A religious devotee
says: "If man
cannot be held accountable
for his actions
by a higher power, then how can he have morals
? Without a guideline
from a supernatural power of what is right and wrong
, what would prevent all of civilization from sinking into a sea of muck and sludge
Morals are indeed guidelines for making decisions. Presented with similar situations, a person's actions will be identical every time.
For example, say you're leaving a restaurant and you spot a ten dollar tip passing by a table.
The enticement of increased wealth without much effort sure is tempting. By simply extending your arm and inconspicuously grabbing the cash, you will be ten dollars richer. Since no one is looking, you won’t get into trouble. Plus, the waiter probably wasn't expecting such a large tip anyway. Where's the harm in that?
In this case, a Christian or a Jew would point to the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not steal." According to the Christian/Jewish point-of-view, this alone will restrain a religiously devout individual from snatching the money off the table. This follows the rules of deontological ethics: Something is either always right or always wrong. For example, stealing the money off the table would be morally wrong because stealing is always wrong.
However, what if the commandment said "Thou shalt steal?" Would stealing be an absolute right then? Is all that is required is a recommendation from a centuries-old text? How about the sixth commandment: "thou shalt not kill?" Does this rule apply with self-defense? Or war?
Here is the fundamental problem with static morals: the inability to judge every action we humans make with reason and free will. Shouldn't morals stand on their own merits? Humans are fantastic beings because of their ability to examine the consequences of their actions and make appropriate choices--as opposed to wild animals that act on instinct alone.
Therefore, morals do not come from religious tomes. Morals would exist nicely without them.
Stealing the cash off the table would degrade your self-worth. If you are unable to earn ten dollars on your own merit, then what good are you to yourself? You are then no better than an animal fighting for its survival in the wilderness. Taking the waiter's tip would thus prove your worthlessness.
Also, one can also reason that stealing is not good because if everyone committed robbery all the time, then what would be the reason of owning property or working?
Atheists have morals because humans learn moral lessons based on observation and an understanding of human nature. The scriptures of a religious tome are not necessary. An atheist reasons and considers the consequences of his actions for all his actions. Morality is one of the features of all of humanity, so therefore morals don't just exist in the religious realm. Atheists can realize the beauty of humanity, and learn not to battle with it.
What it all comes down in the end is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Words to live by.