Where do morals come from? In western tradition, morals come from God. Western intellectuals since the 1600s have questioned the validity of God, and hence his dictated morals. In the intervening years we have had many philosophers from Kant to Nietszche who proposed solutions, fearing the alternative of atheistic nihilism.
Why is nihilism feared? Society disintegrates without a mutual goal with each person having a place in achieving that goal. Absent religion, like Christianity for Europeans, Nietszche and others theorized that society was quickly devolving and disintegrating due to the loss of a shared impetus. Nietszche’s proposed solution was to create a society of supermen (ubermensch) who would replace God with a striving to become as God, through achievement.
Up to the 1960s many intellectuals considered themselves to be either Christian or Deist. From the 1960s onwards, it became more fashionable to become an atheist. This author was among those who converted to atheism in the 1980s. The wellspring for moral behavior in atheism is best defined using the Reform Jewish concept Tikkun Olam, “to behave and act constructively and beneficially”.
Why is air travel so safe?
Years ago, when I started flying it was frustrating that it was so hard to get any new parts approved for flight by the FAA. In the 1990s (and even still today) most General Aviation piston engines were designed in the 1950s. Why don’t we use the best and newest technology for aircraft? Shouldn’t we upgrade to stay safe?
The FAA has a policy of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If a problem is ever found the FAA puts out Airworthiness Directives and the manufacturer must either find a fix or recall the parts. This results in extreme reliability because anything defective is removed, and new tech is brought on slowly and at great expense. Only the most tried and true systems remain – all others wilt and die. It is evolution by legislation.
We allow more rapid development in other areas because there is less danger involved. Cell phones do not pose much of a hazard for instance.
How does this apply to morals?
We have our morals not because they make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, but to advance society while protecting it. Of all things that are likely to end in civilizational collapse, the most likely is undermined values and morals. The morals we have inherited have stood the test of thousands of years. It is possible that they should be reviewed and updated for our ever-evolving modern world, but this must be a slow, contemplative process using some kind of agreed upon metric for success.
As said last Thursday by, “One of Israel’s most respected rabbis, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, when talking about the fall of America and the rise of Israel said, ‘That is what happened to Egypt and Rome in the old days. That is what happened to the Ottoman Empire approximately a century ago, all the way to the Russian Empire that collapsed 30 years ago, both of whom collapsed due to a failure of values that led to their demise as well as a decline in their great power as world leaders.'”
Social Justice is the moral equivalent of cocaine
Since the forfeiture of Christianity, society has degraded to the point where individuals believe that if it makes them feel good, it is good. Yet that is not reality. Societal success in the real world requires the acceptance of hard truths like life isn’t fair and the effort to make it fair will usually result in yet more unfairness. Morals in the real world won’t always feel good in the moment, but if practiced by all members of a society will result in improving conditions from one generation to the next.
That is heaven: it is the world we create for our progeny. We live on through them and their happiness and success is dependent on the society and direction we leave them with. We can also create Hell for them.