I get this question a lot, coupled with statements like, “You become your own god,” and “There is no ultimate meaning for life,” and “Who is to say murder or theft is wrong if a supreme being does not legislate it and there is no ultimate punishment,” etc.
My answer is that we are accountable to our fellow human. We live on a planet with 7 billion other conscious beings who feel pain, joy, love, and have dreams and goals. We are accountable to our families, friends, neighbors, community members, the children in our community, and ultimately to everyone in the world.
The Golden Rule is a great concept to live by whether Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, or anyone else promoted it. Yes, there are people out there who, for a plethora of reasons, harm others and society, and they are taken to account by their fellow man. If a man steals a car, he must be punished – not because God commanded it, but because it damages someone’s well-being and people must know that they cannot do as they please if it hurts others – and it is comforting to know that our own well-being is being protected as much as possible by our community. We must have each others’ backs, because when it comes down to it that is all we have on which to rely. It is a mutual responsibility to act in our community’s best interest and this has probably evolved along with our species; however, the science of morality is a whole other topic that will be addressed later on this blog (read Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape).
NOTE: The type of question from Christians listed above is a great examples of how they argue the utility of religion rather than giving evidence and proof. When having a discussion with Christians, take note of how they jump tracks from trying to prove the truth and evidence of their faith to giving reasons why it is good for us to believe because of how it might impact our lives and our perspective (regardless of the lack of evidence). This should be pointed out to them to maintain clarity within the discussion.