I am an existentialist
The essential character of the human being is the experience of our own existence. I believe that, in a very real sense, if I am not consciously aware of my existence, I am not fully human.
With this conscious awareness I can imagine a set of possibilities from which I can choose to pursue one or more. I cannot pursue all of them simultaneously either in the sense of time and resources, or in the sense of being personally able to pursue them even if I had the time and resources. In fact, some possiblilties such as suicide allow for no other possibility for me--ever, in the case of death.
No matter how I approach my existence, I cannot avoid the necessity of choice. Not choosing anything in particular is itself a choice. This is the nature of the individual in the cosmos. I am alone in this responsibility. My conscious awareness in my mind is mine alone. I do not share my personal conscious awareness with any other living creature. What is more, I existed before I became consciously aware of my existence. Existence comes first. I believe it comes first at all levels of life.
After existence comes conscious awareness for the being that is fully human. Following conscious awareness, the next act is always a matter of choosing from whatever set of possibilities exist at the moment for the human being who is consciously aware of her/his own existence.
From the set of possibilities--things that "might be"--I can choose something "to be". When that thing "to be" relates to the way something "is", then I am making a moral decision about what that thing "ought to be". Whether or not I want the thing to stay the same or change, I am making a moral decision. Choosing to have something stay the same is a choice, because we could choose to try to change it.
I alone am responsible for my choices, no matter how much I would like to foist the blame onto someone or something else.
There are a several caveats to this responsibility. One is for when as children we don't know any better. Then we only know what we know, what we have been taught as truth by those we have no reason to distrust.
Another caveat is for mental illness whether chemically induced by drugs or alcohol, or one of the clinically defined syndrones. There are other forms of diminshed capacity, such as mental retardation, all of which can limit an individual's arena of choice.
But this I believe: My ability to imagine possibility and my confidence in my ability to try to bring about some possiblity of my choosing is the core of the creative life ... the highest form of existence of which I am aware. The tension between "isness" and "oughtness", best described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is the energy imbued in the human condition, the state of being fully human. I can choose what I ought to be, what I ought to do ... and in so doing participate in a creative evolution ... a butterfly flapping its wings, knowing full well the ripples will extend throughout the cosmos.
But no matter what, no matter how I cloak the process in some form of dogma or doctrine--religious, political, philosophical, whatever--I must choose out of my conscious awareness of my existence.
Finally, I am an atheist because as an existentialist, it is immaterial to me whether God exists or not. What is important for me is to be rationally consistent imagining possibility and trying to bring about what I think ought to be. In an earlier post I reflected on the designation of "Christian Existentialist":
Putting it another way, How do we humans become God? What God do I want us to become? The answer FOR ME is in nuturing the potential in the other person ... and this is what I believe Jesus' message to be ... hence am I a Christian Existentialist? Should I use the term "Christian" with today's mixed baggage of meaning? I don't know. I'll think about it.
See "Am I a Christian Existentialist?"
I would add that I believe in nuturing the other person by sharing ... and particularly in sharing the creative experience, the uniquely human experience of applying our imagination to "What might be" and selecting from the infinite range of options, "What ought to be," and then making it, "What is."