I can understand where you're coming from Kythia. I've been blasted broadsides from formerly loving family members for being an atheist, because they somehow believed that, because I didn't believe in God, I had abandoned all morality, and was nigh-on a bloodthirsty, child-eating rapist. I'm not exaggerating much here, honestly. I do believe that people are intrinsically like all mammals, or animals for that matter--we seek to survive. However, our higher brain function allows us to create this amazing entity called civilization, which only functions when we act in altruistic ways. We've evolved this, and this is true to some lesser degrees with all cooperative mammalian species. Elephants support other sick elephants in the troop. Dolphins and whales mourn their dead. Chimpanzees defend their familial groups from other groups of chimps. Some species adopt the young of those mothers who have dies. These are there to ensure the survival of the species. The side effect with humans, however, is the general good-will, good feeling, and success of the species as a whole. We are programmed to feel good when we are good. Anthropology, sociology, biology--this is a given. That's enough for me.
Of course, I've been programmed by my upbringing myself, and I was already taught to do these things because God said to. Just because I don't believe in a deity anymore doesn't mean I throw out the goodwill, just the reasoning behind it. I don't do it because I'm threatened with an eternity of torment if I don't--I do it because it means a better life for everyone, including myself.
BTW, I'm not against religion per se; I'm against people looking at me and thinking I deserve to be tortured endlessly just because I don't believe in what they believe. My parents told me not to marry outside of the church, because my wife would end up in Hell.
Many religions have no concept of a permanent punishment. It wasn't until Christianity that such a concept as a permanent Hell came into being--the Jews don't believe in it, nor do the Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists or Confucianists. Eternal torment is a concept shared by Christians and Muslims...but it is very effective in keeping many people in line. I feel that such an idea is reprehensible, especially coming from a God that is supposed to be all-loving. I've heard the arguments--it is the sinner who distances themselves from God, not God who pushes them away, etc. If I was all-loving, I'd take my creations, flawed or no, and help them become better, no matter how bad they were. Being all-powerful, I could do so. Then again, who can understand the thinking of an all-powerful being behind such a strategy, if one exists? To me, that's not the kind of being I want to worship. To me, it sounds like the plot of Orwell's 1984 on a metaphysical level--I'm always watching you--I can even know what you are thinking--and if you deviate from what I command, even in your mind, I will place a punishment upon you that can never be revoked or rescinded, even by myself.