"I believe on my own without being told, that certain actions are wrong. What I don't understand is that many people would feel rudderless without someone or something else to tell them what's right and what's wrong. Do they not see immorality for what it is? It strikes me that if you haven't got your own moral compass, you stand to be at greater moral risk than someone who knows on their own what to do and not to do."
Many who have religious faith or are concerned about atheist ethics think they're doing what you think you're doing, reaching some independent judgment about what's right and wrong. You suppose you can do that by consulting your own independent moral compass. Many others believe such a compass to be imperfect and not so independent and seek to supplement it by consulting a perfect and *truly* independent compass such as God would provide.
You of course would challenge the evidence for a divine source of moral guidance. I'd go further and challenge the basis for any claim of an independent moral compass that's objectively based or has been shown to be more reliable or less risky than a religiously based one. It's not even clear what it would mean for a moral compass to be reliable without either some overtly subjective or ultimately faith-based standard for it. Where do you find the objective standard?
And there's no evidence I'm aware of showing that individual conscience is less risky (whatever that might mean) than religiously mediated conscience. As John Stuart Mill remarked in arguing for a system of morals often turned to by atheists, utilitarianism, there is no behavior that conscience can't be molded to approve of, and the molding can just as well be done by oneself or other agencies (such as broad or specific cultures) as by religion. And as others pointed out after Mill, the foundation for his own system is ultimately subjective itself.
As I see it, there are good reasons to worry and not worry too much about the foundations of ethics regardless of their ostensible source. Religious foundations have their advantages and disadvantages, as do non-faith-based alternatives. I don't think atheists or secularists are in a position to feel more secure than others; quite possibly less so when it comes to providing a sense of a secure and great foundation for morality and meaning that ultimately reaches beyond our own subjective feelings and abilities.
Please don't misunderstand, I think many if not most fears about atheist ethics are exaggerated and ill-informed. But I feel the same way about the confidence many atheists have that they have a better alternative. It's possible it may not be as good in ways that do matter.
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