For people who hold traditional religious beliefs, the topic of death can be a tricky conversation to have with others. Not only do religious beliefs about the afterlife vary from faith to faith, but they’re also different for those who do not believe in a god-like figure, atheists.
If you’re not sure what to say to a grieving family but don’t want to cause offense, you can often find yourself at a loss for words. This guide provides a simple approach that can help you gain a deeper sense of understanding – and avoid putting your foot in your mouth at an atheist funeral service.
Forget Misconceptions – Death Isn’t Depressing or Meaningless for Atheists
For those who are unfamiliar with atheism, it’s easy to make faulty assumptions about death – for example, folks think that the idea of death must be depressing if you don’t believe in god or an afterlife. But many atheists would disagree! The lack of an afterlife can also provide a sense of solace and peace. For atheists, the finite nature of life can actually spark wonder and awe at the gift of life itself, inspiring action and motivation to seize the day.
It’s also important to note that not all atheists hold the same beliefs about what happens when a person dies. While some may veer toward a scientific philosophy, others may believe in an undefined communal consciousness that is possible after death. This can still carry deep meaning and significance.
The takeaway? Don’t assume that the concept of death is a sterile idea for atheists. While atheist beliefs may differ from religious ideas, death is still a time of mourning an individual’s loss, learning to get through grief, and finding closure. This is a pretty universal experience for families – regardless of philosophy.
Atheist Funeral Traditions
It is common for atheists to hold funeral services, and you do not have to be an atheist in order to attend. Also referred to as Humanist funerals, these services do not have religious undertones – so there’s no mention of god, prayers, or the person’s spirit finding its way in the afterlife. Instead, atheist memorial services are often focused on the remembrance of the person who has passed.
While atheist funeral services can have a lot of variation, there are often elements that are recognizable. If there’s a visitation, there will most likely be a casket and a gathering of loved ones. There may be flower arrangements, photos, candles, or a non-religious reading to cause reflection.
Atheists may choose to have a traditional burial, but cremation tends to be more common since there aren’t any religious doctrines that dictate burial. Keeping the loved one’s ashes in a cremation urn or ceramic keepsake is also common. Artisan urns with handcrafted features are ideal, since there are many modern and abstract cremation urn designs that don’t have religious connotations.
Showing Respect at an Atheist Funeral Service
Here are a few things to keep in mind when attending an atheist or Humanist funeral service.
- It’s not time for a debate. If you hold specific religious beliefs, refrain from sharing those ideas with surviving family members.
- Avoid religious symbols. Even if a particular symbol – like a cross, crescent, or Bible reference – is important to you, it shows a lack of empathy to those who do not share those same beliefs.
- Pay your respects appropriately. Avoid saying things like, “He/she is in heaven now” or “He/she is looking down on us as an angel.” Instead, offer your condolences in a way that does not refer to religious ideas like, “He/she will be greatly missed” or “I am very sorry for your loss.”
With a little compassion and thoughtful etiquette, it’s possible to pay your respects appropriately – even if a person’s beliefs are different from your own.