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. fgsanford

    I dont know if the end is near & hope it is not.There is so much for me to do on this earth before i pass away. I am a christian even though i am not a perfect one, i do belive in the father, the son and the holy ghost. this world even though with all its imperfections could be a great place to live if it was done without greed, wars and hunger. There is no reason for hatred,jelousy,racsism or crime. every thing is about money and not about what truly matters any more.Happiness and peace.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  2. Will

    Finally...the most brilliant article ever published by CNN.com. What's shocking is how widespread the "lie" continues to be all across the world. Wasted Sunday mornings, donations, wars, deaths, etc...all over the fear that life actually does end at our last heartbeat. If only everyone embraced this fact, then life would be much better...all across the world. Who would have thought that an ex-Beatle, of all people, spoke the actual truth instead of the lies uttered by doctoral preachers, cardinals, and other faith leaders. There's a reason for logic and intelligence, people!!! So, join us...it's called "reality."

    May 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  3. 19random35

    I don't really get why anyone would want to be truly immortal. That in itself would be a kind of hell. At some point your existence has to end. Were things that bad before you were born? I think you will be as unaware after your death as you were before your birth. I have no memory of the 1800's, because I didn't exist. I will have no awareness of the 2300's, because I won't exist.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  4. eddantes

    Mr. 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 10:10 pm |
    • Dave

      Most Christians don't believe it is 6000 years old. That figure was come up with by some people who added up all the geneologies in the bibles (the "begats") and came up with a figure of 6000 years. The bible never addresses how long the earth or man has been around.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • eddantes

      Thanks for the answer Dave; however I still have a question, how old would a christian say this planet is? 50000 years old, a 100k? it seems to me to be a big discrepancy of dates between what our current science says and the biblical calculations of some people.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  5. Jeremy

    "Let nobody doubt that religion hurts people."

    You can thank monothiestsfor: the discovery of electricity, gravity, nuclear energy, relativity. You can also thank them for the invention of cars, airplanes, modern medicine, democracy, computers, microwaves, the enlightenment... the author is phsycologically blind.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Jasona

      You comment has no bearing on the article, or the thought conveyed by its author. You are apparently blinded by religion.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • r314tt

      You could also say that they discovered those things DESPITE being monotheists, and certainly not BECAUSE of it.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Actually democracy came from those wacky polytheists, the Greeks. Nice try, though.

      And let us never forget the catholic monk Giordano Bruno, who was burned alive because he refused to recant his belief that the earth was a star,

      May 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  6. Zoe Jean

    @MM...are you taking a stab at being sarcastic? I'm not an atheist, nor a Christian, nor do I participate in any of the earthly faiths. However, I'm very spiritual and I try to live my life as a caring, honest, and giving person. I think Mr. Silverman has several solid points, and he has every right to an opinion, just as you have. I'm sure Camping is just another horrible person playing on peoples fears, while taking their money, and I think his actions are not only 'sinful', but criminal too.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  7. littlelamb

    David you claimed as a good person while at the other hand you said, Camping who is scambug is like you, an ATHEIST. How's that? Then you're NOT a good person?

    May 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • r314tt

      littlelamb, if you had read the article more carefully, you would notice that Mr. Silverman says Camping is a bad atheist, and there are bad atheists just like there are bad Christians.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  8. Eric

    This atheist is only railing against Christianity. A proper atheist would rail all religions equally. I think this atheist is more religious than he lets on, he sounds like a Christian scorned. Words like hell and preacher don't show much knowledge of the world's religions... Only Christianity... So much for being a true atheist since age 6.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • r314tt

      He's addressing what's been in the news lately. Just because this one article isn't about anything except Christianity doesn't mean he doesn't address other religions as an atheist.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Jasona

      The central point of the article is about the end of the earth predicitons..by the religious... You need to read more closely.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  9. Myles

    I don't see the point to believing in an "imaginary buddy who lives upstairs".
    I used to have one of those when I was 4 yrs old.
    He lived in my bedroom closet.
    Nobody could see him but me.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Agnostic Christian Atheist

      hehehehehehehehehehehehehe "gasp" hehehehehehehehehehehehhehe

      May 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  10. @mickey1313

    "If you believe that, please do the world a favor. 1, go to a gun store and make a good shotgun purchise. 2, waite 2 weeks, 3, end your life so inteligent athiests can live and prosper without your bs"

    I hope you don't believe that you are one of the intelligent atheists, so far I find no intelligence in any of your arguments.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  11. Lisafree

    I am a Christian and a believer of our Lord God. I have many friends some who are believers and some not. Our God loves everyone regardless. There are many subjects in the Bible who did not believe, but became a follower's and believer's. As with my discussions with my atheist friends and the question I have now is Why would you take the chance in not believing in God and be so sure that there is no God? Why would you believe that you were just born and that's it? you are born then you die and then there is nothingness. Basically it is saying you were born for no rhyme or reason there is no purpose for your life, you are just here being the best person you can. Since most atheist like to use science to describe, rationalize and anazlyze does that logically and scientifically makes sense? Each person in this world has free will to believe or not. I choose to believe. As for my individuals who are stating doomsday is coming they should know better as stated in the earlier comment NO ONE KNOWS WHEN THE LORD OUR GOD is coming back,

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

      Sounds to me like you are hedging your bets...covering youself...just in case there is a God. This whole God business is sheer nonsense. Man created God...nothing more, or less.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Jeff

      You are paraphrasing Pascal's wager, which is a false dichotomy. If you say I should believe in a god to protect myself in case there actually is one, then which of the thousands and thousands of named gods should I choose? You happen to choose one from your culture (monotheistic from modern Western society), but there is no logical reason that the one you grew up with is the right/real one. You only think so because that is what is promoted in your culture.

      As for some sort of purpose in life, do you grant that concept to every living thing? Do dogs go to heaven? What about ants? How about plants? If not, why not? Perhaps because your religion is made by people to make them feel special compared to other living things, and therefore in that fairy tale only people get immortality.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  12. AGreen

    He says these followers will realize their mistakes and brush themselves off from being foolish afterwards, but truth is, their belief is so strong they will find a way to rationalize, justify, and ultimately come out on top (in their minds) in the end. That's why religion bothers me the most. You cannot argue it and you cannot rationalize it because you can neither prove nor disprove it.

    So these people who gave up everything for the end of the world will actually be happy on the other side of Saturday, because this was the wrong day, but they proved their faith.

    As a non-believer myself, I just feel it's a waste of time and effort to spend your living years devoted to the complete unknowable after-living, but I can see where faith can help individuals. I just personally don't need that help. I'm good.

    They will rationalize, they will justify and they will continue in their different ways. Those of us who don't believe, well, we'll just be sitting here in continual fascination.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  13. Lisa

    I have little sympathy for the May 21st people ever since I saw a few of them drag their kids into it. I cannot imagine how cruel is would be to tell your children, particularly under the age of 12, that their lives are about to end. Maybe it will be outrageous enough that they will seek the truth in their own lives.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • tallulah13

      What they are doing to their children is absolutely heartless.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  14. sondry


    May 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Ringo

      God hates CAPS...just sayin'.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Ogre


      These are the words and wishes and demands of a hideous egotistical monster – not any loving "God". Ahem, really sounds more like your 'Satan' character.

      FYI: You can thank Paul of Tarsus for thinking up that slogan. Paul – the ranting, raving, misogynistic, misanthropic first century zealot who hijacked a budding new religion.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Juan

      i am with Ringo; caps just seem like your screaming. I think a lot of people have a misguided image of God. One of Him being angry. Waiting to zap you with lightning when you mess up. He took all His anger out on Jesus. Our sin is paid for!!!! He sees me and i am covered in Jesus righteousness. God will pour out His wrath as is stated in the Bible and people need to accept Jesus' sacrifice before that day. -but God LOVED the world so much He gave His only Son so whoever believes can have eternal life! 🙂

      May 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Juan

      ogre you have forgotten all about the context. God doesn't FORCE anyone to confess. Its their epiphany moment. & I love Paul!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My favorite! Just curious where you get your information on Paul. I have only read the Bible on him. Sounds like you'de be a good candidate for a Saul/Paul experience.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Gary C

      Your CAPS LOCK key is stuck.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  15. mickey1313

    muneef, but anyone who thinks they know anything of god is a fool. in 10 thousand years there have been exactly zero pieces of evidance put forth that god is real. I choose to stick with bets that have a probibility of truth, a lack og god is a sure bet.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Juan

      Dolores you are right. No man knoweth the day or the hour but the Father! Mickey evidence is all around! Design demands a designer! What about all the fulfilled prophecies in the Bible all the scientific facts and the fact that archeologists use the Bible as a reference. Everything that is prophesied about Jesus' second coming is coming true now before our eyes!

      May 19, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  16. che-3

    Fake Christians and delusions of deceitful white folks. How pity to be this foolish in this 21st century and be delusional. These are fake Christian who has absolutely no knowledge of the Bible. It's written in the same Bible that "no one knoweth the end. Not even the father or the prophets…… ". I knew this verse in 1st grade catholic school; whilst these so-called fake Christian adults missed it and parading like silly clowns on the streets of America. What a shame?

    May 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Proof of the hyporicy. How could the Father "all knowing" not know when the end is? Easy question, there is no father and no set end, except when the sun runs out of fuel in 5 billion years or so.

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

      Go re-read that scripture. I'm pretty sure that it says that the son doesn't know but only the father does.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  17. Drew Willcutt

    Silverman writes this piece based on a false premise, that "[r]eligion is used by dishonest people who claim to know the way to the one thing humans want most: immortality." If any Christian is using their religion for a ticket to Heaven, they are missing the point. My Christianity is not about immortality. Rather, it is about a daily walk with the God that created me. God, as it says in Genesis, created man as a companion. He yearns for a relationship with us, just as any parent does with a child. Likewise, I do not disregard the examples that Silverman provides as reasoning for questioning Christianity as a whole. We all make mistakes; however, some mistakes are more public than others. Lastly, why is it that atheism tends to be an attack on Christianity? I never hear, or read, about atheists condemning Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. Rather, they prefer railing on Christian belief systems. I could take this article sentence, by grueling sentence, and critique it, but I won't. Instead, I will leave it at what I have written.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Jeff

      Atheism does critique all religions; it just happens that this story is in the news right now and it's about christianity. Don't worry - we think they're all fairy tales, not just yours.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  18. Nick

    Thanks Muneef. Well said and I appreciate you explaining that prayer.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • mickey1313

      except he lied about what it means, it translates as "god is great, there is only one god and mohamad is his profit". So the crap he spewed was propiganda. Sorry to burst the bubble.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  19. myoleman

    The author is right in many ways. Most organized religions are businesses ran by dishonest professional ministers. The endtimes ruse has been used profusedly throughout time, because it works. There'll always be naive, gullible people who'll fall for it. On the other hand, however,real, sincere Christian believers won't fall for any of these ruses, because they know their Bible real well. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself warned us many times about all these con men who'd try to fool us with their false doctrines. If what somebody prophesies doesn't agree with what's written in the Book, we'll not believe it. And it says that nobody, but the Father, knows the day or the hour of the end.
    On another point raised by the article, nobody really "knows" whether there's a god or not. People simply choose to believe there's a god or not. but nobody can say objectively that there's no god, and those who do are flat-out lying, since they don't have such a tremendous knowledge on such huge mysteries. They just choose to believe there's no god, for whatever reasons. We, Christians, chose to believe in God because he himself chose us to believe in him, through election, not through factual knowledge.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  20. UCFknightman

    As an non-theist (I don't like the word "atheist"), I believe in tolerance, even if I don't agree.

    The May 21st people don't count...they're friggin' crazy.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Jasona

      Yes indeed, friggin crazy...like most of the phony religious nuts on this site.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:19 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.