A non-religious funeral is given to a deceased when he/she did not practice a specific formal religion. It is also appropriate when the dead have been a humanist or an atheist.
Funerals are conventionally viewed through the lenses of religion. So it may be challenging to understand what happens when the departed is a non-religious person. There are no fixed historical guidelines or ‘how to’ in place for these kinds of funerals. Traditional memorial services have religious elements in them. In the case of an atheist, the format is typically dictated by the departed person’s wishes or family members.
What is a Non-Religious Memorial/Funeral Service
All religions have traditional rituals and customs that are intended to honour the dead atheist and their memory. They assist the bereaved in handling the grief. The desire to give a fitting goodbye or remember a loved one’s memories is universal regardless of religion. In reality, non-religious funerals are also merely a means to honour the deceased in a way that is not associated with religious rituals. Like eulogies, readings from literature, and funeral poems, many of the same elements appear in a non-religious funeral service outline.
A non-religious memorial helps mourners to express their grief, condolences, and sadness to the family. In most cases, the funeral services are a celebration of the life that the departed person lived.
Non-Religious Funeral Etiquette:
Guests and mourners at a non-religious funeral should behave in the same way they would in any type of funeral, religious or otherwise. Although the funeral does not conform to any religious outline, the feelings of grief and sadness are the same.
Expect the general mood of the funeral to be sombre. The guests are to abide by respectfully by the family’s wishes for the events of the ceremony. Sometimes they may wish the service to be more celebratory in nature. They would instead remember the life joyfully lived. They would remember the life of the deceased person with joy. Expect music that the dead enjoyed during their life. Due to this reason, there might be non-traditional music at some of these non-religious funerals.
Proper Dress Etiquette:
Guests should dress in the traditionally recognized mourning attire. There are no specific guidelines for non-religious funeral services. As long as the dress is in black or any dark colours and conservative in terms of style, it is considered respectful. The only exception would be if the family makes special mention of a specific form of attire that will be appropriate for the nature of a funeral, then one must dress in accordance with their wishes.
The Funeral Format and Displaying the Departed:
Non-religious people usually do not adhere to particular religious traditions. But the general format is often the same, including:
- Opening statements
- Stories and anecdotes by friends and family members
- A moment of silence as a sign of respect
- Music and readings
One common element found in all non-religious funerals is the element of music and readings. The funerals’ purpose is to remember and honour the deceased’s life and offer comfort to the grieving family.
Non-religious funeral service readings, whether they are from famous literature (prose or poetry) or even if they were written for the service, have a way of bringing the people at the ceremony together.
Because the deceased person did not follow any religion, the guidelines about burial or cremation, autopsies, and other processes should come directly from the individual prior to their death or according to their family’s wishes. That is why guests at these types of funerals may expect a wide range of scenarios like a closed-casket funeral, open-casket, or a funeral where the ashes of the deceased are kept in an urn.
Atheist Funeral Service
Atheist funerals are similar to humanist funerals. They are becoming more common in a post-modern era. They are appropriate ceremonies to those who led their lives without any religious affiliations and typically rejected all religious notions of life, death, and the afterlife.
There are no traditional references to the afterlife at these atheist funerals as they do not believe in any religious deity as such. So the funeral services are centred around the life of the deceased and seek to offer a tribute to it. Loved ones left behind by the deceased are acknowledged, and memories are invoked to remember the life that the deceased led.
Atheists are those that do not believe in the existence of a God/ Gods. Traditional funeral services are designed based on the belief in life after death. Eternity, salvation are all central aspects of these funerals. Because atheists do not believe in any of these, their funerals revolve around their personal lives, memories, and achievements. If you would like to know more about atheist funeral services, keep reading.
If you expect atheist funerals to be drastically different from traditional funerals, you may be surprised. Although the two groups share differing beliefs, the funeral services are similar. Be it eulogies or focussing on artistic expressions on the casket, atheist funerals are unique but traditional at the same time.
At an atheist funeral, try to avoid platitudes such as “he is in a better place, now” or that “She is watching you from heaven.” While these comments are taken as intended- that is to say as words of comfort, it is better to avoid them as they may disagree with the beliefs of the deceased or their family.
That being said, there is no reason why religious attendees would feel out of place at an atheist funeral. The focus of this event is sincerity and showing affection for the deceased and their family. In humanist services, friends, family, and other acquaintances are asked to share their treasured memories of their association with the deceased with other mourners in attendance.
Order of Service:
In funerals for atheists, the emphasis is not on the finality of death but the celebration of life. Atheists tend to believe that their life is actually a sum of their experiences. They would rather have the funeral be a celebration of memories and things that the deceased enjoyed.
A memorial service is a beautiful medium for family and mourners to express their emotions. It provides a safe space for expressing personal feelings and thoughts.
A secular service may be held before burial, cremation, or after the deceased is put to rest. Secular services do not have specific scripts or blessings. But since it is helpful to have a structure that follows a similar order or service. The timelines usually vary among other differences.
It may resemble this order.
Music will play as friends, family, and other mourners take their seats. Guests reflect upon their memories in the meantime. A friend or family member taking part in the welcoming can make a funeral ceremony feel personal.
Then words about the meaning of death are explained. Famous poems usually inspire them. Passages from the literature that are poetic and philosophical are also read.
A loved one is honoured with a tribute, which is usually an atheist eulogy or an atheist funeral speech if the deceased was an atheist. A specific person looks back on the personality, memories, and experiences of the departed.
Following the tribute, the guests may reflect on their personal relationship with the loved one and gradually move towards closure. It may be a moment of silence or guests sharing amongst themselves.
Finally, the remains of the deceased are honoured. Atheist burial customs differ from person to person. In some, the coffins are decorated with love messages and art. The ashes are also scattered in some cases, and then the family members meditate as a closing ritual.
Music and Readings
Spiritual readings or hymns are not included in an atheist funeral reading. So one may not hear their typical ‘Amazing Grace farewell.’ Other songs and passages are still read. The favourite songs, poems, and readings of the deceased are shared during the funeral. Classical and modern favourites are played. So one might hear a few iconic hits at these funerals as they reminisce about their loved one.
Sometimes, a person takes the opportunity to make decisions regarding their own funeral before death. In such cases, the person may choose their own arrangements depending on their desires and wants.
Atheist services are meant to bring a sense of closure for the family and friends of the deceased. It is a vital part of the grieving process. The funeral gives the loved ones an opportunity to express their pain and sorrow at such a tragic loss. At such a devastating time, it is deemed appropriate to show support by giving memorial charitable donations, flowers, or meal preparation.
As secular funerals do not centre on religious teachings, your loved one’s favourite poems or books are the obvious choices for readings. Readings from non-religious authors may also be preferred. Next, it is the location of the service that takes prominence. One may choose a nature-inspired reading in the event of an outdoor memorial service.
Friends and family alone can take turns reading during a small ceremony. Eulogies are meant to reveal the loved one’s personality, accomplishments, and their life’s impact on the community. Specifically, they are useful for large funerals where everyone present may not know your loved one close.
Music is an integral part of the order to set the tone for the memorial service. It may be played at the start or end of the service. One can select the music depending on the mood or location of the funeral. Is the funeral in a casual setting? If so, a piece of upbeat music would be appropriate. If the funeral veers towards traditional practices, instrumental is probably a better choice.
Soft music playing throughout the services is a good ambience creator to encourage reflection. One may choose a secular composer. Music selections may or may not have religious undertones in atheist funerals. Religious songs like ‘Amazing Grace’ are acceptable if they were essential to the loved one.
Recently secular hymns are also known to invoke spiritual feelings. Non-religious people, too, are into spirituality and meditation that does not associate with any particular religion. Some classics are popular throughout many generations. Some apparent choices are ‘What a wonderful world’ and ‘imagine.’
Participants also choose to play instruments or sing some favourite songs. Remember, there is no one right song, so think about any song that the deceased would have enjoyed depending on their personality.
Location of the Service:
An atheist funeral may happen anywhere. There is no single location like a church in case of a religious funeral. The service can be anywhere that memories are shared, and the life of the deceased is honoured.
Today some funerals are held in some of the favourite spots of the departed. For example, if the loved one was an ardent baseball fan, why not a ballpark? One can imagine nature lovers wish to have their last rites done at a mountain or a beach. Favourite museums, art galleries, bars, and restaurants are all excellent choices for a memorial service.
Here are some options for a place:
Family or a Friend’s Home:
A traditional home burial is a great way to feel close to a loved one who has departed. It is a place where they lived and created most of their memories. Hand-digging or clearing a spot for the grave at their home is considered a healing experience for the mourners. Always check with the state’s regulations before going ahead with this option.
Perhaps the deceased was fond of their community, city of residence, or hometown. If so, the community centre is a good choice for an intimate ceremony. The participants and mourners can sit in a circle as they reminisce fond memories they shared with the departed.
On the Water:
If the loved one was a lover of adventure, then a unique burial or scattering of ashes in water can provide a unique sense of closure. Beach, parks, and such are unique venues to celebrate this. Again, in this case, one would have to get permission from the respective officials in such cases. When choosing the location, it is crucial to remember what the loved one would have liked based on their life.
Cremation and burial are both common atheist practices. Whether there is an open-casket funeral will primarily depend on the individual’s wishes and circumstances. In case the deceased made his wishes known prior to the funeral, the family will follow those guidelines. An atheist service does not adhere to a particular time. It may be held at any given time. The service may either be held before the burial, at the graveside, or after the burial.
Atheist Burial Customs:
Atheist funeral services are open-ended as religion does not dictate what must or must not be done during the service. Secular people are reshaping traditional burials. They go with one of these options.
There are numerous options for dealing with the loved one’s ashes. The most common practice is to bury them. One can also scatter them, use the urn it was in as a keepsake, or offer it to friends and family in smaller urns.
One may either go for a traditional metal casket or a casket made of biodegradable materials.
An atheist’s death is often considered the end of life, unlike religious beliefs. So many donate their loved one’s bodies to hospitals, medical schools, and body farms.
Atheist Funeral Planning:
Determine the budget beforehand. The average cost of a metal casket and preparing the body for cremations costs around $3000, whereas direct cremations cost around $600. Veterans and some of their family members may have burial benefits at national cemeteries. Atheist cemeteries are appropriate for non-religious people.
There is no pressure to spend extravagantly on flowers, casket liners. Cost, personality, and practicality may all be factors deciding the burial.
Gifts, Flowers, Cards and Presents:
Take note of the deceased’s family’s wishes while choosing the gift. There are no fixed rules for non-religious funerals. One may need to consider sympathy cards with a short message or poem. The traditional flowers are also a thoughtful route to take. Some families give a donation to charities which the participants can contribute to, including the funeral expenses. If the family would not like to be given gifts, it is better to send a thoughtful card even after a week after the funeral. The pain and suffering last for days after death, so offering comfort is a considerate way to show support and love to the grieving family.
Atheist funeral services are not cookie-cutter ones. These funerals for atheists can be joyful celebrations of life or sombre occasions conducted as a final memory of the deceased. Nevertheless, the deceased person is always the centre of focus. If one is lost in planning, always return to the deceased person’s likes, wishes, and what they would have wanted to have and leave one’s own beliefs out of it.