The golden rule, though not always followed, is universal.
I get so frustrated when people imply that those without a religion-centered life are therefore devoid of a moral compass. Stuff and nonsense. I’m not a Christian, and my upbringing wasn’t particularly religious. Yet I believe in the golden rule. I think it’s wrong to kill and steal and lie and behave violently. I’m a law-abiding person, and do my best to do no harm.
Studies have shown (and this article in Scientific American describes) that even babies have compassion, empathy, and the beginnings of a sense of what’s fair. These things are within them long before any religious instruction is instilled. There’s even evidence that empathy has a genetic component.
Another article, in Psychology Today, posits the theory that we have a rigid moral code because that signals to the world that we are trustworthy. Trustworthiness, in kind, gets others to cooperate with us. Cooperation is how we’re able to survive. So those with a moral code are more likely to survive and pass on their genes than those who do not. That makes perfect sense to me.
What does not make sense to me is the belief that if I don’t hold your exact spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof for that matter), there’s something wrong or evil about me. The sense of right and wrong is a universal trait. And yes, there are people out there who are horrible and selfish and commit atrocities. It’s been my experience that some of these claim to be religious and others do not.
Horrible things have happened in the name of religion. Horrible things have also happened simply because that person was fundamentally a douchebag. It is what it is.