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. KT

    I don't make assumptions on the state of mind of other people. It's ignorant to believe you know why others are motivated to act. I normally find CNN religious blogs refreshing, no matter what the topic or writer.

    But part of this comes across as a hate-fueled article [part of it is also brilliant (various interpretations of the bible, church scamming, etc.)]. Saying that all Christians are motivated by fear and "eternal damnation" is like saying that all Atheists are ignorant and callous. Neither is true and each fuel the debate.

    I'll respect your religious views, so please respect mine.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • TW

      just don't understand how people invest so much into something they have absolutely zero ounce of proof, justification, anything. A book, that most of the planet doesn't buy into anyway. I think we die, and we're buried, and we turn into fossil fuels. that's it. so, live today, because the after life, well, it doesn't exist.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • TheNumber

      @TW – I don't understand either. The thing is we are "wired" different from those who believe in a god. There is something in their mind (with the exception of those who say they believe and don't) that allows them to accept the concept. For people like myself, and apparently you, we don't have that and the concept of a god isn't logical, perhaps even seems ridiculous.

      Understanding this has allowed me to respect those who do believe – with the exception of those who use their beliefs to discriminate (against other religions, gays, etc) or those who use their beliefs as tools for political or financial gain.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  2. jeff

    It's funny that the rest of the Christians can't see that they're just as crazy as these nut jobs.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  3. Clay

    The best thing I have read on CNN in a very long time. Well put.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  4. Selfish Gene Simmons

    We need a DIS-Belief Blog.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  5. Stereotype Much?

    Way to stereotype every religion under 1 minority.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  6. TB

    Matthew 24:36. 37 No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of man.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • awaysaway

      The point is not to quote the bible to say why your interpretation has a better date (or no date)... the point is that it is all gibberish and oppressive.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Finger Puppet

      (NIV Matthew 24:34) I tell you the truth, THIS generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

      They got it wrong then, and seem to want to continue to make the same error over and over.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • TW

      you're crazy

      May 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  7. Jesus Was A Dinosaur

    IIf everyone just goes down to your nearest museum and sees the skeletons of our prehistoric reptilians, they will realize that there will be no end of the world on Saturday...and everyone can get on with their lives...

    May 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  8. JAdams1776

    A fracking Men.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  9. Chris

    What does Camping have to do with Christianity anyway? Also, regardless of the criticisms of atheists, they offer no better solution. Interesting read. Silverman seems to single out Christianity more than any other religion (because in America, that's okay).

    May 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Tim

      No, because in America Christianity is the dominant religion and the dominant example of the delusion. And Mr. Camping professes to be a Christian. If he were a Jewish Rabbi or a Muslim Imam promoting the end of the world, I have no doubt that Mr. Silverman would have crafted his comments to reflect their particular versions of the delusion. In the end, it's all just different flavors of the same thing.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • copanut

      Atheists aren't here to offer a "solution". They offer: the truth, reality, rationality, reason.

      Once you are firmly grounded in reality, you can make your own solution for building a better life and a better world. Ultimately, that's a lot more satisfying than looking to bronze-age scriptures and self-styled preachers to give you fairytale answers to your hopes and fears.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Clay

      Christianity is the largest religion in the world and easily the largest in our country. Poking fun at its absurdity is only natural. Also, I've never met a Christian that didn't have bad things to say about other religions. When you realize it's all a lie, it's a big weight lifted off your shoulders.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • runner

      Thank You.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  10. a rational believer

    I am just as against Camping as the next guy, probably more so, and I am a Christian. I haven't always been, it wasn't until college, when I started questioning life and the world around me that led me to faith and life I found worth living. My point is simple: Mr.Silverman you are no better then Mr.Camping. You are spreading fears and lies to people who hear such things and believe them with a grain of salt. To put all of Christianity in with that lunatics beliefs, is both fundamentally incorrect as well as just prejudice against another's beliefs. Two wrongs do not make a right sir, and this article is nothing but a wrong. If you would like to be a class above Camping I would suggest an alternate route, from what I see here, you are using the affects of few to cast judgement on all knowing good and well people will take your word without question. You sir, are a religious leader. accept it. you are no better then Camping, even here you make a simple judgement call and that it will be at the hands of religion. How about some tolerance?

    May 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • John Richardson

      What on earth has Silverman ever done that is on a par with what Camping is doing? All this preamble verbiage to show us how fair minded you are and then comes the same old spew anyway.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • BillyEng

      For me one of the most obnoxious thing about Christians is the proselytizing. I've never had a Jewish friend try to convert me or invite me to their synagogue. On the other hand just about all of my born-again Christian friends have tried to use me to fill their quota at one time or another. I think that I've been baptized by proxy into the Latter Day Saints a few times as well – completely without my consent.

      May 20, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  11. Agnostic Christian Atheist

    Come one...come all! Worried about the end of the world? I'll buy your house or land for $1.00! Just sign thecontract on the dotted line!

    May 19, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Jesus Was A Dinosaur

      Start with Harold Camping. Oh and yes, a suggestion...everyone who believes in what Camping says, should get a lawyer on May 22nd and sue the "bejesus" out of him for false advertising...lol

      May 19, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  12. Abishai

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

    Don't forget the United States. "One nation under God" remember? Why don't you take you're atheism over to North Korea where you won't have to deal with all these religious nut-jobs. Might find yourself worshiping Kim Jong Il though. Wouldn't THAT be a downer.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Stop Talking

      First of all, its "your", not "you're". Secondly, the phrase "One Nation Under God" was put on currency etc. in the 1950's. Rest assured that the founding fathers (who were deists at best, but mostly atheists) would be rolling over in their graves if they knew we had put that on our currency. It was never intended to be a part of our country, and for many, it never will be. Your entire statement is not only the ramble of a high school dropout it is also just plain dumb. Stay in your hole and wait for your maker, let everyone else live their lives in this place called "reality".

      May 19, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  13. cara

    this article is so biased it doesn't deserve to be posted.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Kris

      Because the OPINION piece shouldnt have so much OPINION in it, right?

      May 19, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • copanut

      cara's comment is so biased it should not have been posted...???

      May 19, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  14. Allen

    This writer has the same problem as the preachers that he complains of. That is other people are stupid because they do not think as I do. Being a Christian doesn't mean you are afraid of the dark. Frankly I am not afraid of the dark because I am Christian. It is funny how atheists think they know the minds of all religious people. While I do not believe that the tribulation will happen this weekend, if it did I would be sad that David Silverman was not there with us.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Sam

      What I heard is = Atheism is also a religion, people behave based on a belief, that there is no God, and tries to convince / PUSH their ideas on others, and bad does nothing than make fun of those who don't share their belief, and this Sunday, this same person will also tell people why they are right and Camping is wrong~ *shrug*

      May 19, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • TheNumber

      "It is funny how atheists think they know the minds of all religious people." Seems like you are doing the same – not all of us Atheists are as narrow minded as Silverman.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Angel

      Agreed. 🙂

      May 19, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Most atheists know the minds of the religious because at one point or another, they were religious. Atheists tend to know more, on average, than theists regarding scripture because we've actually taken the time to look into it rather than just accept it on faith. It's a slow de-conversion process. I would be a theist today if I didn't have my beliefs challenged. And one day, I put my foot in the cold water and saw the other side. Then more research followed and voila, atheism made the most sense to me.

      "While I do not believe that the tribulation will happen this weekend, if it did I would be sad that David Silverman was not there with us."

      His lack of belief in a god would probably be the sole reason he would not be there with you. If you look at things honestly, that's a whole lot of good people of all faiths and not faiths that would not be there with you. If that's your loving god, then I reject him.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Angel

      Agreed with Allen.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Atheism is a religion in the same way that bald is a hair color. You don't chose atheism, you just don't believe in god and therefore, you are an atheist by default. However, one atheist can be much different from another atheist. You can be an extremely liberal atheist or an extremely conservative atheist. There is no one set of beliefs that unties us other than a lack of belief in any god. It is the default position.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Sam

      I really like the bald haif analogy, btw~

      May 19, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • awaysaway

      "It is funny how atheists think they know the minds of all religious people." – Atheists don't make any claims apart from that there is without a doubt no supernatural god/angels/saints/demons/fairies/pixies/etc. Everything after that is just noise and the discussion of individuals.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  15. Boyd

    Technically, only the rapture is supposed to occur on the 21st. The end of the world is set for October 21st. On October 22nd, I'm going to shoot the first person I see, as I'll be convinced they are a zombie.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  16. Guest

    Please CNN don't do this to me, I'm diabetic....

    May 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  17. Sam

    Athiest: Religious people are close minded and stupid
    Religious: Athiests are close minded and stupid
    Commenter A: You are stupid and ignorant
    Commenter B: No, YOU are stupid and ignorant

    That's how it is with 90% of CNN articles ~

    *** Sitting back waiting for Someone to call me stupid ***

    May 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Person

      STU-PEEDDD!!!! Lol. jk. It doesn't really matter if we're religious or not. I'm a person, You're a person. I'm catholic, someone else is atheist. I personally believe that doomsday is NOT going to happen, for many reasons, and I'm too lazy to list. I know I'm smart, logical, and funny. Same with atheists too. And I am NOT afraid of the dark, I was NOT touched by priests. I'm just saying, on CNN, people criticize eachother by their religion. We can believe what we want to believe. It's our choice. And, just in case, I'm not taking my chances for Hell 😛 But, NO ONE FRIKIN CARES WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. *Waits for someone else to call me stupid too*

      May 19, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • viper

      You are officially the coolest guy ever.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • keith

      Your awesome 😛

      May 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Sam

      Thank you STUPID "Person", You called me stupid, then I MUST BE!!!! And the coolest stupid person ever according to the next commenter, we are ALL stupid!! Cheers!

      May 19, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  18. CommonSense

    Christianity owes all it's power "fear mongering". Without the fear of the hilarious Satan character, Christianity is FINISHED. It's all about fear of burning in the "hell". When you are afraid, you SUBMIT.
    This article is an expression of common sense.

    Faith is not a virtue.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      Faith is nothing more than a delusional opinion. It has no facts on which to base itself.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • crucified

      There is the formula for GOD! now deal with it! also, you have to deal with the measurablilty problem! look it up, google fan. everything Atheist have used to try to refute Christianity can no longer be used for what they use as a standard of measure..does not exist. all your applied sciences are fail, for sub atomically when things are observed they react. proven 1982 twin proton experiment. now you know. so you can deal with your judgement from the Creator with the full knowledge that He exist. being imaged..images have purpose and design.///and need a designed they are not part of random chance and chaotic.Atheism is DEAD! or should I say "TWICE DEAD"

      May 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • j

      faith in nothing is still faith.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Yo crucified! I know you've taken some pretty bad beatings in debate on this blog, but I didn't think you'd actually suffer a concussion in the process, But after your last post, well, how many exclamation points do you see here: !!!

      May 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • crucified

      @John LOL. I havent taken any beatings though.. the formula is mathmatical and the atheist are having a hard time with it..because it is something testable and tangible. oh and they can look it up on google. quantum physics causes, when you understand it, you to rethink your position.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • copanut

      "faith in nothing is still faith."

      And being not alive is still being alive.


      May 19, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Finger Puppet

      Didn't they teach English at that special school you obviously went to ?

      May 19, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • crucified

      typical immature comment about quick typoes... english isnt my primary langauge just one of many.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • awaysaway

      "faith in nothing is still faith." – simple word play and gibberish. To believe in God requires "faith' (since it is requires belief in a bunch of incredible stories that have no proof.) To not believe in God doesn't require "faith" – I don't religiously not believe in him, there is just an absence of belief.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  19. Friend of JC

    To Speak to Mr Silverman would be casting pearls before swine , when he stands before the Lord he will bow down to him and proclaim him as Lord and go straite to Hell, as he deserves. Amen

    May 19, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      Real Christians do not wish perdition on (or predict it for) anyone. The state of any one person's soul is between them and God. Period.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • UncleM

      Um, no he won't because your lord is a delusion.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Ben

      People like you and Silverman are in the same boat, chief.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • jay

      You're a f@#^ing moron

      May 19, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • sbp

      Why would he bow down and proclaim him as lord if he's going "straite" to hell anyway?

      Gotta love the whole "faith" thing. John Gotti is "saved" because he professed to be a Catholic, but Ghandi is denied heaven because you have to stroke Jesus' enormous ego or you're out. Is Jesus so insecure that the ONLY thing the needs is for even evil people to believe in him? Wouldn't a real god be so sure of himself that he wouldn't care if people were atheists, as long as they were good people?

      May 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • correction


      May 19, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • BillyEng

      Thank you for your thoughtful and enlightened post. How did your last MRI turn out? I hope it was still clear. Best.

      May 20, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  20. Hmmm

    The key word here would be communism, but certainly a deceitful communism, as it was not practice in the way Karl Marx had initially intended. But I doubt that you'd find many atheists in today's society who are anti-democracy. I can understand why the religious fear us though. After all, we are living breathing proof that not believing in god will not make you go on a crime spree. We are evidence that you don't have to believe in god and still be a good person. Wasn't it Einstein who proclaimed..."If fear of punishment is the only thing that makes men act good, then we are a sorry bunch indeed". No thanks, I'd rather teach my children to be good for goodness sake rather than hope for some reward in an afterlife or fear of punishment.

    We scare the religious and we should.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • j

      what is good and who defines what good is? is it society? is it up to the individual?

      May 19, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      Being good for goodness sake....you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town!

      May 19, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Jers

      You don't frighten me – what does frighten me is how easy it is to from the contempt that Silverman evidences for a group of people (religious folks) to repression of that group of people. And I am not good because I fear punishment – in academia (where I work) we call this form of argumentation setting up a straw man – high on the list of ways to cheat your way through without thinking.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Hmmm

      I would say that we decide what is and isn't good as a society and on an individual basis. My reasoning for not attacking people physically, for example, is that I am a human being. Therefore, I can relate to other human beings. I know that it would cause them harm and because I can relate to them, I would not want that on them as I would not want it on myself. It's not that difficult to understand. I want a better society for myself and for others and I want to know as much as I can know. I never claim to know the things I don't know as that would be deceitful. The way life is today, I would not want it any other way. I don't want to know everything. Life would be boring and pointless to me if I knew everything. I always want to feel like I haven't learned enough. That I don't know enough. Always striving to learn more. Perhaps one day I'll learn enough one day to revert back to theism, perhaps not.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Hmmm

      I am not attempting to cheat my way through thinking because there are people all over the world, of all faiths, who fear god. Isn't that what they say, you should love and fear god? Isn't god like an abusive husband? You are the wife that stays out of love and fear. It saddens me that people fear god. I fear no god, I have no reason to. I don't harm people and I do my best to live life as best I can with my interest at heart and the interest of humanity at heart. We just see the world differently.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • j

      what about those who enjoy hurting themselves? (i know there aren't any perfect examples)
      Personally, I do believe in a God. I believe He created the universe and everything in it. I also believe that about 2000 years ago Jesus died for the sins of the world. I also believe that on the 3rd day He rose from the grave and defeated death.
      I know this all sounds really insane. But the more I learn and see in this world the more I see that there must be a God.
      I hope you find what ever you are looking for in your quest for knowledge. My hope is we can all learn to argue towards truth instead of just trying to be right.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
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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.