Historical perspective certainly does change one’s views of our current little struggle with theism. Kieran Healy identifies the original atheists—those horrible people who were defying cultural mores and denying the traditional deities.
It was those uppity Christians.
Matters were very different with the Christians, who had ex hypothesi abandoned their ancestral religions … The Christians asserted openly either that the pagan gods did not exist at all or that they were malevolent demons. Not only did they themselves refuse to take part in pagan religious rites: they would not even recognize that others ought to do so. As a result … the mass of pagans were naturally apprehensive that the gods would vent their wrath at this dishonour not upon the Christians alone but on the whole community; and when disasters did occur they were only too likely to fasten the blame on to the Christians.
So, if they had a poll around 250AD, the most untrustworthy group in the Empire would have been those Christians? At least this is a historical example that shows the atheists can take over! Let’s just be sure we don’t make the mistake the Christians did.
Part of Ste. Croix’s larger argument is that pretty soon the boot was on the other foot, the persecuted became enthusiastic persecutors.