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Ever wondered what happens at an atheist funeral? Or do you need to plan one for a loved one who had no religious beliefs? To answer your questions we’ve put together a guide about what to expect at an atheist funeral.

Do atheists have funerals?

Yes, atheists do have funerals. But atheists don’t believe in God or an afterlife so an atheist funeral won’t have anything in the order of service based on a religious text or tradition.

What is an atheist funeral like?

Instead of including religious readings and songs atheist funeral services will often include tributes from friends and family. It’s a chance for them to celebrate the person’s life and legacy instead of helping them reach the afterlife using religious customs. An atheist funeral can be adapted to follow the wishes of the person who passed away. For example, family and friends might choose to recite poetry if that feels right or play their loved one’s favourite music.

An atheist funeral is similar to a humanist funeral because they’re both non-religious. Most humanists would consider themselves atheists but not all atheists have humanist beliefs.

What happens at an atheist funeral service?

As an atheist funeral doesn’t follow any religious customs it’s likely that the order of service will be based on the wishes of the person who passed away or their family. That often means that no 2 atheist funeral services will be exactly the same. But there will be some similarities between an atheist funeral and a religious one. Here are some things you might expect to see at an atheist funeral:

Burial or cremation

Some religious people opt for a burial or cremation based on their belief of how it will help them reach the afterlife. But at an atheist funeral the choice of a burial or a cremation is entirely up to the person who passed away or their family. The decision is based on their own personal preference and not according to any other beliefs.

Some atheists might choose to have the whole service at the graveside or choose to have no service at all. Direct cremation has become more popular in recent years. This is a type of unattended funeral when there is no ceremony and no one attends the cremation. The family will collect their loved one’s ashes and celebrate them in the way they think most appropriate. It’s a fuss-free, non-religious funeral option.

Another burial option for an atheist funeral service is a natural burial. This is when a person is buried in a green space like a meadow or woodland. It’s an eco-friendly type of burial where no embalming chemicals are used and biodegradable coffins are chosen. This is so that there’s less impact on the environment when compared with a traditional funeral. But this won’t be the right option for all atheists. Again, it’s really down to what the person who died would have wanted.

An atheist funeral eulogy

At an atheist funeral family and friends might contribute to a eulogy. Or one person who was close to the person who died may write it. This type of funeral speech doesn’t have to be religious. It can be a way of sharing stories about the person’s life and celebrating their achievements.

Have you been asked to write and read a eulogy at an atheist funeral? For some tips on where to start read our guide to writing a eulogy.

Non-religious readings

Readings may still be a part of an atheist funeral service even if they’re not taken from religious texts. Instead family and friends might choose to read poetry, passages from a novel or something that’s important to the person who passed away. Sometimes these might be on the theme of life and death or they may just be a favourite that the person requested.

Tributes and donations

Family and friends can tailor an atheist funeral service in whichever way they like. They could choose other tributes like traditional flower memorials or to have a portrait of the person who died at the service. Or they may keep things simple and ask family and friends to donate to a charity instead.

Where do atheists have funerals?

An atheist funeral might take place at a crematorium if the person is being cremated. It could also take place in another public venue for hire like a community hall or a hotel. It could even take place at an outdoor venue or at the family home.

What to say at an atheist funeral

If you haven’t been to an atheist funeral before don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. The family and friends of the person who passed away will be happy that you’re there to say goodbye. But if you’re unsure of what to say to the family here are a few suggestions:

  • Tell them about your relationship with the person and how much you’re going to miss them.
  • Tell them a story about you and the person who passed away that makes you smile.
  • If you’re struggling, remember that a handshake or a hug and “I’m sorry for your loss” is perfectly okay too.

Planning an atheist funeral service?

We hope this guide to atheist funerals has given you a clearer idea of what to expect if you’re attending one. If you’re planning an atheist funeral service and would like some more tips and ideas for atheist funeral readings, poems or songs our guide to planning a non-religious funeral service will help.

Funeral Choice is a free online resource where you can find funeral directors that are local to you. You can also fine other articles that’ll help you plan a funeral in our advice centre.