As atheists, we tend to take a hard-headed attitude towards god and the afterlife. Neither exists and we view those who believe in them as being either mistaken or clinging to them out of a need for a comforting illusion. While I am convinced that telling the truth about the non-existence of any gods is always desirable, I am not as sure about the afterlife and am willing to be persuaded that, under very limited circumstances, maintaining the fiction may be justifiable.
I’ve long felt that one of the most attractive appeals of the afterlife, and the one that is most likely to seduce people into wanting to believe in it and the associated idea of a god, is the idea that we will meet again our loved ones who have died and whom we miss so much. I think that this desire is so strong that it masks all the many problems of such a belief. But fortunately, while religious people wax lyrical in words and song about the joys of the afterlife, the desire for it is not so strong that it makes otherwise rational people take their own lives in order to get there quicker.
One can perhaps understand people who know they are near the end of their lives or who are suffering so terribly or who are depressed taking their own lives in order to escape this life and enjoy the hereafter. But when we know that people can be lured by this promise to do terrible things thinking that a reward waits them in heaven, religious people need to pause and consider whether giving unqualified praise for the afterlife is such a good thing.
But here is a situation where it gets murkier. On NPR sometime ago, they interviewed a doctor whose research dealt with deadly diseases that affect children (I forget which ones) and he often had to give parents the heartbreaking news that their children had just a short time to live, and then watch them have to deal with this sad information. He described one couple who decided to tell their child the truth that he would die soon. But they did this by drawing the curtain between them and using that as an analogy, telling their child that just as they were on the other side of the curtain though he could not see them, when he died, they would be on the other side of a different curtain from him but would still be there.
I can see the utility of such a fiction in such a dire situation involving children. But as a general rule, I think it is better to face the truth about death.