Advancedatheist….Try to begin your thoughts on moral conflicts from an evolutionary standpoint and many situations become clearer even if they’re not discussed in some holy text. Think of life in a small band up to about 250 people which is about as many as hunter- gatherers tend to have, and about as many people that humans can have close personal ties to…if that many. The point being, when you know everybody and they know you, your reputation is critical to your survival. Whether you are trustworthy and useful in personal alliances i.e…you don’t run when the lion attacks or horde food from others. Man has evolved always in social conditions and so has our innate ability to size up others for their character and their ability to help pass on OUR genes…selfish as it may seem. We also have a lot of brain space dedicated to figuring out what is a good deal for us and what is not. These powers are all deeply ingrained and associated with emotional responses. Hence, we have deep reactions to being slighted, insulted, cheated, etc, even for small issues. We know when we’ve been had, but we also have guilt to tell us when we transgressed and essentially put ourselves in danger of damaging our reputation. This is why altruism is still in our best interest and helping others does us good in the long run, otherwise why would nature have given us any positive emotions at all when we do something strictly to benefit others.
This is why I think you can look at most moral questions in the sense of who benefits now or in the long run, and sometimes your innate emotional response can help. In general I guess it’s pretty easy to see why most “virtues” are valued and most “vices” can get you into trouble, and why some ideas, actions,or rituals that we argue about don’t even seem to be real moral questions at all. For your example, man IS an omnivore, so whether we eat meat or even whether we eat meat on Fridays or mixed with dairy doesn’t seem to really be an issue at all. If one can really feel guilty about these issues, it seems very artificial to me and totally cultural and has nothing to do with our genes survival.
One can see how things go wrong when we live in large societies. Even our conscience (that thing that weighs guilt vs pleasure) can’t always get us to do the “right” thing. It could almost seem rational to steal, or kill if we knew we were not going to get caught and pay that price in reputation. One could even argue your reputation does not count for so much any more, so why worry about it. It is a tribute to that deep center that it keeps most of us on the up and up in most situations. You might guess by now that no one can convince me that that center is somehow endowed to us divinely. It is simply eons of evolved behavior patterns that have been selected out for cooperating and altruistic beings. This center is what operates in all humans and is the basis for our shared humanity and you might even call it a universal moral center.