Christians in the United States don’t give much thought to the idea of cremation versus burial. However, in other parts of the world this issue is a point of contention for Christians. Particularly for Christians in India. That’s why Arun K. Paul wrote Cremation and Burial in the Context of Christianity in India. In an interview, Paul shared more about his book and the difficulties of the burial tradition in India.
Can you explain why cremation versus burial for Indians is an issue?
So strong are the feelings in India concerning burial versus cremation that for many, what practice one has, is equated with one’s religious identity. However, the Christian burial tradition has discredited Indian Christians from wielding an authentic Indian Christian identity. Burial stands out as an imported ritual to the Indian culture. Burying the dead is taboo for the Hindus. Social pressure, scarcity of land, uncooperative neighborhoods, and biased local-government bodies have continued to increase the challenge for Indian Christians to practice the burial mode for disposing of the dead. In situations when they have to cremate their dead they feel guilty of betraying their Christian identity; they think they are committing a serious theological blunder related to their hope of resurrection by going astray from the methodology and tradition in the Biblical Scriptures noted for disposing of the dead. The examination of the tradition of Christian burial reveals that ascribing burial as Christian and cremation as pagan is misreading and misinterpreting the Christian Scripture. It is also an ethnocentric fallacy.
What would you prefer: burial or cremation?
I dislike the idea of being cremated and I also dislike the idea of being buried. I pray that Jesus would return soon to spare me from both of these modes. However, I am glad that this study has liberated me from the confusion I once had in considering one mode over the other for disposing of the dead. This study has also led me to make the gospel relevant to the people of different cultures in their context.
What made you want to write this book and who is the book for?
I personally struggled with this issue a great deal. I was actively involved in acquiring a piece of land for our local church’s cemetery, which we are still not able to acquire. I never thought my studies and research on this topic would eventually challenge my own traditionally held view on burial tradition. Now I don’t think we really need a piece of land for the Church.
I wrote this book to help the Indian Christians specifically. But I also wrote this for all Christians, especially for the ones who are studying in the seminaries to be equipped to teach and counsel the congregation on this very important last rite of the human life. This book is important to help the readers see how context and cultural anthropology play a significant role in constructing one’s theology. This little book also has important missiological implications, as we live in a globalized world interacting with people from various cultures, that we become aware how to make sense of the gospel for the people in different cultures.
Arun K. Paul is a member of the Church of North India and served in the local church’s leadership team for several years. He has also served as a leader in Youth With A Mission, in the School of Biblical Studies. He has been involved in Christian ministries in India, South Korea, and the USA. He earned his M.Div from TTGST at Seoul, Korea, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He and his wife Youngjoo have two children, Ria and Heeseo. Copies of his book are available at the Asbury Seminary bookstore or on Amazon.