Freedom is not unitary. And religion was at first highly localized. Curiously the birthplace of the very concept of freedom, ancient Greece, was not a society that even considered the idea of religious freedom. Athens, the very center of the birth of freedom, did not even consider the idea of religious freedom. The people of Athens were expected to venerate Athenia and the city gods. And few questioned this convention. Socrates, one of the great teachers in world history, was executed for blasfemy and corrupting the young for his ideas. In contrast Persia, the embodiment of oriental despotism, tolerated diverse religious thought. The Persians when they added new territory to their empir, dis not impose their religion. The Roman Empire, despite its fierce reputation of relgious persecution, was actually a highly tolerant society. After Ceasar and Augustus and the foundation of the Empire, political freedom was extingushed, but not relgious freedom. Rome was a highly tolerant society in whivh a wide ramge of sects and religious thought flourished. Conquered people could retain their religion, although they had to sacrifice to the emperor as a religious duty. Jews abd Christians were a rare relgious sect that were persecuted, but only because they refused to sacrifice to the emperor. The Emperor Nero turned the full force of the Empire on the Christians in an effot to redirect public feeling against him, a tactic that future tyrants would copy. Persecutions were often horific, but eposodic. And when under Constantine, Christianity became the state religion, his did not usher in an era of religious freedom. Rather the Church in league with the emperor persecuted other relgions. Judaism were the only other religion tolerated, and this toleration declined over time. The persecutiin of other religiins, including differing Christian views was a major factor in the explosive growth of Islam. For centuries the Muslim world would be more tolerant than Christendom. Sme states like al Andalus became a beacokn of relgious tlerance. The domination of the Church as least in Western Europe only began to change with the Raenaissance and Plague. People began to quesion the Church. This proved dangerous as Galilleo and others exerienced. Christendom was rocked by the Reformation. Ther Reformers did not, however, argue for religious freedom. they simply disagreed as to the dictrines which should be kimposed on the people, Protestant contained, however, a germ of tolerance that would eventually spread hroughout the Chrustian world. Kuther and other Protestants believed that people should read and study the Bible rather than rely on priests. And as the Catholic Church understodd, this would envitably lead to differing interpretations. And this is presicely what happened. A dizzeying list of new denominations spread throughout northern Europe. The religious wars which developed with the Reformation was not only a struggle between Catholics and Protetants, but among Prostestants as well.
The religious based slaughter finally ended with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). After a cebtury of truggle, Catholics and Protestants finally agreed in one thing, they could not defeat theopposing religioud camp. Thus the temporary expedient of allowing each individual state to chose an established religion. This was the atmpsphere in which the English colonies in North merica were founded. The ensuing Enligtenment finally devloped the modern principle of relgious freedom and this would become a basic princple embedded in the Constitution of the new American Reublic (1789). It would take longer to be fully accepted in Europe. The Muslom world moved in the opposite diection, becoming increasinly intolerant of other religion. Other currents appeared in the 19th century with Marx coneming the very idea of religion which became a teenebt of socialist thought. Lenin condemned religion as the 'opiate of the masses' and launche he soviet atheism cmpaign intensufued by Stlin nd his NKVD. The result was the death of millions, mass killing on a scale unknown at the heightth of the 16th-17th century relgious wars. The assult in religion has not only occured in totalitarian societies. In liberal America, liberals have interpreted the precious guarantee of freedom of religion to mean the right to pursue a campaign mandating freedom from religion.
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