One would think, listening to atheists, that Christians invented intolerance.
Such is not the case. The 'argumentum ad baculum,' fallacious resort to force, is a standing temptation faced by humanity,
from Cain onwards. Christians are prime victims, not the principal
instigators: "What is the so powerful cause of this fury? Doubtless,
because they cannot contend on the ground of reason, they urge forward
their cause by means of violence. . ." (Lactantius, Epitome of the
Divine Institutes, Chapter 52). Pagans are by no means immune to the
temptation to win the argument by putting dissenters in the grave, thus
achieving unanimity or at least silence. There is pagan on pagan
"Protageras of Abdera, whom you just now mentioned, the greatest sophist of his age, was banished by order of the Athenians
from their city and territories, and his books were publicly burned, because these words were in the beginning of his treatise concerning
the Gods: 'I am unable to arrive at any knowledge whether there are, or are not,
any Gods.'" (Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, Book I, XXIII.)
Paganism in its heyday knew communal religious rioting reminiscent of that seen today between Muslims and Hindus in India:
"An ancient, long-nourished feud, an undying hatred no truce
Can resolve, and wounds that can't be healed, are burning between
The neighboring towns of Ombi and Tentyra. Each side is seen
Swelling up with fury because each one has always hated
Its neighbor's gods and believed that none should be venerated
As gods but its own. So when a festival time came around,
The leaders and chiefs of the enemy cult thought they had found
A good chance that shouldn't be missed to keep the other town
From enjoying a glad and happy day -- great feasts in squares
And temples on the tables, and sofas that got constant wear
From lollers day and night, till the sun for the seventh time rose
To surprise them. Egypt is, no doubt, uncouth; but in those
Debaucheries practiced today, from what I myself have seen,
Its barbaric mob yields nothing to ill-famed Canopus. They dream
That defeat of babbling, staggering drunks would not be hard.
Over there men dancing to a black piper, with nard or lard
Or heaven knows what and flowers and chaplets on their heads;
Over here, a ravening hate. But they start, with noise widespread,
Their first insults -- war trumpets to passions burning to fight.
Then shouts back and forth, they clash, and bare hands rage to smite
Instead of weapons. Few jaws and chins escape being gashed,
Few noses, or none, come out of the fracas unbloodied, unsmashed.
Throughout the ranks can be seen broken faces, looking like none
That's human, bones gaping through torn cheeks, and fists that run
With blood from eyes. Yet they think themselves at play, in a game
Of waging war, like boys, for no corpses are trampled in shame.
And indeed, to what end does a mob of so many thousands brawl
If everyone lives? So the fight grows fiercer, and now they fall
To throwing stones -- the usual weapon in riots -- which they,
Stooping down, search for on the ground..." (Satires of Juvenal, Egyptian Cannibals, XV).
According to historian Cassius Dio, regular wars were fought
between adherents of one system of the Egyptian pagan theology and
"The Egyptians were discontented at the levies of money and
highly indignant because not even their temples were left untouched.
They are the most excessively religious people on earth and wage wars
even against one another on account of their beliefs, since their
worship is not a unified system, but different branches of it are
diametrically opposed one to another." (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book
42, Chapter 34).
Egypt was the scene of a god-murder, at the hands of one pagan
religionist acting against other pagans whose views he did not
share. Cambyses the Persian emperor dispatched the sacred bull Apis
whom the Egyptians worshipped:
"When the priests had brought Apis, Cambyses being somewhat
affected with madness drew his dagger, and aiming at the belly of Apis,
struck his thigh: then he laughed and said to the priests: 'O ye
wretched creatures, are gods born such as this, with blood and flesh,
and sensible of the stroke of iron weapons? Worthy indeed of Egyptians
is such a god as this. Ye however at least shall not escape without
punishment for making a mock of me.' Having thus spoken he ordered those
whose duty it was to do such things, to scourge the priests without
mercy, and to put to death any one of the other Egyptians whom they
should find keeping the festival. Thus the festival of the Egyptians had
been brought to an end, and the priests were being chastised, and Apis
wounded by the stroke in his thigh lay dying in the temple." (Herodotus,
Histories, Book III, Chapter 29).
According to Aelian, one of Cambyses' successors, Artaxerxes
III, did the same thing for the same reason: "Now Ochus the Persian
knowing this slew Apis and deified the Ass from a wish to pain the
Egyptians to the utmost. And so he too paid a penalty, which all
applauded, to the Sacred Bull, no less than Cambyses who was the first
that dared commit this sacrilege." (Aelian, On Animals, Book X, Chapter
28). Whether this is a doublet I can't say, but it may be that the Persians
never learned their lesson. These 'Parsees' evidently considered their
own aniconic veneration of fire as superior to the Egyptians'
animal-gods. If deicide of the people's god does not display
intolerance, what would?
The trial of Socrates is a good case study in pagan intolerance:
Anaxagoras is another philosopher who ran afoul of the Athenians'
Pagans were intolerant, not of other pagans only, but of Christians and
Jews. The successors of Alexander the Great sought to Hellenize the lands
he had conquered; 'Jehovah' was to consolidated with 'Zeus' and non-Greek
customs like circumcision must cease. What this meant, for Jews in the
days of the Maccabees, was conformity or death.
Not only did Christians encounter persecution from the pagans of
the West, the same thing happened in the East, as Nestorian
missionaries and their converts were wiped out by, among others, the
Persians and the Chinese:
"Indeed, this mission would be destroyed in the
mid–ninth century when the Taoist emperor Wuzong condemned and
expelled foreign religions and closed monasteries. As the imperial
edict commanded, 'As for the Tai-Ch’in (Syrian Christian) and Muh-hu
(Zoroastrian) forms of worship, since Buddhism has already been cast
out, these heresies alone must not be allowed to survive. People
belonging to these also are to be compelled to return to the world,
belong again to their own districts, and become taxpayers.'"
(Jenkins, John Philip (2008-10-16). The Lost History of
Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the
Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died (p. 65).
It is easy to understand why pagan religions whose whose raison
d'etre is to reconcile the masses to the ruling elite resented
Christianity, which spread like wildfire and owed nothing to the
Chinese or Persian ruling class. There's nothing new under the sun. The pagans who fed Christians to the lions had not been taught intolerance by Christians, nor needed to be taught.
Among the record-breaking mass murderers of history are numbered the
pagan animists who spilled out of Mongolia under the leadership of
Genghis Khan, who left entire districts depopulated: "Let us set before our eyes, on
the one hand, the continual massacres of the kings and generals of
the Greeks and Romans, and, on the other, the destruction of people
and cities by those famous conquerors Timur Beg and Jenghiz Khan,
who ravaged Asia, and we shall see that we owe to Christianity, in
government, a certain political law; and in war, a certain law of
nations — benefits which human nature can never sufficiently
acknowledge. It is owing to this law of nations that among us
victory leaves these great advantages to the conquered, life,
liberty, laws, wealth, and always religion, when the conqueror is
not blind to his own interest." (Montesquieu, The Spirit of the
Laws, Kindle location 6586). Christian history knows of no such atrocities,
and why not, if we taught the world so to behave?
The Romans who fed Christians to the lions were not acting contrary
to their own expressed principles. The pagan Romans never articulated
the principle of religious toleration. Through the mouth of Maecenas,
addressing Augustus, historian Cassius Dio gives the case for religious
"Therefore if you desire to become in very truth immortal,
act in this way; and further, reverence the Divine Power yourself
everywhere in every way, following our fathers' belief, and compel
others to honor it. Those who introduce strange ideas about it you should
both hate and punish, not only for the sake of the gods (because if a
man despises them he will esteem naught else sacred) but because such
persons by bringing in new divinities persuade many to adopt foreign principles of law. As a result conspiracies, factions, and clubs arise
which are far from desirable under a monarchy. Accordingly, do not grant
any atheist or charlatan the right to be at large." (Cassius Dio, Roman
History, Book 52, Chapter 36)
While it's true that the conquering Romans used to try to persuade
besieged deities to desert and come over to their side, promising
improved worship and living conditions, it does not therefore follow that private individuals
were at liberty to worship whatever gods they pleased. The myth that
paganism was inherently tolerant was very important to the mislabeled
'Enlightenment,' but it is just that, a myth.