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.
About this blog
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.
في حاجة الى مال الله
في حاجة الى مال الله = "Because god needs money"
Joe Ann: "Because god needs money" You rock.
Apparently deities have lots of power but lack monetary resources. ;-P
I'm still waiting for the results of the "National Day of Prayer."
Are the wars over? Are even the Xian hungry fed? C'mon, where are the numbers? I mean really all you needed were at least two to get the ball rolling. Day of Judgement? The Big "G's" usual customer service plan for those who know the product does not work as advertised.
You sound like a mathematician professing to understand the dynamics of literature. Don't talk about prayer without an inkling of what it really is. Makes you sound ignorant
Oh, but the xns have an 'easy out' regarding unanswered prayers: "G-d only answers the prayers that are within his will." (or some sh_t close to that. Btw, my name is written on the surface of the moon – AND YOU CAN'T PROVE ME WRONG! LOL. Some people will believe anything, huh? ;-P
The burden of proof lies on the scientist. Faith is the currency of the believer. There is nothing to prove. Proof is a man made concept to help deal with the unknown. There are places in the universe where time stands still and 2+2 doesn't equal 4. How can proof be valuable if it always changes, and is only valid on earth?
PS Since age SIX? This fella must've got some serious azz whooping as a kid.
I thought this was well written and makes a good point. I'm anxious to share it with my friends. Thank you!
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to CNN's editors for finally including an atheist perspective.
Religion is for the dark ages. End of story.
Brian, I need a "like" button to click on for your comment – well put! Shel
If you feel strongly enough about hating religion than you are also religious. Weird huh?
Extreme conservativeness and narrow mindedness = Doomsday
I think Ozzy says it best in his song Dreamer.. "Your higher power may be God or Jesus Christ. It doesn't really matter much to me. Without each others help there aint no hope for us......." For a drug addled metal head banger, he expresses more for humanity than many. That should give many a reason to pause.
Why is an aethiest writer highlighted on a "Bellief Blog"?
please turn off the computer and go to sleep
Because an atheist had the best ability to explain to the deluded, no matter their religion, why they are deluded. If you do not understand why an atheist is writing about the fiction of religion, perhaps you should read more closely. If you are unable to understand after that, pray to your favorite imaginary deity.
Because he has a belief in nothing. Still belief .
Because atheism is just as much a belief system as theism.
Oh, my! I just wish I were as clever as Ruth & Joe Ann – nice work gals! =-D
Because it's the best place to put a sensical piece that might catch the eye of the Camping's followers, or any religious folks for that matter. Maybe we can help a few of them think about things with a new perspective.
I have a buddy At work who is a true atheist. He hates you guys who sit and mock religion. Calls you the "born again athiests" and says youre as bad as the religious nuts. When I talk about god he just shrugs and says "yeah, boring" and never blinks an eye. Why do you guys even care? I hate basketball but I don't go to blogs and say " you guys are all idiots, basketball is boring" ..guess I just can't figure out why you are fighting for something you don't believe in.. Unless you are very religious. Rush said "if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice"
And of course, when the average believer like myself doesn't go around preaching the end of the world, we never make the news. And what really irks me is that the atheists just aren't able to wrap their head around the fact that yes, we do indeed believe that God exists.
I'm also an engineer. I know more about the natural sciences than most [including some of the atheist "paragons of logic" themselves], and yet by belief is fully intact.
As a Roman Catholic, I believe that the Universe was created with precision and order, and as our instruments improve, we still find that the universe happens to obey these nifty mathematical laws. The specific hypothesis of mainstream Christianity since the 4th Century is that the world is rationally ordered. Science has so far confirmed this.
I am not trying to argue your case, but I don't happen to know a lot about the subject. I do believe there is an order to things, but is it not possible that coincidence does not prove causality? (I am probably making a huge fool of myself by even asking this!) But if you search for a pattern are you not more likely to find one?
What kind of engineer are you? Civil? And are you competent?
You are an engineer but fail to realize that nature doesn't actually follow mathematical laws, but we create mathematical laws to follow nature. And, by the way, science has proved nothing of the sort. If you think the world is ordered, then you obviously skipped a lot of science classes. One of the driving forces of nature, entropy, is the movement toward disorder.
Perhaps I am, but still... QM and Relativity are both nearing 100 years old, and every last specific prediction of these two models has been verified. Now, I know my Karl Popper. Science is all about falsifiability, and there are plenty of people who want to tear Einstein apart so that they can end up in the history books. Einstein keeps winning.
Smartest people are e who admit that we don't have all the answers.
Science is not a predetermined fact, its a process of research and observation. Science can contradict itself till it does settle to a plausible solution. And that is not universally based, its a subject based.
@Michael: Aerospace, thank you very much. I know my thermodynamics. I know it quite well. Now, I see that you happen to not be a Platonist in your philosophy of science. I can understand that. Still, if differential equations only exist within the minds of men, explain how these differential equations happen to match up with our observations?
I don't think it is fair to criticize this fellow engineer because of his religious belief. I have known (and know still) many engineers and scientists that are spiritual Christians (or Moslems); I don't know any that believe the Bible as literal truth. This arguably irrational belief does not impact on their technical work at all. What it does show is the power of acculturation and a curious weaknesses of the human animal – a remarkable thing in many other respects.
I'm lovin 'Michael'!
Capercorn, I suppose you think your deity created math for mankind to eventually discover, as well as language & other things we've taught ourselves over the centuries? What is it about humans that compels us to give credit to a supernatural being... whom we created? Why do so many of us seem to fear the philosophical ideas of secular humanists? So much to learn; so little time.
I would probably have been an atheist, but unfortunately I just don't have enough faith to believe that the universe created itself out of nothing or that humanity evolved from a speck of slime. For those of us who don't have enough faith to believe in those things, there is nothing left for us but to believe in a creator.
As far as Camping being "no different than any other preacher", there are some preachers who, unlike Camping, actually believe what is written in the Bible.
Obama Is JESUS!
Let's not get carried away. Obama seems to me to be a great man as well, but he never claimed to be the son of a divinity or any kind of Messaih... and I certainly hope to NEVER see him nailed to a tree or read any stories that such was done to him. ;-D
Are you sure you didn't make a mistake & meant to write this column about Obama? Or Apple?
I have rarely agreed with someone so much in my life. Great article.
Interesting that my comment which opposed this writer's views has now disappered from the posts. Is CNN blocking opinions that differ?
there are 955 responses, and 15 pages, it probably just got bumped to a different page. It says right below that the comments are not pre-screened.
no, your mama is
I don't understand why we can't have a civilized conversation about this. People who believe in God, for the most part, are good people. People who don't believe in God are also, for the most part, good people. We are sitting here attacking each other when the real issues are out there. There are good people being taken advantage of every day, whether it is the false prophet or the woman who just called to tell me I won a contest that I didn't even enter. I understand the anger from both sides, I have met my fair share of "Sunday Christians" and "Atheist @ssholes" but I think it says more about us to sit here and attack each other rather than trying to solve problems, and agreeing to disagree.
Ah-hmm (clearing throat?) Amen brother 'librababy'. You said it. ;-P
Religion is for weak minded people who do not know how to be good people. There may be a God, but he is laughing at all these religious nutjobs. I can be a good person on my own. I do not need some preacher who is raping his flock out of their money to pay for his house and lifestyle while he is saying that you can do anything you want just as long as you say a prayer every night. It will make it all better adn you will be saved. I cannot believe people buy this garbage. that book that you worship has been changed and rewritten to justify you religious fools. When you pay my bills and mortgage, then you can tell me what to do and how to live. until then, stop making stupid laws up to suit what YOU think is right. My Mother told me when i was younger that she does not need all this mumbo jumbo to be a good person. and she was right. Guess that made her a Goddess.
You're pretty angry huh..
That whole " no one knows when Jesus will return " reminds my of that classic sign outside a night club in some MX resort town,
" Free drinks, come back tomorrow to redeem " .
Let that one set in for a minute or two.
Apart from the jokes and the bashing, does anyone have an earnest question on Christianity? I can try my best to answer.
how big was jesus?
Why is the 6th commandant "Thou shall not kill" when God killed 2,476,633 people in the Bible?
Naah. We have already heard too much about that one. Thanks tho.
Yes, I have a question – how can you believe such idiotic nonsense?
Well, Brian, it hasn't been easy. Why do you think it is "nonsense?" What do you believe in?
Everybody. Got get your own bunker.
got get what?