Life and death

‘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.’

Marcus Aurelius, philosopher (121 – 180)

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?

Does death make life more meaningful?
Suitable for: 11-14, 14-16

Lesson Plans

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?



Death metaphors

If death were a ......., what would it be? Download

Humanist funeral extracts

Can students find key humanist attitudes towards death in a selection of statements from humanist funerals? Download

Humanist poems

A selection of humanist poems and quotes about death to inspire students to write their own poem or eulogy for a funeral. Download

Humanist responses: death

Fill in the speech bubbles with how humanists might respond to statements and questions about death. Download

The River of Life

Using 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


(Age 11+) Humanists answer the question: 'Is this the only life we have?' Watch

Humanist Perspectives

Celebrations and ceremonies

What do humanists celebrate and how do they mark important events in their lives? Download


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

Other Resources

What is a humanist ceremony?

A two-minute video animation explaining humanist naming ceremonies, weddings, and funerals.

Humanist Perspectives


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 Perspective


Are humanists in favour of assisted dying or against? How do they decide?

Download Perspective
Download Presentation


What do humanists think about abortion? Do they all agree? How might a humanist respond to religious arguments relating to abortion?

Download Perspective
Download Presentation
Download a personal humanist perspective

External Resources

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

Cultural transmissionA 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

These resources from WJEC explore whether somebody would be likely to choose a humanist funeral. Download the instructions, activity statements, and take the quiz.

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.

Rosie Stories

Three short stories about a girl's perspective on a humanist naming ceremony, wedding, and funeral. Photocopiable worksheets and lesson ideas are also available.

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