Michael Jackson’s “green” funeral

12 Dec

That motorcade, that gold casket, all that incredible media and popular interest in this prominent funerals. Where was the environment in all of this? And why was everyone so fascinated by it all, especially Americans who are so afraid of anything to do with death?

In the microcosm of burial and cemeteries, more immediate and personally relevant considerations than environmental effects are present. In the last moments of Michael Jackson’s world, as well as that of his millions of mourners, the environment was non-existent. This is understandable for mourners, or for someone considering their own final arrangements: the end of a life is no light matter, and for the majority, the environment will always be secondary, maybe the last thing they care about at that point. In ultimate situations, people follow what they believe in, they don’t give a damn about what they are told or forced to do. Hence the only real solution for green burials would be to gradually change the predominating beliefs so that people do the “right thing” willingly, almost instinctively at the moment of crisis.

Such a change will not come about by simplistic “holier-than-thou” green dogma, public indoctrination with the 3-R’s, renewable energy, green-industry, etc – or, in the case of green burial, citing fearful statistics about how much formaldehyde and concrete goes into the earth etc. Instead of fear-based negative preaching, green burial should be presented in positive terms of higher human integration into natural cycles, including the non-material spiritual aspects, indeed based on them. Almost all traditional religions (even nature-hostile Christianity in its original form) integrated man far more effectively into the environment than we will ever do with our technical “environmentalism” – so too, our world will only reintegrate itself properly into the earth’s processes if it finds a “higher” reason to do so and then works downwards from the spiritual belief to the material action. ┬áThe environmental benefits will then be positive side-effects of a different worldview, and not the primary goal.

Death, burials and funeral rituals may present a place for such a worldview to grow. There is no more personal form of recycling than “dust to dust”. To a limited degree, the green burial movement speaks of this. But it should go further and emphasize that our recycled “dust” goes to create new life, and that, in cycles of birth, death and rebirth for as long as the earth exists. All this only on a material level – more importantly, the infinite natural cycles of death and resurrection could lead us to new prospects regarding our own souls, that old forgotten concept in our mundane and nihilistic world.

But for this to happen, we have to integrate the human aspect better than the green burial movement currently does, make it the primary consideration again, and not merely a means to realize an environmental goal.

I thus find the image of a garden more appropriate for green cemeteries than a forest. A forest exists independently of humans, a garden on the other hand exists for and requires humans. Nevertheless it exhibits all the birth, death and resurrection of nature. The only question is of the degree of human involvement in the garden’s formation and maintenance. This is a matter of taste. In our world, where Man’s interference with nature has been radically overdone, a lesser degree of artificiality would be attractive. A Japanese garden for example, where nature’s owns forms are used to go even beyond naturally manifesting beauty.

Michael Jackson’s funeral (and his life for that matter) exhibited all the worst nature- and death-denying aspects of our artificial world. However, the incredible level of interest in his funeral – as in those of in other prominents like Lady Diana, Ronald Reagan, etc – shows that the problem of our mortality is as acute as ever it was in history. We are too afraid to face the fact of our own mortality directly, hence these celebrity deaths become mirrors in which we can work through the problem indirectly, without fear. Far from being disinterested in death and funerals, we are fascinated.

Beautiful garden cemeteries that had NOTHING of the hopeless and morbid atmosphere of traditional western centuries might be another place where we could come to terms with our mortality. Their “greenness” would be a positive side-effect, or a concession to the real needs of an overpopulated and overstressed environment, but not the main thing.


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