“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” —Stephen F Roberts

This is a quote that is found often on the lips of atheists these days. It can be summed up this way: “I don’t have to take the time to reject Christ any more than you have to take the time to reject all the millions of gods that are out there. It just happens by default. The justification for my atheism is the same as yours with respect to your rejection of all the other possible gods.”  

While I understand the spirit of this quote, I think it fails to understand some of the very basic beliefs that Christians are claiming about their God as opposed to “the other possible gods.”

I have heard my favorite atheist, Christopher Hitchens, compare belief in Jesus to belief in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Clause. This is really saying the same thing using different illustrations. But he also likes the “I don’t believe in other gods thing too.” As he once said, “No, I don’t believe in Yahweh. I don’t believe in Hercules either.”

As effective as these types of implicit appeals of association might be emotionally, they miss the mark completely.  All assume a parallel that is simply not present when the claims are understood and the evidence is considered.

Take the “I don’t believe in Hercules” argument for example. This assumes a parallel between belief in Christ and a belief in any one of the millions of gods that have ever existed, especially those who belonged to a system of religion which espoused many gods (polytheism). These type of systems are represented by ancient Egyptian, Canaanite, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman cultures (as well as others today). There is really not too much difference between the basic philosophical structure of each.

There are two primary reasons why I believe drawing parallels between belief in these gods (or Tooth Fairies) are misleading:

1. The type of belief

Whether we are speaking of this from a political or rural position, the commitment to religious pantheonism (note: not “pantheism”), especially of the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman world, don’t have as committed adherents as we often think. The religious culture that Christianity demands needs to be distinguished here. People did not really believe in Shu, Nut, Hercules, Baal, Wearisomu, Enki, Utu, Diana, and the like in the same way that people believe in Yahweh. Their belief was more of a social convention which included all the pressures that such a system demanded. Their gods were more “faddish” than anything else. Their existence was rather fluid, changing and even morphing into other gods and sometimes moralistic ideals such as “justice” and “reason.” This is why the Caesers could so easily deify themselves and expect people to jump on the bandwagon. Did these people really suddenly believe Caeser was a god? If so, what does this say about the type of belief they had? Both in the philosophical world of the day and among the laity, “belief” as we think of it, was not present.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that we have “faddish” Christianity today where people follow the tide of the culture in believing in Christ the same way that people believed in these ancient gods. In this social folk religion, there is a parallel. But the basis for belief in these other gods was founded on social convention, not philosophical, rational, and historic necessity as is the case with Christianity. Christianity exists not because of rural pragmatism, but because of historic events.

2. The type of god

More importantly, the gods of these pantheons were/are not really gods in the proper sense. In order to call them such is a misunderstanding of what “god” means. In other words, they were functional deities who carried a role that was expedient to the life and happiness of the people. They were the gods of rain, sun, crops, war, fertility, and the like. They were the “go-to” immanent forces who had no transcendence or ultimate creative power. They were more like superheroes from the Justice League than gods. In this system, human beings and these gods shared the same type of life, having similar problems and frustrations. The deistic philosophy of the people did not center around a “universe” in which one god was controlling and holding all things together, but a “multiverse” where each god was responsible for his or her respective career. Therefore, these gods would have much more in common with the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause than they would with the God that the Bible describes. 

While most systems had a “top dog,” if you will (Zeus, Re, Enlil, Marduk, etc), these were not thought of as the ultimate creators of all things who, out of necessity, transcend space and time. They were simply really, really powerful beings that happened to be caught up in the same world we are. More powerful than us mortals? Yes. But none qualify for the title “God.”

Christianity believes in only one God (monotheism). We believe this not simply because we want to have the most powerful being out of the millions, but out of theological and philosophical necessity. We believe that God created all things out of nothing. We believe that existence necessitates a “first cause” or an “unmoved mover.” This first cause is by definition God. Simply put, whoever started it all (the time, space, matter creation) is the only true God. There cannot be multiple first causers. God, while able to interact and love mankind, must transcend all that we see and know. He must be outside of our universe holding it all together, not simply the most powerful actor in our current play. We are simply talking about two different species here. One that is transcendently holy, both ontologically (who he is in essence) and morally (what he does) and the other which is but a hair’s breath from us.

In the end, the theistic type of God espoused by Christianity cannot be compared to the pantheon of gods of polytheistic religions. It is comparing apples to oranges.

Let’s look at this statement again:

“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” —Stephen F Roberts

I understand perfectly why Stephen F Roberts and Christopher Hitchens reject all the other gods. It is because they reject polytheism. But I don’t understand how this parallels to the rejection of the Christian God. It is a slight of hand to make such a comparison (effective as it may be). People believe in these two completely different things for completely different reasons and, therefore, must reject the two differently.  The same arguments used against these gods cannot be used effectively against the Christian God. Once polytheism as a worldview is rejected, all the millions of gods go with it. I don’t have to argue against each, one at a time.

My time is up, but I understand the much needed sequel. While there is a philosophical barrier that does not allow us to equate belief in the Christian God to belief in the myriad of gods in polytheistic systems, this does not mean that the Christian God cannot be compared to the god of Islam. However, if Stephen F Roberts would have said, “When you understand why you dismiss Allah, you will understand why I dismiss Yahweh,” then it would be philosophically correct. The comparison would be in tact and the conversation would not be manipulated into this accept-all-or-nothing resolve. However, it still would not make sense. I do reject Allah and my reasons are very specific. But they are not the same reasons why he rejects Christ.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    84 replies to "Why I Reject Other Gods: An Answer to Stephen F Roberts"

    • Serge


      what EVIDENCE, as mencioned above?????
      It is not because someone told YOU a god exists, he, she or it exists.
      get REAL

    • Reality Check

      Wow. There’s some asinine conversation going on here, to accompany the asinine article above it. There’s absolutely NO “rationality” to believing in any God. You just think there is because you’ve been brought up, or otherwise conditioned through convenience or wish-thinking, to believe in whichever one you do. Religion is as much about geography as “correct” faith.

      • Mike

        I wish there was a “Like” button. Good points, Reality check.

      • Dave

        Hi, please read some kind of metaphysics, Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Leibniz, Descartes, etc before you ever speak or comment on a forum like this again.

    • Mike Jones

      Christianity is a hoax. It is based almost entirely on Mithraism.

      Jesus never existed. The New Testament was written by the Roman aristocracy in order to keep the slaves from converting to Judaism.

      Jesuo neniam ekzistis. La Nova Testamento estis srkibita fare de la Romania aristokratio por malebligi, ke la sklavoj konvertiĝu al la Judismo.

      Mithras, like Jesus Christ, was considered to be “a being from beyond the universe”. These two figures, Mithras and Jesus, are to some extent both manifestations of a single deep longing in the human spirit.

      • David

        Wow, its not often you run into someone deluded enough to deny the academically and scholastically accepted fact that Jesus existed, as least as a normal human person. As far as Mithras, he was fabricated as a mockery of Christianity lol

    • John

      You forget that Christianity is not the only one that has a monotheistic god.

      Muslims do.

      Zoroastrians do.

      Jews do.

      Sikhs do.

      Druze do.

      etc. etc.

      Monotheism is not solely a christian construct, so I am not sure why you utilize that discussion point.

      • Dave

        Yes but surely you realize that this issue is reduced from an “all or none” issue to a “one or none” issue.
        This is based on logic: Any polytheist worldview is impossible. “There is only one God and, according to the laws of logic, there can be only one. If there were two gods, then the one god would be a limit on the other; neither of the two would be infinite, neither one perfect; in these respects neither of the two would be ‘God’.”
        “The supreme being must be unique, without equal. . . If God is not one, he is not God” (Tertullian, Adv. Marc., 1, 3, 5: PL 2, 274).
        So we can see that aside from disproving any polytheistic religion, monotheistic religions still have a chance at legitimacy.
        We can also see that if one of the remaining monotheistic religions were proven to be true, the rest would be discredited….

    • Randy

      If you question any religious person about evidence of their god, they will say silly things like “the wind is evidence, the rain is evidence, people being born is evidence”, etc. They never produce real evidence because it isn’t possible.

      It used to be that Christians contributed everything to be God’s doing: Every weather event, every single action of every person in the world was God’s doing. When it was proven that thunderstorms and tornadoes and earthquakes had other actual causes and after not being able to answer those who asked things like “Why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent people?”, they backed down on their dogged beliefs and insist now that, although God created the universe and us, he gave us “free will” to do as we wish. This way they can explain away all the bad things.

      Very convenient. And let’s not forget how they edited the Bible to remove a lot of crazy passages that gave their belief a bad reputation. Can you say “Deuteronomy”?

      • Dave

        Uh oh we’ve got an empirical absolutist, who doesn’t realize that it’s self-refuting. Or that there are dozens or reason or logic-based proofs for God’s existence. There are literally millennia of philosophy, theology, metaphysics, epistemology, etc…
        The Problem of Evil is an insubstantial intellectual argument, and at best a significant emotional obstacle to belief in God. (Although St. Thomas Aquinas considered it one of the only two arguments that had the potential or aim to actually disprove God’s existence).
        Consider learning some history of Biblical compilation. Specifically, the creations of the Septuagint and Vulgate.

    • dudely

      There are still plenty of other monotheistic religions out there and i noticed that you didn’t take the time to explain your reasons for rejecting any of them. I feel as though you avoided a hard topic to confront by diverting it to something you could easier argue such as polytheism. Also within your second paragraph you rephrase what you interpret the quote to mean, in which you write “I don’t have to take the time to reject Christ any more than you have to take the time to reject all the millions of gods that are out there. It just happens by default”. This only further states your ignorance. By saying, “it just happens by default”, you have only gone to say that that is your own reason for dismissing all other religions.

    • C Michael Parton

      I appreciate the comments. I think you misunderstand the purpose of the post. True, I did not take the time to refute other religions that correctly define what God must be to be called “God” because my purpose was simply to illustrate the category distinction. The next step, after correctly defining God, would be to make an argument for his existence. I did not even do that (as it was not my purpose here). THEN I would need to argue that the Trinitarian God of Christianity is the true transcendent necessary being.

      My purpose here was only to make sure we were defining our terms the same. Don’t you believe that being in the same page on how we define God is a necessary first step?

    • JohnT

      Since you reduce the argument to that of a monotheistic God,how does your discussion relate when considering a God such as Mazda, who predated Yahweh by some significant centuries.

    • nodecentrepublicansleft

      It boils down to this:

      Why on earth would I believe your “Invisible Man in the Sky” crap?
      Religion is for con artists to steal from dupes.

      It answers 3 questions human can never answer: Why are we here? Why do we suffer? What happens to us when we die? (among others); If you are a child or ignorant, you get sucked into a religion. Other people, say “I don’t know and nobody else has any special knowledge, they don’t know either. I’m not buying your crap.”

    • Nicolo

      The creator of the universe… with zillions of galaxies, with suns, moons, and planets, orbital systems and…. the proton, neutron, electron, photon, light, electricity, magnetism, etc x 10^{zillion) etc. himself came to earth… lived along with us some 2000 years ago… spoke, ate and dined here on earth…. and we do not credit him?

    • Doug Robblee

      fyi – a god is a god is a god – your interruption is flaws which makes your argument not work by you saying the ancient god(s) were more of a story that actually a god(s).
      more over:

      The answer is no.
      Jehovah is not a name but comes from the Jewish translation of Yiddish to English, “I am”.
      Read on…
      In Exodus 3:13-14, the Christian god is reported to have answered that question saying:
      13. Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

      14. God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’

      However, some people say that the name of God is Jehovah or Yahweh.

      The reason is the Book of Exodus was written in Hebrew and the word for “I AM” is a Hebrew word translated as YHWH.

      This is why a lot of English translations will say that the name of god is Jehovah or Yahweh.
      It is an English-styled version of those four letters.
      It is an English mistranslation, from the Hebrew, of YHWH “I AM”, and unlike any of the other gods down through recorded history, the Christian god is the only god that does not have a name.

    • Michael Patton

      That is simply not true. By the way, thanks for commenting.

      Just like you need other term, people can equivocate. We can all be using different definitions. Is God that what you worship? Is God just a very powerful being? Or is God the creator of all thing who exist in eternity? or is he all three? my basic argument is that the second and third are correct. But we’ve got to get on the same page before we even discussed this. Then you gotta find out how everybody and their own context was defining God. And it’s without a doubt that the ancient religions did not define God the way I’m defining it. And I am defining it is what Christians argue for. So if you were all these gods, with just number one, and number two, then we’re gonna be speaking past each other.

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