I've been pondering on the fact that I call myself an atheist and an existentialist, all the while admitting that I am not altogether certain exactly what constitutes existentialism, and wondering if there is any difference between them. Am I, for example, an atheist existentialist or an existentialist atheist? There is a difference.
Well, after a bit of thought and comparison with other people out there, I think I know which I am - I am an atheist existentialist. Why, I hear you ask...
It's kinda complicated and I am by no means an expert in philosophy. But this is how it looks from where I'm standing. Feel free to disagree!
I am an atheist because I see no need for God as an explanation of how we got here; evolution does the trick perfectly well on its own. But atheism is not a philosophy in itself, it is a reaction to theism. So atheism describes that part of me; the part that has rejected religion - a fundamental, very important and hard-won part but still only one aspect of how I see the world.
Existentialism, on the other hand, is a way of looking at the world, a way of living one's life, a way indeed of dealing with the fallout from becoming an atheist. Life can be pretty scary once you have given up the fantasy of an afterlife and all that stuff. Existentialism says - okay, so now you know that life's a bitch and then you die. What are you going to do about it?
I don't want in any way to diminish atheism. I think the rejection of religion is absolutely vital to humanity's future and I admire those who are brave enough to take the battle out into the public arena. But simply rejecting religion is not sufficient; as long as we define our philosophy in terms that even mention religion, if only to say that we are against it, we are still in the trap. By calling myself an atheist existentialist - an existentialist who has no belief in God - I am refusing to give religion that dominance.