June 15th, 2010
03:42 PM ET

Stephen (Colbert) v. Stephen (Prothero) on Religious Truthiness

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

It’s probably not the best venue for promoting religious literacy, but I managed to get a few words in edgewise during my brief border crossing into “Colbert Nation” last night. In our mini-battle of the Stephens, Colbert was his usual staccato self, but he allowed me to make a few points about my new book, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter.

Colbert came out swinging, insisting on the superiority of Christianity as the one true faith. I got in a few jabs of my own, however, including my argument that the atheists (who say all religions are one and bad) and the liberal multiculturalists (who say all religions are one and good) both have it wrong.

The world's religions aren't different paths up the same mountain, I said. They are “going up different mountains with different techniques and different tools.”

The best line of the night belonged, however, to the truthy Stephen. As I was struggling to say something coherent about how Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism try to solve very different problems, he delivered classic Colberesque non sequitur: “Adam and Eve were Jewish. Check under the fig leaf, my friend.”

Oh, and Stephen Colbert (the man, not the character) was a gracious host backstage. He told me he used to teach Sunday school in his Catholic parish, and he made the day of my star-struck cousin by having a picture made with him. 

All in all, great fun. I hope it was just round one.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Interfaith issues • TV

soundoff (655 Responses)
  1. Daiv

    What is it with desert tribes? They are responsible for the most insecure , angry religions on the planet and then they think everyone needs to follow them. Maybe too much time in the hot sun?

    June 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      You are right about what you are saying and this is why I don't codon religion.

      June 19, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • civiloutside

      When you come from a harsh environment with few sources of nourishment, the gods you create will tend to be harsh and offer "nourishment" only to the chosen few. It's a product of the environment.

      June 21, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  2. qmcs

    It has always amazed me that people who are intelligent on most matters seem to loose their minds on religion. Organized religion is and always has been about money and power and nothing else. There is no god, never has been one and the religion you follow does not make any difference. They are all bunk and I think basically everyone knows it deep inside but can not bring themselves to admit it. Freedom from religion is a very wonderful thing.

    June 19, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  3. Caliburn

    Religion is a useful tool. It has been used, historically, as a tool for a society to alter the behavior of individuals. Afraid to kill or die in battle? THe valkyries will take brave warriors to valhalla, allah will grant 72 virgins, you will sit at the right hand of jesus.
    Think you can get away with crime? Karma/god(s) will bring about retribution!
    Want to challenge "the system"? Royalty is chosen by or descended from deity!

    Religion is not implicitly good or evil. Like most things created by man, it serves as a tool.

    June 19, 2010 at 6:40 am |
    • Gary

      Caliburn ....so true! White slave owners used religion big time to control the emotions of their slaves..

      June 19, 2010 at 8:48 am |
  4. jmb2fly

    Your on a ship that's sinking. There is a life boat available for everybody. But when you talk to people first of all they refuse to believe the ship is sinking and they refuse to believe there is a life boat. Now I could just leave and not tell anyone but that would be pretty sorry of me. If I believe the ship is sinking and that there is a life boat why get mad when I tell you about it? Even if you choose not to believe I'm still being good to you. And it's still your choice.

    June 19, 2010 at 12:42 am |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      Do you people honestly think we haven't heard this kind of nonsense before? Maybe the reason religion is slowly dying is that the religious treat the nonreligious as if they're intellectual children.

      June 19, 2010 at 6:08 am |
  5. Hical

    how do I tell who is bringing me the real truth when two men come and tell me differing stories?
    1. evidence
    2. corroboration
    and yet some people (most people) choose to believe the man that "tickles" their ears the way they enjoy ... or the one that best appeals to their emotions.

    so, of the different religions ... which is supported by evidence and corroboration (corroboration from God not the man's friends)?

    June 19, 2010 at 12:09 am |
  6. jmb2fly

    I find myself reminded of the dwarfs in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle of the Chronicles of Narnia.....

    June 18, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  7. Mystr K

    Hmmm...all this nonsense almost makes me wish the big bang never actually happened so I wouldn't have to see so much stupidity on one web page...so how long do I have to wait for the one that is supposed to erase all of existence...darn. Too long.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
    • jmb2fly

      I don't know when the big bang to end it all is coming but the following from Revelation Chapter 8 may ring a bell. Might not have long to wait after all........

      8The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood,

      9and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed

      June 18, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
  8. Vynn

    Yeah....they're all climbing different mountains, but you know what's at the top of those mountains: nothing. I've studied the worlds religions most of my life, and it has led to the same conclusion: there isn't a personal God to be found out there. Only the awe and wonder of this grand universe we all share.

    June 18, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • jmb2fly

      Vynn, that's your experience and valid input. I have a different experience. First of all no mountains. All the worlds religions require us to do something to get to God. Be good , live good, achieve enlightenment, etc. I have a different faith. It says we can do nothing to get to God, but that God reached out to us because of His love for us. He made a Way for us. Jesus is the Way. I have a personal relationship with God thru Jesus. I have experienced the difference He has made in my life and I have seen and continue to see the difference He makes in others lives. I'm not trying to argue that your wrong, I'm just testifying to my experience. If you desire a personal relationship with God then I pray that He will bring you to Himself. While I can testify to what I have experienced and believe it is God's business to others believe.

      June 19, 2010 at 1:25 am |
    • Gary

      Vynn ...good observation!

      June 19, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  9. Tena

    To Jay; No – it was the Old Testament and obviously you fit in the “not at all”, category.

    June 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • Gary

      and thats why Adam nor Eve have belly buttons..

      June 18, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  10. Tena

    To JoeP; Ha-ha-ha… You have a great sense of humor! God bless you and good-by (to everyone).

    June 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  11. Bill W - Houston

    I am not religious because I believe that "religion" is an invention of man designed to divide. I have said that for years to family and friends but also have reasured them (if they need reassurance) that I am a man of strong faith and spirituality and that I believe in God and Jesus Christ.

    And yes, I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour while at the same time respecting all other walks of "faith". To each his own...

    What irritates me is the priests of the Catholic "faith" telling their parishioners to behave one way while some of them turn right around and molest our kids. That to me is the ultimate hypocrisy.

    June 18, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  12. JoeP

    Atheists: stop calling Christians stupid.

    Christians: stop telling atheists that you and God are gonna be laughing at them when they're burning in hell.

    Seriously, don't make me separate you two...

    June 18, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  13. jmb2fly

    One more thing to think about. What kind of time do physicist believe existed before the big bang? It wouldn't be time as we recognize it.

    June 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • Gary

      eternity is obvious......time and of course space go on forever no begining no end...still no proof of a God or of any certain religion...

      June 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • jmb2fly


      It is not obvious that time and space have no begining and no end. If the big bang theory is accurate then it at least has a begining.

      June 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • Gary

      big bang theory is not "the begining of time theory". Time has no beginnig and no end. space is infinite too. look into the sky it goes on forever. ....I have never studied big bang theory but in laymens terms it was when the Pangia mass of the universe imploded/exploded and dispersed into rocks,gases,stars ect ..creating the ever expanding universe as we are here today.

      June 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
    • jmb2fly

      Gary I have studied the big bang theory and I don't agree with your opinions on the origin of time but that's O.K. Have a good night.

      June 18, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      Gary... Time and space began at the big bang. That's all there is to it. The 'bang' was not an explosion; it was the expansion of the entirety of space from a singularity.

      June 19, 2010 at 6:11 am |
  14. jmb2fly

    If God is the creator of the physical universe is He constrained by the laws of this universe? God transends time and space. He exist outside of time, beyond it, not limited by it. Therefore why would it be impossible for him to have no begining and no end? Because we have a hard time imagining it? Just something to chew on.....

    Do all effects require a cause? Can anything happen without something causing it in our physical universe? If all effects have a cause we can go back in time to the point of the first or primary cause. What caused the big bang? What was the primary cause? Flying spaghetti thingy?

    June 18, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  15. bailoutsos

    If anyone needs to practice a religion to make them feel better, keeps them from hurting other people and it does not interfere with my rights, then more power to them.

    June 18, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Gary

      agreed , unfortunatly few religions practice that way.

      June 18, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  16. Yogi Ramacharaka

    I practice every religion in the world equally and devoutly. I know you doubt my claims, but have faith – I am human.

    There is but one life, and it manifests through ME, and every shape, form, and thing.

    June 18, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  17. JAB62

    You only live once, not twice. Stop wasting your life on this garbage.

    June 18, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  18. Tena

    Knowledge is good and necessary. The human mind is limited and finite. Whether you interpret it literally, figuratively or not at all: Adam and Eve were doing the same thing Atheists today are doing – seeking knowledge that is beyond human comprehension.

    June 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Gary

      Adam and Eve had no belly buttons....Religious folks unable to grasp wisdom within human limits and refuse to open their minds ........

      June 18, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Jay

      There was no Adam & Eve. How can anyone possibly believe such a foolish concept?
      They were in the new testament created by Romans to unite Christianity & Pagans under one empire.
      The bible is no more factual than Mother Goose.

      June 18, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  19. The L

    Religion was designed to unite communities and divide nations!!! "The liberal multiculturalists that say all religions are one and good and the athiests that say all religions are one are bad have it wrong". Prove it! That's the thing about an argument about faith, you can't prove anything. Why is the author even trying? What about the folks who believe in God and say that all religions are one and bad? I am one of those people and I have faith that I'm right. When you strip most religions to their core they ARE exactly the same. One creator and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Most religions even have very similar texts. The Jewish faith use the bible, it's just the old testiment, even the Koran is borrowing from the bible. The problem exists when people WANT religions to be different. Then the books change slightly and thus different problems are solved differently. How much blood has to be spilled because his God is different from your God? Again, just like the author of this column I can't prove a single thing I'm saying. This is just my ideology and I can't prove a word of it. I'm just hoping that when I die, God will look upon me and say "you got it right! you loved everyone and left the judging to me." Good luck with the torment of yourself and others for insisting they're wrong and not having a single shred of evidence!!!

    June 18, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  20. Susan

    I hope this is not viewed as abusive, but name calling wins points how?

    June 18, 2010 at 11:46 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.