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.
In the beginning, Man had no way to understand his environment and so he invented god. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that modern man, who does have was to understand his environment, still clings to this belief.
What is encouraging is the fervor I see in the religious' holdouts defending these beliefs. The desperation of it, shows that religious belief is in it's final death throws.
I agree, religion is definately on the way out. I would have no care at all whether or not it existed if it weren't for all the death, destruction, and suffering it causes.
Is there a term for an individual that doesn't believe in a higher power and doesn't adhere to a religion, but respects the value, beauty and hope that religion brings to people? If so, I want to be associated with that group. I'm tired of being associated with intolerant blowhards like this dude.
I think it's pretty unfair to come away from this article feeling that Mr. Silverman is an "intolerant blowhard." He is simply pointing out the reality that the world is not going to end on Saturday, and yet many people and their families have been duped into believing it will, and emptying their pockets over a lie. Religion definitely does provide hope and inspiration to many throughout the world, but A. religion is not the only vehicle through which hope and inspiration can be delivered, and B. just because something has positive qualities does not mean that we should sweep its negatives under the rug. Religion has a lot of negative qualities, this is just one example.
Gee thanks CNN for comments from the president of American Atheists...
As a Christian for many years, I feel sorry for the unenlightened and also the gullible.
An unbeliever is simply one whose radio has not been turned on.When God turns on the switch ,mans spirit becomes aware of spiritual reality and life becomes like 4D and it is simply glorious.
I am content in my belief which includes belief in prophetic biblical events without knowing when just knowing why.
...or maybe your "spiritual radio" is actually the drugs your taking?
You make it sound like LSD or something.
I prefer what can be proven as factual.
Namely, everything but religion.
Wwe should prepare for the Judgement day. Although nobody really know when the end will come. Mathew 24:42. We need to pray, ready the Bible, ask forgiveness, attend fellowship and seek guidance from God all day from today till monday or as often as we can. We need to stop mocking each other or our fellowmen. We need to always pray.
This story will catch a lot of people off guard. I don't mean Camping's group, I mean those who are saying "I told u so"
This planet is on a collision course and being good stewards alone is not going to fix it.
Mr camping may have been preaching along time but he missed important points "No man know day or hour" Mt 24:36
Cashless society and religious persecution must precede. These events are brewing but what really gets people religious would be a HUGE disaster. This could be next weeks news paper but 1 must be careful not to pretend to be Kreskin.
Huge disasters are on the increase, but when it comes a day after day on a global scale you might have a different take.
Atheists will do whatever it takes to justify infanticide/abortion.
Actually being an Atheist, most if not around 99.9% of those who have abortions happen to be in the part of the flock that believe in a higher power or authority. Are you really that gullible to believe that the only people who fornicate then get abortions are Atheists? Atheists generally believe in something else that avoids abortions all together, its called birth control.
The Bible offers more support to the pro-choice side than the anti-choice side.
I think what we have to get past here is that those who attack Christianity do so on a very superficial level. It's very easy to attack public figures who say outrageous things on television or things that get out in the media. People have to realize that Christianity is best found in a group of people committed to helping others through the mission charged in the Bible. That's what the basis of Christianity is – serving other people, not warning them of their destruction. If you take 1 or 2 or 10 tenets of any religion and blow them out of proportion as if they are representative of that faith by themselves, you've missed the entire point. The end of the world is one such tenet of Christianity. Will the end of the earth come in my lifetime? I don't know. Should I be concerned about that? Only that I keep watching for it. Do I know all of the answers? Absolutely not. But my faith guides me and the Bible directs me in ways that give me a little more knowledge every day. Instead of attacking one or two ends of an extremely complex faith, look what that faith does for real people in real places. Look at what it does for communities and neighborhoods. As much as non-religious people would like to believe, 99% of people who call themselves Christian aren't even connected in one way or another by any religious leader/pastor who has a tv show or has been in the national media. They ask simple questions and get simple answers – that's what faith is. Just remember that if you claim to have an open mind about religion, that also means that you can't be close minded about Christianity and the millions of people you don't see exercising their faith every day.
There is nothing wrong with some of the tenants in the Bible; nothing wrong with those that use its teachings to actually do good (without trying to convert in the process of course.... making the requirement for help based on conversion)
But why do some beleive that ONLY those that believe are capable of good?? Why must one believe in elements that have been proven as false in order to believe in good?? Why must one accept the WHOLE package, when the package is inherently based on falsehoods (when taken as a whole)?? Why can't all religions adapt to newfound truths instead of insisting on those formed by people that didn't have the tools to understan reality??
Well said Sawyer....
So if you believe in the big bang, then you believe that the Universe began in a single tiny spot smaller than a period. In order for all the impossible to become possible, the impossibly improbable had to happen. If any tiny amount of the trillions of variables that went in to creating a universe that can sustain life were changed by the smallest fraction out of several billion, then there would be no life, but the Universe is perfect, it can create life! And it all started with the big bang. Now according to physics every action has a reaction. Obviously the big bang had to be the reaction, so what caused the action? You can't possibly tell me that a higher power isn't involved somehow.
As for that crackpot about the end of the world, he is a scammer of the most shameful caliber and he will deal with his actions someday. But how dare you call all priests and preachers and anyone religious a scammer. Thats ignorant
A "god" is not needed for the origins of the big bang and wouldn't really in itself explain anything anyway. Please read Stephen Hawking's "The Grand Design" for an introduction into this subject.
@Veritas, you really must not have anything better to do than to comment on everyone's opinion you disagree with. Its almost like you are trying to convince yourself of your own opinions.
I don't care what yours are, so leave others alone. Kay?
Historically, groups of people have used deities to explain the unknown. It's been withered down from a god or goddess for nearly everything (rain, sun, crops, etc) to a single god. As man becomes more knowledgable about the natural world, his need to use a fictional character to explain the seemingly unexplainable diminishes. The god or higher power you use to explain "what caused the action" is simply filling in the void of what you, and even I (my degree was philosophy, not astrophysics), can understand. However, scientists out there do have a firmer grasp then many of us on the true genesis of the universe and generally speaking, it does not involve a god or deity of any sorts.
Dan – Please explain 3 things to me. 1. How was God created? While I agree that it seems improbable that the universe was created out of nothing, it is just as improbable that God was created out of nothing. 2. If God created the universe, why did he wait BILLIONS of years to create "man"? 3. And what was he doing during those BILLIONS of years all by himself?
He wasn't calling all preachers scammers...he was saying they all share their own message and say that they are 100 percent right....and the church next door with the slightly different message isn't.
@Dan: Then why do you even post your opinions if they are not to be questioned? Why do you think these discussion boards exist in the first place?
The big bang theory, like all scientific models is just that, a model. Simply put, we don't know how the universe came into being, but scientist continue to investigate different possibilities. There's a very good chance that we will never know how the universe came to be, however simply saying "that a higher power [is] involved" does not answer any questions. Rather such a claim raises more ultimately unanswerable questions (like how was this higher power created? how did it go about making the universe and why?). One of the major differences between science and religion has and always will be that where science accepts that we know very little and have a great deal more investigation to do, religion claims to have all the answers and demands that we stop asking questions.
With regard to people commenting on your opinion: if you wish is to not be challenged then you should not express your opinions publicly.
"Religion will have been proven wrong yet again."
that pretty much sums it up . When was it proven right ? lol
It really doesnt require any preaching or convincing. When he comes it will be obvious to all. That is when the choice will be made to be with him or against him.
25 hours to J-day.
also, i see every single atheist as a Commie. Atheism is a core of Communism. Communism is inhumane. I was born in russia, and atheism aka communism did not do any good to people. Atheist hordes of Bolsheviks massacred thousands of priests and destroyed hundreds of churches.
That's one of the most illogical and ret@rded things I have ever read.
also, i see every single Catholic as a Fascist. Catholicism is a core of Fascism. Fascism is inhumane. I was born in germany, and Fascism aka Catholicism did not do any good to people. Catholic hordes of Nazis massacred thousands of rabbis and destroyed hundreds of synagogues.
@Veritas: What is so illogical about Atheism = Communism?
Seek help – you need it – Comparng atheism to communism is more than just insane – Just because one group saw through the fraud of religion does not mean that everyone that sees through the fraud is conversly an atheist – This argument is one that uses fear of one thing to inspire fear of another...
If she weighs the same as a duck, then she must be made of wood.... and therefore.... A WITCH !!!!
@Brian: Mexicans are Catholics, I do not think they support fascism. Look at China, atheism destroyed all human values over there.
Communists may be atheists, but not all atheists are communists. Just like how the nazis were german. but not all germans are nazis. I see that prejudice overcomes your ability to think logically.
Pardon my english
Because atheism and communism are completely different things!
I don't believe in god.
So I don't believe in free enterprise? I don't believe in capitalism?
Atheism means 'I don't believe in any god'.
And that's all.
Exactly. And I am an atheist and a practicing capitalist, as well as dozens of my free-market, libertarian friends. Your correlation with Atheists being Communists is about as far fetched as my characterization of all Catholics being Fascists.
if you equate atheism with communism, you are an ignorant fool. Ever heard of Christian Communism?
@Martini: You people do not see the picture. Atheism is a core of Fascism and Communism. If you do not believe in God, then you are hopeless. You think you die, and that's it. There is nothing else after death? This way I think atheism is very dangerous. Because atheist can go around spread athestic values, like you can do what ever, there is no life after death anyway. atheist culture gives more freedom to persecute people because it fears no God.
@oleg: Only that communism and atheism have nothing at all to do with each other. You don't understand logic, obviously. Communism is an economic system, and atheism is a person's lack of belief in supernatural "gods". It's like saying quilting=islam.
@Veritas: Communism is an economic system, yes. Atheism is a belief, yes. But without belief there is no system, without atheism, there is no communism. In my own opinion I think if someone is an atheist, then big chance he beliefs Communism, even though he may call himself capitalist, etc. If you are an atheist, you are definitely directly exposed to Communist beliefs.
I think that you are working at a lower mental level than everyone else, regardless of English not being your first language. I don't mean that in an offensive manner, as it is just my observation. The only thing that all atheists have in common is that they do not have a belief in a god, or gods. That's it. They can be extremely diverse in race, economic beliefs, political party association, spirituality, humaneness, brutality, age, nationality and so on. Just like people who don't believe in Zeus, Allah, Ra, Vishnu or the Easter Bunny. The only thing we all share is the lack of belief in god.
@Veritas. Newest version of Quran actually equates quilting to Islam. Come on man, keep up with your religious studies! (I hope the sarcasm meter went off there). There was a really good article I read yesterday about the whole doomsday thing and what I took away from it was basically that religious folk who say that the people saying this Saturday is the end, but still believe that the end will be coming in future are just as delusional. They're just fellow residents in the same nut house.
@oleg: Your mind is fvcked up. There is no correlation whatsoever between atheism and communism. They must really have messed up your head in the Sovjet Union.
@Brian: I have to agree with you about my low intellect. But the argument we both have, does not make any of us wiser. I do belief that it is human to belief in God. It is inhuman to not belief in God. animals do not belief in god because they are animals. Just my simple minded logic.
Your logic is off. I think what you are trying to say is that most Communist happen to be atheist. Which may be true, I haven't really looked into it But, you make your error when saying that many atheists are Communists. I know from personal associations that 95% of atheists that I know and know of, are not Communists.
I may say that most people that live in New York are American, and it would be a truthful statement. Not all people that live in New York are American, but most are. I cannot say, however, that most people that live in America are New Yorkers. Some are, but not most.
@Brian: What is atheism to you anyway. What does it do?
We are animals. There are many, many humans that believe in an afterlife because we have the ability to be self-aware, unlike most animals whose brains are not as highly evolved as ours. Like all animals, we have an innate, inbred fear of death, that allows our species to propagate. But, our brains can recognize that one day we will all die, and due to our fear of death, we do what ever we can to minimize this fear. It is natural is fear death and hope for an afterlife. Just because it helps people cope with the knowledge that they will one day die, the belief that we are somehow immortal is still just a fairytale.
oleg is stating what his experience was as it relates to communism. Communism as a governmental system is completely intolerant of anything but the worship of man. Man left to his own ends will destroy anyone that gets in their way to gain the benefit for themselves. Ultimately this is why communism has a difficult time maintaining peace without oppression. The most violent and destructive figures in history were not people of faith, they were people of man worship. A lot of atheists are correct about people of false faith that will utilize it to gain control of a society, but the reality is Christianity is meant to revolutionize a society that has the people at the top marginalizing all those around them with whatever means possible to gain a benefit for themselves. When Jesus walked the earth he was a revolutionist that created a movement to remove the abusive Jewish priests because they oppressed the people with the laws instead of encouraging people to create in the manner intended within a society. Love your brother as yourself... what is the most important commandment... love, the consideration of others over yourself, generally speaking man worship leads to individual consideration over all else.
You may have been born in Russia, but you are clueless about the differences between Communists and atheists. Try to get an education and not be so simple-minded.
Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. That is it. It does not provide for me anything other than seeing others as humans that must be responsible to and for themselves and one another, and not imaginary beings and books written 3000 years ago by uneducated desert nomads. It also does not constrain me from having an open mind about science, history and other people, like the belief in god does. God, just like leprechauns, have not been proven to exist, therefore I have no reason to believe in them.
I'm an atheist and I am not a communist.
I visited Moscow and St Petersburg after Glasnost and I have fond memories of my host families. Best wishes to you.
With all the crazy things people do in his name, God is probably rolling over in his grave.
I used to believe in God when I was young because I just knew I had a soul. Then I got older and more educated and realized it's just me experience my own consciousness.
On another note, the world would be a lot better place if Christians actually acted like Christians.
Another angry rant from a man devoured by his hatred of religion. It would be refreshing to read or hear truly reasonable arguments from atheists once and a while, rather than their schoolyard 'I'm-smarter-than-you' diatribes. When there are over 5 billion people on this planet who identify as religious simple statistics dictate that abuse, extremism, and nonsense will appear somewhere. Atheists love knocking down these straw men but are never able to do much more. They consider themselves to be of superior intellect and, in the absence of sound arguments resort to their main weapon, which is ridicule. Considering the sheer number of victims of the murderous legacy of the heroes of their faith, Hitler, Paul Pot, Stalin, I suppose believers ought to defer to the superiority of their belief system.
Nobody kills in the name of atheism, that's just preposterous. Many have killed in the name of religion, mostly because their "god" told them to do so. And it is no secret that there is a correlation between low levels of education and fundamentalist religious beliefs.
Ok, here's a logical attack on religion:
There is absolutely no empirical evidence of any kind of supernatural being.
At all. Not even a shred.
The only Christians involved in the debate are the ones who try and fail to poke holes in logical, proven arguments. They have no proof of their own, they just rely on 'well, your stuff is stupid, and lalala I can't hear you,'
Well said omn1bus. The atheist adherence to their faith and their own arrogance makes most of the us who are "religious" pale in comparison. As others have noted, they will most often use straw men and very superficial arguments against the extremes of religion or against the most simplistic and literal concepts of God (the grey beard in the sky and fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible being some of their favorite easy targets). Or the "religion causes all of the problems of the world" is my personal favorite. Too bad they will never get past this stage of the self-righteous, intellectually weak personal attack. In their case for their own superiority they have stopped making any effort (if they ever tried to) to gain intellectually maturity or explore the possibilities. As a physician and medical researcher, I would like to think of myself as relatively smart. But all for naught say the atheists because I (say it isn't so!) believe in God and that makes me stupid, ignorant, crazy, deviant or a combination of all of them. Alas, I HAVE looked at the evidence with a critical eye and despite what the materialist party-line insists is the case, the scientific facts point to a higher power at work in the universe and in our lives and in that consciousness survives death. In fact the evidence is pretty convincing. If you [atheists] are really serious about being so intellectually astute (the "brights" I believe you like to call yourself), step down off your pedestal long enough to take an open-minded approach to what billions of others in the world already know to be true. ... I won't hold my breath though.
Theories are still theories and claiming to have created something you discovered is arrogant. Math, science and the foundation of consciousness all discovered and none completely understood or explained. I believe in discovery, but how about creating one new thing... anyone? Why is it so hard to make something out of nothing? When a scientist can do that instead of just moving things around that are already there I will give them more credence and when they quit proclaiming hypothesis as theory and theory as law I will give them more regard. Explore, discover, but stop pretending you are the ones that have unveiled reality. Can anyone here tell me where just one of your thoughts comes from, your own consciousness, how did that come into being? Anyone who thinks that religion is the most destructive force in the world should brush up on their history, the largest number of atrocities have always been done by men that have no belief other than the benefit they can gain in their own lifetime.
Heed the call. There is still time to cry to him.
Read the information http://www.may212011.com/may_21_tracts
Read the Bible now, as God declares:
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Pro 8:33 Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
Pro 8:34 Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.
Does God say he will reveal the time of return?
Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (to the believers)
Christ is the same yesterday and today..therefore
YES he will tell us
Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
Matthew 24:37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Ah, yes, but you are forgetting that all this is just utter nonsense. It's easy to overlook.
Why do bible thumpers think quoting the bible proves anything ?
i could quote any book that doesnt make it true
Han Solo: Theres no mystical energy field controlling my destiny, its all a bunch of simple ticks and nonsense
I know I can't, but I would LOVE to see your face when May 21 comes and gos, and nothing happens.
people, my parents were born during when germans attacked stalingrad in 1942. i guess my parents were born into the end of days, but 70 years later, guess what? the world still exist.
I don't know anything about God or god. Not even if (G)god prefers upper or lower case (personally).
I was raised Catholic until 7. Then the folks split and mom became Buddhist for 5 years, then looked into Hinduism and Islam. By the time I was 16 I had shared religions with about 85% of the world. I peeked into the Theosophical Society and researched other religions as I got older. Not in depth or anything, but deeper than just reading the wikipedia page level research.
I have come to the conclusion that while some people seem to need it, formalized religion isn't generally a good idea, not because of the gods or belief systems. It's really the people that mess religion up.
I believe that the whole universe is too magical to lack any divinity, but I don't think it is any of my business. It is not for the grain of sand to question the Ocean.
Typical smarmy atheist... only people who openly admit to there not being a God are moral, ethical, intelligent, etc. Granted, atheism doesn't hurt anyone, but the proselytizing is consistently obnoxious. It makes me want to join an organized religion just to prove a point.
...the point being?
I believe firmly in God but am radically against organized religion. I'm glad that the writer, being a self proclaimed atheist, wrote this article as an atheist and not a zealot. It's refreshing to see an atheist spew something other than condemnation.
"It's refreshing to see an athiest spew something other than condemnation"....
LOL...talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Who spews more condemnation than ANY religious zealot?!? IRONY!!!
Let the Koolaid begin to flow. Come on roll out the Koolaid already. That's the best part: watching natural selection at work.