|From Under the Editor's Rock|
Xtianity wasn't liked by Rome's rulers, as they tended not to like underground governments, or secretive, "immoral", or politicized religious movements (Bacchus, The Druids, etc), especially when they attempt to take over the government or its politics. Xtians were very intolerant of divergent opinions, even among themselves, and were often disorderly and riotous -- this did not help their position with the authorities, who knew little about them except that they were troublemakers.
By the the late Roman Empire, democracy and automous rule for cities gave way to rule by military govenors. The Empire hated and distrusted any popular politics, and those that attempted to engage in them usually ended up dead or banished. The Social Class structure was extremely narrow - the patricians at the top of things knew little and cared less about the lower class masses. This is reflected in the art of the period with massive heads of the Emperor Constantine being produced to assure the masses that the Emperor meant more than just the yearly tax bill.
Most everyone who has come in contact with Christianity knows about its martyrs; who died, in many cases, not so much for professing faith as for being publically obnoxious about it. Paganism was tolerant of most forms of religion; the State was not. Except for the persecutions of specific Emperors and government officials, Xtians were left pretty much alone except when they insisted on being noticed, or someone had a grudge. The major problem for Xtians was the duty to "sacrifice" to the Emperor's genious (spirit).
The Emperor Constantine had a need of a religion that would serve his interests, and not his co-emperor's, when he moved to take sole control of the Roman Empire. So, he favored Xtianity, going out of his way to aid it. He could have just as easily chosen Druidism - most of his troops came from Britian and Gaul, but he felt that he could manipulate Xtianity - he not only could, he did! He decided to leave Rome to found a new Capitol, mainly because much of the Roman nobility saw no great need to convert. But, Constantanople was quietly dedicated to Athena, for Xtianity was new and it had no rituals for dedicating cities. He aslo convened and chaired a Church Council, though he didn't become a baptised a Xtian until he lay on his deathbead -- thinking that if he waited, he would get All his sins forgiven at once at the very last moment! A very convienient creed for a great sinner such as himself. Although he favored, and legalized Xtianity, his edicts actually promoted a toleration for all beliefs, something all but one of his successors rejected.
The Emperor Julian decided he liked Mithranism laced with Neo Platonism, rather than the Xtianity his inlaws were infatuated with, and had insisted that he be raised in. he was the last openly Pagan Emperor -- the rest of the Family were died-in-the-wool Xtian fanatics, and would soon destroy any dissenters in and out of the Church after he died. He restored the Pagan Temples, and decreed that the Xtians shouldn't be allowed to study the Classics, as they had rejected them as false myths and worse. This education was required to get cushy Government jobs in the Bureaucracy. Martyrdom was once the fast track to Heaven, and I'm sure a crowd of saintly wannabees were eagarly awaiting theirs under Julian - Sorry old chaps, no E-ticket to Heaven under Julian! He was the smart one in the family (but not smart enough to avoid the war with Persia, which led to his death). That event was the END of any "Religious Tolerance" in the Roman Empire, or the kingdoms that replaced it. Things became worse and worse for all kinds of Heretics, and many had to leave the Empire for more "healthier" climes.
His (Julian's) successors hindered, then prevented, any open debate on creeds, including Xtian ones that deviated from the State supported group favored by the Government. Justinian closed the Schools of Philosophy and the last Pagan shines were deeded to the Xtians. Theodosius decided that his brand of State Xtianity was so good that all his subjects should have its benefits whether they wanted them or not. He simply Decreed that Everyone in his Empire was a Xtian, so much for any nascent feelings for Freedom of Conscience. Of course, this brought Pagans into the Church in great numbers. Since that time, there have been many reform movements that have tried to "purify" Xtianity from the ideas these people brought with them (if not the people who held them) - usually by banning Christmas or Easter or something because they are Pagan. Cromwell and his Puritans, and others have been soundly whipped on this issue over the centuries. Besides, the very idea of the Christos is a Pagan Greek concept to begin with, as are many of Xtianity's more acceptable ideas and practices -- the Xtians are just more dogmatic over them - they keep trying! And, when its pointed out to the Reformers that there were many agreements and concessions made to many Peoples in return for them "converting" to Xtianity; and, If and when those conditions are repudiated (as they have been), then those Peoples have no obligation or need to remain Xtian one second further - mouths hang open!
Is this ancient history useful ? One, it tells how Xtianity became so prominent in Western Culture -- the Church forced itself on the populance. Paganism went underground because of Government hostility, it lost its Temples, it lost the right to advance its ideas in both public and private forums, and Christians and Pagans who opposed the new State Religion were persecuted. This persecution lasted until a Freedom of Religious expression was formulated in the United States, and "National Church" was prohibited. That doesn't stop certain forces from trying though. Hetrodoxy and Heresy are crimes in many parts of the World, and is socially punished in many parts of the US.
Some people want America to be a "Christian" Nation, a place where the government is officially Christian and upholds "Christian Values" in Public Schools. Of course, they can't say that directly; so they prattle on about "Prayer in Schools". Whose Prayer ? One chosen directly by the government ? What if it's a Satanist Prayer ? or a Buddhist chant ? or something else like an invocation to Gunnora, or Isis, or Cthulhu ? Not so appealing, is it ? Then there's the Traditional Xtian 'Mercan Values: Landgrabbing, Carpetbagging, Theft, Murder, Treachery, Dishonesty, Self Righteousness, Tattletelling and Hubris...