Reza Aslan, author of the controversial nonfiction work Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, said in a recent column that atheist public figures like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Bill Maher don't accurately represent atheism.
Known as the "New Atheists," Aslan argued in a Salon column published Friday that these public figures "do not speak for the majority of atheists."
"On the contrary, polls show that only a small fraction of atheists in the U.S. share such extreme opposition to religious faith," wrote Aslan.
"In fact, not only is the New Atheism not representative of atheism. It isn't even mere atheism (and it certainly is not 'new'). What Harris, Dawkins and their ilk are preaching is a polemic that has been around since the 18th century — one properly termed, anti-theism," he asserted.
Aslan also wrote that this New Atheism bears a strong parallel to the very religious fundamentalism he so vehemently opposes.
"In seeking to replace religion with secularism and faith with science, the New Atheists have, perhaps inadvertently, launched a movement with far too many similarities to the ones they so radically oppose," continued Aslan.
"Like religious fundamentalism, New Atheism is primarily a reactionary phenomenon, one that responds to religion with the same venomous ire with which religious fundamentalists respond to atheism."
Aslan's recent opinion piece for Salon came as part of the ongoing debate in mass media over recent statements by individuals like Maher over how representative terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, are of Islam in general.
This included a fierce debate on the comedian's HBO program "Real Time With Bill Maher" between himself, atheist author Harris, and actor Ben Affleck.
Aslan weighed in on the matter via an opinion piece in The New York Times, arguing that "there is a ral lack of sophistication on both sides of the argument when it comes to discussing religion and violence."
"Bill Maher is right to condemn religious practices that violate fundamental human rights. Religious communities must do more to counter extremist interpretations of their faith," wrote Aslan. "But failing to recognize that religion is embedded in culture — and making a blanket judgment about the world's second largest religion — is simply bigotry."
Aslan's comments on the issue brought him into the fray, as some argued that his parallels between atheism and religion are, as Jeffrey Tayler of The Atlantic argued, a "ruse."
"This is patently untrue: nonbelief is not a 'belief system.' Atheism simply denotes nonbelief in a god, and the rejection of God-related assertions, advanced without evidence," wrote Tayler.
"Smart atheists know that God's inexistence cannot be proven, but find no reason to accept the absurd claims the three Abrahamic faiths make, and every reason to react with anger and contempt when adherents of those religions attempt to impose them on the rest of us."
In a more recent Salon piece, Aslan countered that many commenters to his Times column were not making the distinction he was making between atheism, in general, and "anti-theism."