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. Smokey

    There are bad people who are religious and there are bad people who aren't. There are good people who are and good people who aren't. Who are you to think that your conception of reality is right, and other peoples' is wrong? People are all different and have different experiences, we all think of reality in different ways. Nothing privileges your view over anybody else's. You have no right to call people who believe one thing or another differently than you ignorant. It's arrogant and hubristic on your part and you ought to be ashamed for saying it.

    May 20, 2011 at 4:15 am |
  2. AleshaW

    I wish they would stop categorizing these people as "christians." We TRUE CHRISTIANS believe the Bible which says that no man knows the time of the Lord's return. And these family radio people have stated that they are not a church and believe anyone who is a part of a church will be left behind and is governed by the devil. That doesn't make them christians. So don't put them in our category if you must. They DO NOT follow the "rules" of Christianity. My gosh, call them false prophets or something. That's what the Bible defines them as. They believe heresy, according to the Bible.

    May 20, 2011 at 4:15 am |
    • AleshaW

      And also, these people are crazy to think they can not be sure they will make it to heaven. They say the Bible garuntees judgement day to me 5/21/11, but they neglect to see that the Bible garuntees us that if we repent and accept Jesus as our savior we WILL make it to heaven. I don't have to hope God chooses me, I am a child of God and I know that when the rapture happens- whenever that may be- I will be out of here and with my Father in Glory. Don't let these people cause you the doubt the Truth. They are not proclaiming the real Truth anyway....

      May 20, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  3. Roland

    I just have to come back o this board because of what I said earlier. I respected Evangelist Harold Camping. My faith of Mr Camping as a good christian is very high. He has been teaching the bible for more than 50 years on his radio and his prediction of May 21,2011 may have some credibility. I have not yet figure out the calendar or date on how he arrive at May 21, 2011 as the Judgement day. I listen to his bible study in the past and believe in him in the past, Now I am just trying to figure out May 21 as the Judgement day. Although we dont need a date to prepare. It is a duty of every christian and non christian to prepare and pray to God, most especially for the Judgement day if ot comes on May 21,2011.

    May 20, 2011 at 4:03 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      Will you still have faith in Harold Camping come Sunday, when the world is still here and so are you? Or will you come to your senses and realize that he's been playing all you gullible fools for suckers?

      May 20, 2011 at 4:24 am |
  4. jake

    I believe in God. I don't presume to understand Him. I live my life trying to do the right thing, regardless of what any religion says. That is all I have to say.

    May 20, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • a christian

      can i come sit on your bench with you?

      May 20, 2011 at 4:08 am |
  5. peasant

    I am sad after reading this article. It let's me get a feeling for how athiests think. We don't need to scare people into turning from their sin, they already know and feel the guilt. It is just the matter of them realizing that they can be forgiven, and that righteousness does not come by works, but by faith in the sacrafice of Jesus Christ. The true church has nothing to do with politics, or religious right, or trying to legislate behaviour. True ministers of the gospel of Christ will refuse to take money and will work to take care of their needs.

    May 20, 2011 at 3:46 am |
    • katiepea

      if sinning is part of being human, i feel no reason to ask for forgiveness, because i am a human being. if there is a God he certainly has no hand in business in the universe now. the only way i could see god as existing as a force that created everything would be that god and gravity is the same thing. gravity is the reason for all life, as is believe God to be by large numbers of the populous. as far as a christian God goes, well that book has been mistranslated and edited and skewed by so many governments over thousands of years it's by default void of any possible fact. in FACT if you simply do a little research into other religions you would realize that the bible is really nearly 100% stolen stories from egyptian lore, nearly word for word.

      so i say this about christianity, if the christians today are any remote representation of what god is, then send me to hell. i want no part of what they've portrayed. i believe in neither though so the point is really irrelevant, but simply that i wouldn't want any part of it even if it were real. because personally i find much more beauty in the unknown, the chance that we were a random near miraculous creation set off by a series of billions (possibly longer) of years of particles accelerating into each other to the point to which we are now at, much more appealing than "why are we here, because of god DUH" sorry but that's not only absurd, it's cheap.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  6. American Rebel

    We just see them as incredibly stupid people. I mean come on there's a supreme being that created the world, man and the universe but we don't have magical unicorns??? Not only that we tell our children there is no easter bunny or santa claus? But we drive into their skulls that there is this guy that created us out of thin air just because he's God? Seriously? Really?

    May 20, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • peasant

      American Rebel, the house you live in, was it built by a designer? Or did it spontaneously appear from nothing? Just sayin..

      May 20, 2011 at 3:51 am |
    • Whalio

      Really Peasant? An architect is a far cry from the easter bunny, santa claus, and god.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:29 am |
  7. joakim

    jesus was not religious
    if anything he was a non-dualist sage
    he said to treat others as the self
    he meant the macro SELF
    he also meditated and did yoga

    May 20, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  8. JudgeNotLestYeBeJudgedTeaBaggers

    Religion evolved as a tribal tool used by the chieftains to keep the peasants under control. Now it's become part of the GOP power structure.

    May 20, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  9. Scott Anderson

    Many will say that oh I know he exists because I felt his presents. That same feeling can be felt by focusing on a point of a needle or meditation. When one can gain focus on a single point (meditation, some fairy tale god, the Easter bunny, Santa Clause etc..) the brain is able to reduce stress levels and start loosing focus on the negatives around or in our lives. I prayed so hard god healed me. No you healed yourself with focus which caused your brain to reduce stress levels away from worry (Cancer etc..) which in turn allowed the natural ability of the brain to maybe increase the ability of sending say 800 antidotes per hours to try against cancer etc. where otherwise maybe only your brain would release 200 per hour because it is back logged processing stress and worry without focus. If your focus is religion then so be it but don't expect to force it on others who like to look around and beyond just one book.

    May 20, 2011 at 3:04 am |
  10. Roland

    I'm going to sleep. I'll see you good people next week with JC. God Bless.

    May 20, 2011 at 3:02 am |
  11. Jacob

    All this article proves to me is that yet another atheist is rude, condescending, and paranoid about religion.
    Is it really fair to assume straight off the bat that Camping is just a scam artist? I prefer to think he just sadly mistaken, lost in his zeal... and if it turns out he is running a scam, then so be it, get mad at him then.

    And being religious doesnt make you an idiot by default. Granted, there are a crapload of religious idiots, and i get pretty irked by it, but some religious people are genuinely rational people who choose to accept an irrational belief in God, and along that same line not every religious person is acting purely out of fear of punishment or whatever hoo hah. Some people genuinely believe the standards they live by are right and make them happy.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Relictus

      Personally, the one thing that irks me most about christians, besides my own damnation, is their lack of critical thinking skills. As I am one who will spend eternity in Hell, I have to say that it could not be any worse than Heaven.

      May 20, 2011 at 3:01 am |
    • JudgeNotLestYeBeJudgedTeaBaggers

      Talk about condescending and paranoid, calling folks "irrational" and "idiots". I guess a person has to fit your special mold to be in your exclusive club. How judgmental and petty. It just irks me too.

      May 20, 2011 at 3:04 am |
    • Reemo

      Hey Relictus, what's so bad about Heaven? I get that you don't believe in it, but how is it just as bad as Hell? I bet you think Krypton or Olympus were pretty cool places even though we all know those are fake. But you (and I've noticed this with a lot of atheists) seem to have an inherent hate towards Christianity so much that anything good about it you'd find some sort of flaw. It's your type of condescending rhetoric that makes average decent people who happen to believe in God (like me) not want to engage in healthy conversation with atheists about our conflicting beliefs.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:07 am |
    • Rick

      I have to agree with jacob entirely Being a christian who believes that our god exists and our stories are true and we're ultimately in the clear or safe zone if you will with our beliefs. That's not to say we can't be wrong about it though that's part of believing and having faith though; to realize there is absolutely no real substantial physical proof of your belief and yet you make the choice to believe thats the meaning of Faith. You take that leap of faith and trust in God and God alone and pray you are correct in this belief.

      Personally i wouldn't say i fear death, and believe because of that, nor would i say my critical thinking skills aren't up to snuff. There's no reason to believe that being religious inherently deteriorates critical thinking or that relgions are filled with idiots, Than there is to believing the same of people who buy apple brand for the simple reason it's apple especially when given the wide range of cheaper and similar, if not the same and in some cases better, products, Nor does the same logic hold for those who use facebook, simply because it's facebook, despite other SNSs existing some of which have better features.

      Seriously though It's awfully bias to say things like, paraphrasing here: "religious people have lower critical thinkin' on average and are typically idiots who get taken advantage of so we should feel bad for them"(article and comments or at least what i've gotten from most of them) But not say the same about Brand loyal folks, Facebook users, Twitter users, scintists in some cases, Polotical parties, the internet, and even the people posting here.

      The only difference here is that all the afor mentioned non-religious groups keep following what they're following for reasons you can understand and in some form associate with, whether you agree or not, but for some reason you can't understand the POV, or the Idealogy i should say, of people who believe in a religion. Likely because some part of you is afraid to let go of the familiar and understandable aspects of the physical world and admit that potentially there is something higher than the Human being that is beyond your understanding. And because of this, because you cannot understand them as a result of your different way of thinking, you brand them as "idiots" and " lacking in critical thinking skills" etc.. Not because we are those things you brand us, no more so than you at least, but because you yourselves cannot understand. And Humanities Basic instinct when confronted with the unknown, or what it can't understand, isn't to figure it out but rather destroy it, brand it as sub-par and attempt to disregard it in some form to the point where it becomes a non-issue for you so that you can live happily feeling secure in knowing you feel like you understand everything.

      This is not to say that the Religious folk are infalible and all understanding that they don't have the same issue as you however in fact i'm sure many of us do and react as accordingly to human nature as you do.

      just to clearify on the audience:
      This is primarily directed at the ahteist audience who typically view relgious folk as "idiots" "the victim of persuasion" "afraid of death" "sheeple" etc... This is not to say that you're worse than us, the religious folk who earnestly believe in their beliefs, but that you are in essence Overlooking the greater picture, you are Missing that critical puzzle piece that finishes the puzzle, and this is why the many of you insult us and why many of us insult you.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:25 am |
    • DrJStrangepork

      You can tell he is tired of seeing the same old tricks. Yeah he makes some accusations that are probably further out than the truth. Here is what I take from it... a guy gets some religious clout and then sells the doomsday idea. He gets money from people duped to believe this. Doomsday doesn't show up, and this guy isn't responsible to anyone. He doesn't even have to give back the money as he didn't break any laws. Call the guy mistaken, but I call that a scam, deliberate or not.

      May 20, 2011 at 6:27 am |
  12. Scott Anderson

    The END of the WORLD is not in the original scriptures it is the end of the EON which means the end of the age not the end of the earth or world. The end of the Age of Pisces ( that fish symbol on the back of cars and moving to the new age of Aquarius in 2150). If one looks closely to the bible and its 183 predecessors they all mention most of the astrological symbols that has been misinterpreted to serve self serving male power mongers of the times and today the world is full of misinterpreted events of the past and a lot of mislead people who are not willing to look outside the tunnel and a single book.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  13. Scott Anderson

    Sadly almost all religions devalue earth life itself. With the ideal of some better after life. With that they sacrifice and limit the very limited life all the creatures including people have on this planet. Get out and enjoy the surroundings. Life is to short to be restricted for a view of something better after death. Maybe take some time visit Egypt and go see the 5000+ year old carvings on the tomb of luxor. You might be surprised that they have all the same scriptures the bible has plagiarized from previous faiths that only tried to over power previous faiths to them. 183 sons of god died on a cross prior to the bible and reselected 3 days later. All also being born of a virgin and all having 12 main followers. Plus all involving the 3 kings which is not people but the 3 starts in Orion's belt known by astronomers for 6000 years and still known as the three kings. What about the discovery of the on/offr switches in DNA that on a monkey embryo a sequence was turned off early in the womb for the arms which when the monkey was born instead of arms formed gills yes the same as fish. All one has to do is watch virus life cycles year over year and that is ample evidence that evolution is more prevalent than any other ideal including religion. 33.3 humans generations or 1000 years can be watched in viruses in 9 days. And today that is now why we have drug resistant viruses that only 20 years ago were not. They simply evolved (the weak dieing and the strong passing on and adopting to the changes of those drugs used over the past 20 years. Many preachers of the past who challenged science to prove their story have been taken up on that challenge but with a twist they will conduct the experiments themselves to see for them selves. Sadly for the religious movement many of those preachers jumped ship off the religion band wagon. Only to have the religious establishment try and cover up the ship jumping of the many. Charles Templeton – who was to take over for Billy Graham at some point, Bart Ehrman degrees from many bible universities and a past preacher. These are just a couple of many. Religion sadly with they way the words are written make it a sin to look outside the tunnel to see reality around. Just as Hitler had a natural gift of using words to move people so do the Bible and the Qur'an. It is call word patterns or in modern times Neuro-linguistic programming. It allows the ability to brain wash or manipulate people from hearing, seeing and feeling words when read or heard in a certain pattern. Some leaders have it naturally and used to to exploit the population and appear to have charisma (Ronald Reagan, Edgar Cacey even Obama uses it in his speeches today. Widely used in advertisement etc. Part of the training inside the CIA and FBI since the 60's.

    Today Science has finally surpassed religion but religions higher ups do everything to keep trying to oppress the followers from seeing the sciences and the results.

    Maybe some of the religious followers could take a trip to the Vatican and break into the forbidden library section that no man not even the pope is to go in. The works of all the top scientists 500 and 600 years ago that were older killed by the Vatican are probably in that library. Gee just around 600 years ago Christianity was forced on the people. If you were a parent at the time and your kids left the house and mentioned they don't believe or questioned the faith they would be killed without you even being present. Thus parents of the time were forced to brain wash the kids that everything is factual without question. And today about 20 generations later lots of people have been brain washed by parents who have been brain washed by grand parents and so on. Even the bible has been changed many times over the last 150 years with the definitions from the original scriptures. The end of the world is not in the original scriptures it is the end of the EON which means the end of the age not the end of the earth. The end of the Age of Pisces ( that fish symbol on the back of cars and moving to the new age of Aquarius in 2150). If one looks closely to the bible and all the works before it that are the same they all mention most of the astrological symbols that has been misinterpreted to serve self serving male power mongers of the times and today the world is full of misinterpreted events of the past and a lot of people suck inside a tunnel view and not open to looking around outside that tunnel. The earth is made up of mostly followers those ones are the are less likly to move outside the tunnel and be willing to research outside a single book. Just think another 100 years from now L. Ron Hubbard will be viewed as a god by many. SAD.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • Cherish Marie

      I know I'm atheist, and ya its ironic, but its a cultural thing...
      I couldn't help but say "OH my god" when I saw how much you wrote.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Patrick

      Cherish Marie,

      That's so funny. Thanks. Scott sure does love to see his words in print, don't he!

      May 20, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  14. keylargo

    I hate to be mean spirited about this situation, but I guess I just can't help having the feeling that anyone who's foolish enough to fall for such nonsense, deserves to get hosed. Maybe it'll teach some of them a good lesson.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  15. Pete

    And God said, "Let there be light!" in English, of course.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:41 am |
  16. ishiibrad

    I know who started all this doom day event!!! Find out which lawyers bought up the peoples properties when they put their stuff up for sale or gave it away. A lawyers work is never done!

    May 20, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  17. Roland

    We 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.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Pete

      "Please. Stop with the Bible quoting. It's just pitiful."

      Pete 1:1

      It's just as intelligent as someone quoting Twilight or Harry Potter.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • Pete

      Stop praying, start doing.

      Prayer can't fill your stomach and nourish your body. Prayer can't heal the wound of a suicide bombing victim.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • Observer

      "We need to always pray."

      No. You already know you will be going to heaven and you think God already knows everything you are thinking. Spend time improving the world and getting a better education.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  18. Keith

    I stopped reading this article after the author wrote, "like me" instead of "like I am." Basic grammar. It's sad that people who don't know the difference between subjective and objective pronouns can get jobs as journalists. Oh, and I couldn't care less about the article or the doomsday prophecy – it's a waste of brain power.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • dggass

      You do realize that 1) it's an op-ed...many people in many walks of life write op-ed's, not just journalists and editors. 2) That nowhere in the introduction has CNN identified Silverman, nor has Silverman, identified himself as a journalist. So while you're belittling someone for their "writing" skills, it may behoove you to brush up on your "reading" skills.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Brian

      Why do people always have to pick out grammatical errors in the posts an articles to degrade the writer? The context of the article is still the same. I think its due to insecurities upon the reader.... Keith.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  19. outawork

    I'll just sleep in.

    May 20, 2011 at 2:37 am |
  20. scir91onyoutube

    you need religion for the masses and idiots of the world. telling people that there is no life after this one will cause mass chaos because most ppl are lazy and just want things easy from life. those are usually if not always the religious people

    May 20, 2011 at 2:34 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.