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. Tom Jo

    Unfortunately, most of the Christians I know of probably wouldn't even read this article. Like one of the comments below said, "rational thinking is the enemy of all religions." They are like the ostrich who just sticks his head in the sand to make something they don't want to deal with "go away". (And I'm pretty sure ostriches don't really do that; even THEY aren't that dumb!)

    May 20, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  2. Chaz

    God is good. JESUS saves. As much as some people distort and use religion, there is a true God who sent his son Jesus to save us forever. (:

    May 20, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • InFormed

      It's all a myth,

      May 20, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Elizabeth


      May 20, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • CA2011

      Jesus loves you...but his love don't come cheap.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Veritas

      Yeah, but Jesus was actually also god himself so he sent himself to have the humans kill him so they and all their offspring ever could be deemed sinners for doing what god himself set them up to do. You'd think whomever wrote that nonsense in the bible was on drugs, and maybe they were. Who knows?

      May 20, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  3. TheAlaskaCurmudgeon

    He's mostly right, except for one thing. The sheep won't ask our forgiveness when the Rapture once again fails to materialize. They and their evil shepherd will just concoct an explanation for its not happening that will be every bit as irrational as the claim they are making today about the imminent end of the world. Doomsday religions have always followed that path. In fact, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists both arose from the same 19th century incident when scores of people stood on rooftops waiting to be hoisted into paradise. They eventually climbed back down and created what are now well-established faiths. The same will happen this time We'll get another cultish sect that will evolve (ooh, evil word there, "evolve") into what will eventually become another mainstream religion. And Harold Camping will be in the middle of it, raking in the cash.

    God love 'em.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • InFormed

      Don't you mean 'Jesus love them' God just kills and hates at least according to the old Testament.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  4. Chaz

    God is good. JESUS saves. As much as some people distort and use religion, there is a true God who sent his son Jesus to save us. (:

    May 20, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Veritas

      Every read the old testament of the bible? That same god commits all sorts of genocide and child murder. It's such a load of cr@p it's hard top understand how people can actually believe that nonsense.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  5. Chaz

    God is good. JESUS saves. As much as some people distort and use religion, there is a true God who sent his son Jesus to saves us. (:

    May 20, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • InFormed

      How can you distort a myth?

      May 20, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • InFormed

      You already said this.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Veritas

      You sound like a broken record, but then again so do all religious morons.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  6. JJ

    Sorry to say, but 2012 is the only doomsday that isn't of religious origins. If anything, it's anti-religious since it stems from the Mayan culture. It also has ties to Nostradamus, the Hopi, the I-Ching, Merlin, the Aztecs, and Edgar Cayce. Altogether, they form a fairly compelling argument for the Atheists to pay attention to this one. If 'reason' is the Holy Grail of Atheism, then consider how different and disparate cultures and individuals, separated by years and great distances, all somehow caught a vision eerily describing the current world situation.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • TheAlaskaCurmudgeon

      Sorry to say, but the 2012 apocalypse is still complete hogwash.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • JJ

      Even if it isn't hogwash, I wouldn't worry to much if I were you. I think Alaska is well out of harms way for any cataclysm...

      May 20, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Crosby

      mayan isint antireligious you fool

      May 20, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • JJ

      By anti-religious, I meant not one of the current branches of religious dogma. They made a calendar that had a start and an end based on knowledge they had of the solar system. Sure, they made sacrifices to gods and had rituals, but they are certainly not responsible for any of the dozen or so Doomsday predictions over the pst century. And if I have to explain it to you in this detail, really... who would be the fool?

      May 20, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Rusty

      The Mayans didn't have religion? Wasn't everything in their whole culture, including their calendar, intrinsically tied into their religion?

      May 20, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  7. marc Bellagamba

    Like most people I hope there is a God but common sense says man created God because we are afraid of death and the dark. However I would love sit down and have a conversation with her.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  8. RightOn

    Very well said, David. I agree with you on all the points.

    "God is an imaginary friend for adults."

    May 20, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  9. video916

    If you live your life not believing God, then the mentality is that you live your life, then die. If you live your life believing that Jesus is the one true God, then when you die, you are sent to Heaven. So if you're a disbeliever (atheist), you really have nothing to live for since you'll be nothing when dead. You would have lived your life making yourself the only important person and doing anything you wanted, whether it was good or bad. If you're a believer, then you strive to be good in God's eyes, and when you die, and find out you were wrong about God, then at least you lived a good life setting a good example. However, if the disbeliever is wrong, then you are not able to enter the eternal kingdom, while true believers are. Basically, a true christian will live a good life either way, knowing that if they are right about God, they will have eternal life after death. A disbeliever will also live a life they wanted to live, but will have nothing when they die. Not very smart for Atheists if you ask me. But it's your life (and afterlife). You do with it what you want. We'll all find out in the end who was right and wrong, and for many atheists, it'll be too late to change sides.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Halkes

      Faith isn't supposed to be a logical decision based on probabilities. You do what you feel is right. You should know that.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Frhoads

      Descartes made all these points [although a little more eloquently] in the early 1600's. It's the cosmic argument for buying lottery tickets...you can't win if you don't play.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • video916

      Faith is a belief, but it doesn't mean that it can't be logical in thought. I'm a logical person but it doesn't mean that I can't have faith.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • lokiman301

      If the believer is wrong then he has been conned and will have followed a lie. Also, which form of Christianity is the correct one? They all claim that if one believes anything but their version of belief then they are to be condemned to the lake of fire for all eternity. So all Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Hindus, believers in Greek and Roman gods, Sikhs, Native American gods, and the myriad of other gods are doomed. What a load of hooey. One more quick point to ponder, why don't any of these so called gods show up and do an interview with someone like Oprah. If a true god showed up on earth I and many others would be converted instantly to the one true path of faith. But noooo, none of these peoples gods will ever do such a thing because they do not exist. If your Jesus really cares so much then show yourself to us all and set the reciord straight once and for all. I'm not holding my breath for that to occur, but I am shutting my wallet. No more donations to conartists.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  10. Atheist

    Who made god? Where did he originate?

    May 20, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  11. PRISM 1234

    For every real thing there is someone who will impersonate it...What should the true Christians care what some weirdos do or say. Yes, it hurts the people,mainly the ones who are caught up in wrong teachings. But they ought to know better. They have the Bible, and Jesus said that He will send His Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth. They obviously don't know the Word, nor do they have the counsel of the Holy Spirit. They look to man for their faith, not to God!

    May 20, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • InFormed

      It's always funny when one group of fairy tale believers argues with another group of fairy tale believers over the color of the fairies wings...

      May 20, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Nothing here is funny, and your post is shallow as a mudpuddle, and only reflecting who you are!

      May 20, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  12. Rachelle

    It's sad how so many lies circulate in our society. Jesus was a man who gave everything He had to help people. I haven't always been a believer. I used to have doubts. But I have sought and I have found. I'm not a blind fool...falling for blind ideals. I have seen how, yes, people have thwarted Christianity. Liars and corrupt "christians" make the true follower of Christ look bad....If you want to hear about my experiences..check out my blog http://www.letmewashyourfeet.blogspot.com Maybe you will find the answer to whatever you are looking for.. Love ya..

    May 20, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • InFormed

      Jesus is also a myth. But it makes for a good story.

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

      What part of Jesus is a myth?

      May 20, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  13. X

    Maybe we do need the rapture to clean the earth of all the idiotic people...

    May 20, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • Crosby

      that would be nice

      May 20, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  14. Bryan

    I think Camping is sincere in his beliefs, the dude is 88 years old. What need does he have for money, he'll be dead any day now!

    May 20, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • InFormed

      He is crazed with age. He wants everyone to look at him. He craves attention.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Michael

      Children and Grandchildren.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  15. matt

    Pretty sad... it would be impossible to have read the Bible and go about marking dates on the calendar about the end of the world. Bible is crystal clear in saying people won't know the day.

    However, discrediting the idea the God of the Bible exists due to the actions of a few oddballs is like going to an 8th grade production of Shakespeare and walking out of the theater thinking Shakespeare was a hack.

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

      Shakespeare was a hack, just a very popular one. As for the bible, if it were true, why would god allow such ridiculous interpretations unless god thought it was good sport to see the stupid humans try to guess when the end will come?

      May 20, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • jim

      Poor analogy Matt.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  16. InFormed

    Religion has been and always will be a means of control by falsely proclaiming that it has all of the 'answers' but it will not tell you the 'answers' unless you are willing to agree to never ask the questions.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  17. Apple

    Strong Earthquake is coming this friday 3:14-4:12.... Strong Earthquake.... prepare for earthquake.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Observer

      Please return to this blog tomorrow night and explain why you were wrong.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Crosby

      apple is a moron

      May 20, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • question time

      What time zone is your prediction in? since your prediction covers 3:14 – 4:12, (59 minutes) and there are 24 timezones, you've successfully covered 23 hours and 36 minutes of the day. So you could simplify your prediction at that point and lets just say an earthquake will occur sometime on Friday. Now, what do you consider major? Anything 5.0 or greater? The USGS lists a 5.0 earthquake as occurring on average 1319 times per year, or roughly 3.5 a day, somewhere in the world. Congratulations, you predicted nothing.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  18. Carl

    If god created everything and god needs money – why doesn't he just create money? If god provides all of your needs then why does he need money? Money, fear, power, control – that is what religion is all about. Quit being a sheep and use your brain. Why does your pastor tell you to "just have faith" when you have doubts? He doesn't what you to think critically about your faith because critical thinking is the enemy of all religion.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • matt

      I certainly couldn't speak for God but I'd hazard a guess God doesn't "create" money because he gave us more than enough here on earth to take care of each other and a quick scan through CNN suggests we're not doing a good job of it.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  19. Guest

    The simple explanation of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 depends on the verse just before it. Verse 15 says the living will not precede (prevent in the King James Version) the dead. Then in the verses you ask about he gives a short timeline. The dead will rise first, so that the world will have all the dead and living at once. An instant later all will meet Christ in the air. For all to do so at the same time, the dead must rise first. That way nobody will get there first. It will all happen so quickly that it probably won’t even be noticeable. We will all be on earth, then we will all be before God’s judgement seat.

    Among other things, this passage shows that there will be no “rapture” where some will be “left behind.” The point of the passage is that all will go at once.

    This is when the judgement comes. Only God the father knows of it. 42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. Mathew 24:42

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

      I liked Harry Potter better. Although they did rip off the talking snake.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • jim

      I can't wait for the rapture... please, all of you, GO!!!!! Leave the rest of us alone.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  20. christrevolution

    Why are all Christians boxed in one specific set of mind? I didn't come to Christ because I feared Hell or death for that matter. I came to Christ because I was tired of living in sin and He freed me from sin. I agree that there is "pastors" that take advantage of their congregation but you can't single out every pastor just because a couple does it. There is many Christian who have laid down their lives for others. Who have given everything they have for the Kingdom cause. Christian who leave everything to serve the few. Yes there are many who claim to be Christian but are not. But there is still true christian out there that care for their neighbor more than themselves and that their "religion" helps them be better person, more caring and compassionate to others.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Eddie Van Helsing

      Because a Christian was the first to say "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out."

      May 20, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • tallulah13

      I don't get it. Why do you need religion to be a good person? Morality is not dependent on a supernatural power, in fact morality dependent on an outside source is flawed and open to corruption. Decide to help others, not harm them, because that is who you choose to be. There is no need for religion to be a good human being.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:22 am |
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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.