Religion: The Burning of Bodies

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Technically, "the burning of bodies" is illegal in The Netherlands, but in practice it has been tolerated for years in the country's only crematorium, owned by the Association for Voluntary Cremation, at Velsen, near Amsterdam. Last week the Dutch Parliament debated a government bill legalizing cremation, with these qualifications: 1) the written request of the deceased either in his will or otherwise would be required; 2) royal permission would be necessary to establish any new crematorium; 3) any substantial local religious opposition could prohibit the building of a crematorium in a given area.

With 55 of the 100 members of Parliament's Second (lower) Chamber representing religious parties—two Catholic and three Calvinist—the debate was deadly serious. One group held that there was nothing in the Bible to forbid cremation, though burial was the accepted way and "the starting point for the resurrection of our Saviour." Though the Roman Catholic Church expressly forbids cremation, the Catholic People's Party did not oppose the bill. Then from the far right of the Chamber rose Calvinist Cornelius N. Van Dis. "The word of God specifically teaches us that the wages of sin is death," he said. "If one proceeds, however, from the materialistic standpoint that death from the very beginning has been a normal phenomenon, belonging to human nature . . . then it is completely in line with this belief that body-burning is preferred to burial. Body-burning is a purely pagan practice, contrary to Christian usage . . ."

Speaking for herself and the Chamber's five other Communists, Deputy Rie Lips said: "One can't help wondering why that which is considered quite common in other countries is made difficult here."

.As for complaints that it was not fair to require anyone to express his wishes about cremation in advance. Home Affairs Minister Louis J. M. Beel pleaded: "A codicil is a simple note ... 'I want my body to be burned,' date, signature, nothing more . . . One can carry it in his pocket or his wallet, one can put it in his desk. One can entrust it to his relatives or his cremation association . . . What's simpler than making a codicil?"

The Chamber agreed, swept through the government's motion 68 to eleven.