How Do Atheists Celebrate Funerals?

Though death marks the end of existence for atheists, they live on through the other lives they've touched.
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Most religious funerals focus on the afterlife and where the deceased is going after he or she dies. But when the person who died does not believe in a deity or a life after physical death, their passing must be marked in a very different way. The families of many atheists choose to have a memorial service that focuses on the life of the deceased, rather than a traditional funeral.

1 Funeral or Memorial

Although some atheists have funerals centered on burial, most choose a memorial service, since this takes the focus off the death of the person being celebrated and instead reflects on her life. A memorial service also removes any time constraint, giving grieving relatives and friends time to recover from the shock of losing a loved one and make travel arrangements.

2 Music and Readings

Instead of traditional religious hymns and Bible verses, atheist funerals and memorials may include reflections on the cycle of life, the relationship humans have with the Earth and each other, and what it means to live a good life. Music may include selections that were favorites of the deceased and songs that reflect his legacy.

3 Eulogy and Personal Anecdotes

A close family member or friend may give a eulogy, talking about the deceased's life, her accomplishments and how she contributed to their world and others. Following the official eulogy, other friends and family members may be invited to stand and recall anecdotes and reflections on their relationships with the deceased. This gives loved ones a chance to bond together in their shared love for the person they're celebrating.

4 Making Arrangements Prior to Death

Atheists who have religious families may worry that their beliefs may not be honored after their death, and that their families will choose a religious funeral. For people who feel very strongly about what happens to their remains and about how their passing is marked, it is important to create a formal document detailing requested arrangements and to put this document in the care of a trusted family member or executor.

Amy Wilde has worked as a grant developer, copy editor, writing tutor and writer. Based in Portland, Ore., she covers topics related to society, religion and culture. Wilde holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and classical civilization from the University of Toronto.