I ask this as a question, rather than as a wrapper to propose my opinion.
All rational societies need laws. In a diverse society, for example that of the USA, there are very different opinions among the citizens. Some want no commercial sales on Sundays, others hold Saturdays to be sacred, some support the death penalty, some feel marijuana is relatively benign, etc.
The problem comes when people wish to control the behavior of others who disagree.
There are some areas where almost all do agree, i.e. murder, theft, rape should be illegal.
Yet even in these areas, many justify those exact actions by renaming them. For example, taxes are not called theft, even when the taxpayer is not willing and gets no benefit. We say, "Of course, the government needs taxes to provide services so if a majority votes to take money from a minority, it is not theft at all, it's just taxes.
If someone is found guilty of killing someone else, or being treasonous, or attacking a law officer with a weapon, that person might be legally executed. It's not murder because the majority voted that it's OK to kill the criminal.
There must be some limits on what the majority can impose on a minority - in the USA we have the Constitution, an overarching document that regulates the power of a majority, hence our government is "a constitutionally limited democracy".
Most may agree that this is far from perfect in that there are many unreasonable and improper laws and regulations.
My question is: "How should we formulate our moral laws? What way would be better?"
You mention There must be some limits on what the majority can impose on a minority
Well I'll say I much prefer that a majority rule over a minority than a minority rule over a majority!!!
Which is exactly what right-wing extremists propose. Extreme capitalists propose raping the earth and thieving of resources that are global resources for their own profit and the abuse of labor in order to further the wealth of the very few...
Yes, I'll take "majority over minority" any day. The largest political problem in the USA today is that the majority adulate the minority... in the hopes that they may someday join them. It's like people addicted to gambling, tho we know the house always wins, the idiots still keep trying and dreaming of wealth.
You may now say: so the xtian majority should rule over atheists... I say hell no... I'll fight tooth and nail for my minority to rule!
There is no right/wrong in that discussion, we fight for our opinion, it's as simple as that. IMO the only TRUE rights on this planet is access to free clean air and water. And that the theiving profiteering of "the few" (corporations and land barons) have more rights than the majority on this matter erks me to no end.
Other than that I nearly agree with you... religion has created an incredibly moralist society, of which most tenets I disagree with. We should have much more freedom, and smaller government. But NO corporation should have personhood.
Your response does have the strength of being rationally consistent, as well as emotionally appealing. However somehow, it doesn't satisfy.
We all live in a society, and for most that life is of pretty high quality when compared to everyone else who ever lived in our entire history. (By which I mean, better health, better food and shelter, more control over our lives than in the past). Therefor, conditions do change and people are involved in making those changes. To me this suggests that conditions will continue to change in the future and that we should try to steer those changes in the direction we wish to proceed. In order to try to do that steering, we need to define what direction that is.
We all find it easy to complain about things we don't like. It is more difficult to design improvements.
The USA is a constitutionally limited democratic republic. It is possible to change the Constitution by a super-majority vote, although the resulting government could then be reasonably considered a new State, since the Constitution effectively defines the State.
Perhaps it is not possible to have a rational morality (and therefor a satisfactory government) in a country with a population composed of diverse cultures. If this is so, it makes little sense to
gripe about laws and government (since no satisfactory solution exists).
On a social scale I live by the rule that it is only wrong if you get caught. Subjectively, I have a list of rights and wrongs and I do not require anyone else's input on their correctness. I also have a list of what constitutes someone else's wrongs should I catch them doing them. To ignore every individual's personal perspective when determining what's right and what's wrong on a social scale is naive in the extreme.
Case in point; pornography. In America pornography is seen as something that is morally bad in greater society but Americans consume more pornography per person than any other people. How did we get to this state of morality? Obviously, most Americans like porn and find time to view it in private. And yet publicly you would be hard pressed to get anyone to admit that they like it. There is a great deception involved here that causes the majority to behave contradictorily to what they believe because the majority believes that they are alone in their personal views. I read recently of a poll that asked if drugs should be legalized and something like 80% said yes. In the same poll people were asked how many Americans they thought would think drugs should be legalized and the answers came out to be close to 35%. So 80% of the survey thought that only 35% felt like they did. This is a perfect snapshot of the American moral landscape. We have lots in common morally and privately we all agree, but publicly we have no way to communicate that commonality to our peers.
Personally, I think this is what you get when you emphasize personal freedom in the classroom. You tell the children that "This is America! You are FREE! You can be anything and do anything you want to because our forefathers...blah blah blah." And then those kids grow up still thinking that crap and decide to axe-murder the neighbor because they wont make their dog shut up. For a moment there they thought they were free to do as they liked.
The trick is to get people's personal subjective rule-sets to match society's all-encompassing objective rule-sets. It is the beliefs and behaviors that you practice in private that are ethical and moral. When we all go outside and lie to each other about how we truly feel society begins to break down. There are no absolute rights and wrongs and we shouldn't look at it like that anyways.
Perhaps a grand moral survey handed out to every single American including the ones in prison and nuthouses would better enable our society to collectively settle on new rules of social conduct. While not sure where to start I do acknowledge that we must start somewhere. Until then I'm sticking to "It's only wrong if you get caught." Cause that's a fact.
Such an attempt would indeed bring about a set of rules in society that represent more individuals. But I'm not sure how that is better than what we have. Having a majority of sheople decide what our rules should be could bring about any number of schemes, in any number of countries... Domination of the majority... we've seen what that accomplishes :(
As for your cognitive disconnect regarding values in USA, we find the same situation with reproductive policies. USA preaches abstinence til marriage, yet USA has highest teen pregnancy rate in the world, and when asked, a majority of people say they don't agree with casual sex. Casual sex is kinda like abortion, people live in the illusion that what we "think" about it can have a impact on the "reality" of it. It doesn't. Abortions have always been and always will be, casual sex (even jaunts outside of wedlock) has always been and always will be.
Any time morality takes us away from basic evolutionary human traits (traits like slavery-rape-murder are but symptoms of unhealthy overpopulation) has no chance of succeeding as a human rule. We can rant against rape and murder til we're blue in the face, they will continue to happen and the weakest among us will continue to suffer them. We can of course fight them, but we will never stop them. Such morality attempts are nothing but 'appeals to authority' by people who they themselves use that lingo in their arguments. Such morality is no different than oppression. Some will argue that slavery has mostly disappeared from the planet. I say not, India and Brasil are still rampant with slavery, their systems just have a different appearance. And what to say of our "worker philosophy". Humans did not evolve to be employees. Our bodies and minds have no evolutionary traits to achieve that function. Most employees (for monetary salary) of the world are slaves, and hundreds of years from now, upon looking back, we would call this slavery). Both left and right wingers swear constantly by the "joy of being a employee" that is BS. A mantra meant to subdue the masses. Religion is the perfect tool to achieve that subjugation. To claim godlessness, yet to accept all the social constructs that were created with god's blessings and wishes, makes for meaningless atheism.
How should an atheist society create its rule of law? By a) having nothing in there that is not DEMONSTRATIBLY true to human biology, b) not permit a minority of people to poison/pollute the masses (in the name of profit for the few) c) no destruction of ecosystem. And if fans of neurobiology/neuroscience want to claim certain contentious issues are "true to human biology", the burden of proof is simply on them. As additional scientific proof becomes available, then we consider changing the rule of law. We do not need different sets of rules, just one rule of law, then morality becomes an obsolete word.