Buddhism often is embraced by people who reject other forms of religion. It's sort of like a spiritual security blanket for those who no longer feel comfortable taking shelter under theistic theologies like Christianity.
Something to hold on if it is just too scary to let go of religion entirely.
I've used Buddhism in this way, being attracted to its non-supernatural aspects while rejecting rebirth, karma extending over multiple lives, and such.
I don't see anything wrong with this.
But there's a decent argument to be made that when the unappealing side of Buddhism is discarded, what's left isn't really Buddhism -- sort of like when avant garde Christians say, "I respect Jesus as a wise teacher, yet not as the Son of God."
Is that Christianity, making Jesus into just another human being like you and me, rather than a sin-absolving divine being? Somewhat similarly, if we reject traditional Buddhist morality, can we really call what's left "Buddhism"?
David Chapman delves into this question in "Buddhist Morality is Medieval."
Since I don't know much about traditional Buddhist moral teachings, his essay made me realize how unappealing old-time Buddhism was (and is) compared to modern secular morality.
Traditional Buddhist morality developed in feudal theocratic cultures. Mostly, it is typical for such societies: similar to what you’d find in Medieval Europe or the nastier parts of the contemporary Islamic world. It is crude, arbitrary, patriarchal, and often cruel.
In Europe, Enlightenment rationalism enabled smart people to say “wait, that’s nasty and stupid.” Christian morality gradually became less barbarous, and evolved into secular ethics.
Buddhist modernizers replaced traditional morality with Victorian Christian morality in the late 1800s, and with leftish secular morality in the the 1980s. (The two pages after this one discuss that.) The result is that modern “Buddhist ethics” has no similarity to traditional Buddhist morality, much of which would horrify Western Buddhists.
You’d find, for most current hot-button Western moral conflicts, that traditional Buddhism has nothing to say, or comes down on the side of Western conservatives, or advocates positions so regressive that even no conservative would agree.
Sure sounds like it. Here's a few excerpts from Chapman's piece that deal with some particular topics in traditional Buddhism.
Buddhism is extraordinarily anti-sexual. Rejection of sex is the first and most important aspect of its central principle, renunciation. Buddhism recommends complete celibacy for lay people as well as monastics. Actual Buddhist practice is completely incompatible with any sexual activity, and even with the slightest twinge of desire.
Peter Harvey’s Introduction to Buddhist Ethics devotes an entire chapter, 56 pages long, to “Sexual Equality.” This simply does not exist in Buddhism.
Harvey really, really wants it to exist, but in the end he doesn’t say it does, because it doesn’t. Most of the chapter shows instead that women are inferior according to virtually all Buddhist texts and cultural traditions.
Slavery is explicitly approved in many Buddhist scriptures... Not surprisingly, many modern Buddhists want to deny the facts. When that fails, they want to find excuses. This prevarication deserves contempt.
In practice, Buddhist authorities have enthusiastically supported many wars, including purely aggressive land-grabs, throughout history. They have used specifically Buddhist moral arguments to justify these.
Chapman correctly says that contemporary secular ethics is better than traditional Buddhist morality. More generally, contemporary secular ethics is better than the moral teachings of any traditional religion -- which are filled with archaic visions of what the "good life" is.
Pope Francis' recent visit to the United States is a good example.
Sure, Francis spoke persuasively of the need to save the Earth from global warming pollution and to dial down the excesses of capitalism, along with acting compassionately toward immigrants. These are in line with mainstream secular morality.
Yet at the same time, the Catholic Church is wedded to outmoded views of same-sex marriage, women's rights, contraception, abortion, and other issues. So there's still a lot not to like about traditional Catholic morality, just as is true of traditional Buddhist morality.