Why We Bury Our Dead
Posted by AK Lander | On February 8, 2017 14:59
There is a long tradition of burying our dead that dates back more than a 100,000 years. The reasons are numerous and can tell us a lot about our culture.
There is a long tradition of burial, dating back many thousands of years. We do this for numerous reasons; from sanitation, to helping family members mourn their loved ones, and for various religious purposes. The burial of our dead is an important tradition and holds great value to many, but let us explore more specifically why this is done.
Burial is the act of placing one’s dead into the ground, and humans have been doing this for over 100,000 years. The traditions involved have changed over time but many of the reasons why have not.
Contrary to popular belief, we simply don’t bury our dead purely for sanitary reasons and it isn’t a public health requirement. The reasons why we choose this practice are much more far reaching.
The main reason for the burying of humans stems from the notion of respect for the dead, which is closely linked to Christianity’s central principle of the dignity of life. Christian’s practise in life the philosophy that every human being is worthy of dignity, of respect, and should not be harmed against his will. This central tenant, a hugely important one to modern civilisation, continues once we have passed away.
Our souls may have departed but our mortal vessels, our bodies, are still bound to earth and are therefore deserving of the upmost respect. From protecting our deceased loved ones against those that would do them harm even in death, to the hugely important religious connotations, this respect is all encompassing.
Catholics stress huge significance on human burial and the respect of those that have passed. Catholics bury their dead because they acknowledge that death does not destroy or end their relationship with them. They believe, in life and in death, that the body must be treated with reverence. The Diocese of Cleveland sums up the practice thusly.
“It is our Catholic faith that directs us to bury the body in a sacred place. The body is not a thing to be tossed aside; it is not a shell nor a husk but the body of the person we love”.
Burial is often, in many cultures, intrinsically linked to the belief in an afterlife and sometimes even necessary for one to reach paradise. Often items are buried with the dead. Tools, food, symbols and weapons, anything that the departed might need on the other side. This is practised in many cultures, from the graves of western civilisation to the ancient Egyptians who would bury their Pharos with their vast riches.
Burial in this part of the world of course stems from our Judeo-Christian heritage. Christianity has played an enormous role in all kinds of customs and traditions, many of which originated from Judaism.
It is said in the Torah that even Hashem (God) performed a burial. Laying to rest he who delivered the Hebrews from bondage back to their homeland. "And [God] buried him (Moses) in the depression in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor. No man knows the place that he was buried, even to this day” - Deuteronomy 34:6.
The burial of the dead has since remained an important tradition for Jews and Christians alike, and is surrounded with a certain amount of ceremony. The Christians continued this practice after their split with Judaism, as for them the burial of the dead relates back to the resurrection of the body and of Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament, Matthew speaks about the resurrection – the resurrection pertaining to the raising of all dead (Judgement Day) once this age comes to an end. Giving burial an important meaning to those of a certain faith.
To this very day Christians are buried with their feet pointed to the east because of the belief that the Second Coming of Jesus would occur from this direction. Traditions like this and the many religious connotations are a hugely important factor concerning burial and a key reason why it is practiced in many parts of the world.
Just as importantly, the burial of loved ones provides an important utility for those that are mourning. With most modern cultures documenting the location of their deceased with grave stones, having a focal point for this grief and affection can be hugely important.
Beyond having a location to visit the dead, burial can also bring much needed closure to the family and friends of those that are buried. Death is an incredibly difficult thing to handle and allowing loved ones to know where their dead are, that their bodies are protected and safe, can act as a very welcome reassurance in these testing times.
Another beneficial aspect of burial, as it pertains to closure and grief, is that by interring the body away from sight the pain of losing that person can sometimes be lessened. Also burial prevents family members from having to see the decomposition that takes place, a site no one should have to see.
Religions like Islam, Judaism and Christianity; countries like Tibet, Mongolia and Bali all practise burial. And as discussed, the reasons why we bury our dead are many, from providing closure to those that remain living, to the religious components such as respect for man during both life and death. This is a hugely important practice, and reveals much about who we are and where we come from.