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Doomsdays throughout time
May 19th, 2011
03:00 PM ET

My Take: Doomsdayers show what’s wrong with all religion

Editor's Note: David Silverman, an atheist since age 6, is president of American Atheists.

By David Silverman, Special to CNN

Let nobody doubt that religion hurts people. Good, intelligent, caring people suffer every day and everywhere at the hands of religion, the happy lie.

Religion is used by dishonest people who claim to know the way to the one thing humans want most: immortality. To combat fear of death, religious people ignore their intellect, believe the lie, and follow the preacher, usually blindly and sometimes to the point of insanity.

We are witnessing one very good example of this right now, as a group led by Christian ministry leader Harold Camping prepares for the end of the world this Saturday, May 21.

Of course, the weekend will pass without incident and thousands of Camping's followers, having spent or donated huge amounts of money on his behalf, will be gravely disappointed. Victims will be broken. Families will be damaged. Lives will be ruined. All because someone made a good pitch, and followers believed.

Opinion: May 21 Doomsday movement harms Christianity

I am not sure if Camping is a liar, but I think so. He realized that religion is a great way to make tax-free money off the backs of well-meaning people, through donations to his ministry, all without fearing eternal damnation. You see, I suspect that he, like many others of his ilk, doesn’t believe in God at all.

It may seem odd that I would accuse this man of being an atheist like me, but rest assured that he is nothing like me.

Like most atheists, I’m a pretty nice person and would never scam someone out of his or her life savings or convince someone to quit a job just to line my pockets. The truth is that religion and ethics are completely independent of one another.

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Consider how Newt Gingrich could campaign against President Bill Clinton's adultery as the darling of the Religious Right while actually being an adulterer himself. Consider how evangelical superstar Ted Haggard could preach against homosexuality, in God’s name, while hiding a gay lover. And consider Camping, who can get donors to cough up what appears to be a lot of money in God’s name while ruining his followers’ real lives on Earth.

These are not people who fear God or hell. In my opinion, they know very well that gods are myths. They are just bad people. Atheists have bad people, too, the worst of whom feign religion for their own personal gain.

Next week, Camping’s victims will ask our forgiveness for being so foolish, and we will forgive them, because we’ve all done stupid things. They will ask for money and we will help them, because most people are charitable.

And then Camping victims will ask us to forget all about this whole ugly scam. That is something we must never do.

We must remember that Camping, atheist or not, is no different from any other preacher. Religion thrives on fear–the constant threat of any-time-now Judgment Day coupled with eternal punishment in hell for those who don’t believe strongly enough.

Since rational minds question irrational things, believers constantly have doubts, and therefore fear that they don't have enough faith to pass muster during the eventual Rapture, when the righteous will be saved and the unrighteous will be damned. Fear of hell makes believers desperate to ease those doubts so they can be sure to get into heaven. It’s a recipe for fear-based obedience, which is exactly what religion craves.

It’s the method used by Camping, and by the rest of Christianity, too.

If we forget about Camping, this apocalyptic madness will happen again. Next year is 2012 and, just as was supposed to happen in 2011, 2004, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1994 and other years that the world is supposed to end, according to one religion or another.

What will we do in 2012? Will we sit still while preachers take advantage of the gullible again? Will we refrain from confronting the fools and continue to revere religion? Or will we, as a society, demand that people use their intellect and pay attention to their preachers, priests, rabbis or mullahs and see them as the scammers they really are?

This weekend, preachers from coast to coast will talk about why they are right and Camping is wrong, and I ask you all to listen closely. They will try to justify why one interpretation of the Bible (theirs) is right while the others are wrong. In the end, they are all interpreting the “perfect word of God” in their own imperfect way so that God agrees with their own agenda. It’s obvious if you look for it; no preacher ever says "God disagrees with me."

Yes, this weekend we will giggle at the fools who follow the preachers that earn their living spreading happy lies. Religion will have been proven wrong yet again.

But we all must remember that people have been hurt this weekend. We hope the victims of this year’s end-of-the-world will lift themselves back up, dust themselves off, and come out of this as better, less gullible people. Hopefully, they will use their experience to help others avoid future scams by shouting loudly at tomorrow’s victims, without fear of being irreverent about something which deserves no reverence at all.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Silverman.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • End times • Faith Now

soundoff (1,927 Responses)
  1. sillkree

    you are not only ugly, but are the most stupid retard in the world.you dave silverman are going to die and put in hell
    where you belong. evidently you have a very small fragment of brain lodged in your skull, thats why you cant think.
    i hope you enjoy hell cause SATAN loves you= you are doing his work.

    December 22, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  2. Roger

    There are two sides of this argument. One – sometimes good people make wrong decisions, not every wrong decision has behind it the motivation to deceive, it is just a bad decision. Bad decisions are not regulated to religion alone, bad political decisions, bad marital decisions, bad financial decisions, ect. Second – when knowledge of the Bible is presented and those who hear refuse to accept Biblical truth when the Bible plainly says the time nor hour is not known and you bully ahead anyway well that is the same as people spending money on a home they cannot afford and though conscious says no, pride and denial say lets go forward.

    http://www.rogertharpe.wordpress.com

    October 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  3. naneki

    its not blind faith its JUST FAITH...pure and simple Faith and Love for our Heavenly Father, Creator of all things seen and not seen, creator of science, creator of life. There are so many things we dont have answer to because WE DONT NEED TO KNOW, are we ever going to know the answers about our Creator and its mysteries surrounding all life, planets and galaxies, yeah some of the answers are already in the bible SO READ UP ON IT, add the rest of the unknown...WELL we just have to wait until we see our Father and then we can ask HIM..right?? dont worry we will know at the end, hopefully it wont be too late for some of you =(

    July 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • CGS

      You say your faith is not blind, but just faith? Yet you then continue on to say you do not know because you don't need to know. You do realize that is essentially the definition of blind faith, don't you? Accepting without explanation or understanding that you are not important or intelligent enough to know something, but taking it on "faith" that it is true. If it were up to people like you we would still burn those who claimed the world was anything but flat, which I find rather sad and disconcerting. Fortunately not all of the human race is willing to accept ignorance as an excuse for lack of trying. You deny that your faith is blind, yet then go on to exult in your lack of vision. Please make up your mind. Existence is complex and I believe that because some people such as yourself are frightened and overwhelmed by that complexity you will continue to cling to your faith as an excuse to avoid an attempt at understanding the truth behind it. Please ask your heavenly father what it all means when you meet him and post back here with an update. Thanks.

      July 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  4. paxman2

    My dear atheist brothers and sisters, please go to http://www.medjugorje.com/medjugorje/scientific-studies/627-specific-tests-administered-to-the-medjugorje-visionaries-and-their-results.html and look at the results of the scientific studies done by more than a dozen scientist, neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. The names and degrees held by each of the testers is listed at the bottom of this web page. Why would the people who tested them lie about the results? Gives an awful lot of authority to 6 'psychotic' kids. You believe in science until it goes against your beliefs.
    Pax.

    June 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Sean

      You keep posting this on different forums. You're full of crap on each one.

      June 10, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  5. Really

    I too think religion is the greatest story/lie ever told. it was never meant to be taken seriously. it's all a bunch of mythilogical chararcters put in for social order and control. check out this youtube video:
    Part 1

    Part2

    Part3

    May 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  6. Steve

    II am afraid they are still here...

    May 25, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  7. KingdomWork

    David, An atheist since the age of 6, huh? Because you were just THAT bright? Humble yourself, please!

    Just a question to ponder...Could it be that Jesus Christ is returning differently than the world expects Him to? Most people are expecting Him to return with the rapture... The word "rapture" isn't in the bible. Did you know that?

    In the New Testament, the religious people of the day crucified Jesus because they didn't recognize who Jesus was; as well as, His new Kingdom teachings. (Era of Grace) The Pharisees couldn't accept Him or His new teachings. They wanted to continue under the old era of Old Testament Law; thus, they had Him killed because they thought He was a false teacher.

    Maybe Christ is returning in the form of His Holy Spirit? Living through His believers? Our bodies are His temple, where He can live through us? Jesus was coming to baptize us with fire/or the Spirit, and He said, “Oh how I wish it was already kindled..”- I believe Jesus said that because He wanted us to live righteously, yet without His Spirit within us, it’s impossible to keep growing in grace.
    Have you ever looked at what He taught? He taught The Kingdom of God/Heaven. The kingdom is supposed to already be here now! Interesting, right?
    Could it be that no one knows the time or hour of His return because we receive His spirit/return at different times? Just a thought?!?!

    May 25, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Daeryn

      @ KingdomWork: No, It can't be that Jesus will return in any form at any time. Jesus and his legacy are myths – fake, false, untrue. It's as simple as that.

      May 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  8. Keith

    I am so sickened by religion of any type. It kills people in the name of "God" and then screws them out of their life savings. And let us not forget about Catholic priests who only have one goal: raping as many boys as possible!

    May 24, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Searching for the Truth

      Keith,

      First of all, if you are just sounding off because you are angry with what you read and hear concerning religion, that is one thing. I grew up disliking organized religion because of the many abuses man has done in the name of God. No one can argue that. But the teachings of religion is another matter. Our society has lost its way with spiritual truth and it has been overtaken by greed, materialistic desires, and amoral behavior. In today's world, of course people turn their backs to religion because first, they don't really know what it is. Are you judging the spirituality of thousands of years of practice because just a few Catholic preists are not normal? Do you really understand what it means to have faith and what that means in terms of living that in practice, not just in rhetoric? Of course you don't.

      But if you are going to try to convince people of what you believe, or what you have been conditioned to believe based on your upbringing or what your parents believe, then you need to be more objective. I know many people who had their lives saved because of honestly following religious practices. I know hundreds of people who stopped using drugs, or committing adultery, because they turned toward the peaceful solutions real religion offers. What you see and hear about with this doomsday stuff is nonsense. But then again, why is everyone so eager to knock down religion, when we should be more worried about these greedy corporations and the politicians who support them? Those are the real criminals who are raping people by the millions. I think you should refocus your priority a bit. But judging from your post, you will probably just argue this off and insult the message anyway, so don't worry, you can sleep alright not believing in anything that can explain the supranatural nature and intelligence of life. Best wishes, you'll need it.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Sean

      @Searching for the Truth
      Your phony piety isn't fooling anybody.

      June 10, 2011 at 6:56 am |
  9. John A. David

    Hey Blake, could you then please elaborate how matter first originated? the most eminent physicists, you will find like Hawking will say "That's silly, it has ALWAYS BEEN THERE. .......lol.

    Straw-man stances don't prove nothing.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • InFormed99

      Wake up John. There is MUCH research on the question of where matter 'originated'.

      May 24, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Jil

      And how it could of possibly just not observe the laws of physics?

      If it did not have to be created. then it was always there.

      May 25, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • John A. David

      Jill,

      Matter cannot be formed by nothing. It has to come from some existing matter, dont you see. when you say matter was always there. you are saying something like this,

      matter existed because of previous matter and that matter existed because of previous matter and in turn that matter existed because of previous matter and so on and so on.

      You have to realize that you may take this chain of 'matter begets matter' to eons ago, at a time which is probably not even in the reach of visible time, still it would have to have started somewhere, if you can't see it or if you perceive it in infinity, it still would have to come from something not from nothing. Hawking suggested that it is an infinite loop, my question: who or what started the loop or even defined the loop since it seems to carry a certain behavior. What process first begin matter and how? when you say it was always there, you are not solving the question, you are killing it.

      May 26, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  10. Blake

    I am an Atheist and let me say this. Atheists use their eyes, ears, and brains to come to a logical decision. Religions use FICTIONAL books, thousands of years old, written by people we have no clue even really existed to come to a conclusion that has no verifiable proof. I wouldn't be surprised if in 2,000 years people read Harry Potter and interpreted him as the new Jesus, and Voldemort as the new Satan.

    Here's a question that will dupe ALL religious people, yet people refuse to give an answer, they shun it away.
    (After proving to them the Big Bang theory is correct).
    Them – "If God doesn't exist where did the Big Bang cloud that created the universe come from then?!"
    Me – "It was just there."
    Them – "It can't just have always BEEN THERE, someone had to make it."
    Me – "Fair enough, where did God come from?"
    Them – "That's silly, he's ALWAYS BEEN THERE."

    Religion allows answers that if we use in everyday life people will think you are either A). A Liar. B). An Idiot C). All the above.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • RMW

      'Atheists use their eyes, ears, and brains to come to a logical decision."
      In that case, then one conclusion is that eyes, ears, brains and logical decisions can go very irrational. Consider:

      Atheist Sam Harris came out saying he is a believer in reincarnation and psychic phenomena.

      Bill Maher (who regularly mocks religion) is on the side of vaccine sceptics.

      Stephen Hawkings said he is terrified of an alien invasion (been watching too much alien-invasion films, Hawkings?)

      You may have heard of Erich von Daniken's ancient visiting astronaut aliens theory. Someone who was a believer of ancient astronauts (or at least open to the idea) was Carl Sagan, otherwise a self-described rationalist sceptic and, according to his last wife, not a religious believer.

      Going further than von Daniken was DNA-shape discoverer Francis Crick (a self described "agnostic with a strong inclination towards atheism") who proposed life existed on Earth because aliens seeded it with life.

      Topping them all, in my opinion, is the eminent British astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees (another self-professing atheist) who, I understand, has been going around seriously proposing that the universe, the whole of reality (me, you, Rees, the grass under our feet, the stars in the sky etc) may be nothing more than just a giant computer simulation game run by some 'programmer'. I find this proposal to be not too different from the old Hindu story of how the universe is nothing more than just the dream of sleeping super-being Brahman.

      "(After proving to them the Big Bang theory is correct)"
      Two ironies. First, the Big Bang theory was actually first proposed by a Belgian Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître. Second, not all scientists accept the Big Bang theory: http://www.cosmologystatement.org/

      May 24, 2011 at 6:31 am |
    • Searching for the Truth

      Blake,

      First of all, we may never know how the universe started. By posing a question that neither science nor a religious man can answer doesn't prove anything. Science, as slow as it is, hasn't proved how the universe was created, and religious people who are honest and seek the truth, will only say that it is a mystery that God does not reveal. If either claim to know the answer, then they are probably working for that guy Camping.

      But to say that the creation of the Universe is random and wasn't designed by a super intelligence, is also a falsehood. You don't have to be Einstein or The Dali Lama to figure out how incredible creation is, and how intelligent its design is, from everything from reproduction, to DNA, to the formation of Galaxies, there is a higher intelligence that not even science understands, yet many will not deny its superiority to anything man has ever or will ever create. So therefore, whatever your opinion is of the creation of the universe, really doesn't matter, but to deny its intelligence, is pure ignorance, which is what your post sounds mostly like, not to be rude.

      And if you are really seeking the truth, and want "intelligent" conversation, why do you sound so angry and have to stress your point with apparent hostility? Do you think that will make others believe in your words? You know nothing about religion, the history of it, and its purpose, so stop trying to mock it just because you are hiding behind your own ignorance of life. Look beyond the material, and think about the wonderment of creation, for your own sake.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Joe

      Searching for the Truth, I don't think you've been looking hard enough.

      "You don't have to be Einstein or The Dali Lama to figure out how incredible creation is, and how intelligent its design is, from everything from reproduction, to DNA, to the formation of Galaxies,"

      We know how reproduction works, we know what DNA is, and we know how the galaxies were formed because of science. If it weren't for science, we wouldn't have 1/1,000,000th the knowledge of our universe and our own bodies that we do now. If you want to look at everything and say "It's complex, therefor a creator did it" that's one thing, but don't use your scientific ignorance as the end-all-be-all proof that there is a creator.

      "...but to deny its intelligence, is pure ignorance, which is what your post sounds mostly like, not to be rude."

      Not to be rude, but it seems far more ignorant to cling to your faith in the light of what science (and the hundreds of thousands of scientists who have done the leg work for us to know what we know) tells us about how we got here. Religion says "It was created, and it is beautiful," science says "It wasn't created, we know how it came to be, and it is beautiful."

      To use your words against you, modified slightly "You know nothing about science, the history of it, and its purpose, so stop trying to discredit it because you are hiding behind your own blind faith. Look beyond the words of your holy book and think about how much science can explain, and about the wonderment of scientific discovery, for your own sake."

      June 3, 2011 at 10:34 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.