Too bad this book's enlightenment wasn't available fifty years ago. But back then no one would have had the knowledge to include all of what Prothero covers. The academic study of religions has come a far way in fifty years. Prothero maintains a neutrality as much as he can throughout his book but it is not difficult to discern that personally he is fascinated by, accepting of and impressed by the supernatural dimensions of mankind's cultural existence. The title of the book serves to be provocative while also laying the foundation for his ongoing argument against the contemporary "Godthink that lumps all religions together in one trash can or [one] treasure chest" (p 335). On one side of the Godthink continuum are the New Atheists (he makes distinctions between Angry [i.e. confrontational, New] Atheists and Friendly [i.e. non-confrontational, civil] Atheists) who blame religions, and people of faith, for all or most of the world's ills. On the other side are the "perennial philosophers" who--in spite of all evidence to the contrary--try to homogenize all religions into one loving, peaceful and harmonious syncretism.
The chapters are arranged in Prothero's judgmentally arbitrary order of each religion's pervasive influence on the state of the world, placing Islam first and Daoism last. This arrangement influences how he substantiates many of his arguments and uses illustrations as he refers back to material covered in previous chapters. This trait does make it more difficult to pick up the book to read a chapter in the middle or towards the end. He has given each religion about the same number of pages in the book, which I thought was the wrong decision. Christianity, with its offshoots and many permutations, is no doubt the most diverse, divided and irreconcilable collection of beliefs and traditions but is covered by one of the shortest chapters. So, I thought this treatment rather shallow. For example, Coptic Christianity, which looms large with millions of followers in North Africa, is ignored. The Masonic Order and other Christian esotericisms, which originated in the middle ages and have had significant influence on politics, economic forces and even on the founding of the United States, are also ignored. Christ-based/Jesus inspired New Age religious movements, including New Thought--which are having a huge following in contemporary society (in large measure thanks to Oprah Winfrey)--are not discussed. In the chapter on Islam I thought a page or two should have included the world encompassing Baha'i Faith, which sprang out of Shia Islam.
The author feels that the importance and legitimacy of Yoruba (aka Santeria) has been overlooked and so he clearly overcompensates by providing page after page of detailed and confusing information on its pantheon of gods, orishas and ceremonial practices. Confucianism and Daoism may also be described in too much detail for some readers. Another peculiarity of this book is how Pothero's attitude comes through by how much respect, or lack thereof, he affords to each religion. This can be measured by his lack of criticism or his disparaging remarks. By this measure he is clearly most respectful of Judaism, Daoism, Buddhism and Yoruba, in that order, but less so of Christianity and Islam. Confucianism and Hinduism seem to fall in between.
His inclusion of atheism, in a short chapter at the end, is very contemporary in view of recent anti-religious missives and tirades. Prothero deserves a great deal of praise for this book and it is well worth reading for students and laymen and keeping on the shelf as a reference. One thing is clear: Religions are in a continuous state of evolution. Many of us can participate in moulding the future to be more accommodating to believers of different faiths. Hopefully this book can contribute to an improvement in understanding and friendly relations between people of different persuasions.
Before closing this review I can't resist adding that the author's premise, with the title "God is Not One", is only true in a theological, doctrinal, creedal sense--comparing religions. The "realities" we perceive for ourselves, being grounded in materiality, personality and sociocultural influences, are divisively diverse. But from a timeless philosophical, metaphysical, perspective--attempting to see through the lens of Spirit--He/She/It (aka God) is ultimately One Reality. Is there not an overarching Truth which overcomes intellectual arguments and contradictions? There are many who hold this perspective which frees them from the shackles of declared loyalty to one or another of the more limiting religious doctrines.