Earlier today I made the claim on my Twitter (@anthalus) that without religion there would be no such thing as evil. Of course that brought about a lively debate and many attempts to tell me I am wrong. And of course it lead here.
To put a sharp edge on the discussion, my position is this: that without the burden of religion good and evil simply would not exist. They can be viewed as a non-cognitive extension of right and wrong, which are cognitive (Hume, Moore). Yes, this is meta-ethics. Normative ethics are simply flavors that compose meta-ethics, much like the differing branches of religion are just different sects of Judaism.
So, that out of the way, on to the fun. A Biblical claim is that it is evil to covet a neighbor's wife, to lust for her. Now let's toss away the concept of evil. If one does covet one's neighbor's wife, what is the meta-ethical stance? How do we define "covet"? Is it wrong?
To covet one, we must desire one. That one "belongs" to another does not mean we can not covet this one. Our need to procreate is ingrained into our own RNA. By denying our desire we desire our own genetic drive. We do wrong by our own selves. From an Existential standpoint we deny our own genuineness.
A more extreme take could be that of killing another. Again it is an evil in religion. In some instances it is a forfeiture of one's mortal soul. But is killing another, taking a life, always evil, wrong? If it isn't then religion exists only at a normative ethical level.
So is it possible to kill someone and have it be right? The death penalty itself supports this position. So does vigilantivism. Is it more wrong, evil, to allow a serial killer to operate outside the law, or to find this one and take one's life? Or is it right?
The major difference between religious good/evil and meta-ethical right/wrong is the interpretation of the actions. Theoretically, in religion there is no interpretation. One does good or evil based on one's wants/needs. As is the case of non-cognitive ethics. But my argument is such: the actions of one is soley owned by the one, makes one genuine, and what one does is not subjective. The action itself draws the label. The reasoning/desire behind it are arbitrary.
We do what we do. It is either right or wrong. But it is always both good and evil because religion is ambiguous.