This is an interesting thread. However, it seems to me that there is one aspect of public or conventional morality that SolitaryWalker missed almost completely. Our communities need public morality to maintain a minimal level of group cohesion that is required for their survival and individuals must at least partially accept the shared ethos in order to fulfill their need to belong to a community. Public morality is an ineradicable constituent of all communities and in itself, it is morally neutral. The claim that public morality is invidious leads to the implausible conclusion that all communal life is morally dubious. It is equally possible for public morality to be employed as a force for good as it is to be used as a justification for atrocities that are duplicitously perpetrated in its name. Consequently, it is our responsibility to employ it in a manner that serves the public good without undermining the rights of the individual or the one's vital need to belong to a community. The modern Western societies that are prosperous and politically liberalized have achieved the former remarkably well, but it is also a tragedy of modernity that individual liberty is often achieved at the expense of socio-emotional welfare that can be achieved only through cultivation of a sense of belonginess.
While it is true that public or conventional morality can lead members of communities to develop deferential and obsequious habits of thought, that is, the proclivities to accept self-serving authorities uncritically, that is not an inevitable result. It is a truism that all of us rely on conventional morality at least to a minimal extent, for example, most of us happily abide by traffic-laws and embrace most gestures of etiquette without questioning our rationale for doing so? Why did we accept conventional morality, in part, we could say that SolitaryWalker was right that we've done so because we have an intellectual habit of uncritically accepting conventional wisdom as the incontrovertible truth. However, there is more to our acceptance of customs, the prevailing ethos and social mores than one may infer from the fact of our intellectual obsequiousness. Emile Durkheim, an author of many classics of sociology including "The elementary forms of the religious lifestyle" has shown that we all experience a great deal of solidarity with our community by adhering to moral values, social conventions and customs that we all share belief in. An individual who is disconnected from these ethos of the community experiences "anomie" and that increases his vulnerability to depression, suicidal pathology and a host of other psychological dilemmas that his solidary counterparts are immune to. Modern social psychologist Jonathan Haidt cited a wealth of empirical evidence showing that activities that enable individuals to achieve emotional attunement with the collective ethos of their communities experienced the "hive mentality" which manifested in sentiments of euphoria, perception of interconnectedness with the world and willingness to make contributions to a purpose far more morally ennobled than the instrumental activities of one's relatively mundane, personal endeavors (See Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion). Although one needs to be fully immersed in communal activity to experience the hive sentiment, to a much lesser extent, we all experience it on a daily basis by participating in the customs of conventional morality. Indeed, the public morality that we sometimes endorse with the attitude of uncritical acceptance is what safeguards us from anomie. However, I'd venture to argue that it is possible for us to endorse conventional morality in a manner that displays willingness to engage in critical thought and sufficient moral insight to recognize the most deplorable aspects of our communal ethos.
To conclude this post, I'd like to return to my opening statement and the underlying theme of my reply to SolitaryWalker. It is true that our tendency to accept the notions of conventional morality in an uncritical fashion increases our likelihood of being exploited by self-serving authorities, but it is up to us to allow us how far we wish to go in accepting notions of conventional morality. Some degree of acceptance is necessary in order to avoid anomie, indeed, no community can survive without them. Religion is merely one way of instantiating the ethos of solidarity that bind us together in the milieu of the commons, but it is not the only way. Nations that SolitaryWalker reported to have only a small percentage of its citizenry as believers subscribe to other memes of conventional morality. For example, very few Danes or Swedes are members of religious communities, but beliefs in the welfare state, capitalism restrained by regulatory control of the government and freedom of expression create the solidary ethos of these countries. Clearly, it is inevitable that all communities will rely on conventional morality in order to ensure that they have a sufficient degree of solidarity to maintain group cohesion that they need for survival, but that leaves one question unanswered.
Why do some communities rely on culturally tolerant and non-dogmatic solidary ethos while others rely on those that are often stringent, intransigent and oppressive. For example, how come the American conservatives can often maintain solidarity by subscribing to a moderate form of Christianity that often promotes religious tolerance while the conservatives of Saudi Arabia insist on adherence to fundamentalism that is often repressive of human rights? The obvious answer is that the ethos of individual liberty are more firmly instantiated in the American society than they are in Saudi Arabia. Political liberalization was rendered possible partly because the general public increased their capacity to question morally dubious social conventions. Conservatives in all nation fear that an exercise of intellectual autonomy may produce social disarray that will ultimately result in anomie, but that also is not an inevitable result. The challenge for the citizen of a modern, politically liberated, socio-economically advanced is that of exercising enough intellectual autonomy to discover morally deplorable elements of conventional morality without sacrificing the solidarity that are required for the survival of communities and the psychological well-being of their denizens.