I think that any society that is not accountable to a benevolent 'higher power' will eventually fall into moral decay and violence. Humans have shown time and again that they tend to follow the path of the least moral resistance. What are our greatest needs? They are to be fed, clothed, protected, and loved, and we need to be challenged to become our highest and best selves. In order to do that, we require a standard to be upheld. It is not easy to do the right thing, and in the midst of moral dilemmas, we need ethical guidelines that will help us make the right decisions. A society is best judged by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable citizens. Is it 'life-loving/preserving', or does it glorify death?
Some of what you say is true. Almost all People indeed do follow "the path of the least moral resistance" and rarely like to invest any effort in anything greater than the primal needs. For a society to function and excel, its residents need to have moral standards, ethical guidelines, basic discipline and on top of that a template of character that they can emulate. The easiest and most reliable service provider who if available can render these services to a society has always been religion. Take for example most societies today based on any of the three major religions. These religions always give birth to organizations which have the skill, ingenuity and posses the required resources and experience to make a relatively good society
But is it true that the only thing that can shape a society well is religion? Is it true that any society that does not believe in the supernatural is undoubtedly evil? Seriously? You say that a society that does not believe in a "higher power" will undoubtedly end up in a state of moral decadence and violent anarchism, but this is just not true! Religion does give us standards to measure up to but there are many other things that can give us standards to measure up to, and as a requirement to function as an integral part of a society even a godless one, you have to have some standards . Some people use great figures, revered figures, history etc as a guide or role model, some people think of dreams, goals, ideals or just other people as references for moral decisions. Just because a society's residents do not think that some "higher power" somewhere is looking over their shoulder at what they do all the time, everywhere does not mean that the society is decaying.
The real issue isn't whether an atheistic society can have moral people, rather, the issue is whether the atheistic society has the "language" to justify the morality.I am not sure i really do understand what you are saying. I am assuming that what you are trying to prove is that without god there can be no morality, since your position is that god is the one who defines morality or puts it in our hearts. I however do not think that morality is hinged on god, at all. I Think of it as a product of human civilization, humans evolved to require a sort of code to differentiate the intentions, decisions and actions that can be helpful(good) to the individual, family, community and society with the harmful(bad) ones.
For instance, it was Christianity that gave post-Christian Europe it's definition of what a human being is, (a creature who has the image of God as it's essence). It is this definition of a human being that made all human life of equal and infinite value. (Of course, there's periods in Christendom when Christians didn't live up to this standard). It is from this understanding that the concept of human rights developed.
So if a 2-year old child is trapped in a building being razed by a fire, Christians have no problem believing that an atheist firefighter will run into the building and try to save him. The real issue is whether the atheist firefighter can rationally justify that action.
This is a common disagreement with many people, you are a divine command theorist while i am something else.
There are many reasons that one can 'justify' a moral action, this is not an issue, If mad men like hitler can base their insanity on morality then it should be relatively easy for other nobler and more justifiable actions to be morally defendable. If it is in the case of the atheist firefighter, Logically you can give reasons about society, opportunities of life, blah blah blah. But the best course of action in a case like this, is to make an appeal to emotions. Because humans have an ability of empathy(which i also think is not from god), we can empathize with the kid in the fire. I don't think anybody would want a toddler to be roasted in burning building for no reason.I wouldn't want it, you wouldn't want it and this is because we can imagine the kids pain and sorrow and if we don't want to endure it, we wouldn't wish it happening on the kid.
This is where the slippery slope gets. You've identified society, logic and emotions.
If society judges creates it's own morals, then by what standard would an individual look at another society and say that slavery and child sacrifices are wrong?
Before you talk of opportunities of life as a reason for the fire fighter to save the child, you first have to define what human life is and what makes it very valuable.
When it comes to logic and emotions, if they coincide, there's no problem. But what happens when appeal to logic contradicts appeal to emotions? In the case of the firefighter, what if a stronger argument could be made not to save the child. Which one do you side with?
It is not a slippery slope because there is no natural high ground. Many people who believe in divine command(morality from god) also believe that god has an absolute moral law which is infallibly righteous or always right. But I do not believe such a thing exists. Morality is what it is because people have built it up to where it is.
I don't believe there is such a thing as an infallible moral law.All moral law is man made law and not free of wrong, thus I choose to decide on the definition of morality that I see as good. I'll then use rational thought and logic to build the moral framework that is appealing to me. You gave an example of slavery and child sacrifice. I do not see any benefit to those things in modern life, I abhor violence and value freedom and I am afraid of me and my dear ones falling prey to these terrible things; these positions I hold logically force me to take a standpoint against slavery and child sacrifice. I will therefore build and adopt a moral framework for myself and my society that shuns these things.
I will also use emotion to reinforce or make strong the framework I have adopted. If I am told to justify my reasons for thinking slavery is wrong or rushing into a burning building to save a child, I could use the emotions in question to justify myself. This is how the morality seems to work for everyone. Even people of religious leanings will have a moral framework that they choose to adopt and will use anything including emotion to keep this framework steady.
Just imagine that there is this religious order that has a holy book that tells people to bash children on a rock.(I was trying to be corteous in the forum but are passages in the bible that say to do this) Even though I am sure that they would have a meaning behind such a twisted, cruel and terrible edict, If I criticize any person of the given religion with this edict, they will undoubtedly get mad since I am attacking their moral framework which is based on the holy book. I can very well imagine their logic going against their emotions as they try to reason on the reasons for what they believe. I have experienced this very conundrum myself, where good people are trying to defend such malevolent statements in the bible. Can you imagine trying to defend against slavery or bashing children's heads on rock. If you are a christian, you could say that the passages should be interpreted in context of their time or something of that nature, but some things like killing little kids by bashing their heads into rocks is just wrong, no matter what time or place you are from. In the end however peoples decisions can rarely be linearly interpreted to logic or emotion or calculated choices after evaluation of options, The people who are stuck basically usually do two things, they will either choose to follow their cruel moral framework/code or decide to abandon that version of morality for another better morality.
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
9 he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
16 The people of Samaria must bear their guilt,
because they have rebelled against their God.
They will fall by the sword;
their little ones will be dashed to the ground,
their pregnant women ripped open."
This is basically from one of the tenants of Cultural relativism
There is no objective measurement that can be used to tell whether one culture’s moral norms are better than another’s. There’s no moral laws or truths that hold for all societies all of the time.
This excerpt was gotten from discussions on Mashada