As an atheist, I have adopted a set of morals based on the logic of living in a peaceful, reciprocal society. I don't kill because I don't want to be killed, etc....
The odd thing is that my personal set nearly matches the core of the Christian's, as far as I can tell. Honestly, I don't know what all the 10 commandments are but I know one of them is: don't kill, I'm guessing there's one or two about: don't steal, and so on.
That's two. It's a bit of a pet peeve of mine to see someone hold up the "Ten Commandments" as a fine moral system, citing those two and ignoring the rest. The first two ("Thou shalt have no other gods before [Yahweh]" and "Thou shalt not make for thyself a graven image") obliterate freedom of religion and freedom of expression. "Honor thy mother and father" is arguably good most of the time, but what if your parents are abusive? "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife (or any of the rest of his property, including his slaves)" is hardly something we would want to institute into law today. The prohibition against work on the Sabbath could conceivably have the serial numbers filed off and be turned into a labor regulation requiring at least one day off per week, but in its actual context, it was a mandatory day of worship enforced by summary execution. Notably absent from the Ten Commandments are things like "Thou shalt not commit rape" and "Thou shalt not destroy thy planetary ecosystem." So no, I'm not terribly impressed by the Ten Commandments as a system of morality.
So this got me thinking (yes, I know, a dangerous prospect): I'm not sure religion is such a bad thing because at the very least it keeps most people in line. In fact, if I were christian I'd be scared to death to walk outside for fear of committing a cardinal sin (if even by accident). So, these are the people I don't want thinking for themselves because they've demonstrated that they can't do it well.
Or in other words, the Noble Lie ("Religion is seen by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful."). Big problem with this: all those people being "kept in line" vote,
and it isn't a bunch of lofty, wise, enlightened, toga-wearing Philosopher Kings keeping them in line.
In other words, lets say that religion was wiped from the face of the Earth.
All of a sudden, you'd get a bunch of functional morons who now have to think effectively--but we already know they can't. That sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. I think I'm much safer the way things are now.
I have to disagree with you here. Humans are social primates. We have evolved to be hard-wired to "get along" within our troops/tribes. Apart from a small minority of active criminals, most people do "get" the basic "Don't kill, harm, or steal from one of Us" level of morality. Even cannibals in New Guinea can manage this. They only eat people from other
tribes. The problem arises from the fact that historically, persons who are not one of Us have been considered fair game. Marginalized classes in a society (women, ethnic minorities, minority creeds) are regarded as "not quite Real Humans," and this is the basis of their persecution. Women are "emotional" "weak" or "easily led into sin because they're descended from Eve." Blacks and First Nations peoples are "savages" who must be "civilized," and so on. Notice how in wartime, considerable propaganda efforts are launched to convince the populace that the people being attacked are Not Like Us. Human moral progress consists mostly of drawing ever wider circles of inclusiveness, so that people of all genders, races, and creeds end up inside the circle of "Us" and there is no more "Them" to be treated as outside the boundary of moral concern.
Religion, especially fundamentalist religion, is one of the things that creates an Us/Them boundary. Those putatively amoral believers you consider to be "tamed" by religion are only "tamed" in relation to their own in-group.
Or to put it (I think) more accurately: their religion does not give them morality they would not otherwise have (they have it already because they're social primates); it limits the scope
of their morality to the people who share their beliefs.
The main power religion has in relation to morality is to create a "transcendent" set of values that overrides
people's ordinary inclinations, via methods like fictive kinship ("Our Father in Heaven" "our brothers and sisters in Christ") and authoritarianism ("God says so!"). "Good people do good things, bad people do bad things, but to make good people do bad things, that takes religion
." It could also be argued that religion can also "make bad people do good things" (i.e. the stereotype of the alcoholic or druggie who gets cleaned up by switching their addiction to Jesus/the church).
So, I don't think religion represents a moral safeguard protecting us from the people it controls. It's more like a wild card, because it has the power to make those people act immorally upon the whim of their leaders ("Spokesmen for God"). I think we would be better off if we were able to raise the sanity waterline
so that people no longer look to random dogmatic pronouncements for their moral values.