What is the goal of a funeral? Is it to pay tribute to a life lost? To commit the soul of the decedent to his final reward? Or an opportunity to extol your passion for environmental justice?
A recent Vox piece by Dean Peterson states with dogged solemnity that “modern burials are awful for the environment,” and has an accompanying video whose combination of animation, the veneer of open-mindedness, and a vocally inflective narrator discreetly blurs the line between providing information and outright advocacy.
It’s yet another instance of the environmentally conscious Left virtue-signaling about the negative effects of nearly everything human beings do: Not even the way we mourn our dead is safe from their parade of moral superiority.
The piece and video discuss the environmental effects of American funerals, with their caskets, embalming fluid, and grave sites. The piece claims the average burial costs up to $12,000, though the National Funeral Directors Association’s most recent report indicated average costs almost $3,500 less than that.
Either way, that’s a lot of money, of course, but the point is not to expiate upon the market forces driving prices in the funeral industry. What is most remarkable is the piece’s bizarre stance on this debate — Peterson’s primary concern appears to be getting rid of Grandma with as small of a carbon footprint as possible, rather than reverence, intergenerational remembrance, or even concern for the grieving.
We all hold a hierarchy of values. For most people of good conscience, the value of a human being’s life supersedes that of our dog or a backyard plant. We make decisions every day accordingly. We routinely delay temporal pleasure, for example, in the hopes of attaining goals we hold in higher esteem, such as when we diet, exercise, or volunteer. Each individual has values, good and bad, and they often remain in tension with one another. It is, after all, the measure of one’s moral fitness to value some things (say, forgiveness) over others (vengeance).
What makes radical environmentalism, and its private-jet-flying propagators, so toxic a cultural beast is how high on its adherents’ totem pole they are willing to place environmental concerns, often over some of the most elemental human needs and desires. The wish to have additional children, for example, is a cause for deep apprehension among environmentalists, who seem all at once indifferent and tone-deaf to how out of touch such a sentiment is. In this Vox piece, it appears that some environmentalists have shifted focused to the other side of life’s journey: death, and more specifically, how we bury our loved ones.
For most normal people, funerary concerns are primarily about memorializing the deceased within the reasonable bounds of one’s budget. Peterson’s video notes that, in this strange race to the environmental bottom, some advocates believe burying Aunt Lisa in a casket is an alarming degradation of the environment — some might even want her tossed straight into the ground. Maybe, he suggests, readers could consider “freezing [their bodies] with liquid nitrogen or having [their] ashes turned into a coral reef.” It’s an odd calculus at play in the author’s mind, where the ultimate barometer of a funeral’s efficacy is its environmental impact statement.
It’s totally legitimate to criticize modern burials; on its face, the piece seems a cogent critique of excesses in the funeral industry. But what is particularly troubling about Vox’s article is its larger point — that we as humans must give perpetual deference to some vague conception of “environmentalism” at most any cost. As the oft-repeated refrain goes, is environmentalist hysteria the inevitable fate of a society that ceases to believe in God? When organized religion fades and its would-be adherents are left to search for meaning, does the god of the environment end their search for a moral authority?
Pardon the extended biblical analogy, but Vox’s piece sounds more than a bit like Judas Iscariot’s laments about the funeral rituals performed on Christ. When Mary Magdalene anoints Christ with perfumes and oil as a pre-burial ritual on a night leading up to His execution, a livid Judas berates her gesture, protesting that the money used to buy the perfume could have been spent on “the poor.”
John’s Gospel provides the relevant addendum: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” That statement not only describes Judas’s moral disorder but also reminds the audience that any concern, holy as it may be — poverty reduction, environmental protection, or any other earthly mission — that does not give a preferential deference to God, His creation, and acts of beauty such as that of Mary Magdalene are sure signs of misaligned priorities. This piece from Vox forces us to ask the question: At what point does genuine concern for the environment turn into a power grab so vicious that one would rather soak Grandpa in liquid nitrogen than give him a proper burial?
– John Hirschauer is a senior economics student at Fairfield University, a columnist for the Fairfield Mirror, and the host of The Outlet with John Hirschauer radio program.