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. Nickers

    I could not agree more with the writer's condemnation of Camping and his hoax. Certainly, Camping is not alone among individuals who use religion for their own financial benefit. However, to use those examples to jump to the conclusion that Camping is "no different from any other preacher" is ludicrous. Is Camping no different from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? How about Archbishop Oscar Romero, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer? These men used their religious conviction to influence their world for incredible good.

    Furthermore, the writer's assertion that "fear-based obedience...is the method used by the rest of Christianity" is equally absurd. Again, certainly many individuals use religious fear to further their own agenda, but to apply this to religion as a whole? Did Teresa of Calcutta serve with utter selflessness by instilling fear in those around her? Of course not. She chose to live a life of love–sharing the love that she felt from her God with others. Similarly, countless people around the world today live selfless lives of service in the name of religion. In the name of love, not fear.

    I appreciate this article. If for no other reason, it prompts open discussion, but I also appreciate the chastisement of religious dishonesty. With that said, this article's greatest use, it seems, is only to serve as yet another example of one side of the religion-or-not debate generalizing the other side as totally and completely without value.

    *sigh* So much for the middle ground.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • An Atheist’s Perspective

      If you go back to the first few pages of comments, the article served to promote quite a bit of discussion occurring in the middle ground. Then the trolls noticed the article.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • ghandy

      trolls come out because of you idiots

      May 19, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • FT

      I'm an Atheist, but that was a fantastic and spot-on post, Nickers!

      May 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  2. mj

    there has been so many dates that the people have said would be the end ,but it you read and study the Bible you will understand that it clearly states only God in heaven knows the date, not the angles, not even Jesus.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Nathan Kavanaugh

      not the angles or jesus that cuts my grass????

      May 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  3. Nathan Kavanaugh

    god loves me, you know what I mean? he's got a real big one

    May 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Sam

      Yes God has areal big one, and thats in your @ss right now. lol

      May 19, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Osaman

      no, thats your mamas finger–LOL

      May 19, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  4. Nathan Kavanaugh

    I love men

    May 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  5. Nathan Kavanaugh

    Silverman is exactly what he claims to hate: a self-righteous devotee of a belief system that he is absolutely certain is the only right one. The sheer arrogance, close-mindedness, and irony of his faith in evolutionary theory would be comical, except that it's led the world into FAR more deaths in the past 100 years than religion has in the entire history of the world. Silverman has in his corner the likes of Hitler and Stalin. Extermination camps and gulags are what Silverman's belief system got us. Thanks, buddy, but I'll stick with my lame, old-fashioned belief in a God that creates and loves.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Giant1

      Everything you have just mentioned has all been refuted many times before.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Sam

      Atheism is not a belief system, its a simple rejection of theocratic ideology that its is not convincing.
      Little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Study more.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  6. Sam

    Religion is a disease that is contracted during childhood.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Nathan Kavanaugh

      Religion is a disease - and I'm the cure

      May 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Tyggo

      Yes, it's much easier to brainwash them when they're little...

      May 20, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  7. Kevin Sagan

    "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."

    It might be harmful to the children of the parents who throw their savings away because they believe they're going to heaven on 5/21.

    And Rob, you're a jerk, too. Of course, you'll think I'm a jerk for calling you a jerk, and so on... At least Silverman wrote a well thought out article - unlike your silly comment.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • ruth

      you are a jerk . stop repeating your assoholeistick comments

      May 19, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Billy Bob Tarmac

      Dear ruth,
      You are a paragon of maturity, as evidenced by your previous comments. I will do well do listen to everything you say. I love the way that you lambaste your opponents without seeming as unintelligent as they are. Please post more.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  8. Erv CO

    Yo Jesus, Patrick just called me. He's in a financial bind cause he didn't get paid today.... he wanted us to know he's a little light and needs a short loan so he'll have dollars to toss forward. I suggested that that will likely be the least of his worries.
    See ya there,

    May 19, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      Thats ok. Im loaded. Got myself some Apple stock. WOOT WOOT. Somebody call the black eyed peas because I GOT A FEELING THAT TONIGHT IS GOING TO BE A GOOD NIGHT!

      May 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  9. Billy Bob Tarmac

    It amazes me how few of you use the spell check option.

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

      yo mama, MF

      May 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  10. pugs

    The real sickening thing is to see both Aethisits and Religious folks on these boards more interested in forcing their ideals (which they believe superior and seem to lack anything but anecdotal support at best on both sides) on everyone else here with little regard kindness or human decency. I guess we can infer that the US, the almighty dogma of the unwavering personal opinion is the true religion.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  11. shamiquah

    what a coincidence
    -I got an 18 inch double headed black Dilldoeh in the mail today.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  12. Sam

    Undereducated people always get into a scam.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  13. scientific poetry

    Amen... I mean... I agree. 🙂 Religion is a disease that resists all science.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  14. Andrew

    Because non-religious people can't manipulate others to do things. Grow up.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Anon

      Are you stupid? In the article, he accuses Camping of being an atheist... your comment makes no sense.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  15. Deborah

    Ruth, That was mature....oh yeah

    May 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  16. huge kok

    look in the sky! it's the magical man sitting in the clouds

    May 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  17. Fred Watkins

    David, please tell me you have more spiritual insight than the stereotyped opinion you have expressed. Did anyone hit the snooze button? To lump all of Christianity in a religious plot to take advantage of human nature is ridiculous! That's your baggage, not anyone else's. I'm sorry you are not able to discern between the two. Not everyone feels betrayed by their faith. Try exploring other religions before casting the first stone.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  18. Patrick

    It is and will be a mystery to me til the day I die to comprehend how an (almost) entire world population can even believe in a god on any single day, and to my sadness for so many centuries ...
    When will the genes of hypocrisy leave the grey substance of the human species ?????????

    May 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  19. Doomguy

    Guys this is for real. I got my league of ultimate darkness draft card in the mail today!

    May 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  20. CNNreader

    I say atheism stunted his mind, he writes as if he is still 6.

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

      A recent poll/survey showed that the average atheist and average agnostic know more about the Bible than the average Christian and have higher education. Try again.

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

      Well at least he's not living into a fairytale. Smartest people are those who admit that we don't have all the answers.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:54 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.