Atheists Expressing Sympathy

I found a site called Sympathy 101 for Atheists and I thought I'd share it with you. Dealing with death can be extremely painful and sad, but it happens to all of us eventually. As atheists, most of the people we know are probably religious. How can we be genuine and honest and still be sympathetic to our religious loved ones when someone dies?

Atheists are often seen as cold because we don't have faith. We see death as an end to our lives, end of story. Religious people see death as a transition to something greater.  But we feel pain and emotion and loss just as much as anyone else. I think it might even be harder for atheists to lose a loved one than a religious person because they have hope (albeit false) that they will see their beloved in the afterlife while the godless know that death is final and there will not be any reunions.

So, how can we express our sympathies to someone who has lost a loved one while still maintaining our integrity and honesty? Here are some examples from the site:

Recognize the loss and express sorrow. If you knew the deceased, express your shared loss.

  • "I'm so sorry for your loss."

  • "I was sad to hear of his death."

  • "It seems so unfair."

Express your appreciation of the deceased by relating positive ways the person affected your life or the life of the grieving friend or loved one.

  • "She made the world a better place with all she did."

  • "Every time your dad called, your face lit up."

Talk about how your friend or loved one made the deceased person's life better.

  • "You made his life happier."

  • "You made her proud."

  • "Every living thing dies but not every thing knows love. You gave him so much love."

Allow your friend or loved one to talk about their loss. You can help by relating a personal story about the deceased.

There is a lot of other information you might find helpful on the site. These are just a few highlights. Here are a couple more important points.

Why you shouldn't lie and profess faith when you don't believe:

Be yourself, that's being honest. Dishonesty is never a good basis for a relationship. If your friend or loved one knows you're an atheist, then just be express your thoughts compassionately but genuinely, it's the best way to have a strong relationship with them.

If you're asked a hard question, for example, "do you think she's in heaven now?", you can be comforting without lying.

  • "If anyone is in Heaven, he should be, too."

  • "He was a good man, if anyone deserves such a reward, he does."

  • "He was a good person." (leave it up to your loved one)

How have you expressed sympathy? Feel free to share ideas.


  1. I agree it's OK to softball the question "do you think she is in heaven now?" right after a person dies. I also go outta my way not to get into religious arguments at the service or during the afterparty (even though there is a lot of smack being said at those events).

  2. Yeah, I agree, Andrew. I think it's in really bad taste to argue over such things at a funeral or around the death of a loved one. You'd just make them very angry and upset. But damn, it sure would be tempting with how rampant the godsmack is at such functions. I'd have to bite my tongue until it bled!