I was involved in a discussion in which the host advocated switching to the word, "ethics", and relegating the word, "morals", to religious types. He wanted to do this because he felt morality was too tied to religion. Yes, religious types would very much like to make morality their exclusive domain. But it's not and never will be as long as there are freethinkers.
I believe that human morality is a by-product of human evolution. As the human capacity for memory evolved, we gained a greater capacity to recall experience. As social animals, empathy evolved because of the advantages it lends to cooperation with others. Together, experience and empathy combine to produce morality. Because we know (from experience) what hurts us, we know what hurts others (empathy). This combination, in effect, makes the Golden Rule a part of the human condition. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you because you need each other to survive.
I say that, to the extent morality is tied to religion, religion is winning the argument. As an atheist, I hate to see a fellow atheist concede unwarranted territory to the enemy.
My take on religion's claims to morality is this:
Creationism is heavily tied to religion.
Intelligent design is heavily tied to religion.
Intelligent falling is heavily tied to religion.
Book burning is heavily tied to religion.
Circular logic is heavily tied to religion.
Since when do we prefer the religiously dumbed-down versions of things? If I don't allow religion to subvert evolution, gravity, education or reason . . . why would I make an exception for language? Just because so many of them think that morality can only be God-given, am I supposed to say, "Okay, morality is your word from now on . . . we'll just use ethics instead."?!?
Not only is this surrendering prematurely, it's missing the opportunity to deflate the religious notion of moral superiority. Religious morality is based on scripture and God-given rules; it's based on authority. Natural, human, morality, on the other hand, is based on empathy and experience (I know what hurts me, so I know what hurts you); the Golden Rule. I ask you: which morality promotes enlightenment?
As we all know, Abrahamic religions, through their scriptures, promote slavery, subjugation of women and some pretty horrendous battlefield atrocities. It can be fairly asserted that the Abrahamic religions have been THE most persistently divisive influence in the history of mankind. Such are the moral products of religion.
Now, look at the reforms in religion. We no longer support slavery, the subjugation of women and battlefield atrocities. That's because our natural, human, morality has overruled religious morality. Not only is human morality more solid than religious morality, it dictates what we accept as religiously worthy. It determines what IS religious. If human morality determines what is religious, why do we need religion in the first place?
So when I hear any suggestion that we relinquish our moral advantage, I get riled up and try to convey the wrong-headedness of such a notion. The claim, that morality has too many religious connotations, is just an ancillary concern to me. The real point is that the religious folks are winning the argument when we lose sight of the REAL force and source for morality . . .
. . . OUR HUMANITY.