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. Canadian James

    Reading the comments posted here, I understand why there is so much hatred in the world. "I am right, and you are wrong" eventually turns into "You must die, because you are wrong"
    Regardless if you are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Athiest, etc, understand that your right is right for YOU and you alone. Just because someone disagrees with you, does not mean you are wrong. It just means that your explanation does not work for them.
    Being a Pagan myself, there are a lot of things that I believe in, that many do not. That is completely fine by me. If believing in the Christian God, or Allah, or whatever you believe in helps you to make sense of your life and the world around you, then by all means go ahead. Just do not expect me to believe in it. I have no problem going to "Hell" as I do not believe in hell.
    At the end of the day, bigotry, racism, and inequality has to stop. We are a world of 6.5 BILLION people. There is no way everyone is going to see the same thing the same way. Get over it.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • librababy

      Very well said. I think one of the biggest problems is everyone being concerned with what everyone else is doing and not concerning themselves with their own actions. Like I mentioned a few pages ago, if I am going to hell because I don't believe in a specific God, then that's my problem. It kind of reminds me of another article on here that was talking about your web browser and facebook tailoring your search results to already established interests and that causing people not to look outside of their comfort zone for information. That's their problem! An intelligent person would actively seek out information on all ideas before making a decision on what he/she believed to be true.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  2. omg!!


    May 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  3. papia

    Duh! Very intelligent again.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • papia

      Sorry. My previous comment was about somebody else. Anyway, I totally agree with the author of the article. I am always surprised to see even many real otherwise intelligent people don't question god related topics. Religion has been the reason for may wars but no non-religious (Communist) country attacted any country for religious reason. Maybe for other political reasons but never for religion.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  4. Sal

    There will always be sheep, and wolves. You can either be a sheep, or you can be a wolf. Maybe you don't want to be a wolf, you don't want to harm others. Prepare to be a sheep then.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  5. no

    With an open mind, I read all of Harold Camping's proofs and claims about doomsday. To arrive at his conclusions requires a rather liberal interpretation of a key phrase, "one day equals 1000 years", a dubious connection between that phrase and another phrase that actually pertains to Noah and the ark (the door closes after 7 days), AND THEREAFTER, one must then be willing to capriciously switch between a day equaling 1000 years, and a day equaling just one day. How do you know which is which? Well, you use the interpretation that proves the theory, of course. In short, it's a stretch.

    However, unlike you, I do believe that Harold Camping is sincere in his beliefs. I do not question his belief in G_d, nor in what he believes to be the direct word of G_d. I do not believe that he is deliberately deceiving his followers. I do believe that he has been duped by the father of lies, his eyes and judgement clouded, and that he is an unwitting participant in a very long and ongoing war, and finally that he is being used as a pawn to further undermine and damage G_d. He is therefore a false prophet. It's interesting but not surprising that the false prophets who predict an excess of false prophets during the "end times" never see themselves as false. It's always the _other_ prophet who is false. This is just more confusion and lies propagated by evil.

    Well, I can't and won't tell you how to direct your own spiritual life. These are only my conclusions. I think that in predicting judgment day, Harold Camping has committed the sin of adding his own spin and his own interpretations to the word of G_d. This is a major league no-no, and he will pay the price. For the rest of us, I continue to assert that the highest achievement one can attain in this life is to help your fellow man (and all creatures) by direct works like teaching someone how to read, volunteering in your community, and so on. These acts must be performed quietly and with humility, anonymously where possible, and without a personal agenda or expectation of reward. Also, practice kindness and empathy at all times. It's every day living, not rocket science, after all.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  6. John

    With a couple exceptions like Hitler that I allow because they are beyond my ability to comprehend, and so I don't know what to say about them, no crime committed in a limited existence can merit an unlimited punishment. Thus hell does not exist, or if it does then its creator is not just because unlimited for limited is not justice. Do not even mention that having your brain function correctly by raising questions about the nature of things, which you cannot even control, might be considered a crime for these purposes. Such a teaching is EVIL. It has no possible good purpose.

    I appreciate the almost mystical irony of dying just when you're really starting to appreciate your life. It is paradox, it is insane, and I fully empathize with people who can't take it and find solace in dreams about how it isn't really true. Except it is true, and that's that. So be good for the sake of your self-respect, and enjoy the time you have.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • God's God!

      Amen to that! 🙂

      May 19, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  7. I AM GOD

    My Children... I am God!!! Please pack up all of your precious items, including children, and submit to me. I will give you a heavenly place to stay which includes a place to stay, a bed, three hot delicious meals a day, and a few pills to make you giggly happy. Call me now at 1-800-IM-CRAZY... If the lines are busy, call 1-800-IM-PSYCHO. HURRY WHILE SPACES ARE LIMITED. God loves you!!!

    May 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  8. turdhead

    I'm a Christian, but I'm not buying the May 21 rapture. The Bible says that no man knows the day.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  9. Drew

    This piece is an incredibly bad argument. People use religion to their own gain, therefore, there is no God? And saying that Camping is no different than any other preacher is as disrespectful of a comment I've ever heard. That's a huge insult to the caring pastors who have given their lives to leading and helping people. Lastly, David, if you are good, then you have no need for Christianity. It is for those who realize they are sinful, and are in need of savior who offers forgiveness. That saviors name is Jesus Christ, and please don't disbelieve in him because a charlatan is doing evil things in his name.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Andrew

      Little bit more involved than that. "People use religion for their own gains, they all make claims some of which are mutually exclusive, yet provide no reason to consider one over the other. Thus, in lieu of any real evidence, there is no god, until evidence comes by to show the contrary."

      People using religion for their own gains is just what you'd expect if there's no god, not that necessarily means there isn't. It's possible there is, but if there is, the giant plethora of different factions would indicate that no one has any real concept of said god.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • brad

      But Drew, you don't know that. This minister is using the same tool, and the only one that you have, to influence people. That tool is faith.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Bryan

      Read It again Drew, this piece was certainly not intended to disprove god.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Drew

      Bryan, you're right; that was just a bit of unintended frustration that came out after hearing a lot of arguments like that around campus this week. Andrew; counterfeit religion doesn't disprove God's existence, and is almost expected. People like Camping will receive what is coming to them, just not on the timeline we approve of. What kind of god would pop out of the clouds just because a few finite creatures demand he should in order to prove his existence. Brad; no good preacher/pastor/minister tells his church to accept things only on faith. We are called to worship God with our minds as well as our hearts, and a shallow, unthinking faith, is not really true Biblical faith at all.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Andrew

      What kind of god? Well, a god which requires belief or dooms people to an eternity of suffering should really do that, because otherwise that just seems like god requires blind sycophantic praise to stroke his ego or else casts people down to suffer. Personally that sounds like a very very evil god. But the real issue is that in lieu of evidence, belief isn't warranted, and the multiple factions is just indicative that it isn't likely there's some coherent absolute truth in 'god's word'. What kind of god makes a book so difficult to understand that you have people, of the same faith, who think the world is literally anywhere between 6000 and 4 billion years old? I'd imagine a book actually crafted by a god would be so transparently brilliant, and so hard to deny, that coming to such radically different beliefs within the same faith alone seems absurd.

      But hey, that's only what I'd do if I were an all powerful and all knowing god. And if I required belief, I'd provide something a lot better than an inconsistent book which gives rise to multiple different factions to prove my existence. I wouldn't want people like Dirac or Feynman cast to hell just because I was too lazy to provide some substantial evidence.

      May 20, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • Drew

      First off, our failure to interpret the Bible speaks nothing of God’s ability to write. We are small, finite creatures attempting to understand an infinite God, and our sinful natures distort everything we say, write and read (Including this post). A book that humans could completely understand about an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God would have no divine authorship. Second off, the Bible is brilliant, we just work very hard to deny it and suppress the truth in unrighteousness a la Romans 1. Lastly, you’re absolutely right; God requires praise. The only problem is, we have failed to provide it in a way that will ever be close to satisfactory, and the only praise we will ever offer on this earth will be corrupted by sin. This is why he sent Jesus Christ, and all He asks is to trust in Him, and His death on the cross. Not make a decision for, or to accept into your heart.

      May 20, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • Andrew

      Drew, you cannot claim that any interpretation of the bible is correct, that's the problem. You probably believe your interpretation is the correct interpretation, others probably have a very different one, but there is no objective standard by which to judge here. Which again, if I were writing a book, I really would have taken a lot of care to avoid that possibility.

      And if Dirac and Feynman are in hell for the crime of not believing, if your god really requires that much sycophantic praise, I'd rather be in hell than in heaven surrounded by a god who condemns rational thought in favour of blind praise. I'd hate to be surrounded by people worshipping such a vain creature. Your heaven is my version of hell. "Oh, I'll send my son, and if you don't believe in this book which many people interpret differently, among a plethora of other books, with no independent evidence provided to confirm any of the stories, you go to hell", that is objectively evil by my standards of evil.

      In fact, if it were anyone else but 'god', you'd probably agree with me, but I imagine you say 'if god does it, it can't be bad!'

      Well, I'm a human, and I judge by my own human standards, and by my human standards, such a deity can only be described as evil. Lucky for me, there's not a shred of evidence you have to support your god, so it's entirely moot anyway.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • Drew

      I don’t fully believe that my interpretation is correct; I’ve been a believer for less than a year and have an incredible amount to learn. That’s fair that my Heaven is your Hell, no one is going to force you to worship Him. But one thing I don’t understand is, if there’s no God, how do you even come up with a definition of good, let alone evil? In a universe with no God, we are just atoms bumping into other atoms, and eventually our planet is going to be snuffed out in a few billion years. How could good and evil ever be derived from a universe like that?

      May 20, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • Andrew

      You're right, if I want to be strictly consistent, I can't come up with any objective standard of good or evil, but rather have to use my subjective value judgements. As a human I've come to my own definition of good and evil which of course does not need to be agreed upon by others. However, that said, as far as I'm concerned if a human behaved the way god is claimed to behave, I'd consider that person evil. So by the standards I apply to humans, god seems evil.
      I realise there is no real complete objective standard by which I can point to in order to define evil in the first place, but it's a useful word none the less.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:58 am |
  10. Anotheridiot

    Marley. My discipline is biology so theology is not my area of study. I agree with you that we are all limited and as such all our logic is flawed. All our reasoning is flawed. And any arguement for or not the existence of God is flawed because it is made by a flawed or limited beings who are constantly in a state of flux. We are all idiots trying to live in our own false realities

    May 19, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      Forgot to take your meds again? Our knowledge is limited, but that does not mean all our logic is flawed. And logic says if you don't have to invent god, don't (Occam's razor loosely interpreted).

      May 20, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  11. Ann

    Jesus said there would be guys like this...
    ...However, just because Christians are screwed up and confused and hypocritical doesn't prove that Almighty God does not exist...that is a completely illogical....

    May 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Ann wrote: "just because Christians are screwed up and confused and hypocritical doesn't prove that Almighty God does not exist...that is a completely illogical..."

      Corrolary: Just because religious people are screwed up and confused and hypocritical doesn't prove that their so-called "almighty god" exists...

      May 19, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  12. CommonSense

    I am a christian and I think Camping and his followers are absolute idiots. Not so much Camping because I am sure he has made alot of money from his his "followers".

    May 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • librababy

      At what point is it appropriate for everyone to step in and tell those people that they are being taken advantage of? Or, is it like the article says, we will just have to pick up the pieces once May 21 comes and goes? I know a lot of people like this actually, they don't want to listen to your good advice but they expect you to clean up their mess. I don't think that's fair.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  13. Dgib

    I love this comment and agree with you completely.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  14. GOD

    The money is not important at all. It's a vehicle to spread the judgment and a vehicle for me to buy. Good night Suckers!

    May 19, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Andrew

      What car does god drive?

      May 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • GOD

      an Alfa-Romeo

      May 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Andrew

      Acceptable, but Lucifer drives an Aston, which is way cooler and god knows it. Plus, remember what happened to the Alphas in the sh-tty new Bond film.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  15. GOD

    go to sleep you dorks

    May 19, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  16. librababy

    If I knew that the world was going to end, I wouldn't tell anyone. Let people enjoy their last days, and if it truly is a matter of some people getting into heaven while others don't, if you are on the "don't" list nothing you can do in a few days is going to change that. Plus, I like surprises 😀

    May 19, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • GOD

      did you like the surprise i gave you the other night?

      May 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  17. Steve

    I read somewhere that religion, in one form or another was responsible for more deaths in human history than any other cause except for natural causes, and disease. Think about that next time you think about telling someone that they should be down on their knees praying to "The invisible man who lives in the sky." as George Carlin once called him.

    Religion is a good thing......in theory. It can give people hope and comfort that there's something "after". But the problem with theory's is that they don't always work the way you want them to. It also causes things like Waco, and the 9-11 attacks, and empowers people like Jim Jones and Harold Camping, and Osama Bin Laden.

    In this, I think the old Soviet Union had one thing right. One of the first things they did when they got to power is closed down all the churches, and banned religion.

    We're supposed to be in the 21st century. Isn't it time we started acting like it?

    Also, if what I've said above isn't enough, if we didn't have religion, we wouldn't have had to put up with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ!

    May 19, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Anotheridiot

      I agree. We should have atheist like Stalin, Hitler and Mao Zadong. Who in the name of atheism killed millions of people and had no qualms about committing genocide because their relative sense of morality was superior to all others. More people have died under atheism then under religion. I stand corrected, atheism is a belief system therefore another form of religion. So you are right religion is responsible for more death than any other cause

      May 20, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Andrew

      Stalin and Mao killed more or less in their own names, but Hitler quite openly justified many of his actions by saying it's god's work. So if you want to go down that road, you can't possibly claim Hitler is an atheist. I don't think Hitler actually killed anyone in name of christanity, nor stalin and mao in the 'name of atheism', but rather just because those people were insane evil vile individuals, independent of what they believed.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • Drew

      Yes, and we should also thank secular humanism for the peaceful, utopian century of slaughter that we just enjoyed.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • Andrew

      And religious fanatics for the millennium of slaughter prior. Hell, in terms of per capita percentages, this century hasn't been all that bad, compared to something like the 7 years war which was truly something awful.

      I don't think it has much to do with religious beliefs at all then, it seems to have more to do with human nature.

      May 20, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • Drew

      I don't think it has much to do with religious beliefs at all then, it seems to have more to do with human nature.-Exactly, which is sinful and corrupt.

      Also, per capita percentages is a terrible way to judge morality or progress. Would you argue that a shooting that killed 100 people at an event with 10,000 people is better than a bombing that killed 500 in a city of 100,000?

      May 20, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Drew

      Sorry, I said that backwards. The mathematician in me is cringing.

      May 20, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • Andrew

      Per capita tends to be a good basis for at least judging the scope of historical atrocities, yes. "The 7 years war killed a few hundred thousand people" is pretty bad when "a few hundred thousand people is equivalent to a 4th of germany's population at the time".

      That's a large scale war. That's a bad war. If we want to compare wars, of course the numbers of dead are going to be smaller when the earth's population is dramatically smaller, but that doesn't mean the wars were somehow less vile, less deadly, and less awful than modern wars which kill many more people. You had a better chance of surviving in WWII than you did in the 7 years war. That doesn't make either war a very pleasant part of human history though.

      May 20, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Drew

      Of course war is bad, it doesn’t matter how many people were killed. That’s my point; killing is killing. It seems we’ve also discovered much better ways to do it since the turn of the 20th century.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  18. wisdom4u2

    Uh, excuse me....but, every day is "doomsdays' for atheists, hellooooo!!!!

    May 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  19. omg!!


    May 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • OMG!!

      The money is not important at all. It's a vehicle to spread the judgment and a vehicle of the Lord

      May 19, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Andrew

      At least, it will be until after May 21st, when the world's still here, and he's still rich, and still playing the same charade.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • marilena

      you seriously believe that the judgement is coming on may 21st? what are you going to do when it doesn't happen? predict another date, and that one comes and goes, what then? just keep on predicting? look at the jws, and their failed prophecies, shoulodn't that be an eye opener to you? you cannot predict the end because you are not God, and you cannot possibly claim to know the mind of God, and know what He knows. this is a false religion, and if i were you, i'd shun it and walk away, and concentrate your life on Him. not on some mad made belief that rakes in money, and takes advantage of people, and makes false prophecies.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  20. Wes Learned

    I'm just glad you see through camping's lies. What part of "no man knows the day nor hour" doesn't he understand? Oh well, I pity him and feel bad for those who will be disappointed on the 22nd. Those of you following the living God, the God who sent his son to die for us, please keep these people in your prayers.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Andrew

      Can I request to trade your prayers for me in exchange for something that is demonstrably more useful? Science education, arts education, money, food, really anything tangible or anything demonstrably useful I'd vastly prefer you spend the time for me instead of prayer. Or is "praying" for us simply an empty gesture? Really, what does "praying" for people like us really mean, or do? What does god care if you 'pray' for us?

      May 19, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Observer

      I second Andrew's words. Since you already know you will make it to heaven, why not spend time trying to get a better education or physically helping others?

      May 19, 2011 at 11:54 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.