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

soundoff (1,927 Responses)
  1. Ted

    I guess this means that all believers in this May 21st date will be leaving their homes and vehicles to me. Thanks!

    May 19, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  2. Goose66

    Another progressive hater. I have just about had my fill of the constant derision and hatred coming from the left in this Country!

    May 19, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  3. Larry

    Dude needs to get over this whole "religion hurts people."

    Lots of deaths have come at the hands of atheists, too

    Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc etc etc

    Just because you are an atheist doesn't make you any better than those who believe in a god.

    People are inherently evil and will use any excuse to kill...god, evolution, money, oil, women.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • macy

      Hitler wasn't an atheist. Please do your research.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • CatS

      Define 'evil'. Humans are forever caught between our need to do what's best for ourselves, and our need to belong in a society. If you look at it from a social animal perspective, 'good' is what is good for the society and 'evil' is what is bad for the society. The demands of the social group is 'morality'.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Kyle

      Hitler was a roman catholic and in his book Mein Kampf, he called the killing of jews basically a mission from his "almighty creator". Religious people like to mislead others by making false statements such as you did. Stalin may have been an atheist but he didn't kill people in the name of atheism, he did it because of his political ideals.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • FixTheDebt

      Well, they didn't kill because they were atheist.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • EJL

      Another tax free get rich quick scheme. The Bakker's still hold the trophy.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  4. Burnard Tibbetts

    If Camping is so certain about his prediction, I suggest that he nake and sign a Deed of Gift to give everything that he owns to a charitable orgainization with effect May 22, 2011. Samaritan's purse would be an excellent candidate.
    People who know the scriptures know that the Holy Bible says that "no many knows the day nor hour when the Lord will return"

    May 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • eddantes

      Harold Camping is using carbon dating to come out with this dooms date prediction; why then the christians believe that the earth is only 6000 years old when there are rocks on this planet carbon dating billion of years old?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  5. Goose66

    "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." You've got to be kidding me. Are you suggesting that atheists are some how inherently good and believers are somehow evil? What world are you living it?!?

    May 19, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Brandon

      Statistics show that atheists as a group have some of the lowest criminal rates out of all "religious" sectors.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • runner


      May 19, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • runner

      Brandon, What the hell are you talking about?Do your research.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • FixTheDebt

      Brandon is correct with regards to his statistics. Umad?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  6. Jesus Was A Dinosaur


    May 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  7. CatS

    The last HONEST preacher is Billy Graham. I don't agree with the man, but I have always respected his work – which is more than I can say for all the other snake-oil salesmen.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  8. The Old Wolf

    On the heels of Stephen Hawking's blunt declaration that "Heaven is a Fairy Tale", this article drags out one of the Athiest contingent's favorite straw men: Religion is harmful. That's about as valid as saying that guns kill people. Religions are made up of individuals, and individuals make choices, some good, some bad. Yes, religion can inspire fanaticism; it can also comfort, heal, sustain, and promote works of sublime charity. I find militant atheism as repugnant as militant evangelism, because it isolates, separates and divides humans into boxes, rather than striving to unite them. If you choose to follow the gospel of Reason rather than of religion, fine. But respect faith, and don't denigrate something about which you clearly know very little at the heart level.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  9. Andrew

    I love how David Silverman PREACHES about how these preachers are all just after a buck, but his website is all about pushing merchandise and books!!! LOL. I am an atheist, love Ayn Rand, and hate hypocrites! Amen!

    May 19, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  10. CatS

    mm – as opposed to what? Believing a book, whose authors you don't know, is the Word of God – because somebody, you also don't know, said so?

    May 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  11. austen

    This man believes every priest, preacher, and teacher out there is out to get your money and walk off with it. He's an atheist largely because the only religions he pays attention to are the bad ones. And he uses these to justify himself and to justify that god doesn't exist.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  12. Muneef

    The guy says he was atheist from age of Six years old?? How can that be at small age when at this age all you think of is playing ?? Think any one who should claim being atheist or any thing else should be at age of 21 years since it is the age of independence and free thinking....only at such age seriousness comes to a person to think further than his nose...

    May 19, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Yeah, that's pretty lame. But in fairness, he may well have had his earliest atheistic thoughts and inclinations then. Different people mature in different ways and with respect to different things. I can't recall a single theologically coherent, let alone sophisticated thought from any time before my teens. But I do recall a teacher all but mocking me because my taste in music while in first grade was supposedly way too adult. Whatever.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • crime dog

      I was in a meditative state as a 10 year-old and had a strong intuitive moment that all of the Christianity story i was being told was contrived. Maturity has cemented this intuition as obviously true.

      Brainwashing innocent children is harmful and this essay is not that militant or preachy in my opinion.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Muneef

      Is brainwashing to children is a term only used for those preach religions or a term used for all religious or non religious such as atheist or communist brainwashing children...??
      In such way if to all then we say from first dates of schooling children can be considered brainwashing ?? Guess who is not brainwashed then is considered ignorant and empty headed....?

      May 20, 2011 at 1:49 pm |

    Glenn Beck will host the 24-hour coverage Saturday.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  14. Chris Mankey

    "I've seen A LOT of things that are wrong with atheism. I have debated with atheists several times, and they are the most hate-filled people in the world."

    Happy is he who takes you babies and smashes them to death!-Psalm 137:9

    May 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • JT

      You obviously are very ignorant if you believe we are all hate filled... we're only filled with hate when a Christian goes into a religious debate and thinks that they know enough about science to talk to us rationally.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @JT Say what? Debating bible thumpers about science fills me with mirth and glee, not hate.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  15. Cody

    First, I really cannot stand sweeping generalizations about Christianity. (Like it feeds on fear). Second, I do not like atheists saying intelligent logical people would not believe in God. I am a Christian and a Master's student in an applied math program, that has both atheists and Christians, and we do no question each others intelligence. There are smart atheists and Christians, I would venture that anyone who believes that one side or the other is full of idiots, is an idiot themselves.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • MWH250BP

      Oops, himself!

      May 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • bestrafe_mich81@yahoo.com

      You can have all the degrees you wish, but if you truly believe in the Christian god, you are still hallucinating at best, psychotic and delusional at worst.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  16. Karin

    mickey1313, I completely agree with you. If we removed the tax free status of all churches across the U.S. we would have an enormous amount of monies to call upon for the U.S. infrastructure.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  17. Chris Mankey

    "I'm not an atheist and therefore I would never be so audacious to speak about something I know nothing of. This guy obviously knows nothing about God therefore, he should not be taken seriously"

    Christians don't know anything about god themselves. Including whether he's real or give a good reason why it's the bible's god instead or allah or Osiris . They just claim they know things and ask that you believe them to on faith.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Karin

      Yikes! How do you manage your day to day affairs???

      May 19, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Karin

      Meant for mm

      May 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  18. chad

    The media just wants to scare people i believe the world will only end when the sun burns out

    May 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Golyadkin

      And by that point, the human race will have either killed itself off by its own doing, or expanded out to the stars and have left this planet long behind.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • CatS

      I doubt we'll last that long.. The roaches might, though... 😉

      May 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  19. JamieinMN

    All of this crap makes me giggle.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  20. mm

    I'm not an atheist and therefore I would never be so audacious to speak about something I know nothing of. This guy obviously knows nothing about God therefore, he should not be taken seriously. He's just talking about a topic off the top of his head and that makes him sound foolish.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Give me a break

      @mm: How do you know that the author of this article "knows nothing about God" and is just "talking about a topic off the top of his head"? Way to make hugely generalized assumptions, there Skippy (kind of like the Christian religion itself, come to think of it). Such BS as "the Rapture" and "End of the World" prophecy is pure crap.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Tom -Las Vegas

      You missed the point, he isn't talking about religion he's talking about people who manipulate religion for their own personal gain.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Muneef

      Tom LV.

      [36:20] A man came from the other end of the city, saying, "O my people, follow the messengers.

      [36:21] "Follow those who do not ask you for any wage, and are guided.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
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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.