‘Do not act as if you were going to live for ten thousand years… While you live, while it is in your power, be good.’Do humanists believe in an afterlife? Are they scared of death? Is a finite life meaningless? Find out why humanists believe that death is the end of our individual existence, and why they believe that it is therefore so important human beings make the most of the one life we know we have. Here you can find resources about why many humanists believe it is the finite nature of our lives that makes our lives meaningful, and that humanists believe something of us does survive our death (our genes, works, and shared ideas and experiences). For resources about how humanists believe we can create our own meanings in life see Does life have any meaning?
Marcus Aurelius, philosopher (121 – 180)
Does death make life more meaningful?
Suitable for: 11-14, 14-16
Does death make life more meaningful?In this lesson students will investigate humanist attitudes towards death, including the consequences of their absence of belief in an afterlife on the way they live their lives. They will explore whether we should be scared of death and learn how humanists believe that the absence of an afterlife makes life more meaningful, and makes it all the more important to make the most of the one life we know we have. They will also discuss the different senses in which humanists believe something of us does survive our death. Finally they will learn what happens at a humanist funeral and use what they have learned to write their own poem or eulogy. Download
Does death make life more meaningful?Download
Death metaphorsIf death were a ......., what would it be? Download
Humanist funeral extractsCan students find key humanist attitudes towards death in a selection of statements from humanist funerals? Download
Humanist poemsA selection of humanist poems and quotes about death to inspire students to write their own poem or eulogy for a funeral. Download
Humanist responses: deathFill in the speech bubbles with how humanists might respond to statements and questions about death. Download
The River of LifeUsing Bertrand Russell's quote comparing human lives to rivers, students explore what they might contribute to the sea of humanity Download
What should we think about death?(Age 11+) A short animation about a humanist attitude towards death. Watch
Afterlife(Age 11+) Humanists answer the question: 'Is this the only life we have?' Watch
What is a humanist ceremony?
A two-minute video animation explaining humanist naming ceremonies, weddings, and funerals.
Why do humanists believe this life is the only one we know we have, and what does that mean for how they choose to live their lives?Download
Are humanists in favour of assisted dying or against? How do they decide?Download
A Question of Faith
A Question of Faith: A film showing a humanist funeral, featuring interviews with a humanist celebrant and relatives of the deceased, followed by a discussion between young people about their own beliefs about death.
Cultural transmission: A BBC animation on what makes us human: our capacity to share ideas, skills, and culture (for humanists this makes us special and can enable something of us to survive our deaths)
Humanist funeral mystery
Lessons from the Young Atheist's Handbook
Lessons from The Young Atheist's Handbook: A very short animation about why the absence of an afterlife means we need to make the most of this life.
Three short stories about a girl's perspective on a humanist naming ceremony, wedding, and funeral. Photocopiable worksheets and lesson ideas are also available.