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. Clayton

    Glad I'm an atheist 🙂 I live an awesome life and donate a lot of my time and money to help make other's lives happier. At least I will never have to deal with the disappointment of religion 😀

    May 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  2. yo mama osama bobama

    I need a bj

    May 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  3. Deborah

    You know, most Christians don't believe the end times can be predicted. It's sad to see what the author of this piece believes ( or more exactly, what he doesn't) and how he can distort what Christians believe. It's sad he has a closed heart. People who believe, have expierences that leave no doubt to them. All you have to have is eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to believe, otherwise you don't see it, hear it or believe it. And all you have to do is take it on faith and suddenly your eyes are opened, you hear the Word and you can take it on faith and believe it. But you have to ask.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • ruth

      Shut the F Up

      May 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Marley

      @Deborah: I have eyes, ears, nose, and heart like every other human being. What is so special about you and other believers to make you "see" something that cannot be seen? Can you logically explain WTH is "God"? Good luck because nobody has come up with a logical argument for this thingy "God". Since you cannot answer this very basic question, do you know what that means? You know absolutely nothing. By simple LOGIC, your "God" does not exist. Lastly, if your "God" is based on the old-testament (ie. Jewish FAIRY-TALES), well, there is further bad news. Scientific and historical facts already directly FALSIFY your "God".

      May 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • yeah-ok

      Yes, you just need eyes to see Jesus, ears to hear Jesus, a nose to smell Jesus, a hand to touch Jesus and you can, yes, you will go straight to heaven, yes, yeeeehhhhaaaawwwwww!!! Here I come Jesus!!!

      May 19, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • yes-yes

      And do you want me to tell you a secret that all of us evangelists, etc, that are the people that have a closer relationship to God and Jesus than the ordinary people know. I'll tell you one of our secrets. Eat a lot of fibre rich foods every single day of your life. The flatulence that you hear will then be the voice of God. Just listen close to know what we and God want for you!!!

      May 19, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • yes-yes

      Praise be to the Lord, thank you Jesus!!!

      May 19, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  4. Anotheridiot

    It is funny how we are all an authority in religion because we sought after God at one point or denied his existence and had discussions about it. Camping is an idiot and so is Silverman for both act like they have a grasp of a topic they know little about. Neither have formal education in theology. It's like a child who has a cold and self medicate himself and says now I'm a doctor. Camping and Silverman are both from the same mold. Both are very self centered and use other for selfish purposes. One for greed the other for recognition.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Marley

      And who would the *experts* on "God" and "religion" be? I know of NONE! Do you understand the fundamental question in theology that cannot be logically answered? WTH is "God"?! Nobody has come up with a logical argument for the existence of "God"!!! So that means my guess is as good as your guess. There are NO experts!

      May 19, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  5. Akmed

    the only real religion is Muslinism

    May 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Odysseus

      I prefer Silkism or Satinism, but I agree Muslinism is better than Linenism.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  6. Fook Off

    The end is near. Jesus just emailed me about it. he cuts my grass

    May 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  7. RichardSRussell

    Harold Camping and his loony followers believe 1001 crazy things. #1000 is that Jesus will be returning from the dead. #1001 is that it'll happen this Saturday. Mainsteam religionists only buy into the 1st 1000 crazy things and therefore consider themselves morally superior to the more obvious nutjobs.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  8. GwT

    I think that the author really does have to re-evaluate his stance against "all religions". Not all religions state that there is an all-knowing, all-seeing deity. Buddhism is one of those religions that does not have a deity, but is misunderstood and misrepresented all across the planet. In the classical and literal sense, a Buddha is not a deity, a Buddha is a name for a person that understands the fundamental law of the universe, the universal law of cause and effect and the way that even our personal choices in life reflect that fundamental law. It does appear that what the author has an issue with is Judeo-Christian religions since he makes no mention of Pagans, Druids, Hindus and Wiccans and their pantheon of gods and goddesses. Are they also included under his umbrella of "non-rationality"?

    May 19, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Eric

      Yes, they are included, I assume except for the practice of Buddhism in it's pure form, which is a way of life and not a religion. Siddartha himself said you don't have to change your religion to practice Buddhism.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  9. Jack Off

    How can anyone be an atheist at age 6? you can't even figure out how to wipe your Azz properly.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Mega Zeus Thor

      Some kids can see a fictional fairy tail for what it is.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Guilherme

      The same way some people are christians at 3yo.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Really? How old were you when you finally figured out the deal about Santa Claus?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • crosairjockey

      Not sure how old I was but once a teacher explained reason humans believed in greek mythlogy I knew then christianity and all religions where fake. Doesn't take rocket scientist to figure out we didn;t all come from adam and eve and noah got all animals on the ark.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  10. Celestial1

    I really see nothing wrong with the May 21st ppl. Everybody is marching for something these days, warning ppl of the coming end of these things is so harmless, I am wondering why so many of the commenters are upset. Afterall death is always imminent , some who have commented( myself included) may not even make it alive to see May 21, much less concerning ourselves of what will or wont happen on that day. The end of the world happens every single day, each time a person die, the world has ended for them. Let us just remember to love those who are close to us, so that no matter what time or place, when we leave they will know they were loved. For the record I am a Pantheist.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  11. HC

    I am finding this discussion humorous. The atheists are systematically dismantling their own arguments. Christianity has been under attack since before the veil was torn. This is nothing new or unexpected. Followers of Christianity will be ill-prepared to defend and will continuously fall into traps set by Man, while followers of Christ will observe, read, and pray.

    Challenge to all: Suck it up and read the Bible, start to finish. Get through the tough stuff and pay attention to the good stuff. If it just tickles one fancy, keep searching. If it doesn't, then at least you have given yourself the chance. Maybe you will try again later. I will pray that you do.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • May 21 is just another saturday

      I challenge you to use some rational thinking. Question: Which of these passages is right, 1) Man was created after the other animals (Gen 1:25,26,27) or 2) Man was created before the other animals (Gen 2:18,19)? Either way it is a contradiction in the bible and that is in the first four pages. There are over 140 contradictions in the bible so how can it be "true"?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      As an atheist, I heartily 2nd this motion: DO read the Bible! You will be staggered at the scope and relentlessness of the atrocities committed, commanded, or condoned by its "hero", Yahweh, who has to be the most evil, vile, bloodthirsty, bigoted, cruel, racist, misogynistic fiend in all of fiction.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Oh no thank you. I tried to read the bible, but it didn't hold my interest. I also tried to read the Harry Potter books and didn't care for them either. No book can convince me of what common sense tells me isn't real. I am not an atheist because of any anger or rebellion, or as some religious people like to claim, a desire to behave badly without accountability. I am an atheist because when I look at the universe I can find no purpose for a higher being, be it Zeus or Jesus.

      I don't believe in eternal life; it seems a very silly concept to me. It isn't practical and the only reason for it is a fear of death, and I'm not afraid of death. I'm okay with dying and being forgotten. That's the nature of existence.

      Religion offers me nothing, therefore I look at it objectively. I can find no logic in religion. When I look at the history of humanity and sheer volume of gods that have been worshiped by countless cultures, it becomes clear to me that gods are a human invention.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  12. Bruce

    Remember the group that was going to meet the comet? The Earth has about 4.5-5.0 billion years left, as a planet. I'll see all of the doomsdayers tomorrow, next week, next year and into the future. The big-bang, or singularity, is the proof that God is only in a person's mind. I often wonder why God failed to mention the dinosaurs to Moses! Perhaps, it was an insignificant event to him, or her.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  13. mm

    What are these people going to do when they wake up on 5/22? I hope they don't go nuts on each other. They have given away all their worldly possession. If they would have only read the Bible. What a shame because the Bible does say that the people perish for lack of knowledge.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • May 21 is just another saturday

      I wonder if they are going to drink the kool-aid like the others before them

      May 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Jack Off

      They'll do a 69

      May 19, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • TheBarnster

      I'm trying to get one of their campervans...they look nice and they won't be using them after the weekend!

      May 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  14. May 21 is just another saturday

    Just another in a long line of "any day now"

    May 19, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  15. Rob

    No doubt about it, David Silverman is a first-class jerk. But the good thing is, jerks like him help make more Christians than a lot of preachers. No one wants to be like him.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I actually thought it was a reasonable article stating a belief that is apparently unlike your own. How this makes the author a "jerk" is beyond me.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Cestmoi

      Why is he a jerk? Because he believes differently than you?

      Whether or not I agree with his views doesn't mean that he is a first class jerk. Let's skip the ad hominem attacks and discuss the issue at hand, shall we?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • APzzz

      How is he a jerk exactly? He makes perfect sense in what he is saying. Is he a jerk for being a realist instead of someone who believes in an old white man in a flowing beard watching over us for all eternity?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Aezel

      And then they go actually read the bible and realize what a huge mistake they have made, and end up not being a Christian again.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • crosairjockey

      he's a jerk cause he makes it harder fr believers to continue lying t themselves. Thank you CNN for publishing this peice. Fair and balanced. Fox would never as they bebefit from blind faith.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  16. Peter

    This is a good (and compassionate) explanation of the apocalyptic mindset – http://www.inspiratus.org/conscious-living/the-end-is-near-once-again/

    May 19, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  17. FRUmpo

    Doomsday? End of the world? Anyone remember Y2K?

    May 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  18. nothingbut

    Another thing is that Camping will have had a lot of time to think and when the end of the world doesn't happen he will have something good thought up so as to lose as little power as possible over his flock of believers. I am so glad that I don't have to believe in a santa claus in the sky that's going to wisk me off to heaven when I die in order for me to be content with life. People that believe that are actually living in a fairy tale made up by people thousands of years ago. Which religion did God give the correct book to? Which one of the many religions made up by humans is the one that God sanctions? All religions think they are the correct one. What's really bad is people that think they are "holier than thou" because of what they believe. Too many religious people think they are better than people that don't believe and that is ironic and absurd and very unintelligent. Religion has historically caused more human death and conflict than any reason on this planet. If monkeys evolve over 5 million more years they will absolutely get smart enough to create a belief in something that makes the world into a place where when you die there is a heaven to go to. Religion is a crutch for the weak that can't accept the truth about the situation humanity is in.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  19. HeIsGod

    These stubborn unbelieving fools don't get it!!

    Satan is the author of all destructions and confusion in this world. If you refuse to know Christ, you will NEVER get to know the enemy and will, therefore, become his prey! Keep living in your ignorance and when destructions comes and you are quick to point your finger towards God or religion, I WILL be laughing at your stupidity!

    STOP being so darn SIMPLETON!!! You ignorants always look for something or someone to blame for your own stupid decisions and destructions!!

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

      Why do Christians always have to have enemies? And why do they call other people names like "stupid," "ignorant," & "simpletons?" I thought Jesus said.... Oh, never mind.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I am sorry that you are so afraid of life and death that you must hate everyone who doesn't believe as you do. It must be a horrible way to live.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Grimaldas

      And you are a Christian who embraces, love, peace, tollarance and respect for others? You are the shinning light of how horribly wrong everyone has it... You simply can't/won't see the truth. Sad little people. : ( ... ...

      May 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  20. Josh

    Why is an atheist writing for a blog called Belief Blog?

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

      Josh, I all know is that atheism is for angry, mean spirit, evil minded, and bitter people who hates God for no apparent reason. The majority of them used to be Christians themselves who turned their backs to God and now a voided life.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Because this is a public forum and we are all allowed a voice. Because "belief" is a word that can also be used as "what I believe". Because some of us are interested in every opinion, be it christian or atheist.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Observer


      Think things through next time. How can atheists hate God when they think God doesn't exist? Do you hate Lex Luther for trying to kill Superman?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Renae

      Interesting HelsGod..the atheists I know are usually the nicest people I've ever met. My ATHEIST brother underwent a very painful, very unnecessary, very DANGEROUS surgery to be a live donor for a kidney for my husband. Sure don't seem to be the actions of an angry, mean spirit, evil minded or bitter person...

      May 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Clint

      Here, fixed it for ya.

      "Josh, I all know is that religion is for angry, mean spirit, evil minded, and bitter people who hate anyone not just like them, for no apparent reason. The majority of them used to be normal themselves, but got brainwashed or tricked into believeing that it would lead them to a better life.."

      Perhaps, you should change your name to "religioustroll"

      May 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • An Atheist’s Perspective

      "Why is an atheist writing for a blog called Belief Blog?"

      Because it is an article on an individual's opinion regarding a religious group that has been in the news recently. Since it falls under the categories of "opinion" and "regarding religion and or belief" CNN stuck it in here. Also, what tallulah13 said.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Mega Zeus Thor

      @HeIsGod And other people are atheists because they realized that deities don't exist. Some sort of reason must be applied to determine what claims are true and what claims are likely untrue. Leprechauns,unicorns, Poseidon, Yahweh = stuff people made up.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:55 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.