Has it occurred to you that we humans are neither naturally good nor naturally bad – that we are both? That we are capable of both constructive acts as well as destructive acts?
Doesn’t that mean that our entire species needs an objective set of rules to follow, so as to properly direct our actions towards ends that benefit us all?
And wouldn’t that morality be based on the truth that we are each created in the Image of God, and have a common bond that transcends tribal or religious ties?
That is EXACTLY what happened when God made his Covenant with Noah, after the Great Flood. Rabbi Sacks tells the story in his commentary on Parshat Noach.
What is the Torah telling us about morality?
First, that it is universal. The Torah places God’s covenant with Noah and through him all humanity prior to His particular covenant with Abraham, and His later covenant with Abraham’s descendants at Mount Sinai. Our universal humanity precedes our religious differences. This is a truth we deeply need in the twenty-first century when so much violence has been given religious justification. Genesis tells us that our enemies are human too.
This may well be the single most important contribution of monotheism to civilisation. All societies, ancient and modern, have had some form of morality but usually they concern only relations within the group. Hostility to strangers is almost universal in both the animal and human kingdoms. Between strangers, power rules. As the Athenians said to the Melians, “The strong do what they want, while the weak do what they must.”
The idea that even the people not like us have rights, and that we should “love the stranger” (Deut. 10:19), would have been considered utterly strange by most people at most times. It took the recognition that there is one God sovereign over all humanity (“Do we not all have one father? Did not one God create us?”; Mal. 2:10) to create the momentous breakthrough to the idea that there are moral universals, among them the sanctity of life, the pursuit of justice, and the rule of law.