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.
I find this article quite shocking in that the author is so obviously bitter and spiteful toward any and all "religion" and immediately generalizes and stereotypes all religion and religious people and preachers in such a terribly negative way. The very first sentence is a false generalization. This article has no real substance and seems nothing more than one guys angry opinion.
Read the disclaimer at the bottom of the article. Sheesh.
David Johnson (the insecure one)
Name calling is what the insecure do DJ, it is a masking technique to hide faults and failures. Hey, that is psychology! And to think you think we Christians hate science! You are losing cool points DJ!
The Final Judgment is like the goose that laid the golden egg to Christian entrepreneurs who make their living off of the fear of an imminent end by selling items and ideas meant to prepare people for it's near future coming. Every time one of these guys makes a failed prediction people end up relaxing for a while and some stop believing altogether. This is bad for business to kill that fear in this way.
“Strive further to read and go beyond the Mosaic law, that you may gain more knowledge to realise what CM was trying to say. It's in the New Testament”
It’s lazy people like you who do anything that they can to justify the silly parts of their religion. Now you say that you don’t have to worry about the old testament? Hmmm, guess that BOTH sets of the ten commandments are out as well as all of the horrible bad stuff in the bible. So bad stuff not christian, good stuff is christian. Is that what you’re saying? If so you are a completely delusional whackjob. This is the reason that there are over 38,000 denominations of christianity around the world. All of this BS from one moldy book.
I don't usually reply on a dead thread but I just could hardly help my self on this one.
@Jim...You quoted my post that says, “Strive further to read and go beyond the Mosaic law, that you may gain more knowledge to realise what CM was trying to say. It's in the New Testament”
And you said and i quote, "Now you say that you don’t have to worry about the old testament?"
Is there any in my statement that tells or even insinuates that it's okay to disregard the NT? Do you have substantial understanding on what the word "more" tells or implies?
Many (many) atheists have claim higher intelligence, I hope that includes reading comprehension.
I think the punctuation mark at the end of your sentence has saved you. Otherwise, it would take away my doubts, whether that cranium at the end of your neck does serve its purpose or is only there just to grow (you) some hair.
An Irishman's view of the Rapture – http://chriswrites.net/2011/05/20/rapture-this/
Hey Christians ::::: Kiss my Left Behind!
LOL, now that was funny. I dont care who you are.
"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."
Ahh, the President of the American Atheist Religion just refuted himself. Funny how that works. How does one first know bad from good? And Like justathought said, how does a supposed atheist get to an understanding of ethics, exactly? Please don't reply telling me it is from experience...if everything came from nothing, then thoughts are accidents and you can pin no good/bad, right/wrong on them.
Here's one for ya, Atheism is ALSO A RELIGION! It is a belief in SELF as God. It has its own dogmas, religious practices, policies, and all, not some, of it's members are apparently brainwashed into and required to seek out and preach against any belief in any other God. Not only that these so-called atheists have their religious leaders as well...Nietzsche, Russel, Hitchens...and this guy...among many others.
I am not gullible and I have real, tangible empirical proof that Christ and God Exist. You can too!!
You lost your attempt at converting this Christ Follower (not Camping follower) when you began generalizing all religions (including your own) and preachers into the likes of Camping and about 2% of Christian "leaders". Look, there is no doubt that one or two bad apples spoil it for the bunch in many ways, but, it us unreasonable to equate every other apple to the bad one. I would also agree that many people are going to be broke, disappointed and hurt by this false prophet, but from what I am reading, like the many, many other doomsday predictors in years past: there are probably less people following and being hurt by Camping than there are following Silverman.
"I am not gullible and I have real, tangible empirical proof that Christ and God Exist. You can too!! "
OK, we're all waiting. Lets hear your "proof" that your god exists. Drum roll please.........
"Here's one for ya, Atheism is ALSO A RELIGION! It is a belief in SELF as God. It has its own dogmas, religious practices, policies, and all, not some, of it's members are apparently brainwashed into and required to seek out and preach against any belief in any other God. Not only that these so-called atheists have their religious leaders as well...Nietzsche, Russel, Hitchens...and this guy...among many others."
You're certainly doing an excellent job of demonstrating the author's point that religion and ethics are independent of each other. For here you are claiming to be religious while at the same time extolling a bald-faced lie. Though I suppose I could be charitable and assume you are simply misinformed. So in the interests of promoting honest discussion, please allow me to correct the misimpressions here.
There is one and only one tenet of atheism, and it is the following statement: I do not believe in the existence of gods.
That's it. There are no ritual observances. There is no dogma. There is no worship at all (either of ourselves or of anything else). Some of us have never read anything by Hitchens, Dawkins, or Nietsche – heck, in my case I'd never even heard of Dawkins and Hitchens until About two years ago though I've been openly atheist for about 17 years, and I've still never read anything written by any of those authors.
I can't speak for all atheists since we do not have dogma or policies, but I know that the reason I speak out against religion are 1) because sometimes the debate itself is enjoyable, and 2) constant attempts by religious groups to legislate their way into aspects of my life have a direct and, I believe harmful, effect on myself and those I love, and therefore *need* to be argued against.
Yes, and my hobby is to be a non stamp collector!
Doomsdayer's only show what's wrong with them. They do NOT represent all religions. Only misguided individual(s) would say otherwise.
You said it better than I could have
No, the individual doomsdayers do not represent the views or all religions, but the persistant existence of doomsdayers does display a symptomatic problem that exists within religions. As long as you have mass organizations that push beliefs out to people, you will have fanatics.
David Silverman: You say, "religion and ethics are completely independent of one another." I agree and the Bible does as well.
The Scriptures say that it is our morality – not our rituals – that matter. That Harold Camping misunderstands the Bible and teaches it falsely does not invalidate the God's word. On the contrary, if more people listened to its teachings they would understand that Jesus Christ has already come again (http://bit.ly/f2iwox). However, this does not obviate our need to repent. On the contrary, selfishness – whether practiced in the name of religion or atheism – is the source of all the world's ills. Jesus Christ lived the kind of selfless life to which we all should aspire.
ONLY A SHEEP NEED A SHEPHERD . JESUS himself declared that only the father knows the hour. it is common these days for pastors to know more than JESUS saying the world will com to an end this that and that most especially Nigerian pastors
But Sharon, you Christians believe that god the father and god the son are one. How can it know and not know when it is returning at the same time?
If Saturday comes and nothing happens, do I have the right to sue this guy and his organization? After all it doesn't state anywhere that these are soley his opionions. He has plastered our city with billboards. he is inciting fright and terror and using his position as a clergy to try to persuade and manipulate a whole community. Whether I believe him or not, should not be the question. He should be held accountable for his false advertising. If a scientist saids that in 2012 all the planets will be align and that this might cause a climate change, it's because he has proof. So once again, can I sue this guy for mental anguish if come Monday we are still here?
Colin – This could only be true in two instances. One, their god isnt all powerful which means that it is all a sham anyways. Or two, if the whole thing is just a bunch of made up BS. Well what do you know, guess it's BS either way.
"can I sue this guy for mental anguish if come Monday we are still here?"
Yes. It would be expensive, and difficult to prove damages; but yes, you can.
Great article. As I have been leaning more towards Atheism these last few years, I find that I am not allowed to talk about my belief with family and friends as they are offended very easily at simple logic. Of course I would hope that there is life after death. Heck who wouldnt? But since I cannot get a clear answer as to where God came from and how the complexity of Earth could not have formed by itself without the aid of a god, while the higher than Earth complexity of god can be formed from nothingness, I am not convinced that god exists. I find that when a religious person has engaged me in coversations of theology, and even though I pose question in a calm and respectful manner, eventually that person gets upset or angry. I think most atheists are misunderstood. Anyway, thanks again for a great article.
Hey Kathlene. Congratulations, it takes intelligence and courage to emerge from religion, or even question it. I rcommend "Climbing Mount Improbable" to give you an idea of how complexity can arise in the absence of magic gods(s).
Using "god" as an answer to this really gets one nowhere, as god would then have to be explained. In fact "god" is not an explanation for anything. When soemone attributes somethig to "god" it normally means they haven't got a clue, so they default to an unreachable, unknowable being with magic powers.
Yeah, it's funny how believers get upset and aggressive when they run out of things to say (other than "the ways of the lord are unknowable") and that happens pretty quickly. I've been thrown out of peoples homes for calmly asking rational questions...
Perhaps the pios will finally be able to look at life a different way, unsaddled by religion and finally follow reason instead of their emotions. Or perhaps not...
This is what religion does, it makes people say or do the most idiotic things.
At least the 2012 theory has some scientific evidence to it. It doesn't claim to be the end of the world. However, due to the planets aligning and the so forth, there will definitely be some climate changes and so on. As per these preachers that claim to be experts on the bible.... Aren't they condeming themselves by predicting an end date? Doesn't it say in the bible "Beware of false prophets?" If these preachers read the bible, it does say that not even the son of God knows when this day will occur. So come Monday, if we are still alive, shouldn't this preacher be held liable for ruining peoples' lives? just like politicians are held accountable for misusing their positions so should religious leaders. This why they are leaders, they are suppose to lead and be wise and lead their flock in the right direction.
Martin. You Christians believe that god the father and god the son are one. How can it know and not know when it is returning at the same time?
No, "the 2012 theory" has ZERO "scientific evidence" behind it. None. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. There is not going to be a Mayan apocalypse in Decemeber 2012, any more than there's going to be a Camping Rapture this coming Saturday. Neither is going to happen and there is NO rational reason for anyone to think either will occur.
You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it
turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
As a biologist, I consider these discussions a COMPLETE waste of time.
The funny thing about this guy's article is that making money off of the Gospel was something that Paul talked about in his epistles. He warned against those who preach the Gospel for dishonest gain. People hijack good things for their own ends, period. Even the author must concede that atheists have done atrocious things in the name of atheism. Just look at Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot, to name just a few.
In the name of atheism? Nonsense. Is there some atheistic edict that states that one must kill lots of people?
Actually, the deaths you attributed to atheism were done in the name of political change. The atheism part was to dispose of a competing second power structure, much like christians destroyed or converted the temples and supporters of competing religions.
my question is,"where did god come from"? if one can beleive thatgod has always existed, then why cant't the atheist beleive that the earth and the universe always existed. i can accept infinity much easier than the existance of a god..science has shown me the mmoreso than any dod theory.
The amazing thing is that no one ever seems to be willing to take the next sensible step: If the current doomsday nut was wrong, and every other doomsday nut was wrong, and the only difference between mainsteam Christianity and the doomsday nuts is the determination of when this "doomsday" is going to occur, maybe Christianity is as fatuously wrong as the doomsday nuts.
Well, they he hasn't been proven wrong...yet! We still have a few hours. 😉
I get your point, though. Almost all Christians think that Jesus will end the world some day. The 'Rapture Ready' think it's going to happen very, very soon. Only difference with this group is that they think it's happening a tad bit sooner than that.
You said: "The amazing thing is that no one ever seems to be willing to take the next sensible step: If the current doomsday nut was wrong, and every other doomsday nut was wrong, and the only difference between mainsteam Christianity and the doomsday nuts is the determination of when this "doomsday" is going to occur, maybe Christianity is as fatuously wrong as the doomsday nuts."
You are right. When I read one of the Christian comments to the effect of: "Don't blame all Chrisitans..." A little bit of barf comes up in the back of my throat. The only difference between the beliefs of the idiot Christians, is time. Stupid is as stupid does, my Mom always said.
WHEN WILL YOU PEOPLE LEARN, not to argue over the bible or who believes what or why, So what if i want to beliieve in God and read the bible, do right while i am here living my life the best way i know how, IT is because i believe in GOD AND i feel sorry for all the athiests out there you are missing a lot of what faith has to offer I AM 69 years old and i have seen a lot in my years AND I AM HEAR TO TELL YOU THERE IS A GOD, MY OPINION COUNTS.
I feel sorry for Christians because I believe you are missing out on a lot of what life has to offer.
Agreed. Athiests are some of the most unhappy, closed minded, and incomplete individuals I know. They simply lash out at Christians any chance they get due to their own sin, shortcomings and fear of the Truth. If I was going to spend eternity in Hell, I'd be scared too!
You said: " I AM 69 years old and i have seen a lot in my years AND I AM HEAR TO TELL YOU THERE IS A GOD, MY OPINION COUNTS."
Opinions are like anuses. Everybody has one. An opinion is worthless without evidence.
There is no god. Sorry.
You said: "Athiests are some of the most unhappy, closed minded, and incomplete individuals I know. They simply lash out at Christians any chance they get due to their own sin, shortcomings and fear of the Truth. If I was going to spend eternity in Hell, I'd be scared too!"
I don't fear the truth or fear an eternity in hell. There is no evidence for a hell or a god. The truth you speak of, is only your own warrantless faith. Why fear a monster beneath my bed, when looking, I found no such creature? Pfui!
You seem to believe you have escaped the possibility of going to hell. Hmmm...
Have you chosen the correct god? The Muslims believe the Christians will not be saved. How do you know they aren't correct? Because you feel it in your bones? Because the bible tell you so? LOL Look what else the bible tells you is true:
God created Adam from a handful of dirt; Talking snakes; trees that bear fruit, that imparts knowledge and eternal life; a global flood, that required a pair of each organism on earth, be stuffed onto a boat; people who lived hundreds of years; a man who was swallowed by a fish, only to be spit up 3 days later, unhurt; a tower god was afraid might reach heaven; a woman who is turned into a pillar of salt; talking donkeys; unicorns; satyrs; a leviathan god creates and then does battle with; a zombie messiah, who was actually god incarnate; zombie Saints who left their graves and wandered about the town; belief in a circular, flat earth you could fall off the edge of.
You are joking, right?
I am an atheist, but I say leave these end-timers alone. In fact, leave everyone alone . . . unless someone is screaming at you on the street, waving signs at you, collaring you, etc. Then you are being trespassed upon, so to speak, and that is different.
And I have never in my seven decades of life heard of an organization called "American Atheists," or this Mr. Silverman. Does he hold meetings somewhere? Does his group have a regular membership, a regular dues-paying membership? Does he operate out of a post-office box? Does he publish pamphlets? Does he have a "day job"? Whence the money he uses to promote atheism, or does he promote it free?
If you are in business to promote religion or to decry it, you have at least this much in common: you are in business.
Doomsdayer's only show what's wrong with them. They do NOT represent all religions. Only misguided individuals would say otherwise.
I am not in business. I have a genuine fear of the Religious Right. Here is why:
The Texas history books are rewriting history to give the conservative slant. The objective of this effort, is to create a Christian Nation, a theocracy with Jesus as head.
A huge campaign is underway, to convince the American people, the founding fathers never intended a separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson's role as a founding father is played down. In some cases Jefferson is smudged.
Expect an attack on the 1st and 14th Amendments. The founding fathers will weep.
Most of the Tea Party are for a Christian Theocracy.
The Republicans are the puppets of the Religious Right and the Rich.
You will see an amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. The repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell", will be in grave jeopardy. Gay rights will dwindle and die.
Roe Vs. Wade will be reversed. Women will once again be forced to seek back alley remedies.
Stem cell research will stagnate. The hopes of damaged and sick people will be dashed.
P_ornography will be illegal. The Religious Right will decide what is p_ornographic , as well as what is art. You will watch television programs approved by the Evangelicals. Lots of reruns of "Growing Pains", starring that Evangelical darling Kirk Cameron. Thank you Jesus!
Creationism will be taught in school, most likely alongside evolution rather than instead of, but no guarantees.
Little Johnny will believe in talking snakes and Zombie Messiahs. The rest of the world is spending their time learning real science and math. Good luck Johnny. Can you say: "Would you like fries with that?"
State Sponsored Prayer will be in our schools. The Christian Right think they know better than the Founding Fathers and want to tamper with the Bill of Rights. They want to amend the U.S. Const_itution so that the Government would legally sponsor and take over the activity of prayer. Only the one true god, the Christian god, will be given homage. The non-Christians will be allowed to put their heads down on their desks, during the morning worship. They can contemplate their damnation, for not accepting Jesus.
$ex education will consist of abstinence only. Studies have shown it is a worthless concept. Ladies, cross your legs!!!
The war against unions, commenced during the Bush administration, will continue.
Jesus will be the Head of State! And only the Evangelicals will be able to hear His voice. They will tell the rest of us His will. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
We will be a slave to a make believe god. If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny.
I'm not an atheist, but I agree with atheists that organized religion has been a huge net evil. So I'm not going to shut up about it just because I am asked to by some fool who is tired of the ranting between atheists and the religious and decides the perfect cure for it is to rant at both.