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.
These are the same religions that believe in "Fountain's of Youth, The Holy Grail (The Crusades), talking bushes, a man parting an ocean with his staff that can turn into a snake, people being turned into salt (Moses) , kids killing giants (David and Goliath), witches (whom they burnt at the stake, before saying "OOPS! Our bad!", Terrorism,
Yeah I definitely see why someone would want to be a part of all THAT hooplah.
You beat me, I've been an Atheist since age eight and an Evolutionist since age 13 when I saw a feature film about Darwin in the Galapagos.
ALL religion is false religion. You Christians slay me...you have the audacity to think that, out of the hundreds of religions out there, only YOU and YOUR CHURCH have it right. Look around your church, do those people strike you as the only chosen ones out of 6-7 billion people? The gall, the audacity, the hubris, and the hidden insecurities you feel about your "goodness", humanity (writ large), and doubts in your ability to face your eventual demise without wetting yourselves in fear... all of these betray the true aim of religion; to provide a panacea for the masses. You have a sickness, just like an alcoholic who cannot face the day without drink. You cannot deal with reality on it's own terms, so you tell yourselves these fables so that they might lull you to sleep on those nights you might lie awake wondering, feeling guilty, or lost. I equate you to the sorry lot of freaks who think that they are vampires, for your beliefs are every bit as ridiculous and pathetic. Grow a pair, cast out the opiate that enslaves you, and attempt to cope without your crutch...if only for a day, it might change your outlook. The human race can only hope that, one day, reason and science will render all religions as the useless anachronistic mental illnesses they are.
Here is the crux of the issue. You have two different criteria for reality. Science has restrictions and rules to show something as fact. The whole scientific methodology exists and it has to be proven over and over again, etc., etc. Faith does not require the same restrictions. In fact, faith is the belief in something you can't prove. If you could prove it, it wouldn't be faith.
For instance, it requires no faith to believe gravity exists.
Atheism makes about as much sense as Camping's doomsday time-setting.
Christianity makes about as much sense as believing Santa Clause is real!
Awesome! Please explain to me how faith, the irrational belief in something without proof or substance, makes more sense than basing your life on the facts in front of you.
Belief in supernatural beings that know what we think and have recorded everything we have ever said, done or thought, determine our fate, judge us when we die, and can bring people back from the dead?
That all makes sense to you?
Care to back that assertions up with any fac...uh, you're a Christian...nevermind.
I am an Atheist and let me say this. Atheists use their eyes, ears, and brains to come to a logical decision. Religions use FICTIONAL books, thousands of years old, written by people we have no clue even really existed to come to a conclusion that has no verifiable proof. I wouldn't be surprised if in 2,000 years people read Harry Potter and interpreted him as the new Jesus, and Voldemort as the new Satan.
Here's a question that will dupe ALL religious people, yet people refuse to give an answer, they shun it away.
(After proving to them the Big Bang theory is correct).
Them – "If God doesn't exist where did the Big Bang cloud that created the universe come from then?!"
Me – "It was just there."
Them – "It can't just have always BEEN THERE, someone had to make it."
Me – "Fair enough, where did God come from?"
Them – "That's silly, he's ALWAYS BEEN THERE."
Religion allows answers that if we use in everyday life people will think you are either A). A Liar. B). An Idiot C). All the above.
Very good piece.
I submit that most of the truly religious ARE atheists or at best agnostics and have taken their Religious stands in fear that deep down inside they know there is nothing beyond this life.
I also think that most if not ALL Churches should lose their Tax exempt status. The only danger in this is it would further erode the separation of Church and State, but seeing as that barrier is mostly a charade already, there is nothing lost there.
I agree with AnnonUSA to a great degree. I believe some of the truly religious ARE atheists and fear death as it nears. I am so glad that I am not religious, but am a true Christian. I fear not death, yet I love life and KNOW that Christ offers life eternal for those who do believe. I will not fight others who do not believe, I wish, I hope, I pray that they believe as I, but I will not or cannot damn them or condemn them; that is between them and our Creator. I can only ask that you give Christ an honest try. I also believe Churches who make over a certain amount of money or those who show that they are not aiding the poor, but pocketing the money instead SHOULD lose their Tax exempt status. God is real and He is love!
First, "Religion will have been proven wrong yet again." is incorrect. Camping was proven wrong, not religion, certainly not Christianity. Read the Biblical text – no where does it tell you the world was coming to an end may 21, 2011. No where does it even tell you the age of the Earth (I know you skeptics love to trot out the Young Earth Creationism movement, oblivious to the fact that many Christians don't even believe that.).
The author has made absolutely no reasoned argument for atheism. I know that wasn't his intent, but please – before ceded the mantle of "reason" to the atheists, go learn what scientific and philosophical "reasons" we have to believe Christianity. Learn about the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument, kalam Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Moral Argument, the historical evidences of Jesus, etc. etc. etc. If you really are open minded, go to reasonablefaith (dot) org and read William Lane Craig. It WILL at least show you that Christians ARE reasonable people WITH intelligent reasons for believing what we believe (would it surprise you to know that the recent data from NASA further confirming the Big Bang/every-accelerating expansion of the universe is actually further confirmation on the plausibility of God's existence? Didn't know that? Read up on the kalam Cosmological Argument).
Expansion of the known universe is proof of a god's existence?
Huh? Wow, do you ever need to get a clue.
No he misread it, and selected what he WANTED to see (typical of religious people). Here's the ARTICLE as written –
.It's a particle to explain dark matter, and is NICKNAMED the God Particle because it's so hard to detect and has so much energy.
BUT this guy just proved my point about how religious zealots see what they want to see.
The headline for this article, as well as the contents, makes a pretty broad and sweeping generalization about all religions (especially those within Christianity) without really offering any reasonable proof for the argument. This is all just opinion with no logical backing. Writing articles like this is just as harmful and hurtful as Camping claiming that the world would end yesterday.
He has a right to his opinion, the right to express in detail if he likes whether or not you or I agree with him or not.
No ... religion is harmful and hurtful – period.
Phew! I'm glad I found who's actually "right." In making a sweeping statement about all people of faith and their approach to life, you make yourself nothing more than another preacher, except on behalf on the Church of Atheism. Your way, and not a way of religious faith, is the right way.
There is no church of atheism. There is an argument using reason against religion.
LOL. You're an idiot.
I fail to see how urging people to use common sense and empirical fact equates to preaching, ie. urging people to believe in the impossible and unprovable. Of course, being devoid of the fundamental knowledge of the difference between fantasy and reality, I'm sure nobody expects you to understand. Just go back to your bible, the grown-ups are talking.
Great article. It is silly for obvious reasons, but, at the end of the day, it is very sad.
Athiest from age of 6. Wow! Impressive.I admire his swift decisiveness. I belive atheism is a learned behaviour since the bible says that all men have an innate belief that God exists (Romans 1) although Genesis 3 says that we are estranged from HIm. At the age of 6, I was not sure of the whole God question. I have gone the other way. My take: how come the press is so quick to give this Camping fellow such easy press. How easy it is for false root to take root. What about the verse that says, "No man knows the day nor hour except the Father." Nobody cares about that one right since it does not bring headlines. Which brings me to another point: if people were more quick to spend time and study their bible, false nonsense like what Camping wouldn't make the news at all. Didn't Jesus say false teachers and false Christs would arise, saying and doing things in my name that i did not want them to do or say. I agree with Silverman: false religion is bad, not all religion. The religion that has its basis the love of God is the true religion, not one based on lies and squeezing money out of people. But if people don't pick up the Holy Writ and study for themselves, they leave themselves open for manipulation. You can't go to church once in a blue moon and expect the priest/pastor to feed you. Acts 17:11 says that the Bereans listened and then went home and studied the Scriptures to verify it was so. How come people have all this media, technology, websites in the 21st century and are more ignorant of Holy Scripture than ever before. Because they are too distracted. You get out of God what you put into Him. Seek a little, get a little. Seek a lot, get a lot.
(In response to your Romans 1 and Genesis 3 references) Yes Andrew, keep using the bible to prove...the bible. See how far it really gets you.
Completely and totally disagree! Nobody is born religious – that is a learned behavior, usually from your family or the church that they drag you to. We are all born without any pre-set notions about all subjects, including religion. In other words, being an Atheist at the age of 6 is not only believable but true. Even if raised in a very religious family, at the age of 6 your understanding is not capable of anything as complex, convoluted or confusing as religion.
I would agree that a person could be an athiest at age 6. I believe that I was one myself, although I didn't know it at the time. I was raised with a religious family, and like a good little Lutheran spent my Sundays in church, summers in Vacation Bible School, sang in the choir, and participated in many other church related activites. But I never REALLY believed any of the stories I was taught, and spent a lot of my time trying to convince myself that it was all true.
"Nobody is born religious..."
A recent Oxford study disagrees with you: "Belief in religion is 'simply a universal part of human nature'
ALL religion is false religion. You Christians slay me...you have the audacity to think that, out of the hundreds of religions out there, only YOU and YOUR CHURCH have it right. Look around your church, do those people strike you as the only chosen ones out of 6-7 billion people? The gall, the audacity, the hubris, and the hidden insecurities you feel about your "goodness", humanity (writ large), and doubts in your ability to face your eventual demise without wetting yourselves in fear... all of these betray the true aim of religion; to provide a panacea for the masses. You have a sickness, just like an alcoholic who cannot face the day without drink. You cannot deal with reality on it's own terms, so you tell yourselves these fables so that they might lull you to sleep on those nights you might lie awake wondering, feeling guilty, or lost. I equate you to the sorry lot of freaks who think that they are vampires, for your beliefs are every bit as ridiculous and pathetic. Grow a pair, cast out the opiate that enslaves you, and attempt to cope without your crutch...if only for a day, it might change your outlook.
The human race can only hope that, one day, reason and science will render all religions as the useless anachronistic mental illnesses they are.
"My Take: Doomsdayers show what’s wrong with all religion"
"You see, I suspect that he, like many others of his ilk, doesn’t believe in God at all."
By claiming certain religious leaders are not true believers, it seems to me Mr Silverman has just exonerated true religion and believers. Well done then!
By the way, it's not clear that straight-out unbelief will have better ethics. Wasn't American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O'hair murdered by a fellow atheist member, and according to police investigations, most likely over money? And Madalyn's son has accused her of illegal money activities as well.
He's saying that more than likely, all religious leaders are not "true believers." Go read the article again.
Also, you cannot take one case of a few atheists being unethical and then say that all atheists are unethical. That's called anecdotal evidence, and it means squat. You could look at statistics that have been gathered about the beliefs of prison inmates and compare them to the general population. Let's see, in the general population (of USA) the percentage of atheists/no religions is hovering between 12 and 16 percent. Now study the beliefs of prison inmates in America and we see that the percentage of prison inmates that are atheists/no religion are at less than 1 percent. Hmmm, if atheists are just as unethical (or more so) than people with religion, shouldn't the percentage of atheists in prison match the percentage of those in the general population? Wow, funny how real statistical evidence doesn't match your anecdotal evidence.
The point is the guys making up the religion and the rules know themselves that it is false. That means there is no true religion to exonerate. Always brings a smile to my face to hear a true believer explain that all the other religions are false but his is the true religion because his church says so.They completely miss that every church says they are the true religion .
"You could look at statistics that have been gathered about the beliefs of prison inmates and compare them to the general population."
I do not know about American statistics but I do know about British ones, which are more detailed.
In the 2001 British national census, about 15% of the British general population at the time said they had no religion beliefs: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=954
That same group of non-believers numbered 32% of the British prison population according to the report "Religion in Prisons 1999 and 2000 England and Wales", taken in year 2000 and closest to the census (the report used to be online but I can't find it now but this site quotes from it http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmhaff/193/19317.htm).
15% of the general population but 32% of the prison population? That seems to be a remarkable over-representation of non-religious people who want to be crooks.
Yet your doing the same thing with christians, generalizing every preacher based on some.
Should we also dismiss science when science issues its own versions of end-of-the-world warnings: potentially uncontrollable diseases, climate change, incoming asteroids, erupting super-volcanoes, deep space gamma-ray blasts etc etc...
I remember as a kid in the late 80's reading an environmentalist book that warned acid rain will destroy Europe's forests by the year 2000. It's 2011 and as far as I know, Europe still has forests.
There is a difference. Unlike the Judgement Day, there was something we could do about preventing acid rain. Scientists warned us about it, we made changes through successful public policy driven by a newly informed public, and acid rain was greatly reduced. No magic, just Science working as it should.
What book made that prediction? The nice thing about science is that when faced with an error they go back and correct their error . Religion on the other hand , when faced with an error decides the evidence is wrong. In your example if told that story by their church ,thousands of faithful would either claim that they were actually gone or make up some story about how one god year is not equal to 1 real year.
"Unlike the Judgement Day, there was something we could do about preventing acid rain."
I don't know if anything was ever done on the European front but I'll take a closer look. In any case, even if something could be done about acid rain, I don't think anything could be done about asteroids, super-volcanoes, gamma-rays etc.
"The nice thing about science is that when faced with an error they go back and correct their error."
How come Ernst Haeckel's fake embryo drawings (or something similar) continued to be used in textbooks for many years?
‘ I don't think anything could be done about asteroids, super-volcanoes, gamma-rays etc.’
Not yet anything could be done, but perhaps in time as knowledge increases we might find solutions. One possible long term solution would be to colonize other solar planets. But there are some distinctions in how science forms its warnings & how religions forms theirs. For one, to my knowledge, science doesn’t use the warnings to offer up reasons to believe in any supernatural deities.
‘How come Ernst Haeckel's fake embryo drawings (or something similar) continued to be used in textbooks for many years?’
It took time to identify that the drawings weren’t exactly accurate; the record now on how they develop is more accurate thanks to the technology.
I actually agree with your idea that money-based religion is as big a lie as the people pocketing the money. Just leave God out of it! Don't try to peddle your atheism in the name of reason and logic. God's existence doesn't depend on how we chose to make a buck!
Rudy why do you ask us to give up on reason and logic when talking about religion. Is it because they are incompatible? Sorry I can not follow you and abandon all reason and logic so I can believe in a non-existent god. Just not a choice you can decide to make.
Sorry. Your premise, Mr. Atheist, is that God's existence depends on what people do with religion. People use His name to swindle others, so it's God fault! Wow!
God and religion are not one and the same. Man invented religion, and much of it is bogus. Much of it is pure business.
You are stating the obvious yourself, people who use religion to swindle others really do not believe in God. Therefore, by your own logic, they are atheists. Yet, you state that most atheists are good people. There is no logic to your "logic". You are actually as irrational as those lunatics who follow blindly. You, Mr. Rational, are going around in circles.
I believe in God, because that is my rational conclusion. And, I don't believe in anyone who claims to represent Him!!
@RudyG: You said, "I believe in God, because that is my rational conclusion."
I think you're unclear on the definition of the word "rational."
Man invented gods as well – let's not forget that.
Throughout history, stories of "gods" and other supernatural beings have been created to try and explain the workings of our world and universe, and also to try and answer the question "Why are we here?"
Humankind has always used religion and gods as a way to control and manipulate others too gullible to think for themselves. Based upon Camping's foolishness over the weekend, it's obviously still going on today.
Thank you, fabulous article. See how evil atheism is (not)? The outcome of the pseudo- rapture is not just jokes about religion but actual call for solutions. Very different from "those who don't follow will burn in hell"
Why does nearly every article in "My Take" go something like this: "My opinion is that all those people who think their opinion is right and the rest are wrong are wrong."
"Doomsdayers show what's wrong with all religion."
"You see, I suspect that he, like many others of his ilk, doesn’t believe in God at all."
can you elaborate Mark? just quoting something doesn't mean you said something.
Brilliant essay, couldn't have written it any better myself even if I had a year to write it.
Cheers and carry on with the enlightenment.
Incredibly well written article. Thank you....