A popular theist argument for religion is “Without religion (god) we would have no morality or ethics.” So without religion can there be morality? Morality based upon fear of punishment or seeking rewards isn’t really morality at all. Perhaps what they are saying is that they would be evil without fear of hell. Then they project that lack of moral courage upon everyone else. I say to them, “Don’t judge others by yourself. Your lack of ethical backbone is not universal.”
People can practice what I term enlightened self-interest. An individual’s self-interest is best served by doing no harm to others except in defense of themselves or those in their care. This thinking does not need threats of eternal punishment to follow, It only requires thinking about what will ultimately yield the best results for yourself. Treating others fairly and generously is always better for yourself, personally, financially, and socially.
Those that co-operate and adapt have always been more successful. As such, basic ethics has evolved to improve the survival of species. Indiscriminate killing, sex with close relatives, cannibalism, are a few examples of things that are contrary to survival of the group. The most cooperative and adaptable species have the best survival rate. Even animals conform to these “moral issues”. That religions have attempted to claim these things originated with them and would not exist without religion is not just hypocritical, it is ignoring obvious facts.
There are more complex issues that apply more directly to humans. For example, robbing a bank may yield temporary wealth, but at the expense of either a prison term or a life of fear, running from the law. Similarly, cheating others in business dealings may increase profits for a time. Eventually, your reputation will be so poor that your business may fail. This is a simple principle that, “It’s always cheaper to make a customer happy than it is to make him angry.” This same idea can pay dividends in ordinary human relations. For reasons I don’t understand, few businesses or people appreciate this idea. Maybe it’s because they operate on deist principles? Everything is forgiven if you repent before you die. Although that wouldn’t seem to help those you cheated, treated badly, or even murdered.
So should nothing be discouraged? Should everything be permitted? Capable, informed individuals could engage in any activity that interests them even if it puts them personally at risk.
An example would be an automobile race. It is certainly dangerous to drive at racing speeds and it is equally dangerous to stand near the race course to observe or record this event. Two people may choose to do these things if they understand and accept the risks involved.
One question that arises from this would be, what if one or both of these people have a spouse and children that depend upon them for financial and emotional support? Should they still do this knowing that if they are injured or killed it will cause some degree of harm to these dependents? If they choose to do so, does anyone else have the right to prevent them?
Those are ethical questions that can and should be debated, but each person must be free to choose his own answer. No other person, religion, or government should have the right to make these choices for us. If you are keeping in mind that humans are often in error and thus prepared for all possible consequences, no matter how remote the possibility, you can do what you think best.