Considered from the existentialist viewpoint, god is not only a subject of contention, but seems to be an atheistic existentialist’s nightmare. Although the freedom of existentialism may be full of anxiety due to the burden it places upon individuals to create his or her own purpose out of an inherently meaningless life, the opposite, that there is a god that creates our purposes, seems even more troubling according to an atheistic existentialist philosophy.
For example, consider that a meteor falls out of the sky and lands directly upon, and kills, a single person in a large crowd. For existentialist, this example would be an appropriate illustration of the absurdity and meaningless of life. That a person is killed by a meteor that has flown through space for thousands of years which have unfortunately coincided with the thousands of years leading up through the generations of the single person’s family history, with both culminating in a single moment when meteor and person meet is an almost funny event- it forces one to consider the absurdity of life that is so unlikely, so unpredictable, and so impossible to predict that it doesn’t make any sense to attribute meaning to the events that occur within it.
This understanding comes up in the movie No Country for Old Men, with the coin toss. Taken not as an illustration of fate, the random chance of coin toss in one sense drives home the objective lack of meaning in life. Life is just a toss of a coin, which has no meaning other than that which is created for it.
For one who believes in god though, it would be tempting to say that meteor accident happened for a reason, that it is not an illustration of absurdity or coincidence, but of purpose. This consideration seems much more terrifying for existentialist than the absurd. Believing that all things happen for a purpose, for purposes that one will likely never ever know but is trapped in anyways, forces questions such as what the purpose is, and why. Existentialist would argue that adhering to the belief that there is an objective purpose to life reveals all humans to be nothing more than Dostoevsky’s piano keys, limited in how they will live by their order in a set piece that is written and conducted by a god. All of the philosophers we have read run from this illustration of human life. No one wants to be a piano key, and so we are encouraged to rebel by spiting the meaningless of life and to create and live freely instead, to not accept what “they” say is our purpose but to make our own, to break out of the limits ascribed by others, to believe in the freedom and eternity of our own subjective meaning.
As a result, on the side of existentialism is an exhilarating freedom where each individual creates their own limits and is creator of their own purposes and values. Although the anxiety of living with so much possibility may be debilitating for some, for others it provides the room necessary to live a subjectively meaningful life that one may feel joy in living over again and again. Believing that god controls purposes and meaning, though, consigns humans to only ever living one set of events that are out of their control. Good or bad, there is no responsibility for what happens as the pressure and explanation of life is lifted onto god. While this may be a more comfortable existence than existentialism, since existentialist can only ever say that life happens while believers may say that it happens for a reason, atheistic existentialist would abhor this belief in god as ultimately constricting their potential for free meaning making and creativity.
Perhaps in the end neither side can be objectively proven though. Existentialist will only ever feel comfortable believing that we are each free to be totally and individually responsible for our lives, while believers in god will argue that though we live freely it is ultimately in accordance with a plan and under the guidance of god. Atheistic existentialists, though, would force the issue by asking not only on what basis anyone believes in god, but more importantly why anyone would ever want to, even in the case that god actually did exist. Given the troubling questions that come with accepting an objectively meaningful life as guided by god, answers to which all involve taking away responsibility and freedom from the individual while limiting the subjective creative and purposive meaning making processes of life, in the end atheistic existentialists would argue that even if god was objectively proven to exist, that it would be better for everyone to try hard and ignore this evidence, to live their lives believing with conviction that god is dead.