FaithWorld

Lasers and iPods for a Singapore funeral of a lifetime

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An Ipod Touch can control the lighting, sound and smoke machines used in the funeral ceremony at the columbarium, May 15, 2010/Edgar Su

Death need not be a grim affair, especially for the living. At a new columbarium in Singapore, the deceased can depart, rock concert style.  Unlike most traditional Buddhist funeral ceremonies that follow cremation, there is no incense and no monks offering prayers at the Nirvana Memorial Garden columbarium, where the urns holding the remains of the dead are stored. columbarium 1

A demonstration of a Buddhist funeral ceremony at the columbarium, May 15, 2010/Edgar Su

Instead, curtains draw automatically to reveal the deceased’s urn which is placed atop a pedestal, machine-generated smoke fills the prayer hall and a booming recorded voice, accompanied by chants, speaks words of comfort and talks about death.

The columbarium boasts a $2 million sound and light system. Its resident Buddha statue pulsate gently with LED lights and, as a final touch, a ray of bright white light shines on the urn of the deceased symbolising the ascent to heaven.

Hindu wins battle for funeral pyre in Britain

Davender Ghai outside of Britain's High Court in London, 18 Jan 2010/Toby Melville

Davender Ghai outside of Britain's High Court in London, 18 Jan 2010/Toby Melville

A devout Hindu declared himself “overjoyed” on Wednesday after winning a court fight to be allowed to be cremated in Britain on an open-air funeral pyre.

Spiritual healer Davender Ghai, 71, was granted his last wish by the Court of Appeal which ruled the controversial ceremony could be carried out without a change in the law, which prohibits the burning of human remains anywhere outside a crematorium.

Swiss to tighten assisted suicide rules, maybe even ban it

Undertakers remove body of assisted suicide from Dignitas office in Zurich, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian Derungs (Photo: Undertakers remove body of an assisted suicide from Dignitas office in Zurich, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian Derungs)

Switzerland is looking to change the law on assisted suicide to make sure it is only used as a last resort by the terminally ill.  “We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told a news conference in the capital Berne.

A rise in the number of foreigners seeking to end their lives in Switzerland, and a study last year showing that more and more people seeking assisted suicides in the country do not suffer from a terminal illness, have provoked heated debate.

The cabinet — which is divided on the emotive issue — sent two proposals into the legislative process for consultation, which will last until March 1: one for tighter regulation and the other for an outright ban.

Indonesian province moves closer to death by stoning law

bandar-aceh-mosqueMuslims who commit adultery in Indonesia’s Aceh province may be stoned to death under a controversial new sharia law passed by the local parliament on Monday.  Aceh is the only province in predominantly Muslim Indonesia to use sharia for its legal code, introduced as part of an autonomy deal in 2002.

The “qanun jinayat”, or sharia law for crimes, covers adultery, consumption of alcohol, rape and homosexuality, according to the draft seen by Reuters. Adultery is punishable by stoning to death, while other punishments include caning, gold fines and imprisonment.

The new law could come into force as soon as next month. See the full story here.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Israel’s burial crisis and the afterlife

Far from the spotlight of peace talks and military conflicts, Israel is facing a different kind of land crisis: it is running out of space to bury its dead. Most Jewish cemeteries in major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, are filled beyond maximum capacity. Gravestones are packed together leaving little room for mourners to gather.

Cemeteries in Israel are packed with graves. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

You can read about a new system of multi-tiered burial chambers being used in the Jewish state to solve the issue of land. It's actually an ancient system, used thousands of years ago by Jewish sages, that was modernised by two Israeli architects and given approval by the country's chief rabbis. Ancient Sanhedrin Tombs Modernised Multi-Tier System

Ancient Sanhedrin tombs and their modern-day revival

Adding to the problem of dwindling burial space for Israelis, each year about 1,500 Jews from around the world choose the Holy Land for their final resting place. For some, the choice could come from the allure of being buried in the Jewish state. For others, it stems from the Bible. And you can always find some group that offers to help make it happen.

Funeral may show if Michael Jackson converted to Islam

jackson-niqab

One of the many rumours that swirled around Michael Jackson in the final years of his life was that he had secretly converted to Islam and taken the name Mikaeel. The “King of Pop” does not seem to have spoken about this publicly himself, and that scene in Bahrain when he went shopping badly disguised in an Arab woman’s abaya could be put down to his well-known penchant for dressing up. So unless there is some statement in his will or documentary evidence in his estate, his funeral expected this week may be the last time to test whether this rumour has any basis in fact. (Photo: Veiled Jackson greets security guard as he enters shopping mall in Manama, Bahrain with veiled child, 25 Jan 2006/Hamad Mohammed)

The Jacksons are Jehovah’s Witnesses and could be expected to bury Michael in the tradition of that faith. When he announced the death, his brother Jermaine — a Muslim — ended with the words: “May Allah be with you, Michael, always.” Jermaine said in 2007 he was trying to convince Michael to convert.

The post-mortem period hasn’t looked very Muslim so far. Traditions vary, but in Islamic funeral practices in general, autopsies and cremation are out and the body should be buried quickly, usually in a day or two. Jackson is reported to have asked for cremation in his will and his family has asked for a second autopsy after the first one failed to pinpoint the cause of death without long toxicology tests.

Vatican daily proclaims Michael Jackson immortal – for his fans

or-1It’s not every day that the Vatican newspaper suggests that a man accused of paedophilia and said to have converted to Islam might be immortal. But that’s what L’Osservatore Romano did today. In a tribute to Michael Jackson — itself another sign of the “new look” that editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian has given it — the paper included him in a pop music heaven at an unusually earthly location:

“But will he really be dead? It wouldn’t be surprising if, in a few years, he was spotted in a gas station in Memphis, perhaps with his former father-in-law Elvis Presley, another of those myths – like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or John Lennon – that never die in the imagination of their fans. And Michael Jackson, who died yesterday at the age of fifty, is definitely a pop music legend.”

The tribute reviews Jackson’s career, from the time “when he was still black” through his “humanly difficult … crossover” to “new genres not entirely attributable to any specific area, where one cannot distinguish between black and white.” It praises his mega-album Thriller “which is known also to those who do not frequent these musical worlds” and calls him a “great dancer” (grande ballerino).

Flu fears impact worship services

Flu fears are already changing the face of some religious services, from Mexico where church gatherings are discouraged to the United States where wine shared from a common cup has been suspended in some parishes. We’ve already blogged about this but offer more detail from other places here.

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U.S. Catholic bishops have issued general guidelines saying clergy and lay ministers who distribute communion wafers “should be encouraged to wash their hands before Mass begins,  or even to use an alcohol based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing Holy Communion.”

“They should instruct people who feel ill not to receive from the cup,” containing wine which Catholics believe becomes the blood of Jesus Christ during Mass.

Graves desecrated often in France, mostly Christian

If you go by what’s reported in the media (including by us), you’d think cemetery desecrations in France like the big one last weekend happen occasionally and target mostly Jewish and Muslim graves. Those are the cases the police report and we write about. A report by two parliamentary deputies, however, has taken an overall look at the problem nationwide and come up with some unexpected conclusions.

First, there are far more cemetery desecrations than we knew about. They happen on an average of every two to three days!  There were 144 last year and 110 up until Sept. 1 this year. And most of them target Christian — which in France would mean overwhelmingly Catholic — graves. Most desecrations are vandalism by teenagers, with only a small minority prompted by the racism, anti-Semitism or satanic cult practices normally highlighted in the media, the report said. The news story on this by our parliamentary correspondent Emile Picy is here. (Photo: Police inspect desecrated graves in France, 8 Dec 2008/Pascal Rossignol)

The report is not aimed at playing down the gravity of attacks on Muslim and Jewish graves, but rather to get an overall idea of the problem in order to suggest possible remedies. It lists some obvious ideas like better surveillance of cemeteries and better use of existing punishment. What I found the most interesting was their discussion of the waning respect for the dead. The title of the report highlights this — “Du respect des morts à la mort du respect?” (“From respect for the dead to the death of respect?”)

Vatican official attacks U.S. Democrats as “party of death”

Senator Joe Biden with Catholic priest Zhang Depu near Beijing, 10 Aug 2001/poolVatican officials seldom single out political leaders who differ with the Church on issues like abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research. But now that the Vatican’s highest court is led by an American, the former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, we can expect things to get more explicit in Vatican City — at least when when it comes to U.S. politics.

Burke, who was named prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature in June, told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire that the U.S. Democratic Party risked “transforming itself definitively into a party of death for its decisions on bioethical issues.” He then attacked two of the party’s most high profile Catholics — vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — for misrepresenting Church teaching on abortion.

He said Biden and Pelosi, “while presenting themselves as good Catholics, have presented Church doctrine on abortion in a false and tendentious way.”