shroud directly into the earth, so that my remains could dissolve into the elements and, if my family had this custom—which we do not—my bones could be dug up and cleaned after the flesh had dissolved, and deposited in the bone room. Since we don’t have bone rooms or ossuaries in America, I would be satisfied to let myself be dissolved into the air and the earth like my beloved poet Walt Whitman, who wrote,

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me,
he complains of my gab and my loitering.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness, after the rest, and true as any,
on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air—I shake my white locks at the run-away sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged,
Missing me one place, search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, ‘Song of Myself,’ 52.

The discussion on the rites of burial spent itself, but in me continued a deeper discussion, that of rights, not rites, hammered out of me by a persistent inner nag, or maybe by the ‘spotted hawk’ Uncle Walt sings of, that accuses and complains of my gab and loitering. Well, what else can an old man do but gab and loiter at the end of his day?

Commenting on my preference for shroud burial in the earth, my friend suggested such was ‘probably prohibited by law in most places,’ which pushed me over the edge. I responded.

Of course it is, but why? This is where the brain suddenly wakes up and asks in astonishment, ‘What the fupp!?’  We have let government intrude far too deeply into our basic human rights, interfering with our family, our work, our religion, our movement, etc., often using the results of ‘scientific research’ to curtail them. Scientific maybe it is, if social engineering is a real science.

Echoing a gripe voiced by C. S. Lewis, I should not have to file for a permit to build a house on my land, or to chop down a tree in my yard, or to own a dog or cat, or to burn fallen leaves in autumn, or to be buried in a grave beside my family ossuary, even to have an ossuary itself. I should not be restricted from entering any territory for travel, pleasure, work, or because I want to live there.

Yes, local and regional government, ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people’ can stipulate for safety and for the general good how I must exercise my basic human rights, but they cannot take the rights away, or make me pay to use them. We have drifted too far, and we don’t realize that it doesn’t have to be this way.

On Arabic television, I saw an interview of a female university professor in Kuwait who said something extremely important. She said that for Kuwaiti people born around the time of the Iraqi invasion and American liberation, it is seen as quite normal (and the way it has always been) for women to wear the niqab (total face cover as opposed to hijab, just a head covering), and for the genders to be separated at the university, yet before the Iraq War, this was never part of Kuwaiti society. It was gradually imposed by creeping Islamism (political as opposed to personal Islamic faith).

In America and most western countries, not Islamism but a thinly veiled secular socialism has been doing even worse things, since the mid-19th century, when countries began to restrict movement and settlement across national borders.

Funny how a discussion about something as peripheral as how and where we are buried or disposed of after death can uncover a much larger issue, that of human freedom.

People think we are the most liberated and freest society the world has ever seen, but the truth is quite the opposite. We are given infinitely more choices within infinitesimally smaller categories. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t go far enough. It still hasn’t caught up with the liberty that Jesus Christ won for us, and which He wants us to enjoy both in this life and in the world to come.

In this life it will always be limited, but only by physical death, because this life is only preparation and foundation of the life of the world to come. What we measure out for ourselves in this world, that we will keep in the world to come, and even more. But if we measure out little, we may not even be able to keep that little in the world to come.

Jesus says, ‘Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’ (Mark 4:24-25).

As usual, when discussing things with Romanós, it always seems I bring things back around to ‘religion’—at least someone said that once, and I’m not sure it isn’t true somehow. I don’t care if my neighbor is a Christian or not, a religious or a political person or not. I’m not here to convert anyone to any belief system, not even mine, but I do mean to make enough noise to keep myself and others from falling completely asleep standing up, which is what the human race, particularly in the sophisticated, pseudo-libertarian West, tends to do. They say too much sugar makes one hyper-active… or sleepy—it depends on who you talk to. Maybe it’s both. I try to stay off the sugar but can’t deny I’ve got a lot of Bible and Walt Whitman in my system. I can’t help it. I’m an American, or at least, I used to think I was. And I believe in freedom as I believe in Christ and His religion. And here’s a last word, though it isn’t mine…

I too, following many, and follow’d by many, 
inaugurate a Religion—I descend into the arena;
(It may be I am destin’d to utter the loudest cries there, 
the winner’s pealing shouts;
Who knows? they may rise from me yet, 
and soar above every thing.)
Each is not for its own sake;
I say the whole earth, and all the stars in the sky, 
are for Religion’s sake.
I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough;
None has ever yet adored or worship’d half enough;
None has begun to think how divine he himself is, 
and how certain the future is.
I say that the real and permanent grandeur of These States 
must be their Religion;
Otherwise there is no real and permanent grandeur:
(Nor character, nor life worthy the name, without Religion;
Nor land, nor man or woman, without Religion.)

—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, ‘Starting from Paumanok,’ 8.

And I laugh at ‘probably prohibited by law in most places’ as I laugh at death.

1 comment:

GretchenJoanna said...

The "green" movement is having an effect on burial regulations in many places. In one of our local cemeteries there is a Green Section, where the county has waived the requirement for the concrete vaults. The only reason for those is to prevent the ground from sinking unevenly. We also have an Orthodox Section of that cemetery, but for some reason, I guess because no one pressed for it, the requirement there was not removed.

A couple of years ago I researched these things, and we also had talks about Orthodox death and burial at a local monastery, and it seems that in some cases/places burial bags are also allowed.

You are right, the number of regulations on our lives is ridiculous. I don't see why the county should care if the privately-owned cemetery's ground is uneven. Well, at least a few of these burial-related restrictions are changing....