Beliefs Of Atheists
By definition, atheists do not believe in the existence of one or multiple Gods. Most atheists also do not accept the existence of any kind of spiritual forces. According to atheism, the concepts of God or God-like entities are man-made constructs. For this reason, atheists also do not believe in the existence of an afterlife, and atheist funerals are conducted without any reference to such an idea.
But none of this implies that atheist funerals are anti-religion or that religious people are not welcome to attend an atheist funeral. As an attendee, you need only respect the beliefs and traditions that are the foundation of the funeral you are attending, like you would at a funeral for someone from a different religion than you.
What Happens At An Atheist Funeral?
At an atheist funeral, also known as a Humanist funeral, the proceedings will most likely be held in accordance with the desires expressed by the deceased or their loved ones. It is unlikely that any two atheist funerals you attend will be entirely the same since atheism is defined by the absence rather than the presence of any universal beliefs around death.
However, there often will be similarities in some aspects of an atheist funeral to a religious one, such as a gathering, a casket or coffin, or some non-religious readings. Some rituals you might observe at an atheist funeral are:
- Cremation or Burial: Since there are no religious expectations at atheist funerals, the choice between cremation and burial is made based on the desires of the deceased.
- Viewing: Whether or not there is an open casket at the funeral will also depend heavily on the deceased’s preferences, as well as the circumstances around their death.
- Readings: Despite being non-religious, people at atheist funerals often read out writings that are significant, such as poems or short prose, especially on the theme of life and death.
- Eulogy: Loved ones might also choose to deliver non-religious eulogies as a tribute to the deceased. Some people might also share lighthearted stories about the deceased.
- Graveside Services: For some atheist families, a church is not the preferred setting for a funeral and they would rather opt for a graveside service to maintain a secular approach.
You might also come across many atheist funerals where the deceased has opted to donate their body for medical education and research purposes. Due to the lack of belief in an afterlife, some atheists find comfort in the idea of donating their organs or their whole bodies.
Atheist Funeral Etiquette
While the major expectations in terms of decorum are often the same at an atheist funeral and a religious one, the major point of difference will be the absence of religious elements. If you are attending an atheist funeral, it is important that you maintain a secular outlook in the way you participate in the funeral process.
Words Of Condolence
If you are religious, you must be careful of what words you use when offering condolences at an atheist funeral. You should avoid saying anything that has religious undertones or implications.
For example, instead of saying, “He/she is in a better place now,” you can opt for something more neutral and less presumptuous such as, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Since atheists do not believe in an afterlife, you might offend an atheist person by implying the existence of one. Although most people will take your words as intended, a funeral is a setting where emotions could be running high and therefore, it is worth putting thought into the words you use.
Most atheist funerals have a similar dress code, and attendees are expected to dress in black or other dark colors. However, there can be certain occasions where an atheist might request a different dress code because of their own unique views on death and their wishes for their funeral, for example, some might desire a funeral that is more celebratory than somber.
If you are unsure or if no dress code has been specified, you should dress in conservative formal attire in dark colors, as you would at a religious funeral. Ultimately, your primary responsibility as someone attending an atheist funeral is to respect the process that has been organized out of respect for the beliefs of the deceased.