There was no earthly morality associated with early religion. The point was to placate the spirits so you were guaranteed a good place in the afterlife. Virtually all early religions centered on death and the things that you had to do in order to go into the sky to become a respected and loved spirit. By the time of the earliest dynastic Egyptian civilization, after-death survival was only guaranteed for the nobility, and like their ancient counterparts, cultural “morality” was limited only to preferences of the pharaohs. Almost everything about their religion was about the various gods you met when you died, and what you had to do when you met them. Burial rites, as most of us know, were of immense importance to the Egyptians.
The first known code of secular law was written in Babylon by its king, Hammurabi in about 1750 BC. This code was inscribed on a basalt stele discovered in 1901 in present-day Iran. The code of Hammurabi was widely known during Zoroaster’s lifetime. Zoroaster turned Hammurabi’s secular laws into religious laws. Thus Zoroastrianism was the first widespread religion to have a unified code of morality that was said to have been received through divine revelation. The divine origin of this moral code implied that a person’s earthly behavior had a bearing on his or her spiritual future.
The insertion of a god-inspired personal morality into religion had a huge effect on the emerging Persian civilization and the many other civilizations that were spawned in the middle east after Zoroaster. A mandated personal morality had the power to modify people’s behavior in the absence of a secular watchdog. If a person violated the moral code, he or she would be punished for it after their death even if no one ever discovered their misbehavior. It had an added benefit as well. The secular authorities could now use the religion to bolster their authority, as well as to maintain order within the society.
Today, nearly all civilizations are bound together by commonly held moralities. Morality may best be defined as an internalized set of values that form the foundations of a person’s habitual behavior and places firm limits on its boundaries. As long as the majority of the citizens maintain these moral boundaries, the civilization generally remains stable because most of its citizens have an agreed upon standard of right and wrong. The underlying religious foundations (churches, mosques, synagogues, etc.) of those civilizations not only set the moral standards, but also remain as institutions that maintain those moral standards. Moral and religious standards can evolve over time, but they cannot be entirely abandoned, especially in a democracy in which people are expected to use their free will in a responsible manner.
All great civilizations, however, come to an end. As large swaths of citizens abandon a civilization’s foundational religion, their children are no longer schooled in what were once the common national moral standards. As they grow to adulthood, each one begins to set his or her own individual behavioral standards and eventually, the society begins to splinter into separate “tribes”, each one entirely convinced of the righteousness of its own causes. What was once a stable and comfortable civilization begins a descent into economic chaos followed by anarchy.