Today's selection -- from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Empires have been the dominant form of government in human history. Most early empires of such as the Roman empire were polytheistic, and made a practice of being tolerant and open to other religions. Even the famed Roman persecution of Christians chronicled in the Christian New Testament, which was undertaken only because Christians did not respect the proclaimed divinity of the emperor, was half-hearted and resulted in only a few thousand deaths over three centuries:
Polytheism is conducive to far-reaching religious tolerance. Since polytheists believe, on the one hand, in one supreme and completely disinterested power, and on the other hand in many partial and biased powers, there is no difficulty for the devotees of one god to accept the existence and efficacy of other gods. Polytheism is inherently open-minded, and rarely persecutes 'heretics' and 'infidels' .
"Even when polytheists conquered huge empires, they did not try to convert their subjects. The Egyptians, the Romans and the Aztecs did not send missionaries to foreign lands to spread the worship of Osiris, Jupiter or Huitzilopochtli (the chief Aztec god), and they certainly didn't dispatch armies for that purpose. Subject peoples throughout the empire were expected to respect the empire's gods and rituals, since these gods and rituals protected and legitimised the empire. Yet they were not required to give up their local gods and rituals. ...
"The only god that the Romans long refused to tolerate was the monotheistic and evangelising god of the Christians. The Roman Empire did not require the Christians to give up their beliefs and rituals, but it did expect them to pay respect to the empire's protector gods and to the divinity of the emperor. This was seen as a declaration of political loyalty. When the Christians vehemently refused to do so, and went on to reject all attempts at compromise, the Romans reacted by persecuting what they understood to be a politically subversive faction. And even this was done half-heartedly. In the 300 years from the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, polytheistic Roman emperors initiated no more than four general persecutions of Christians. Local administrators and governors incited some anti-Christian violence of their own. Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians. In contrast, over the course of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion."
Read the rest here.
Check those last two sentences. Yes, the Romans persecuted christians, but in a "half-hearted" manner and more about politics than religiosity. When christians decided their beliefs were endangered after Constantine's sanction of their religion, it was "Nelly, bar the door," and as much for other christians who didn't quite believe the same as some others. Should we be surprised to see modern-day christians accuse non-believers of "persecuting" them? Not only is this a behavior which their savior anticipated and said they'd be blessed for, for them it is ample justification to declare a christian jihad in response.
For all the christian demands for tolerance of their beliefs, the christians themselves are exposed by history as being the most intolerant and unyielding. Nota bene.
And people still refuse to see the intoxication.
Of course they don't. Haven't you heard? God is on THEIR side! Then, too, the question is begged: what happens when god is on BOTH sides?
Ah ha! that is the big rub, "god is on BOTH sides"!
What is the nature of love? I can't resist reposting Yuval Noah Harari's words:
"Protestants believed that the divine love is so great that God was incarnated in flesh and allowed Himself to be tortured and crucified, thereby redeeming the original sin and opening the gates of heaven to all those who professed faith in Him. Catholics maintained that faith, while essential, was not enough. To enter heaven, believers had to participate in church rituals and do good deeds. Protestants refused to accept this, arguing that this quid pro quo belittles God's greatness and love. Whoever thinks that entry to heaven depends upon his or her own good deeds magnifies his own importance, and implies that Christ's suffering on the cross and God's love for humankind are not enough.
"These theological disputes turned so violent that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Catholics and Protestants killed each other by the hundreds of thousands. On 23 August 1572, French Catholics who stressed the importance of good deeds attacked communities of French Protestants who highlighted God's love for humankind. In this attack, the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants were slaughtered in less than twenty-four hours. When the pope in Rome heard the news from France, he was so overcome by joy that he organised festive prayers to celebrate the occasion and commissioned Giorgio Vasari to decorate one of the Vatican's rooms with a fresco of the massacre (the room is currently off-limits to visitors). More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence."
This is so intriguing, I have put the book on my Wish List for winter reading. Thanks, Loren.
The Romans respected every god they came across. I remember reading how they used to send agents into opposing armies camps to find out the names of the opponents gods and bribe the same gods to change sides. The Christians really did mess up the world.