I've started to read a book by Tim Whitmarsh, "Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World." Its central theme is stated in the introduction.
We are still, in the twenty-first century, grappling with issues that are at least two and a half millennia old... Disbelief in the supernatural is as old as the hills.
...Too often religious practice is imagined to be the regular state of affairs, needing no explanation, whereas any kind of deviation is seen as weird and remarkable.
This view underpins the modernist mythology: the post-Enlightenment West is seen as exceptional, completely unlike anything else that has preceded it and unlike anything elsewhere in the world.
...Religious universalism -- the idea that belief in gods is the default setting for human beings -- is everywhere in the modern world.
...The notion that a human is an essentially religious being, however, is no more cogent that the notion that apples are essentially red.
...And indeed it is true enough that many apples are tinctured with red. But it would be ludicrous to see a Golden Delicious as less than "appley" just because it is pure green.
Yet this is in effect what we do to atheists in acquiescing to the modernist mythology: we treat them as human beings who are not somehow complete in their humanity, even though they are genetically indistinct from their peers.
...It is not strange or exceptional to adopt a skeptical approach toward the supernatural: anyone in any culture at any time can do so.
...If religious belief is treated as deep and ancient and disbelief as recent, then atheism can readily be dismissed as faddish and inconsequential. Perhaps, even, the persecution of atheists can be seen as a less serious problem than the persecution of religious minorities.
The deep history of atheism is then in part a human rights issue: it is about recognizing atheists as real people deserving of respect, tolerance, and the opportunity to live their lives unmolested.
...This book thus represents a kind of archaeology of religious skepticism. It is in part an attempt to excavate ancient atheism from underneath the rubble heaped on it by millennia of Christian opprobrium [harsh criticism or censure].
The introduction contains a story about Diogenes, who died in 323 BCE. Most people just know that he walked around with a lantern in daylight looking for an honest man. Or, a human, depending on the translation.
But there's a lot more to Diogenes. Whitmarsh writes:
It does not require a post-Enlightenment mentality to come up with the idea that miraculous stories of divine salvation are open to suspicion. Miracles, by their very nature, test the limits of plausibility. Greeks could see that just as well as Evans-Pritchard's Azande.
There is a comparable story told of Diogenes the Cynic, Greek philosophy's most subversive wit.
It is said that while another man was marveling at a series of temple dedications put up by survivors of sea storms, Diogenes retorted that there would have been many more if the nonsurvivors had also left dedications.
The one-liner's subtext is that "miraculous" experiences have nothing to do with divine intervention and the power of prayer and everything to do with the normal laws of statistical probability. Like Apistos (before his dream), Diogenes disbelieves the miracle stories.
Indeed, Diogenes's central point is in effect the same as mine: that officially sanctioned religious records only tell you when worship seems to work and excise all evidence to the contrary.