Religion and Presidential Remembrances

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Over at The Washington Post, Kimberly Winston teaches us that much of the pageantry we are seeing surrounding the death of George H.W. Bush has deep spiritual roots.

Here is a taste of her piece:

“The need to create meaningful rituals around death is very deep in our DNA,” said S. Brent Plate, an associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. “Death erases some of the dividing elements between religions. It shows us we are all human, all mortal. So this week is about the death of George Bush, but it is really about the collective faith of us all.”

Here is some context for the rituals you will see as the nation pays its last respects to its 41st president:

As Bush’s body traveled to Washington, D.C., from Houston, where he and the late first lady Barbara Bush lived after 1993, it was accompanied all the way. In addition to family and friends, a group of former staffers flew with the body, and an entourage of military service members was always nearby.

Like all presidents, Bush is being given a state funeral, a complicated and highly orchestrated set of military and state traditions that are secular in appearance, but have foundations in religion.

The practice of watching over a body springs from the oldest religious traditions. Scholars say the ancient Romans took the custom with them as they conquered the Mediterranean and Europe. By the Middle Ages, the practice was wrapped into Christianity and came with the first European settlers to the New World.

Read the rest here.

One thought on “Religion and Presidential Remembrances

  1. It was an interesting piece but failed to mention that the emphasis upon the value of the body is stronger in the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam than it is in the religions of the Orient. I realize that cremation has recently become very common in the West, and I wonder how much of this reflects a lessening of influence of traditional religion. To be sure, the high costs of funerals have had something to do with it, but St. Paul’s imagery in I Cor. 15: 42-;44 historically had a big influence. “….It is sown in corruption it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body…..”
    Getting back to the article on President Bush, our secular governmental funeral rites could still be done using the ashes of the deceased person, but the ceremony might not have the impact.

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