I wrote a blog article about this issue here:http://huayanzang.blogspot.tw/2012/10/b ... pagan.html
I point out several canonical sources which demonstrate the role of gods in Buddhism and that by no means can you define Buddhism as atheist.
A most interesting article. Perhaps this:
It begs the question what would the “Atheist Buddhists” say if the Buddha really did believe deities like Indra had a significant role to play in maintaining the cosmic order?
should be answered. If Buddha did so believe, and he is our teacher, then we should all follow him, and devote ourselves to the worship of Indra. This might not leave much room for Dharma though.
The recurring problem with gods in Buddhism is that they, like any other deities, steadily accumulate powers and virtues over time as their followers compete with each other. Eventually they surpass the Buddha in power and importance, and worship becomes centred on them, even as today, most pujas revolve around Tara, Medicine Buddha or that Other Protector, among others.
Let us continue with with the supposition that deities do exist. Since they are powerful and wise, they can intervene in human affairs on our behalf, should they wish to do so. So, if it is enlightenment we seek, why follow the arduous methods of the Buddha at all? Why not simply pray to the gods to grant us enlightenment right away, or ask them to create the causes and conditions for enlightenment preferably by next Tuesday afternoon? Why not get them to pull us out of the wheel of samsara immediately? If it doesn't work, we can always claim it is due to our failings rather than the failings of the gods.
I propose that many people pray in this way every day, and that the method fails to produce enlightenment just as often. This leads me to believe that such beings, if they exist, have no power to help anyone, and should be ignored, or that they do not exist at all.