Is it possible for humans to have a transcendent moral code if they no longer believe in an afterlife? Some Christians today argue that it is impossible to have any sort of morality without belief in Christ, but that’s largely a self-serving claim. God’s role in the affairs of man, in the Christian context, is primarily as the ruler of Heaven. Those, who live a moral life, a Christian life, will spend eternity in Heaven at the foot of Christ. The people who live wicked lives, will be condemned to an eternity out of the sight of God.
All of the word’s great religions have an afterlife. The Abrahamic faiths, of course, all share a similar conception of Heaven and Hell, with God ruling the former and Satan ruling the latter. Eastern religions have more esoteric and mystical approaches. Buddhists believe in a cycle of death and rebirth. Through eventual enlightenment, they hope to escape this and achieve Nirvana, an end to suffering. Hindus believe that through knowledge and wisdom, you can achieve a liberation of the soul in the afterlife.
The conception of an afterlife as a reward and an escape from human suffering is relatively new to humanity. The Greeks did not have an afterlife. A Greek lived his life so he would be remembered. Maybe his shade would end up in Hades, but that was not much of a reward. The morality of the Greeks assumed that punishment for angering the gods happened in this life. Sacrifices to the gods were all about getting good fortune now, not after death. The gods played an active role in the affairs of man, only while he lived.
The Egyptians had an afterlife, but it was only for the elite. Given their habit of burying servants with the dead, the afterlife could also include the attendants. Like the great man’s other possessions buried with him, it was assumed he would need some slaves and servants once he entered the afterlife. It does not appear that this conception of an afterlife spawned a corresponding moral code. It was not a reward for a life lived well, but a reward for having been born to the right parents and the right station in life.
It is largely believed that the people who gave mankind the concept of an afterlife, one open to everyone who lived righteously, were the Zoroastrians. They believed those who lived on the side of good spent the after life in the House of Song, which they also called the Abode of Light. The Zoroastrians taught that everyone, who followed a proper code, could live forever and that the soul mattered. Those who sided with evil in this life would be condemned to an eternity of darkness and torment.
The Zoroastrians also gave us the duality of God on one side and Satan on the other. They used different terms. Ahura Mazda is the creator of the world and father of the two spirits, Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu. The former is the “good” spirit, the latter, is the destructive and evil one. This conflict between good and evil is central to Zoroastrianism and provided the foundation of their moral philosophy. It is also the first known example of a religion basing a moral code on something beyond the here and now.
The Jews picked this up from their time in captivity. The Pentateuch has no reference to Satan, but the Book of Job, written much later, has the familiar Satan figure. In Daniel, Heaven and Hell appear for the first time. Given the history of the Jewish people at this time, it is most likely that they borrowed these concepts from the Zoroastrians. The Satan that Jesus describes is pretty much the Zoroastrian Angra Mainyu. Christian morality is entirely built on the concept of the afterlife and the battle between good and evil.
This is why Nietzsche blamed the Zoroastrians for morality. He and most Europeans scholars of the age were familiar with Zoroastrianism and understood its influence on the Abrahamic religions. Thus Spake Zarathustra is his effort to turn Zoroastrian moral philosophy on its head. Rather than an eternity of good versus evil, he has an re-imagined Zarathustra discover his error and correct the mistake of morality. Nietzsche is a tough read, but the implication is there can be no morality without the supernatural.
The question for our age is can we maintain a moral code when no one believes in God or an afterlife? This is clearly something our betters struggle with, even though they don’t think of it in these terms. The New Religion that Progressives are trying to impose upon us has no explicit god or eternal reward for the faithful. Instead, they are forced to conjure mystical stand-ins like the “tides of history” or appeals to nature. Even their appeals to science are really just appeals to an unnamed and mystical deity.
Right wing Progressives suffer from the same dilemma. It’s not an accident that you never hear conservative pundits make explicit appeals to Christian morals or even Jewish morality. Instead, they argue that Donald Trump is immoral because he vexes the shade of Ronald Reagan or Bill Buckley. They may not come out and call these guys deities, but they certainly treat them as prophets. Put another way, lacking any moral authority they have turned Reagan and Buckley into apostles of a messiah that is never mentioned.
This is, of course, the root of our current cultural troubles. For example, on whose authority was racism made a mortal sin? If it is, what happens when you commit this crime? From whom do you ask forgiveness? If the racist and the anti-racist molder in the same ground together after death, what’s the point of being a devout anti-racist? Perhaps that’s the real reason Progs are digging up Confederate soldiers. They lack an afterlife beyond the graveyard, so that will be their heaven and only the righteous will be buried.
Now, it does not follow that we are condemned to an age of might makes right. The Greeks got along fine without worrying about the afterlife. They did have a set of gods, who had to be mollified. Otherwise, bad things would happen to man in this life. Given the shape of our nature cults and the fanaticism of our secular elites, it is clear that we have not evolved past the point of needing a transcendent morality. That suggests some new deity will replace the Christian god and we get a new conception of the afterlife.
Alternatively, the recent efforts to fashion a civic religion will founder as it lacks the necessary moral authority to induce voluntary compliance. The Christianity that flowered in the middle ages may be on the ropes, but something new will surely spring from its ruins. Perhaps the flood of Islam into the West is part of that process. That’s not to say that the West will embrace Islam, but that the soul abhors a vacuum. Maybe we are on the edge of a great religious experiment, like that which birthed Zoroastrianism.