From a reader:
I’m a freshman at Georgetown, and this is a favorite topic of study for me; how morality, and things such as rights for human beings, arise assuming that there is no supreme being, and that humans have no inherent value from their existence, no moreso than an animal.
The linchpin is self-interest.
Everyone does, for better or for worse, what they believe is in their own self-interest. However, us being more advanced cereberally than animals, we’ve discovered that forming social covenants (i.e. government) that cause us to pledge to respect, in a variety of ways, the self-interest of others, is in all of our self-interests. Because, given the uncertainty of the future, even if we’re strong today, we could be weak tomorrow — or given our biological urge to procreate and pass on our genetic code, our offspring generations from now could be opporessed by those who are stronger in the future, if we do not form a society to protect their freedoms.
And thus, from self-interest, are derived concepts such as Fairness, Equality, Liberty, and Freedom.
People operate in their own self-interest regardless of a revelatory standard. As an agnostic nontheist who was not raised in Christianity, the contrast between the revelation of Jesus imparted in the New Testament (Where Jesus’ words seem more akin to Buddhism than anything else) and the actions of his followers over the past two thousand years is… staggering, to say the least.
The world is as we know it today largely based on the actions of billions of people, over the course of history, all working according to their own self-interest as best they’ve understood it.
We have a standard of morality in the world, and while not perfect, it’s a damn good one. But we have six thousand years of human thought to thank for it — not a supernatural deity.