It’s not easy to defend Stephen Prothero when he writes about atheists. I wrote before that he knows a lot about our “community” even if he wrongly calls atheism a religion with our own brand of fundamentalists.
His new book is God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter and he’s still doing interviews all over the place for it. But the more of those he does, the more I want to keep my distance.
Take this interview with Nicole Neroulias, for instance:
Why are you so hard on atheists?
I think they’re intellectually dishonest, and I think it’s the hardest religious position to take up. With Christianity, you just have to affirm that Jesus is God and sent to the world to save the world. With atheism, you have to reject every single god. There’s a lot of gods out there. I think many atheists are not actually atheists; they’re just people who’ve rejected the Jewish or Christian God, more specifically the god that their parents taught them. They don’t know anything about the Hindu divinities. How can you reject a god that you’ve never even heard of?
That’s like asking how we could dismiss the existence of all unicorns when we’ve only rejected two species of them.
The same arguments that made us lose faith in our family’s god apply to other gods all the same. They’re all fictional. You want us to believe in your god? Prove to us that your god exists. It’s that simple. And it’s a challenge that no religious person has ever met.
And for what it’s worth, Christians reject all the same gods atheists do… with one exception. Prothero never faults them for that.
Even the interviewer didn’t seem to like his explanation:
Perhaps they just feel committed to scientific evidence rather than mystery?
Then I hope they never read a novel, since mystery lies at the heart of so many novels! But, even rejecting the supernatural, not all religions have gods, not all religions necessarily have the supernatural. Confucianism and Buddhism might be the religion for them.
Isn’t Prothero the religion expert? Many forms of Buddhism buy into the concepts of karma and rebirth — are those not supernatural? And if you don’t believe in those, what exactly makes it a religion? Same deal with Confucianism, which seems more like a philosophy that a deity-centered faith, which is really what atheists have a problem with.
You can label your belief system whatever you want. Atheists don’t see evidence for any god and that eliminates most religions. To say that we could be Buddhists (or whatever) is missing the point.