In Summerian mythology, the gods sent a flood to wipe out humanity because humans were too noisy. Enlil didn't appreciate being kept up at night. Seems it never occurred to him to just ask the silly buggers to keep it down.
I can sympathize. My neighbors threw a party tonight, and it was like pulling teeth to get them to understand that some folks around here don't appreciate noise after midnight. They got it on the third try. Note to Enlil: you don't always need a flood.
Now, a Christian might ask me, without God to point the way, what kept this atheist from trooping down there with a shotgun and playing Enlil? Morals, you see, can only come from God, in their worldview. An atheist, having no god, has nothing to keep them moral, or so the muddled thinking goes.
I've been reading Hitch's The Portable Atheist, and there's some deep philosophical musings in there trying to demonstrate that one can have a solid foundation for morals without God. They all overshoot the mark. They get all hard-core logical and miss the simple truths: empathy and rationality are all you need.
Atheists, you see, have no trouble thinking things through, and seeing it from the other bloke's perspective.
So here's what stopped me from ending the noise pollution in the most final way possible:
First, I know the poor buggers were just unwinding after a long week, probably had a few in them, and weren't really aware of just how much they were irritating the poor bugger above them who was trying to relax after a long, hard day of watching the House sell the Fourth Amendment down the river.
Second, I would greatly appreciate it if my neighbors registered their displeasure at any noise I created with something other than a weapon. A simple "knock it the hell off" will do.
Thirdly, even if it were somehow permissible to end someone's life over something as petty as excessive noise, there's the family and friends to think about. I may not love these noisy buggers right now, but someone does, and it would make me feel a right bastard to cause them no end of pain and grief simply because I can't put up with temporary discomfort.
There are of course ten dozen other reasons I can think of for not offing my neighbors, but I don't think I need to belabor them. In a civilized society, you don't go all amoral and start the indiscriminate killing just because you don't have a god to tell you not to. You leave the other bugger alive because you have empathy, and because you know that society would soon cease to function if everybody had a license to kill.
I'd even go so far as to say that it's easier to be moral without God. Let's play a hypothetical game. Let's say it's perfectly legal to off your neighbor for disturbing you. Let's say there's no law against it. What's to keep me from trooping downstairs with murderous intent, then?
A Christian might say, "Nothing, if you don't believe in God."
To which I say, "Bunk."
And let me further state this: absent any law forbidding me to murder my neighbor, I'd still have a hard time killing him over a temporary irritation, and indeed a harder time than a Christian might have. You see, I don't believe there's life after death. I wouldn't be able to tell myself, "I'm sending him to a better place anyway." I'd have nothing to salve my conscience with. What's the loss of a few hours' worth of peace and quiet for me, set against the loss of everything for him, forever?
There's that empathy, again. Because what comes to mind when I think of this is the pain and fear of his last few seconds of life, followed by the pain and grief of his family and friends as they face the rest of their lives knowing there will never be another moment together. Not here, and not hereafter. How could I possibly bring myself to be the cause of that?
God doesn't have to tell me, "Thou shalt not kill." My humanity, which evolved as part of this extraordinary brain of ours, tells me that just fine.
I'll go further: I think that morals arising from us rather than God have greater authority. If we achieve those morals based on common humanity rather than common belief, they're far more inclusive. I can't exempt anyone based on ethnicity or creed, you see, because we're all human. I can't deny a moral arising from common humanity the way I could deny one coming from the wrong god.
I could go on. There are morals, and then there are mores. Someday, possibly, I'll discuss the difference between the big, sweeping moral pronouncements (don't kill each other over petty bullshit) and the morals that are more guidelines than rules (don't fuck in public). But I think this is enough to get us started. It's enough to present a simple answer to an inane question: "How can you be moral without God?"
I have empathy and rationality. It's really all I need.