General Question

LostInParadise's avatar

Should we have cemeteries?

Asked by LostInParadise (31493points) July 13th, 2009

I address this particularly to those of you who are religious non-believers. Is there a justification for all the real estate taken up by cemeteries? Couldn’t there be a less land intensive way of honoring a person’s memory? Maybe a memorial Web site could be set up.

The one nice thing about cemeteries is what they are not. They are not housing developments or shopping malls. I was thinking that they could be converted into nature sanctuaries.

I wonder to what extent the existence of cemeteries is driven by market forces. Are cemeteries the most cost effective use of the land they occupy? If not, then are they protected by government regulations?

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33 Answers

Saturated_Brain's avatar

It’s tradition. You don’t mess with tradition.

ragingloli's avatar

We could make it like the japanese and just have a shrine at home.
Burn the dead and use them as fertilizer.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

eh. it means a lot to some people i guess. i personally am not that crazy about the idea of putting someone in a box forever and burying them in a hole outside. but it’s not about the people who it doesn’t mean a thing to, it’s about the ones who it does. so if it makes some folks happy that their loved ones are chilling in the dirt, or that they’ll be there one day, why not?

emmalily's avatar

I think leaving areas such as cemeteries is a good thing, but maybe that’s just because I’m not a fan of developing every square inch of space to the max, however I am not necessarily for some of the cemeteries that are customary in the United States.

I think there should be something similar to a cemetery, but I’d rather everyone buried there have a “green burial” instead of being embalmed and buried in a casket. I would like to have large parks with trees and various indigenous plants/ wildflowers that grew as a result of everyone’s bodies enriching the earth. At various locations there could be some sort of communal markers that gave the customary tombstone information and gave families a concrete place of remembrance.

YARNLADY's avatar

I won’t be using one, because I have a whole body donor card in my wallet, and my family is aware of my wishes to donate my body to science.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Ok.. I’ll do it.. I’ll be devil’s advocate…Well we could just put all the dead bodies on a giant conveyor belt down into the incinerator into a giant machine that turns ash into fairy dust…..after all.. they are dead.. why should it matter… (end sarcasm)

Personally.. those friends of mine that have died.. it was very… significant… to see them in the open casket.. ready to go to the next life… as a person.. as you remembered them… not as a pile of ash or fertilizer.

That said, I see everyone’s point about being economical and green.. but how far is too far?

I think it’s perfectly fine the way it is… if someone chooses to be cremated.. so be it.. if someone wants to be buried traditionally.. so be it… if someone wants to have all sorts of tubes and chemicals and syringes pumped into their body by scientists… so be it..

There is a certain honor in it. Not everything is just numbers and land space. Some things are more important.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I want a viking funeral…..

laureth's avatar

Personally, I’d rather be buried without a casket or anything, and a tree planted over me. Failing that, a sky burial would work too – if either of these were legal here.

I don’t particularly like cremation or burial for some very good reasons. I’d repost that whole answer here, but I don’t feel like painstakingly copying all those links.

whitenoise's avatar

@ragingloli: Burnt people make poor fertilizers. Actually all they do is promote poison ivy and polute the environment with heavy metals if you choose to do that.

Cemetaries are not for the dead, they are for the living.

They are a place where people go to in order to remember and cherish the memories of their loved ones and ancestors.

Leave them be… we are not that desperate for land.

Grisaille's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater You’re a horrible advocate. Step aside, outta my way.

* grumble *

Cemeteries are a waste of resource. You are dead, why does it matter where you rot? I understand the need to see your loved one one last time. But after the viewing? Wouldn’t it be more economical – nay, convenient – to have a private memorial in your house or backyard?

Even better – instead of cemeteries that only branch outward and reduce real estate, why can’t we have buildings that house the bodies or memorials? It makes no sense as to why we couldn’t – and don’t give me that whole “one body over another” excuse. That’s just as superstitious as a floor 13 or breaking a mirror.

It should be mandated that a body can only be turned over to either science or fertilizer upon death. After all, what’s more honorable in your opinion:

A. Being placed in an overly ornate box and stuffed in the ground next to hundreds of other folks that you don’t know or

B. Either returned back into the natural ecosystem to provide food for the rest of society or being used for experiments that can help the rest of us live happier, healthier lives?

Hell, even if you aren’t into all that, get cremated. You reduce the need for land your loved one can still visit your remains. Why would you be so selfish as to need a small area of land? That does not serve you in death. You do not need it.

One final note: A dead body rots. Does it make sense for you to stand atop the rotted corpse of a person? Do you want someone to visit you when your body is decayed, consumed-by-worms or skeletal – or have them remember you in your prime/just before death? It’s a tradition that serves no purpose. Allow those bodies and land to used by the rest of us. Help those that are still living achieve greater. It should be your duty, in death, to help those that are still living – one last time. We can track all that and have families could receive updates on what good comes from your body.

That is an honorable death. That is an honorable “grave”.

There ya go, discuss.

cookieman's avatar

I’m very torn on this one. I can see both sides.

First of all, existing cemetaries are a wash. We won’t be digging those folks up to free up land – so we’re talking about going forward.

I do think they need to exist in some fashion. I like the green cemetary idea as explained by @emmalily.

But if you think the “saved land” would all remain park and recreation space, you’re naive. Much of it would become condos and offices.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

@cprevite Oh trust me, we are digging them up for land… My old school is on a former cemetery.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Grisaille All I can say is wow. I’m glad you aren’t someone like… let me see.. the president or something…

Grisaille's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater In case I wasn’t clear, I was just progressing the argument. I visit my loved one’s graves all the time, and need them there, psychologically. I’d never vote for something like this, ever.

cookieman's avatar

@Saturated_Brain: Did you have great ghost stories at your school?

Saturated_Brain's avatar

@cprevite Oh yes. There were a lot of them. It’s just too bad that I covered my ears every time somebody started talking about them. Therefore, all I ever remember are some smidgens about a presence in a barely-used toilet on the 6th or 7th floor somewhere far away in the arts block.

Ghost stories freak me out.

ragingloli's avatar

@Saturated_Brain really?
then here is one for you:

You are diligent worker at Soviet Administration office working at night. The Soviet Copy Machine begins working like good Soviet worker. You go to Soviet Copy Machine and see many Soviet copies in the Soviet tray. It is picture of you dead in chair. The other pictures are also of you dead but taken from more Soviet angles.

There is no original picture in the copy machine. In fact, the machine has been out of toner for a week.

want to hear the rest?

seekingwolf's avatar

I think it’s a good idea to have cemeteries. Lots of people want to be buried when they die, and cemeteries are the best place to bury the bodies. I’d rather people bury their dead in a secure place where we KNOW where they are…not in someone’s backyard to be dug up a couple years later. It’s just the best sanitary thing to have cemeteries, especially when it comes to whole bodies.

As for cremations…well…you can bury the ashes, keep them in an urn, or spread them somewhere. Depends…you don’t really need a cemetery for that.

The other reason why I like cemeteries is because it’s a reminder of death. I think people need to be reminded of their mortality, and what better place to do that than a quiet, grassy plain filled with headstones? It’s peaceful, respectful, and provides a spiritual place for many, including myself.

I’m kind of biased though…I love cemeteries. Call me weird, but whenever I see one that’s new, I usually pull over and look through the headstones and see how old everyone is, the vegetation that’s growing, if there’s a chapel, looking at crypts…just a quirk of mine….they really are beautiful places.

MindErrantry's avatar

I like cemeteries—not on an ideological basis, particularly, but because it’s really neat to visit them (as @seekingwolf has pointed out). They’re very nice places for walks, some of the funerary art is really neat, and it can be interested to establish a sort of ‘connection’ with the past, even if it’s of people you don’t really know. I think of cemeteries as park space already, and they’re far more protected from development (usually) than normal green spaces are.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I like cemeteries from a purely human and historical viewpoint. I have spent many a day wandering among the stones, reading names and dates, and wondering who these people were, how they lived, and who missed them when they died. A cemetery isn’t a waste of land, it is a place that gives the living a psychological place to ponder existence. As a photographer, I have found hundreds of great subjects for my camera in various cemeteries. It’s history, and history is important. That said, I would rather have a green cemetery where they put my body in a cardboard box, bury me unembalmed in the ground, and plant a tree over me. Going back to the earth is pure and easy and proper. Stuck in a $3,000 lacquered wooden box and stuffed in a concrete vault after being pumped full of nasty chemicals is just wrong. And cremation isn’t an option, because I have a severe phobia about that process. I’ve aready discussed my passing with my loved ones. Hopefully they will follow my wishes.

My BIL’s dog recently died, like last night, and without going into too much personal detail, as it is still fresh, let me just say that in this town, it is illegal to bury your pet in your own yard. That’s pure gevernmental intervention BS!

A golf course is a waste of land. The water used to keep a golf course green in a year could provide water for a small city instead. Since potable water is a finite resource, it seems a waste to pour it all over some specialized grass just so some folks in ugly pants can hit a little white ball into a cup with a silly flag sticking out of it.

Darwin's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater and @Grisaille – Have you considered this option? It would save land and space, prevent rotting, and be very cost effective.

Not that I agree with it, as I like the idea of being able to go to a green space to remember my loved ones, but it is an alternative, you must admit.

willbrawn's avatar

The United States has enough open land so be able to bury our dead and honor them for 100 hundreds of more years.

If you think we need more open land visit Wyoming.

wundayatta's avatar

We need more memory places, not fewer. We need green space, especially in cities, but to have a space devoted to memory of humans and their stories is pretty important I think. It has nothing to do with religion or even burying bodes. It has everything to do with memorial. It’s not just the rich and famous who deserve memorials. Everyone does!

CMaz's avatar

Soilent Green IS PEOPLE!

I say, bury the body. Plant a tree on top. Good way to get some of our national forests back.

emmalily's avatar

@Grisaille – “A dead body rots. Does it make sense for you to stand atop the rotted corpse of a person? Do you want someone to visit you when your body is decayed, consumed-by-worms or skeletal – or have them remember you in your prime/just before death? ”

When a dead body decays/ is scavenged, the nutrients and carbon that once sustained their living body is then present in and sustaining a whole host of other living things going up the food chain. What could be better than looking around and seeing life that your loved one is a part of, life that they helped to create and sustain? To be able to look to the grass and trees and birds eating worms and see that they are alive in nature?

CMaz's avatar

And, if you plant a fruit tree over their body. When you eat the fruit they will then become a part of you.

laureth's avatar

@emmalily – That would be great, and true too, if today’s caskets weren’t so sealed up that you just become anaerobic soup instead of fertilizer.

@evelyns_pet_zebra – Why not make cemeteries into golf courses (or vice versa) and double-up on the wasted space? :) Can you picture a six-foot hole in one?

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Why aren’t we talking about all the real wastes of land space.. such as massive landfills…giant cities which were paved over nature… ? Why fixate on the one thing that has some honor to it? Why reduce a family paying respects to their lost loved ones into “it’s just a rotting corpse”?

I’ll never understand some of you.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Technically, corpses don’t really rot anymore. The dead bedraggled corpses you see in movies are not the reality of death. I’ve spoken with people whose expertise in these things is quite impressive, and not only do the chemicals that get pumped into a body preserve it, but also the preservatives that was in the food that they ate. It takes at least a hundred years for a person buried today to even begin to break down. There are bacteria in the casket with them, as bacteria are everywhere, and the nearly oxygen-less environment will cause the body to eventually become a nice anaerobic soup, but it takes a very long time. Supposedly, you can dig up someone buried 30, 40 or 50 years ago, and they would look pretty much the same as they did when they were entombed. except their tan has faded somewhat.

When I worked at a print shop, I once took an order for toe tags that would last 100 years in a casket, to be used for identifying deceased war veterans in the future. That was the most macabre thing I’ve ever done in the print business, and the second thing was printing up business cards for a guy that did Crime Scene Clean up. Not a job I’d want.

emmalily's avatar

@laureth – I meant in the scenario of green burial which I had already brought up…

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prescottman2008's avatar

I’m a follower of Christ, so I guess that makes me a “believer”, I’m not religious by any means. I think the entire practice of funerals and burial is weird. It has more to do with tradition than anything else. As a believer I know that this body is just a vessel for our eternal souls. When this vessel dies our souls depart and it no longer serves any purpose. I understand the sentimentality of some people wanting to “say their final farewells” to a corpse but I think that’s bizarre! I personally prefer to be mulched when I die.

2TFX's avatar

Cemeteries may some day be our only link to our past. The are outside museums, with the English of our colonial ancestors. The symbols of their religious ideas and the burial sites of our heroes.

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