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.
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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.
Does anyone else think it is damn weird that 14.5 billion years ago our universe exploded into existence, which at the moment, had no space or time, and now there is sentient matter? Are we sentient matter? What the hell is our universe actually expanding in TO? Space-time is expanding... but if you could get on the farthest edge of this expansion and stick your arm into the nether, what IS that? How did matter "simulate" consciousness and give us a sense of ourselves? I feel like there are two options: 1) There is nothing more to us than electrochemical signaling and molecules weaving conscious thought and perception, and 2) There is something yet to be discovered that seemingly animates otherwise inanimate matter, perhaps a collection of particles or another branch of science that we are 100,000 years away from discovering. I struggle with the idea that mere matter by itself can have an opinion, be creative, or otherwise emit a high level of understanding. I am a creative professional and the idea that I do not actually exist, that I am a result of electrochemical signaling and molecular interaction, that my consciousness is merely a simulation seems so nuts.
Please tell me you are not setting the stage for the suggestion that some Iron Age myths from the Middle East some how advance the ball toward answering those questions
dude, we're in god's video game...
and god is a socially awkward chubby teenager
2 logical fallacies I am seeing in your point:
1 – False dichotomy
2 – Argument for incredulity
The 1st one is just plain wrong. As for the 2nd one, incredulity is not excellent reason to ask questions and learn more but it is not sufficient to derive any kind of conclusion.
If your are curious, why not get a book or take a class and learn more?
its great that you are atheist Mr. Silverman. something which i found conflicting; however, was how you said you are a nice guy yet you are dismissing another person just because he may or may not be an atheist. no matter what he believes i don't think its okey for anyone to judge him for what he may or may not be doing. If you really are a nice/good intentioned perosn, then you should accept someone for who they are and what they believe in. I enjoyed your article very much despite the fact that it was a biased argument. i agree with a many things you say, but you should be aware that everyone believes in something different and that you should just embrace that not ridicule it. if Camping is just a scammer then im sure eventualy he will get his just desserts.
The people he's going after are the ones who take advantage of the followers of religion. He's not trying to be mean to you even if his message is one that you don't want to hear.
One thing I must say.... I don't know if I entirely disapprove people who take the undeserved freedom of religions ability to lie and turn it against religion itself... It is basically using a lie ON a lie... a fraud against a fraud....
Every day people give money to religion based on the belief there is an interactive superior being. They offer no proof, just threats. (the threat that their afterlife will be of misery)... These people are already duped legally.... Duped by beleifs they had before anyone told them of the end...
You can't possibly condone such behavior. There is a world of difference when what motivates you is the feeling to do the right thing versus just pure greed, even though the end result may be the same.
I am God!!! Listen 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!!!
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 Biblical faith at all.
When you say "people like Camping will recieve what's coming to them", what do you mean?
Since he presumes to be a 'teacher,' he will be judged more harshly James 3:1
Drw. I assume you are alluding to the whole "toe the line or burn" theory. All I can say is that it amazes me that, in the 21st Century, people still buy into that Dark Ages nonsense.
"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."
If there really were a God he/she/it wouldn't need to use a human intermediary to reach you.
It's not toe the line or burn, it's that we haven't even come within a mile of the line, and Jesus Christ walked it perfectly for us.
I never said He needed to, and in fact, God needs none of us to help him at all
You have written an excellent article, Mr. Silverman. Thanks. And by the way: My husband (David Dvorkin) and I are now 67 and 65. Raised Orthodox Jewish and Roman Catholic, we have been atheists since the ages of 12 and 20. It is our sincere hope that the failure of Mr. Camping's bizarre predictions will help at least a few people break free of the crippling brainwashing that is religion.
I'm a Christian, and I support this article.
Oh great, that means you too know that "gods" are myths.
You can support this article without having to agree with everything that it says. Clearly, some people use religion to their own end. I have a friend who is a preacher. He is also an atheist. Now, that may surprise many but it is actually not that uncommon (apparently, I did not know that). Why is he a preacher if he is an atheist, you may ask me? Well, because he did not use to be an atheist and there really isn't anything else he can do. From his perspective, he is helping people and even though he may not be a believer anymore, the satisfaction of helping others going through life (and the fact he would have no income otherwise honestly) is enough for him to keep on preaching.
No one knows when Jesus will come back and aethists are always in my prayers. Without suffering, there is no overcoming and without darkness there is no light. That's why God allows us to go through tough times so that we will turn to him for relief and peace.
Aaaw, that sounds kind of cute. Stupid, but in a cute way.
Child, you disrespect the very gift that God gave you! YOU disrespect not the gift of life that is given even to germs that would kill you, but the ONE gift denied even angels!
The gift of free choice. Of free thought.
In short, whilst you cowardly hide and pray, not accepting the gifts you were given, you die.
We, who accept and enjoy those gifts live on. WE think, it's flooding, let's not pray, let's move to higher ground and thank him for higher ground.
YOU tread water in the North Atlantic for 90 seconds, then go hypothermic and die. WE move to the closest floathing thing and thank God that he made things that could float.
YOU pray to God to put your house fire out, WE do what we can, WHILE awaiting the fire department that we called.
WE still have a damaged house, YOU are ashes in the dust of your erstwhile home.
So what you're saying is, he's a manipulative God. He creates hardship to make you more obedient to Him?
Sounds like a textbook case of an abusive relationship, to me.
Nice. Starve your child for a couple of days, or throw him out in the snow one night - he'll love more you for coming to his aid.
* love you more
Actually, its judgement day that no body knows the date or hour. The bible testify's about Christ second coming in many places, one of the most amazing prophecies that shocked me the most was the Fig tree, representing Israel, when israel regains its independence christ was to be baptized, preach for 37 more years to fulfil king davids prophecy, be born into a non-believer family in the order of melchadizek, must come from the edge of the earth from the east of island of Patmos, and the furthest part on the map is south korea east. He also has to be rejected by all people just as Christ's first coming, and if adam is the pattern of the one to come...who must eve represent? if adam is our father, then eve must be our mother, and be revealed through the second coming Christ. He has to come in a new name, just as there is a new name for every age. Also Abraham's family is important to understand, because only Isaac the true child born from the father and the mother will receive the heir, and the bible clearly states we are the children of isaac, so if we only believe in our father will we receive the heir? no, we must believe in the mother as well. not everyone who says lord lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. shockingly enough we are living in a time of history, cause christ came to earth and revealed secrets locked away in the bible to be revealed in the last days, and he came to the earth, showed us our mother, and now the gospel is being preached world wide. World Mission Society Church of God, honestly the best thing id say to do, if your catholic, Christian, believers, non-believers is go see what they have to show you in the bible and you'll receive the greatest gift ever. Don't turn to the internet to find out about the church because most people say things just to bring it down without stepping inside. There website doesnt explain much, but in person, they have proof in the bible and have the perfect truth. If you have one in your town, please just go and have them to study with you for a few hours. afterall whats a few hours going to do, when it can possibly change your life. Amen, Bless you brothers and sisters.
With all due respect to Mr. Silverman, disparaging all religions is simply not the right approach. I agree that religion has been abused in ways that have at times permitted horrors. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that non-theists have done no such thing. Their hands are bloodstained as well. Stalinism was a prime example of a godless policy doing horrific things to people. And I won't even go into eugenics.
Let us also remember that Harold Camping does not represent the whole Christian movement, just as Richard Dawkins doesn't represent the whole Atheist movement. Like Dawkins and Silverman, Camping and other televangelists are just some of the voices in a wider range of ideas that make up our two faiths. Yes, I said faiths. The Atheist takes a merely opposite view to everyone else, this is not removed from the spectrum of religious traditions. Just as any Christian will buttress their religious views, an Atheist may try to shoot them down. Our movements are out for similar ends, a better world only one is with God and another without. One view praises God while the other blames or outright denies Him. Both set out on philosophical assumptions. Both have rationality behind them, despite the objections and refutations of skeptics.
As to religion being "proven wrong yet again," this event will do no such thing. Let's keep this thing within due bounds. Religion will be left untouched, but Mr. Camping has already been disproved. He set a false date before and called it a mathematical miscalculation. I call it a failed prophesy, one of many in a sad litany of such claims made by many such people. If one studies religion, one would see that this is a perennial occurrence. It is worth noting that one cannot truly study the religion of another with a closed mind and heart. Crass frustration and resentment do not a good scholar make. It would seem that an axiom of thinking clearly is to let one's judgment remain unclouded by spite and intolerance. One can accept a specific worldview and still be open to at least listen respectfully to arguments that they disagree with. All of that without sacrificing one's ability to think rationally or losing their sanity.
Your attempt to quarantine this cult is not persuasive. Mainstream Christianity suufers from every single flaw that this cult does, with one small exception. Tey set a date certain. Apart from that, Christians are noe less cray than these guys.
If I am wrong, please feel free to point out another doctrinal difference.
Let me understand this right. If not being a Christian makes you a religious person (of the non Christian church I guess), then not being a Muslim surely makes you a religious believer of the non Muslim church also, and so on. Seems kind of ridiculous to me. If I happen not believe in Santa Claus, I don't automatically become a member of non Santa Claus church.
I heard the Vatican is having a garage sale Saturady morning, we should hit it early
These people are going to look like such ignoramuses on May 22.
There IS a God. There is organization, design, ingenuity everywhere. You can attempt to throw paint into the air and hope it lands in the right places of a canvas to create a Mona Lisa. It will never happen without the artist. It's a logical argument.
You don't understand the first thing about evolution, but ignorance is bliss I guess...
Following your logic, the paint SHOULD paint something. After all the universe is noticeably organized by a creator, right?
and you don't understand ANYTHING about a make up of a human being! Your belief in "evolution is pathetic, in fact so pathetic that if I believed it, I would be ashamed to let anyone know to believe something so STUPID! You talk like it is a fact! It's bunch of theory full of holes! Go ahead, just believe it! See where it will take you! You'll be very surprised!
A logical argument for what? If you're implying that that throwing paint in the air to see where it lands is analogy for the concept of evolution, then you clearly do not understand the concept at its most basic level. It's all fine and good to have opinions, but perhaps you should refrain from spouting off in public about things you obviously don't understand.
Dagger, I've invited the atheist folks to debate, en toto. I'll also admit you, should they pass your information along IF you have the courage to do so.
Honestly, I'll take the lot of you on.
YOU cannot prove your God exists.
They cannot disprove the existence of God.
I can provide preponderance of the evidence AND potentially lines of SCIENCE to explore.
And all YOU can provide, more than likely, is a scratch on the nuts and a grunt.
But, DO content the atheists dot org and invite discourse between the three of us, if you dare.
Because, honestly, I CAN put pinholes into ALL arguments, theirs and yours. Indeed, a few into my own, but I'll not share.
@PRISM 1234: Evolution IS a fact, and there is not a scientist in the world that disputes that. We can even observe evolution; read Richard Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth" for a very lucid and easily understood introduction even for the simple mind.
Why is it that you are right and they are wrong. You say atheists cannot be correct because we believe in theories that can intersect and contradict each other. We are not saying we know just exactly how everything is happening we just do not believe in the "tales" of religion. It is fine with me that you believe in a "Mythical" person ( i am using mythical in the sense that you cannot prove that your god is real in the same way i can prove other things are real like rabbits persay) so think of it from outside the box. You are looking at a road then turn in a circle and now there is a cone in the road. You ask where did this cone come from. Person one say, Oh look there was a construction car over there and that worker came and set it down. Person Two: Oh The great Sheeba came and snapped her fingers and it appeared. Who do you believe. In the simplest and dumbed down version, this is what you are protecting. Now i do not have a problem with people who believe religiously, no problem at all. But when you attack a non believer and try to make him/her look like an idiot i will not stand for it. These are good people and have made great impacts on the world we see today. Oh one last bit to chew on, why is your religion right? just think it over, why is it that your religion is better than the hundreds of different ones, or the thousands that came before yours. Why?
"But when you attack a non believer and try to make him/her look like an idiot i will not stand for it."
Oh, really?! when I attack....! Can you even read, or is it that you do it only selectively?! I don't see you or any of you protesting when derogatory remarks ar being spewed on Christians. But when one of us doesn't sugarcoat it about wretched, miserable condition of mankind without God, you get all in a tizzy!
But there is no need to make any atempt to explain anything to you! I know that God exists. I have my proof! But do you think that He, the Creator of all that exists would show Himself to a band of fools, who in the pride of their hearts darkened by the love of their sin have silenced the voices of their consciences, and denied their own souls and have declared their independence from Him? Why, they would do the same that did when He walked the Earth, and said that His kingdom is not of this world. But your proof will come soon enough, and I don't mean May 21d 2011 at 6:00 pm. But it will come soon enough! And finaly, no man is GOOD without God. All that is good is atributed to Him.
As another article on CNN states: If May 21st comes to pass, atheists will say "The Bible was wrong, again". However, the Bible doesn't support this date in any way. In truth it is Harold Camping who was wrong...again!
One thing I note is that Mr. Silverman states that Mr. Camping is no different from any other preacher, and also asks us to "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?" Although I agree with many of Mr. Campings points, I totally disagree with these encompassing statements. No way is Mr. Camping no different from any other preacher; almost all preachers are very, very different from Mr. Camping, and different from one another, just as any other profession has individual differences. Seeing our religious leaders as the scammers they really are is also very unfair, as the majority of them aren't scammers, even if they do tell us we must believe (which I have a hard time with). A scammer is someone who bilks resources from someone else under known false pretenses and pockets the illegal profit himself undercover. Even if heaven and God are false, the preachers themselves do believe and are not promoting it falsely, nor are they pocketing the proceeds surrepticiously under the law. They are merely promoting their own beliefs for what they think is the good of the people, usually harming no one. Most clergy I know went into the profession because they wanted to help people. Most are kind and caring and would never bilk parishners' money for their own gain. Most genuinely want to see people live joyous lives. Maybe some are misguided but many others are not telling us that we're going to Hades if we don't believe, causing fear. Even the ones who believe we must believe are not preaching upcoming doomsday and bilking money. Churches request money because they need to pay their bills, provide services for their members, and donate to the community. I know some clergy and churches abuse this, but many do not, and, no, all religious leaders are not alike, and most are not scammers, any more than all atheists, agnostics or other groups are all alike.
i totally agree 100% with this article! I live in a area filled with religious nut heads so just to be safe I'm keeping my son instead of sending him to his dads this weekend. But please people don't help these morons that fell for this BS let them learn from their mistakes cause if you help them back on their feet they will never learn and just keep doing it. Think of it like a Teenager that constantly gets in trouble if you keep bailing them out they will never learn. Also you don't have to be religious to be a good person. If you look back on the history of religion it basically came to be so people wouldn't be so afraid to die. The movie "The Invention Of Lying" is a good example of this. I just can't go by a book written by schizo nut head that were hearing voices. They should have laid off the drugs and got a life. Sorry but religion is a way to control people in fear.
Mr.Silverman WROTE A VERY GOOD ARTICLE! I seldom post comments but just the other day I did and it was to the effect of why do people use fear to control. Fear based control will never last in any form,the intellect will finally say " C'mon..what the h#$* " I would encourage anyone who reads my post to re-read the main article above and really latch on to the points Mr.Silverman makes. Help a stranger,feed a child,teach someone to read and please start taking better care of planet earth.HAVE A GOOD LIFE.
Thanks for the article Silverman. I'm glad to see that CNN was willing to take in your thoughts as a contributing editor.
Contributing writer, that is.
The problem is that for the longest time people have given false prophets validation through ignorance. This doesn't surprise me but disappoint me that after all these years society still gives money to churches, preachers, and doomsday science. So don't start praying yet, the big kid in the sky is still performing his social experiment.
Overheard an arguement at the hospital the other day over the physical age of the earth, some old guy and a younger woman were going back and forth, she firmly believes that the planet is only 6000 years old, and he's talking about dinosaurs and the earth being 4.5 billion years old. Wish I could have stayed longer, it was getting pretty heated.
Religion is just a stop gap measure until we CAN answer all the questions. Until then we have to put up with this nonsense.
Incorrect. Christianity is not "philosophy" or "an explanation" in any sense of the world. It's a way of life and a relationship. A Christian can "believe" in science, and still be a good Christian (for example: I believe in the Big-Bang, Evolution, etc.).
I think I'll stick with the evidence of evolution and let the religious figure it out for themselves.
At least there are advances in Science every single day....reading from the same book over and over for hundreds of years isn't exactly a step forward, especially when most of the writings are contadictions, half truths and downright imaginary.
@Evan: So I guess you can be a "christian" and not believe in the bible. Al religions are so obviously man-made delusions that it is hard to understand how anyone could take them seriously.