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. Adelina

    Self-smart atheists must consider the works of the evil spirits. If you set your mind for evil such as hatred of religion, you are slaves to the enemies of God. What you have is not reason, but slavery to evil. Only Jesus can free you. You must repent your sins against God and ask Him to save you. It's your soul at stake; all your filthy ambitions, whatever it is, will come to nothing. Both history and your present life proved it.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Scott

      Thanks Osama I'll keep that in mind.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • SoBeach

      There's no such thing as "evil spirits".

      May 19, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Karin

      If religion held an ounce of evidence than religion would not require faith to harness a belief. If you require a creator. Then whom/what created your god... My personal favorite; depending on what part of the planet you were born results in the type of god you worship. The list of inconsistencies within religious belief is too vast for this comment. What can certainly be said is our species will be de-brain washing for quite sometime. Religious zombies is what I call them.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  2. Karin

    Thank you!!! As an atheist myself I am very pleased that my thoughts were brought forward within your article. I do find it interesting that some of the comments from the religious state that they were offended by your article. For thousands of years non-believers have been killed, and now asked to look the other direction... Atheist are coming out of the closet. Finally!!! For myself, as an atheist I will speak up if one states a belief in unicorns, leprechauns, green giants... gods! The entire lot is entirely goofy to my frame of thinking. No evidence! No facts! Simply foolish thinking. No I will not be silenced. I will state that I have a (dis)belief in your belief of these mythological characters. I will also attempt to stop any laws and/or governing bodies within our communities passing these beliefs onto the masses as de facto standards. It is intellectually dishonest/incorrect!

    May 19, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Robert

      No evidence or facts that God exists or that God doesn't exist. I think that is way it is called "faith". I understand going after those who persecute others for not believing, but I don't understand why good deeds from good churches go overlooked. I'm not very religious, but I don't think the issue is as dichotomous as everyone makes it to be.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  3. phonehome210

    I want to know why the other opinion article written by a pastor Robert Jeffress regarding Camping's claims doesn't include, "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author", but they are at the end of this article? Apparently the opinion of an athiest could be so inflammatory to belivers that this needs to be included at the end of this article to keep CNN from being responsible for their content.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  4. Justin

    Does nobody stop to consider the fact that religion is flawed because it is led by a flawed people. Christianity itself does not hurt people or ruin lives. It is simply the hypocrites and heretics that do that.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Todd

      Brave words coming from someone who was not molested by a priest, and whose assailant wasn't protected by other priests and moved out of the jurisdiction, while being told that you will go to hell if you talk to anyone, and even your own parents won't believe you.

      But sure, dont blame the religion, right?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  5. Robert

    Why does CNN always show the religious extremists, never the moderates or people who do good deeds through their churches? Yet they glorify atheists. I'm no fan of fox, nor am I very religious, but this is getting ridiculous. This isn't news, it's polarization.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I guess you missed the posts in which several atheists have complained about Silverman's extremism? And do you consider Prothero an extremist? The guy seems pretty milquetoasty to me!

      May 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • An Atheist’s Perspective

      "Why does CNN always show the religious extremists, never the moderates or people who do good deeds through their churches?"

      Simple, because normal people don't ignite a strong reaction and therefore make for good news stories.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Todd

      Because moderates don't do bass ackward things like claim the world will end this weekend.

      You can bet if these idiots suicide after the non event, that will be news too.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  6. Vladimir

    "Let nobody doubt that politics hurts people. Good, intelligent, caring people suffer every day and everywhere at the hands of politics, the happy lie.

    "Politics is used by dishonest people who claim to know the way to the one thing humans want most: justice. To combat fear of injustice, people ignore their intellect, believe the lie, and follow the politician, usually blindly and sometimes to the point of insanity."

    May 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  7. Jim

    I always wonder why the Bible, an outdated history book, is supposed to guide our modern life? We now know the science behind most of the laws in the old testament. We know what happens after death. Your body, if exposed to the elements will rot and decay until it is reduced to the molecules and atoms from which it is made. No eternal anything.

    If more people would practice "Everything I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten" instead of organized religion, compassion would replace greed, knowledge would replace power and love would truly supplant hate.

    What a different world we would live in?

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

      The Bible teaches morality and good standards for living. Following it would create an amazing world, yet the people have now become more corrupt. Its not Christianity that is the problem, its Christians.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • JS68

      Where, sir, does your soul go? We are all spirits dwelling in flesh. So after your flesh is corrupted through death, where does your spirit go? Hint: HEAVEN or HELL

      May 19, 2011 at 9:23 pm |

      There is no soul. Your thoughts, emotions, actions are all governed by the chemical soup of proteins and enzymes that compse your brain. How can you possible me angry or sad or happy if you are missing the hormones that CONTROL these emotions. As a scientist, I find it incredible that people still believe in this rubbish.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Todd

      I guess, Justin, you already killed your kids for talking back to you? I had to murder my first 3 wives because they weren't virgins on my wedding night.

      I felt guilty about burying the bodies in my neighbor's yard, but I felt better after I killed said neighbor when I saw him touching a pork product.

      I'm guessing you don't really read that bible you yap about from cover to cover.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  8. Scott

    We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  9. Christopher Lirette

    "this is just an attempt paint the most evil person in history as an atheist in an attempt to attack atheism." The point of using Hitler and Stalin was me trying to establish common ground in the fact that there are outliers/fanatics in every ideology.

    Hitler may have not been an atheist, but there are other outliers out there to prove that they are in every ideology.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Stop backpedaling. You called Hitler an atheist and then you were called on it. Now you're trying to minimize it. But if there are outliners that show that there are atheists in every ideology, wouldn't that apply to the religious too? Perhaps they didn't truly "believe in god" the way you do. You know, those fake theists.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Nice discussion Christopher but I do have to go to work soon. I always enjoy a nice one on one debate.

      Cheers and have a good one, from an atheist. 🙂

      May 19, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  10. John R.

    The funny thing about religion is that not only can it not be proven right, but it also cannot be proven wrong. Just like the unscrupulous preachers who twist the Bible to fit their worldview, the author of this article picks examples of evils committed in the name of God to support his view that all religion is evil and should be done away with. I have found that most athiests and agnostics I have met have been great people. I have found the same thing to be true people of faith. Perhaps, rather than trying to force our worldviews on one another, we could try respecting each others' beliefs for once. It is only from a position of mutual respect that dialogue becomes possible.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Robert

      Hey now, that's just too intelligent for a common discussion board 🙂 Great point.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  11. Adelina

    Mr. Silverman is misunderstanding. Christianity is about admitting facts as they are: humans being created, having transgressed, receiving the salvation God provides and living out the new, good life He intended for humanity. Atheists are not good. Their morality(if there are any) is all from religion but all they do is attacking and mocking religion. They live for it. Atheists have no goodness, meaning, purpose of life or any worth. They should realize that. Christians are simply warning humanity that everything we do is accountable for final justice. And no normal Christians acknowledged this doomsday group. In fact the majority of 2.3 billion Christians are even unaware. It's a New York problem.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • SoBeach

      "Atheists are not good. Their morality(if there are any) is all from religion but all they do is attacking and mocking religion. They live for it. Atheists have no goodness, meaning, purpose of life or any worth."

      Somebody needs to re-read the part about bearing false witness. As I recall it's in the top ten list of no-nos.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Adam

      So much for tolerance and understanding of others. You can comfort yourself by labling others, but you choose to look away from the truth. As for being a New York problem, I don't even know how to respond to that one. Should Judgement Day ever come, and I hope that includes an invasion of Terminators, I would think more than just NY would have some explainig to do.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  12. JBS

    I feel very sorry for Mr. Camping's followers. Believing that judgment day will occur on May 21, they sold their property and withdrew money from banks to pay for the advertising campaign posted all over the country. How will they pay for food, shelter, etc., come May 22? Mr. Camping certainly won't support them.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Ichi

    I'm surprised Charles Manson and his followers didn't make the cut. He thought the apocalypse was going to come, and that the Beatles' song Helter Skelter was a sign of its imminence, and when the days came and went with nothing happening, they went crazy and began murdering people themselves.

    That, and also Jim Jones doomsday cult where he orchestrated the suicide-murders of 600 people in Guyana

    May 19, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  14. dazsurfer

    Great article! 100% correct. Religion is a scam. We need more articles like this, and educate our youth so that they know they can think for themselves and question everyone and everything. Once they know this and do this the truth becomes obvious.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Lycidas

      How is it 100% correct?? Did he give some sort of pure facts that I must have missed??

      Oh..I see, since he said what you think...he must be right. That's called belief. Not very scientific.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Lycidas

      I do agree that the youth needs to learn how to learn. But I am afriad you are making a mistake in assuming they would agree with you. There is no reason to think they would beyond your hope that they would.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  15. 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 9:02 pm |
  16. Mike

    I am an atheist, and have been since I was 14 or so. The problem I have with this article is that while ostensibly it is an atheist's response to Harold Camping's end times campaign, it really became more of an attack of christianity as a whole. I certainly have my own issues with Christianity, and I will never be a Christian again but that doesn't mean I completely dismiss those in the faith as moulding god's word to fit their own agendas. Even looking back on the days I used to go to church, I still believe that my old congregation and pastors had a genuine enthusiasm and desire to explore their faiths and leave the interpretation up to us.

    Atheism and Atheists cannot gain acceptance and progress in this country unless we stop attacking religion to defend our own views. Certainly there are aspects of organized Christianity that make my stomach turn, but we need to find tolerance and mutual understanding through common virtues, morals, and basic human decency as opposed to attacking one another.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Kim

      Thank you Mike. I think maybe they should have had you writing this article. I'm a Christian, don't go to church as much as I should, but I still have faith, and I also felt that this article was an attack on Christians and our beliefs. Although I can't imagine not having faith in some type of afterlife or religion, I liked the way you framed your response. You gave your opinion without offending and degrading other's belief system. Please apply to CNN as an editorial writer asap 🙂

      May 19, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  17. Cindy


    May 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  18. B

    I feel sorry for the people who are atheists and non-believers. For the day when the Rapture does come, and your name is not written in the Lamb's Book of Life, you will be left behind to suffer God's wrath. I am a Christian and I do not scam people for money or tell them religious crap. I was placed on this earth to be Christ-like and bring others to Christ and lead them to have salvation. God is the only true God and Jesus is the only way to get to heaven. For those who need confirmation, read God's word and study it; for God's word is the Truth.

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

      *ahem*... proof?

      May 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • timmeh

      I laughed.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • sbp

      And you believe all this because it's written down in a book, and you've been told that the book is true. Your entire belief system is based not on reasoning, but on faith that you are not being lied to. But your basis for having faith in the truth of this book IS the book.

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

      hahaha you're a joke.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • tjc360

      says who... buckwheat?

      May 19, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Cherish Marie

      If my name is not on the list then I know I have a nice warm place to go to when its all over. I hate this cold California is having. Just to fantasize, if Dante had his hell right, I'd be basking clothesless in the sand for the rest of eternity. Doesn't sound too bad to me. Don't feel bad for me at all.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • JS68

      Amen! And from the word of God in Psalm 14:1 – The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there in none that doeth good.

      For those who do not believe in the one, true, living Almighty God, your philosophies will condemn to an eternity of suffering. This is not an attempt to judge you, because I am a sinner like you all are, for we all come short of the glory of God. We must all judge ourselves by the word of God. The Bible is not a book of fables, nor is it the creation of man. It is written by the hands of men, but inspired by God (II Timothy 3:16). Satan's greatest feat involves the illusion that he doesn't exist, nor does hell (which was created for him and his angels). If one disavows the credibility of the Bible as the word of God, and disputes the existence of God (despite being eyewitnesses to all of the wonders of His creation, and even enjoying His grace via each waking day in which you concentrate your efforts to deny Him and His works), how then is that all of the things that God has spoken in His word are coming to pass?

      For the ones who refuse to believe the truth, God will send you strong delusion that you may believe in a lie, and damn yourselves for not believing the truth (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). God offers you the opportunity to read His word and judge yourselves according to it so that you may save yourselves from His impending judgment against the willful partakers of sin.

      Your wisdom will NEVER surpass His, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (I Corinthians 2:13).

      May 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • God

      I wrote that book because I just love having people tell me how great I am every Sunday.

      I just can't get enough of it.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  19. tenaciousdeucer

    From wikipedia: "Wōdanaz or Wōđinaz is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of a god of Germanic paganism, known as Odin in Norse mythology, Wōden in Old English, Wodan or Wotan in Old High German and Godan in the Lombardic language. Godan was shortened to God over time and was adopted/retained by the Germanic peoples of the British isles as the name of their deity, in lieu of the Latin word Deus used by the Latin speaking Christian church, after conversion to Christianity."

    May 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • stacey Murphy

      most religions or culture groups give their deity and i'm not sure but think that they call "that deity" their "GOD"it doesn't matter what you call them there all assumed deities? and to argue GOD is not GOD because the name comes from another name of a "GOD" i think is real trivial.

      i'm not a christian im a follower of one of the greatest revolutionaries Jesus. i can understand why so many people don't believe in "GOD" that oaky.

      but what i do mind is that so many people assume Christians are uneducated, brainwashed slackers who only read the bible and take everything in it as absolute, to be fair some "christians" are like that and they probably will disagree with me!

      i really had to battle with what i believed wen my mom died, i was questioning everything, really questioning, how could this "GOD" let it happen, i had to look out side of the bible, at history, archaeology,culture and so on it took me 3 years to come not to answers but a peace in what i believed to be true. through that, i can say i did find "GOD",

      i do believe the Christian Church in many ways Got things wrong . we don't have all the answers, i have realised that as humans all of us no matter what culture, religion or colour, we are all searching to find things like love, acceptance, peace, happiness even those who believe in a nothingness or those who believe in the cycle of life ,we are all. pursuing those things.

      earlier i said its okay that people don't believe in "GOD" because i believe that if you really are anti the organised religion that is christianity look at why, its because we messed up! the church, we failed dismally, we aren't as loving as we should be, we fight with each the,r we make statements like the world will end today and your damned, wen we don't really know, we discount science, and some will argue science discounts GOD , i don't think so it just means maybe what we thought was absolute wasn't.

      for me i don't know if women should or shouldn't preach, i don't know wen the world will end i don't know so many things but watt i do know is that jesus called "me" to love, he called me to fight for justice but at the same time called me to be fair and understanding, he called me to find truth and goodness and hold on to those things and i believe that wen we put aside our disagreements for example the energy and money that goes in to discrediting both sides of this argument could have probably feed many people in the third world or could have been spent caring for the sick and hurting, all of us have that responsibility.

      i believe that if we as people are pursuing love , selflessness, peace, goodness and truth you will find an answers. how long will that take , i don't know, there is a lot of stuff to sift through, both christian and atheists need to find truth and look at stories facts, history and so one searching for all things stated above!

      i hope that this hasn't offended any one and i encourage each of us to love as we would want to be love respect as we would want to be respect listen as we would want to be listened to and fight for the things that matter!

      thanks all for sharing!

      May 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • stacey Murphy

      Oh and Christians You need to stop responding in such a way thats offensive, don't cherrie pick verses! sometimes you just need be gracious and love dispute watt people are saying.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • stacey Murphy

      sorry i meant despite!

      May 19, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  20. GUStavo


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

      If you don't believe in Santa Claus, why the heck would you believe in God? They're practically the same thing! Happy old men spreading love and cheer with magic. Santa knows what all the kiddies are doing all the time, right? Sound like God? Do yourself a favor and use your critical mind to consider the idea of God for 10 minutes. If you do you will likely realize that the idea is too good to be true – just like all scams.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Scott

      This has always pretty much always been the standard religious reply (Think Darwin). It also illustrates the deep thinking and well spoken nature of religion.

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

      I love the blatant display of religious bigotry. Bigotry is intolerance and ignorance. Not Christian.

      May 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • God

      Can you prove the bible without the bible? Didn't think so.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:09 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.