Are moral laws best?
Why not just ask yourself if the 10C are good for society as they exist. You might also consider the Code of Hammurabi in Babylon. All of these ancient laws meet the same purpose, which is to enable man to live in a civil society. Atheists seem unable to come to grips with the fact that all morality came from the laws of our ancestors, which was based upon religion and common sense. You can’t just leave morality to each individual, what do you think would be the morality of the mass murderer, Richard Speck? When you start making up your own code of ethics, most people will fall far short, it usually ends up as ”if it feels good, do it.” Witness the hippie philosophy. Also, if all people were atheists, what would you have to talk about?
You make many points here; I’ll try to address them all.
I don’t know if I can answer your question about whether the Ten Commandments are good for society as they exist. It is a complex question. Since the 10C require religion and I don’t believe God exists, then my endorsing them would essentially be an endorsement of the noble lie — the concept that people will only behave morally if they think divine punishment awaits.
Certainly there have been moral and legal codes throughout the ages. Even so, I don’t know that atheists can’t “come to grips” with morality coming from the laws and traditions of our ancestors. Many atheists believe this, and I think that it is true, at least in part. It is religious people who believe morality ultimately comes from God that disagree with this point of view.
I think that morality can, in principle, be left to individuals. This doesn’t mean that any morality that an individual can come up with is valid and should be respected. It can be demonstrated logically that a mass murderer doesn’t have a valid moral system. The same can be said of a “if it feels good” morality. This is where socially/religiously communicated systems of morality, such as those you mention, come in handy — they deliver a moral system to those who don’t have the tools to develop one of their own.
The problem with socially/religiously communicated systems is that they do not completely replace personal morality. None of these systems is rigorous enough for day-to-day use without the practitioner needing to reason morally. For example, in my experience most Christians can’t give me a rigorous explanation of what “Thou shalt not steal” means. I think that this is the source of much immorality in the U.S. today — people think that once they’ve “signed up” for a system of morality, they can be counted as moral people without having to do the heavy lifting of constantly examining their actions.
This is why people need to learn moral reasoning, no matter whether they adhere to a pre-existing system or not.
If all people were atheists, what would we talk about? Science, beauty, art, literature, ethics, history, progress, love…