… or at least prepare in some way for it?
(The only reason I started off with this topic is because I saw a question, on an atheist blog) from a person who said that she was a an atheist dying from cancer and had some questions)
I start from the perspective of there being no spiritual life after death, in the way that is understood by the mainstream religions.
If there is no life after death, what preparations should we make?
First, be aware that we have no responsibility towards ourselves, but every responsibility towards those who will survive us, and potentially be affected in any way by our death.
No responsibility towards ourselves – because we will personally be dead, unaware of anything, so after death nothing matters to us.
However, I see each person as living on, in the human collective consciousness, for as long as any impact of our life, e.g. others’ memory of us, books we have written, continues after our death. This means, for example, that Einstein lives on, and probably will do for the duration of human civilization. Shakespeare, Milton, Newton, all live on, and it seems, at this point in time at least, that their ongoing lives are still of net benefit to humanity.
The more recent our death, the stronger our “extended”, virtual, life, and the more important that we recognize this. (For those whose attitude is, “Well, an atheist should recognize their life has no meaning, and they should not care in any way what they do”, I will cover the possibility that this is in fact not true, on another page, in terms of the chance that humanity has, through science, medical advances, etc., to become as long-lived as we would ever want to be, i.e. become “as gods”, without the disadvantage of never being able to end our bored existence)
So, back to the present. We may very well think, as atheists, that we should have the right to our own preferred funeral style, e.g. no hymns, no prayers, a certain type of burial, etc.
However, we should not , in fact,see this as our right – we will be dead, and have no knowledge of, nor care about, how our funeral is conducted. What is important about our funeral is that it maximize the future benefit to those we care about. We can only surmise what form that future benefit might take, but in the most immediate future we should probably assume that their gaining the most comfort from the rituals that they want to follow will be the best for them long term, and will maximize the length of our virtual life, in the hope that that will be a net benefit to humanity as a whole, through the benefit accrued to those who know us best.
So, for those whom we want to benefit the most, who may, for example be christians, then if we feel like discussing these matters with them, we should be letting them choose the ceremony they want. If they’re comforted by prayers, blessings, hymns, the preacher’s telling them that we’ve gone to heaven to be with their lord, and that they’ll meet us again one day, let them be comforted by that. It’s no skin off our nose. (If they think we’ve gone to hell, well, all my motivation here is in vain, I guess. I’m open to suggestions on that) Anyway, let’s not be precious about what we want, when that will have no impact on us at all. Atheism is not another religion, and if we can’t be laid-back about it, we’re reducing our enjoyment of life for no purpose.