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. brian

    as a christian, these people who cry doomsday are sad. one thing this atheist got right. the day will come and pass and we'll all be here living a normal life. what's sadder is that, according to yesterday's cnn article, many christians went to their pastors to ask about this incident. that really shows that there are lot of people who call themselves "christians" but still have no idea what the Bible, the word of God is saying.

    first, no one knows the timing. i think this is obvious by many verses in the Bible. Two, one clue is that when the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world, Jesus would return. Estimate by some missionaries that i know believes that that is still 30-50 years away but close. Last, Christianity is not about living a good life, being healthy, being nice to others, and living in this prosperity or whatever else we want to make up. it's about our sin and how sinful and rebellious we are, no matter how serious or light it may seem. it's because of the fact that we have seen how deadly our sins can be that we turn to God for his forgiveness, which he already paid the price for through Jesus Christ. That's it, that's the gospel. nothing more nothing less.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Michael

      "that really shows that there are lot of people who call themselves "christians" but still have no idea what the Bible, the word of God is saying"--– You mean the word of man, everyone on earth agrees that this bible was written by men, there is 0 evidence of your god directing them to write anything, much less any evidence that god even exists.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  2. Michael D

    I'm a Christian. I believe the May 21st group has done a very poor job of interpreting the Bible in-context or they have chosen to believe the words and philosophy of a very misdirected "leader". It's scary to buy-in to someone who seemingly profess to know it all.....exactly like Mr. Silverman does by his overt, mass stereotyping of "religious people".

    May 19, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Waiting

      What interpretation of "man does not know" is required?

      May 19, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  3. I heard there was a comedy show here

    Wow, reading alll these "screw you religious nut" and "screw you atheist" comments is like watching a tennis match, very boring and predictable. I believe the intent of the article was to say hey, let's hope these people, who were duped by Harold Camping, get the support they need when May 22 comes along and they have to rebuild their lives. In a weird way, I do feel sorry for these folks, despite not really caring about the plight of idiots everywhere. Another sad case of humans "believing" humans. Best thing we could do is send Harold Camping on his way on May 21. Good riddance!

    May 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      Let us hope that they commit suicide, to rid us of their stupidity.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • ColdestWinter

      Sorry, but these people's loss is Darwin in action.......they don't need any support for the Lord shall provide....right?

      May 20, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  4. Michael

    David Silverman is so awesome.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  5. joakim

    atheists and religious fanatics haha
    such seemingly complex things with simple answers
    you see each other as opposing forces not knowing that it is impossible for your man made ego-centric delusions to be true in either regard
    all things come from the one and to the one they return
    dualism is the ultra self playing a giant game
    the ultra self rests in pure emptiness all religions and non religions are just disguises the self takes to play the game of life

    it will take many more googles of years until these seemingly complex thoughts evolve back to the one emptiness

    if you do not believe then just witness the evolution of all things
    you live in a world that has pain and suffering coupled with joy and great motion towards good

    do you not believe that life has an evolutionary purpose
    have we not seen on our planet alone a great amount of sentient beings arise from a primordial soup
    do you then doubt that this point in time is just another baby step forward to where it all began
    all things are one

    how can the infinite unknowable play the game with so many faces stretched across unimaginable universes
    even if we were all a great big computer simulation
    are you saying another inanimate computer set that program in motion

    in the beginning for every one billion antimatter particles there was one billion and one matter particles
    why did life as we know it come to be
    it is by an extremely thin margin that something arose from apparently nothing
    this is the great trick the self plays on itself
    this is the endless game played over and over in infinitesimal worlds and among lifeforms that are unimaginable to the human mind

    but i give you reason to love because you are all one no matter what direction or ideas you create in order to explain the truth

    there is no other only illusions of other
    this is the great game

    so keep playing those mind games forever
    love is the answer and you know that for sure

    May 19, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Jihad Joe - Arabian Hero

      Pure nonsense. You don't live it, and you barely believe it yourself probably.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • joakim

      when i speak of the truth the foolish man laughs the average man half believes half does not and the wise man begins to embody the truth from the moment of the great realization

      May 19, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  6. Brandon

    I, myself, am not a believer. But I must agree that this author is painting with broad strokes by condemning all Christians because of this group of wackos. No different than blaming all Muslims for 9/11. Most of the religious people I know are sensible people who have not blindly accepted anything. They have simply chosen to accept the teachings of their religion and live their lives accordingly. They are laughing alongside the rest of us at this ridiculous story. This author is as arrogant in his beliefs as those he is poking at here.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Brandon

      Nor do the Christians I know actually think that God "clocks in" everyday so they can be placed in their cars and pushed down the highway to work by his/her/whoever's hand. This guy is president of an American atheist society yet cannot comprehend the depth and complexity of American religious views without reducing them to the same level as the doomsdayers. Nice job fellow atheists. You've elected a simpleton who seemingly made it through Religion 101 but found 102 too hard.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  7. hi

    the devil will use pple even in the church to bring destruction ,he will use "religious pple" claiming to follow god to bring down others.. but those r being blinded.. not every one is false... this aint about RELIGION but a relationship with god through jesus..His love transforms pple not prechers or wutsoever.. but that encounter!..there pple that believe there isnt a loving true god and others do ... every thing is by faith! we all have faith in sumthin .. ur faith mite be no god and other a yes holy god.. but from experience i know My God has given me a true love that doesnt even come close to anything in this world. and i pray pple wil have that experience cuz many pple just talk to talk..Ex:wen we experience sumthin in life we r the once that know what true happen rite? well thats how it is wen u really encounter the love of god.....

    May 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Ilya Landa

      The letter "e" seems to be working fine on you keyboard, so why all the "pple"s?
      Is this a new religious trend I am not yet aware of?

      May 19, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Ilya Landa

      "o" seems to be also missing. sorry.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  8. Toby

    I think this article is a good one. I don't think that just because an atheist doesn't believe in the "one true way" that he or she is wrong either. However, I believe the author makes a valid point, several in fact. That the many HUNDREDS of people that have dedicated their current lives and finances to Mr. Camping, they will be disappointed and possibly bitter because he is wrong AGAIN. This is not his first scam. Go back several decades, heck, ALL of the end of days prophecies have been debunked. Nostradamus, at one point, looked like he was right on the money with his predictions. But, enter the scope of Organized religion and the crazies DO take the population for a ride. Is it right? Is it wrong? Thankfully, we all get the privilege of making our own judgment on that matter. Should we forget our beliefs and faith? Not at all. We should be strengthened in our faith and continue believing that some day, this pitiful existence WILL cease. What happenes after that? NO ONE knows! Death is the final adventure, life ends as WE have grown to know it. We cease to exist on a physical plane, we leave EVERYTHING behind in this world, to those that choose to fight over, or argue over when we are gone away. The only parts of us that remain are memories, actions, achievements, a gravestone.....Hence, the only sure things in life....."Death and taxes". When the weekend is over, you see someone feeling down because they did not get "taken" from this world like a HUMAN claimed they would, don't remind them of their naivity, remind them that we are all human and capable of making mistakes, in judgment of character and in following an imperfect beings words of "prophecy". We have ALL made mistakes and are imperfect beings. Surprise! The one thing we all have in common that is constantly challenged and used to segregate each other from solidarity. Religion is simple...find something you are fantastically nuts about, convince someone else to believe that way and that your way is the ONLY way to truth and get them to follow blindly, back up your words with "divine inspiration" and collect as much money and people as you can. THEN, write a book and make it sell to those people, then you have achieved what major religion has done throughout the centuries.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  9. James

    The real problem lies in how Christians treat athiest, and how athiest treat Christians. Both groups have had negative outcries towards the other side in some fashion or another. If Christians could love like Jesus then the debate would not be here, because the hypocrisy would be nonexistent. I was very interested in how an athiest interpreted the doomsday prophecy, because I think that Camping is a false prophet, and not a reflection on all Christians

    May 19, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • IronicallyTimothy

      All religions preach the end of the world. Some just claim to know the exact dates.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • James

      People are attacking each other! Stop!

      May 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • James

      Meant to post that on the entire scheme of things Timothy. Sorry I do not know about all religions and that I commented on the post. I cannot say with certianty that I agree with you on all religions. On what I am educated on the religous ideas do share an idea on the end of time.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  10. JD

    This author is so out of it. It's obvious he knows absolutely nothing about religion.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Jean

      Atheists tend to score higher on religious literacy exams. Why should this be so?

      May 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Jenn

      I beg to differ...I am a believer in God and I believe that this man knows A LOT about organized religion and how predatory the majority of organized religions are.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Toby

      Where do your credentials come from? Are you a public writer? Are you a "theologian"? Are you a religious scholar? Do we read your articles on a public forum on a day to day basis? Or are you a convinced FOLLOWER of Camping's theory?

      May 19, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Sam

      Because they made their own test?

      May 19, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  11. chomskyisking

    Ah the atheists...their intellect is so supreme that they are the less than 3% of the worlds population that believes in no God...Too bad they still haven't figured out how they somehow have randomly came about in an extremely intricate and complex planet

    May 19, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Peter

      An atheist is really a rare specie, birds rise in morning and worship their little heart out with birdsong, I used to live in an apartment that had bushes alongside it, and there was many times in prayer that my whole apartment became saturated with the presence of God and birds would start singing at 1,2,3 am in the morning! from the bushes! honest to God, a human is made in the image of God, therefore he is a miniature god! same potentials, chip of the old block

      May 19, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      You're not too bright are you? Because of that, you want to belittle those who have made you look stupid your entire life. You poor imbecile.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Bob Joe

      Well maybe he just turned a rational eye to the puzzle.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Atheists, Agnostics, and Free Thinkers tend to be much higher than that but most of them are quiet and keep in the closet, so to speak. Yet, your argument of "We don't know stuff", therefore "God did it" is appealing, it has no legs to stand on.

      That's right. We have the balls to admit that we actually don't know. SHOCKER!

      May 19, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • E

      Interesting, then, that in this world, with all its strife and hatred, the majority believe in God. That doesn't speak very well for religious people if this is the best they can do.

      I wouldn't dare to paint all believers, or unbelievers, with the same brush. Silverman can't disprove god's existence anymore than I can prove god's existence. Either way, people like Camping are contemptible and no one–Christian, atheist or otherwise–should give him the time of day.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Ben

      Last stat I saw pertaining to those who believed in a god was more along the lines of 50%-50%. Even if I'm wrong, which I could very well be, 3% of the world's population sounds like a number you just made up to serve your purpose. Can you provide a viable source to give your statement any legitimacy?

      May 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  12. Kate

    Plan on surviving the rapture? Buy a t-shirt! These shirts will get you to the next apocalypse: http://www.cafepress.com/RaptureSurvivor

    May 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • a christian

      as i was scrolling down, i could have swore that said raptor survivor. i shouldn't be reading these things at 4AM...

      May 20, 2011 at 4:02 am |
  13. Peter


    May 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  14. Jeff in Columbus

    The fallacy of this article to use an outlier as an example to condemn the whole group. 99.9% of Christians do not believe the rapture is coming this Saturday. So why does this author use the ramblings of Camping as a tool to bash ALL Christians?

    Because, its a convenient (and extremely lazy) way to further his OWN beliefs – that there is no God.

    Its the height of irresponsibility for CNN to give this author the veil of legitimacy. Gosh, I could say that ALL journalists and media outlets are irresponsible and lazy because of the ramblings of this ONE author.

    But, I'm better than that. Unlike this author.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Dubhly

      Actually he is bashing religion as a whole becuase he feels the entire idea is wrong and takes advantage of people. He is using the easist example to do so, if you were not so biased you might understand what he is saying. you dont have to agree with it, but I do.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      You are better than nothing.

      If I created you all equal, then you are better than no one.

      Stop pretending that you are.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Tom

      I'm glad you brought up the topic of journalistic irresponsibility, because the the ultimate irresponsibility can be found in the fact that CNN (and countless other online and print news sources) continue to devote space to "Faith" or "Religion" sections within their pages. It's akin to publishing weekly articles on faeries, ghosts, or Santa Claus. That major media outlets feel the need to oblige the lowest common intellectual denominator when it comes to belief in religiosu make-believe is truly a disservice to their supposed role.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • americanironies

      How is believing that Christ will "return" on May 21 any more or less silly than believing Christ will "return" at any time? Isn't that belief the basis of all Christianity? Because, of course, any belief based on a leap of faith is equally as ridiculous as any other belief based on a leap of faith.

      The ridiculousness of faith does not change based on the actual likelihood of an event. If my religion claims on faith that it will rain in Columbus on May 19, 2055, the faith-claim isn't validated if it turns out to be correct. My religion just made a claim that was more likely in reality. If, on the other hand, a meteorologist predicts the same forecast based on the reality she sees in front of her, a rainy day would indeed validate her skill as a meteorologist. Although of course, she may have just gotten lucky, too, so she would have to show herself to be correct consistently in order to be taken seriously. The same cannot be said for any leap of faith.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • C+

      This guy is on in a 150 outlets of Family Radio and is based in CA. Family Radio is estimated to reach 100 Million People. I think the odds heavily favor a determination that more than 0.1% of Christians are as crazy as this Camping yahoo. My mom for example thinks this guy is a crackpot. But, she also believes the earth is 6,000 years old and prior to the tower of Babel all humans spoke the same language. I think it is safe to say that your estimate of crazy christians is very low. AND YES, I did just call my mom crazy! On the flip side she thinks I am crazy for trusting things like radiocarbon dating and paleo-anthropolgy. Go figure!!

      May 19, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  15. Jeff

    I love the reflexive posts by the religious here. The truth stings, doesn't it? Nothing raises ire like a Christian scorned.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Sheila

      Question the reality of these silly fairy tales, and question their sanity.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  16. keith

    I would put Harold Camping and Atheists on the same page as well. They both ascribe to wacky illogical ideologies.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      You are an idiot.

      Atheists require proof. You do not.

      They are superior to you.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  17. Basruton

    Why do we need to be instructed on how to be better people? Maybe just being here, raising good kids, and being a good human IS the higher purpose.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  18. TRH

    Read this article carefully...twice if you need to, and you'll see how silly ALL organized religion really is.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  19. tom

    Why wouldn't he become an atheist at six? I did. I was attending church and realized I didn't believe any of it.

    Atheists are the only real altruists. Every time a religious person does something for someone else, at least in the back of his mind, he's counting up all the brownie points he's getting in heaven. It's not possible to be truly selfless if you believe you'll be rewarded for being good.

    Meanwhile when I give to charity, I truly know in my bones that I'm getting nothing back. But I do it anyway.

    Now, my religious friends, can any of you explain why a godless person like me would do that?

    If it's possible to be good without God, then maybe the goodness is inside us. Maybe it comes from our own humanity, not from some outside deity. I'm not attacking your faith. I'm just saying: think about it.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Basruton

      very well said.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • keith

      Whether you acknowledge God or not, you still have some of his attributes inside of you. After all you were created in His image. Therefore you actually can discern if what you are doing is right or wrong and choose to do good...

      May 19, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Duke13

      @tom; True believers don't try to build up brownie points to get to Heaven because brownie points won't get you there. You get to Heaven by repenting of your sins and through faith that Jesus Christ died and paid for your sins.

      "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
      Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)

      May 19, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Brian Zwart

      Amen..... oops... sorry.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • IronicallyTimothy

      So everyone is created in Gods image and has gods attributes in them. Including the child r a p i s t s and murderers, they fall under the everyone catagory. And Jesus died for their sins. So when they guy who r a p e d and killed someones daughter dies, he can receive absolution, go to heaven and be with her. Such a good logical thing religion is.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Brandon

      I'm pretty sure your self-aggrandizing here takes you out of the running for "Altruist of the Year." Your motivation seems to be so you can tell people you did it all by yourself without anyone's help. Just saying. Words have definitions. And according to the dictionary, altruism is as much a farce as this guy's opinion of religion.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • j

      One question would be how do you define good?

      May 19, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  20. Cherish Marie

    Oh goodness. Okay, I am totally atheist. No matter my thoughts on the Bible or the nonsense in believing in something that is so counter to evidence or instinct,I do believe that the intrinsic care and respect that human beings have for one another, their ability to empathize and comfort, are essentially characteristics of our species. No higher power need grant me the ability to do that. In the best sense, religion revolves around this concept as well. As an atheist, sure I see tons of wrongs occuring as brought on by the religious: I hate having to hear women just out of church calling my uncle a f@g when he kisses his boyfriend on the cheek, I don't agree with the condesencion that comes my way because I'm an atheist, or the fact that some religious would seek to pose their religious edicts on a certain population. However, that is not all of the religious, just the loud and out of place that make themselves more noticable than the rest.I'm also positive that the religious don't particularly take to atheist scoffing or denouncing. However, like the Christians not all atheists do that. SOme people in the world stand for tolerance believe it or not. Religion is not in itself a bad thing in fact as an atheist I believe it is great in the way that it molds some people; and as an intellectual, one can not deny the role that religion has played in shaping cultures. Basically what I am trying to get acrossed is; Atheists, let the religious believe as they as will because in the end, it is probably better for it to be in the world than not. No harm comes from believing, except for the doomsday idocy occuring on the 21st. To the religious, not all atheists are spiteful, we simply don't characterize our traits or successes on an omnicient being. To all, the falibility of people is also one of our biggest traits; those who are spiteful occur on both sides of the spectrum and that spite would exist whether or not all were religious or otherwise.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Mark

      Cherish: I'd suggest you read "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris, and "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, so you'll have a better understanding of how religion, left unchecked, threatens the stability of civilization. When you allude to religion being benign, I have to wonder if you've heard about 9-11 or religiously inspired violence in the Middle East, that goes on, on almost a daily bases, and have any idea why the US military is currently in Afghanistan. People have been killed over cartoons of Mohammad, or because the Koran was perceived to have been desecrated. Are you really that naive?

      May 20, 2011 at 4:35 am |
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