My Facebook friend, Howard Prouty, posted an article about a young woman in a dispute with her roommates who was caught spitting in and otherwise contaminating the food of those roommates. She is being prosecuted. Howard posited the legitimate question, “How does an unbeliever develop a sense of morality? That is my morning meditation.”
Morality and ethics are rational constructs. For an individual in true isolation, they have no meaning or purpose. However, when a second individual is introduced, a "society" is created. In order for that society to flourish for any length of time, certain rules must be established. "Not killing" is a perfectly logical first step; without that admonition, your society quickly dwindles back to "the one" and inevitable extinction (unless "the one" learns an alternative means to procreate). Animals, even without our faculty of speech, create rules for their offspring. “Listen to me and do what you're told,” “Obey your elders,” "Don't shit where you eat," etc.
When Howard asked the question again, I replied:
Why would anyone make the assumption that this young woman was not steeped in religious training and religious history? If she's Catholic, she'll be forgiven with a quick mea culpa. If she's Muslim, she can claim they were infidels. If she's a fundamentalist Christian, she can do anything she wants and twist a scripture to justify her actions. If she's Jewish, she can claim that they were a threat to her existence. If she's Hindu, they were clearly lower caste. If she's Buddhist, she can claim that she thought they were Muslims. If she's a Quaker..., well, then, she has no excuse. If she'd been an atheist, she would have found better ways of coping through the application of intellectual analysis, invoking respect and problem solving to find a rational solution.
I understand your pessimism, Kerry. I, on the other hand, call myself "the hopeful cynic." I do see a steady advancement, but as with most progress, it is "two steps forward, one step back." Many, if not most, of those gleefully inhumane forms of audience entertainment that you enumerate were either done in the name of religion or as a form of persecuting a particular religion. We actually have moved past most of those barbarities.