Have you, as an atheist, ever been subjected to Pascal’s wager? Any non-believer that has debated, or simply argued points with a believer, will sooner or later, be told that it is better to wager that god exists, covering the bases so to speak, than wager god does not exist, and face the horrid consequences after death.
It is easy to see at the outset that such a premise is flawed. If you are a non-believing atheist that requires evidence for belief, are you supposed to pretend? If your stance as an atheist is wrong and you end up standing before the pearly gates for judgment, won’t an all-knowing god know you are pretending?
Our consciousness, our self-awareness, our uniqueness, all these plus a measure of ego, make us envision ourselves as possessing something more than the physical body. We come to think of ourselves as composed of a body, and then what makes up the difference. Theists imagine the something other than body as being a soul. Some think of the extra as being a consciousness that prevails after death and may or may not arise to a higher plane.
As an atheist, and I speak only for myself, I fully accept that the consciousness I experience is a product of biological processes. I expect that one day all my thoughts will be silenced and I will cease to be. Is this what I desire? Of course not, but it’s obviously what I am going to get. I would much rather be immortal, yet, on the other hand I do not fear being dead.
Shortly after my father’s death I experienced a dream wherein he said to me “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t like getting hurt doing it.” Knowing my father fairly well, my mind was able to generate this dream which seemed to coincide with my father’s odd sense of humor. I always took it as meaning that, he didn’t mind dying, it was just the painful lingering he dreaded. I feel the same way and this is why I have always supported euthanasia. As a society we don’t treat dogs nearly as inhumanely as we treat humans.
I really don’t think that anyone will receive a surprise after death. Not even the religious will experience the surprise of being right or wrong. Atheists will not be surprised, and theists will not be surprised, as they will simply have no consciousness with which to experience surprise.
Human beings, with their egos, try to separate themselves… desperately try to separate themselves, from the “lower” animals around them. Death, the great equalizer, will have none of it.