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. Robert 2

    Some of the atheists are persuasive, some of the religious people are, and I would bet I could find one from each religion that could persuade me. I admit I'm not the sharpest tool in the drawer perhaps for the sake of argument. So, it comes down to a choice of changing beliefs or coming up with my own. My own is derived from my years on the planet and my experiences. And then I will die and it will all be wasted, but that's okay, I didn't have much in the way of knowledge. If I thought I knew anything I would say that I think there is something more and that if there is a God there will be proof to you individually if you look back on your life or maybe you know of something readily. I am not sure it is in a book written thousands of years ago, although I find there is wisdom in it form time to time.

    Isn't it quantum mechanics that says observing changes the outcome? That would be impossible, but it's not. Science said man cannot fly, but that's not true either. Religion once said the world is flat. Science is stupid sometimes, religion is too. Sometimes we act like monkeys and other times like noble creatures. We all have rectums and are one step above throwing feces like our cousins. But humans build amazing machines and have made amazing discoveries. If only we weren't tied to these monkey bodies!! LOL. Like science changes their minds on human flight, once it was in front of their stupid noses, I believe someday science will change its collective mind on the nature of existence. But that won't mean what religious people think in my opinion.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Crosby

      ah but thats the beaty of science, that with more observation and with a bit more thinking, and with some new experiments, some new conclusions can be drawn, science is not a rigid peice of cardboard, but instead its theories evlove and change as more evidence comes in

      May 19, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  2. God (the REAL one)

    "I do not think"

    That, sir, is obvious.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  3. Chuck

    Well sam.. I'm sorry but it's true. It's the basis of the Jesus story.

    It's completely based upon the sun and how it moves against the constellations and the horizon. That's all these ancient people had to go by. Even the 12 deciples are allegory for the 12 constellations. Jesus MOVES about his disiples just as the SUN rises at certain points during the year nearest to one of the constellations.

    Think about it...

    May 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  4. Jasona

    Excellent commentary. The stupidity of humanity is infinite....someone once said.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  5. Sheila

    Parents dread the day they have to tell their kids Santa Claus is not real, while they tell them the kind of crap that leads to delusional cults like this one. It's craziness to believe this stuff. It is so out of touch with reality, it is so contradicting to everything even IT teaches, i.e., a loving god will burn you in hell for not saying, "I accept Jesus into my heart as my lord and saviour." (guess I'm good, huh?) If I tell you I just witnessed something physically impossible, you call me nuts, if I say someone in the bible saw it, you call it true. NONE OF THIS IS LOGICAL. WHY DO YOU HATE LOGIC? HELP ME WITH THIS. Shall I go on. The man speaks the truth. THERE IS NO GOD, NOT ONE WHO HAS REVEALED HIMSELF TO OUR ASSES. WE ARE NOT SO IMPORTANT THAT A GOD IS WORRIED AOBUT OUR ACTIONS. HMM. ANOTHER CONTRADICATION.
    Religion feeds ego while being a parent. And for many, many, many (and I don't mean just the killers), it is twisted to justify very sick actions. That is what the author means. Sickos are getting by one you. Because your god is letter them. OMG. More religous logic.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  6. MikeG

    Randoms... Great quote... One of my favorite from Stephen Roberts. I also like the Dan Fouts quote "I'm a polyatheist – there are many gods I don't believe in”

    May 19, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  7. An Atheist’s Perspective

    I am going to have to disagree with Mr. Silverman that religion in its self is inherently dangerous. It is the suspension of disbelief required to be religious (no offense to religious folks, but it does take some of that to believe in talking snakes and the like) that causes the actual harm, and even that is not inherently dangerous. It is the level of suspensions that harms people.

    For example: A Christian who believes the Bible is a book of metaphors for living a good life (no or low level of suspension), goes to church, prays before meals, and tries to be a good person so they can see family members in Heaven isn't going to be hurting anyone. I’d also like to add that this is the vast majority of Christians, you just don’t hear about them because sane people don’t make the news, they’re too busy minding their own business. Someone who takes every last word about snakes, 6 days, and floods literally (high level of suspension) is where cause for concern comes in, not because of the beliefs themselves, but because they have the ability to make such giant leaps of faith and are a prime target for anyone who wishes to take advantage of them.

    We should not be trying to “de-convert” anyone nor go “Christian bashing” which is so prevalent on this Blog. Fellow atheists, really, it’s not cool. Please be respectful. They have their beliefs and you have yours (Trolls are fair game). What we should be doing is trying to discourage extremism and help those, like the children of the group in the article, who have been victims of it.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • flatcopilot

      Thank you very much for being reasonable instead of being a jerk.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  8. jerico myles

    Religion thrives on fear-the constant threat of any-time-now judgement day coupled with eternal punishment in hell for those who dont believe strongly enough.....I must say that I absolutely loooove this article....I guess Religion is sort of a way to make people do good...like a telling a child if youre bad, Santa will not bring you any gifts...Or if you don't eat your veggies you won't grow...well i think thats kinda true hahaha...So religion mean well...I just don't think they should charge us for it lol

    May 19, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  9. Lindsay Lohan's Guide to Getting Vodka in Jail

    Okay atheists, agnostics and other non-religious riff-raff burn-in-hell-candidates, it's time to start saying what's RIGHT about religion. Here are a few examples:

    It's hilarious! Where else can you find people who actually believe there is an invisible man in the sky who always needs your money?

    It spares millions of people from the burden of actually having to think. I mean, if they easily believe things like Joseph Smith finding ancient Egyptian gold plates in upstate New York, just think of the strange and terrible things that would come into their minds if no one filled those tiny spaces with myths.

    They regularly give us reasons to have end-of-the-world parties.

    Go ahead, atheists, add a few of your own.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  10. Pat

    I agree that he is probably not an atheist but is delusional. Sad.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      No, Pat, you who believe in nothing are delusional.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • AZ$ucks

      Oh "Real One" you just don't get it .. lol ... I'm glad for people like you.. I need a good laugh

      May 19, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  11. Roxz80

    "You know, its a good thing the world's great atheistic governments (ex: North Korea, China, Soviet Union) have had such a great track record on human rights, ethics, and morality or this whole idea of religious belief being a pathway toward true goodness would be all but indefensible."

    Soviet Union, China, and North Korea had a state religion; communism. Like Albert Einstein said, communism adapts to the role of a religion in the minds of its followers.

    Atheism is the refusal to bow to any ideology which is not grounded in logic, and the refusal to surrender your ability to think.

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

      "Those countries are not atheist in nature. They are fascist and see any church as a threat to their having ultimate power over their citizens lives. Big difference."

      Not atheist in nature? When a governing body is filled with people that profess atheism (go and ask them), that body is atheistic in nature. Sorry, don't see the difference. What you said does bring to light an interesting matter. Seems even with the absence of religion, people still find a way to control other peoples lives and thinking. I wonder if the problem is with man and not with belief? Nah, couldn't be...

      May 19, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  12. Rustyy

    The Buddhists are going to be P I S S E D!

    May 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  13. Jackie Treehorn

    The hilarious thing about the atheism vs. religion debate is that the atheists aren't even really needed. Take atheism out of the picture, and you still have a world full of people believing in millions of different and contradictory religions hacking, blasting, and torturing each other to death over whose bunch of hooey is "real" and whose is "heresy." It's not a matter of atheism vs. religion, it's a matter of every religion against atheism AND EVERY OTHER RELIGION, which makes religion even more ludicrous.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  14. Dave

    The author should really listen to more Christian preachers if he thinks they are trying to scare people into heaven. Fear can't instill love. Only the beauty of the God who would die for his enemies. That's what generates love in Christians.

    To the Author: Go listen to John Pipers "The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell" and report back.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Mikey C

      Minus Westboro baptists and the Crusades and the 10's of millions of hypocrites who call themselves christians you might be right about religion being loving bit. However, it's hard to ignore these enormous flaws to accept something so foolish. If there is a god the bible and koran sell him far short of his actual accomplishments. Wake up people. And for the idiot that accused atheists of being like communist North Korea or China... Shutup! Budhists are atheists. Hindu are atheists. If I don't believe in God like them, I'm an atheist. Religion is poisonous to the world. When will we learn that?

      May 19, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  15. susan

    sounds like your playing God and trying to convince me your all knowing, so what is it, either I believe everything you wrote or I believe in Heavenly Father. Well you lose

    May 19, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Jackie Treehorn

      I don't think he's asking you to "believe" him, I think he's asking you to use the rational part of your brain for independent thought. The opposite of belief.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  16. God

    World without end – Amen.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  17. HeyBabs42

    I was raised Lutheran. Frankly, I doubt anyone who thinks they can predict the end of the world. Really? Ok, we will see you on Sunday morning looking like an idiot. I do believe in God, and I don't believe in this.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  18. Science Prevails

    Religion is a disease! I'm 100% with this article!

    May 19, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  19. Steve

    I don't necessarily think that Christian ministry leader Harold Camping is an atheist. He might be. However, he just might be delusional and confused or just plain psychotic.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • geckopelli

      So he's a liar or he's crazy–

      that's the point.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  20. Abishai

    You know, its a good thing the world's great atheistic governments (ex: North Korea, China, Soviet Union) have had such a great track record on human rights, ethics, and morality or this whole idea of religious belief being a pathway toward true goodness would be all but indefensible.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Science Prevails

      Those countries are not atheist in nature. They are fascist and see any church as a threat to their having ultimate power over their citizens lives. Big difference.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      The theistic governments of Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. are so much better than those you listed, aren't they?

      May 19, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.