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November 30th, 2010
08:24 PM ET

Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy

From Laura Dolan, CNN

'Tis the season to be jolly? Not entirely.

An atheist billboard that calls Christmas "a myth" has sparked a growing controversy near the Lincoln Tunnel, a 1.5-mile-long twin tube that connects New Jersey to New York.

The full message, which appears with a nativity scene, reads: "You know it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason."

Its $20,000 price tag was paid for by American Atheists, a New Jersey-based atheist advocacy group, David Silverman, the group's president, told CNN.

"We are addressing the 50 million atheists in this nation," Silverman said.

He said the group erected the sign in a high-traffic area in an effort to challenge drivers to "think hard about whether or not they actually believe in what is, in reality, an invisible magic man in the sky."

Silverman said he is uncertain if it will stay through Christmas or come down on December 21.

The sign, located near the tunnel's New Jersey entrance, has stirred controversy among Christian organizations, prompting one group to erect its own pro-Christmas billboard.

"We decided to counterpunch after a donor came forward seeking to challenge the anti-Christmas statement," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a New York-based Catholic advocacy group.

The League's billboard reads: "You Know It's Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus."

It was erected at the tunnel's Manhattan entrance at a cost of $18,500, according to Donohue.

This is not the first time atheist billboards have called religion into question.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist advocacy group, has placed comparable billboards in some 45 cities and 30 states since October 2007, according to the group's co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor.

In 2008, the British Humanist Association paid for buses in London, England, to be adorned with the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

But Donahue says such signs are antagonistic.

"I'm not Hindu, I'm not Buddhist, I'm not Jewish but I wouldn't go around denigrating other people's religions and their gods," he said. "[Silverman] ought to respect our religion. He doesn't have to join it."

Silverman says the holiday season has been co-opted by newer traditions.

"There is no flying reindeer in the Bible," he said. "This is not just about Jesus."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christmas • Holidays • New Jersey • New York • Unitarian Universalism

soundoff (2,418 Responses)
  1. Lucho

    Opions are like "bellybuttons" everybody has one. Have a Merry Christmas.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  2. mrrusss

    I also find it amusing that Christians claim atheists abuse them. I think historically they are ahead in that respect.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  3. WintersKiss

    If they were that concerned with just getting their view across, I think the billboard could have been designed less snarky. It seems more an attempt to bash those of faith then promote atheism. I'm no longer a Christian, but I wouldn't put up signs just to be argumentative with those that are.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  4. Tom

    This is awesome. Christians are always shoving their fairy tales in our face.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  5. don

    When you die someday..tell God your an atheists to His face and then dont worry about it anymore...Good luck to all of the atheists in the world..

    December 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • stu

      I'd rather tell Allah that I was an atheist than a Christian. Worshiping a false god has to be worse than worshiping no god, right?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  6. Ron H.

    The atheist organization is spot on.

    People are so generationally, and systematically "brainwashed" from birth, that they've lost all ability and reason to think clearly when it comes to religion.

    Don't believe me? Just try getting some religious freak or born-again whatever to take 2 steps back and really examine & question their faith, and watch the ensuing sh-t storm that takes place and you will be demonized and ostracized.

    I learned a very long time ago to keep my atheist views to myself, except when around other liked minded (and RATIONAL) individuals.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Mat

      Why dont you take a couple of steps back and analyze what is it that you believe in? You disbelief in Christianity is based on how people behave even thought hey call themselves Christians? What you and all the rational thinkers forget is that people shouldnt be the benchmark of christian faith. When God gave us the independence of thought he wanted people to have faith in him out your freedom to believe in him not programmed into you. The same reason guides him not to intervene in daily activities of humans. When you trust in him completely then he will guide you through life and eternal peace.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  7. crosa

    Thank you God for creating "Debate"!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  8. stu

    If God created earth 6000 years ago, how can we see stars that are 7000 light years away?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Mat

      Where in the bible does it say, God created earth 6000 years ago.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Stu,

      Excellent point. Just one question. Where is the scientific the stars are 7000 light years away? Who took the measurements? My point being I, as a Christian believe God created all of this. Atheists want scientific proof! Where is the scientific proof that anything on this earth is millions of years old? Just because some say it is? The basic atheist argument against Christianity is the same thing they trust in when a "scientist" states a bone fragment is millions of years old! Where is the proof?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • keith

      @Steve the real one

      "The basic atheist argument against Christianity is the same thing they trust in when a "scientist" states a bone fragment is millions of years old! Where is the proof?"

      It's called carbon dating. Carbon dating is a way of telling how old an element is based on the rate that the radioactive material in all carbon based elements decay. Its a constant here on Earth. They know what level of radiation carbon-14 starts with, so they test the level of radiation in the test subject, usually a rock or bone, and then use the constant rate of decay to back date the origin of the object. It's really quite simple when you understand it. But again, you believe in an invisible sky god so understanding is lost on you.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Sorry Keith but carbon dating is not universally accepted by all scientists and have been known to false date materials. I read about Christ in a "book", somehow that is labeled by atheists as ridiculous. You read about carbon dating in a book and somehow it is received as "gospel" Pun intended! Are you a scientist, Keith? What would be YOUR personal experience with carbon dating. I have had a personal experience with Christ. I'm betting you cannot say the same about carbon-dating!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Keith,

      One more thing. In order to truly know the degradation rates of radiation (you say it is a constant rate) wouldn't one have to know what the full rate of radiation in a meterial is? That would require someone going back 1 million years to find that out. Yet Christaianity is ridiculous?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
    • keith

      Actually I have experience with carbon dating. Ya see, I went to college for an engineering degree and had to take many lab science classes, one of them being geology, which is the study of solid earth and rock. A rather large section of the curriculum was on carbon dating. Maybe if you had read more than just one book you would be able to look to more than just one source when you had a question. And by the way, carbon dating can be proven in a lab, you experience with zombie-Christ can not (because it was created in your head).

      December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
    • keith

      As I said before, they know what the level of radiation is in a newly created carbon based element. You can test any bone of any recently deceased person to know that. You don't have to go back in time. I know its hard Steve, but try to think things through logically before opening your mouth and making a fool of yourself.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      A Primer In Carbon Dating:
      We know that all organic material contains carbon-14 and carbon-12 atoms. While the number of atoms varies, the proportion of 14 to 12 is constant.
      The half life of Carbon-14 is around 5700 years (give or take a decade or three). It has not been considered necessary to watch the decay for 5000 years to figure this out. We have observed for a couple of hundred years anways, that the earth rotates at a constant rate around the sun and therefore assume that it was so even before we started being cognizant of it. The same logic is applied to radioactive decay.
      That being said, there are limitations to carbon dating. For example, recent nuclear detonations and human induced climate change have altered the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosophere. That means that if in 10,000 years someone tried to carbon date your dog, he may well appear older than he is. In the distant past, events such as large amounts of volcanic activity can skew readings – but such massive environmental shifts leave other evidence (preponderance of volcanish ash in geological strata, for example) which allow us to deduce whether the carbon dating is accurate or not and to make necessary adjustments using other dating techniques.
      It also is pretty useless for dating anything older than 50,000 years.
      Carbon dating is not 100% accurate, but it certainly demonstrates that the age of teh earth is far greater than 6,000 years.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Keith,

      Look at the tone of our blogs. Yours with the name calling. Mine without. Just wanted to point that out!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  9. chris

    tis the season for lying to your kids , buying happiness , an gorging on food that could help the poor. is christmas even a christian holiday ? you could have fooled me. Catholicism is a self-righteous cult . other sects are trying to convince themselves they are the way . when in fact none practice the first five chapters of the bible , less the death an destruction of those who dont believe what they say . if you want to celebrate christmas, celebrate it on his birthday, not the stolen day from the pagans celebration of the change of season.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  10. mrrusss

    If there's a God, why wouldn't He show himself or make his presence known. It all seems just a slight little tad bit convenient that not demonstrating His existence is part of the plan, doesn't it?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  11. hillary

    do these guys also put up billboards saying allah and mohammad do not exist? Do they criticize Hinduism, buddahism, confuscism? Are they too afraid to, or do they only target Christians? Seems to me they are bigots, not atheists.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      They target Christians because X-mas is a Christian holiday... and X-mas is around the corner.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  12. Josh

    If you don't believe in God, fine, you have that right. But why do atheists feel the need to p"ss on Christians, or any other religion's parade. How is X-mas a threat to atheists? If you don't believe in it, don't celebrate it.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  13. christrevolution

    The Atheist guy just seems mad. I'm sorry but reasonably he CAN'T know that God is a myth. Because he can't prove that He doesn't exist. Hope God opens his eyes, but he killed (logically) himself with these type of statements. Even Atheist would agree with me.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • chris

      i don't like seeing lies , i don't like seeing lies to sell stuff' i don't like hearing lies, an yet every christmas i hear music spreading lies. im forced to see an listen to it . what day was jesus born? oh an dec. 25 is a lie . so try another

      December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @christrevolution

      While it is true, that I can't "prove" god does not exist, I also can't prove that Santa Claus or Fairies do not exist. But, most people would agree, that Santa and fairies do not exist. There is no evidence, that they exist. There is no more evidence for god than for Santa.

      If I make the claim, that there are fairies living in my left shoe, I am making an extraordinary claim. It would not be your burden to prove that I do not have fairies in my shoe. If this were so, I could wear you out by making all sorts of claims. Each would require you to "prove" that they were false claims before dismissing them. Lots of time and effort. Silly.

      Instead, since I am making these extraordinary claims, i.e. there are fairies living in my shoe, you would be right to demand evidence that the fairies did indeed exist. If I offered no or meager, unsupportable evidence, you would be well in your rights to dismiss my claim as untrue. You could say, "the fairies do not exist".

      Love and Prayers!

      December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  14. Oh, the irony...

    @ Having a good laugh at this post....

    .So, let us prey infers let us feast on the weaker or inferior...
    I love pointing out grammatical errors, especially ones of this nature "

    Actually, the statement IMPLIES it does not INFER. I would think someone so pedantic would know this already.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  15. Christian

    There actually is evidence of God.....non believers just refuse to see it. Everything in this world was made by Him. There is no scientific evidence that proves otherwise! There is only scientific theories! I would rather believe in God and Heaven and when I die be wrong than to not believe in God and when I did find out I was wrong and there really is a God. If I am wrong then oh well I lived a great life believing in something greater than all mankind. No harm done. If athiest are wrong they go to Hell. They will burn forever and that is sad! Yes I will continue to pray! As for the billboards.......who cares what either side puts up. Each person will believe what they want to believe and no billboard will change their mind!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • David Johnson

      What evidence is there for a god? There is no more evidence for god, than there is for the Easter Bunny. There is no scientific evidence for the existence of god. God is a myth. He is a figment of the imagination. No more real than Santa.

      You aren't safe from hell, because you worship a god. You can't be sure you are worshiping the one true, keep you out of hell, god. If the Muslims are correct, you could be at a very large barbecue someday.

      You can't eliminate risk.

      God does not exist. If he does, prove it.

      Love and Prayers

      December 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
    • chris

      straw-man? hmmmm i didn't make a claim here of no god , an i see you have . prove your god! oh an the real bible says it is us , not some spaghetti monster . the battle of good an evil is in all of us , not just who you think it is in. we have the power , isnt that what free will is . making a claim means you need to prove your claim , or just say it is faith . i have no proof of whether , god is real or not , an i believe anyone , i mean anyone that claims either way , fail any argument .

      December 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  16. Steve

    Don't you think that the REAL message should be "Let's just get along and let people believe in whatever they choose, just as long as they don't try to change other people's beliefs"? Religion is a private matter and should be left inside the home or place of worship. To shout it out in public is inconsiderate of other people who may not share the same views.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • J

      Tell that to the all the Republican/Tea Party Christian wackos that will be running our country next year.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      Tell that to our government who prints "In god we trust" on all our money, tell that to all the Christians who judge non-believers.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  17. Vernon Fueston

    Here's a simple suggestion. Can we just agree not to insult each other. "Come on, you know it's a myth," is an insult. This kind of stuff is uncalled for. Last I checked, nobody has a bunch of billboards out there insulting non-believers.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • keith

      Take a drive across America, making sure to take the southern track, and then tell me there aren't billboards insulting non Christians.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  18. LTIUAFO

    That Jesus lived is a matter of historical FACT. So now the question becomes "What do you do with Him and His "message"?

    As for evidence "proving" God exists, i would ask is we KNOW all there is to be known in the universe? If we don't, then said evidence may be forthcoming if we are pateint and LOOK FOR IT!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • J

      Jesus does exist! I have proof! I met a few of them when I went out to the latin club a few weeks back. My life was changed forever...

      December 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Brian

      How do YOU know there is historical fact that there is a god.

      Dont say from the bible either that is not fact its a book.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  19. AKD

    ********HAPPY FESTIVUS YA'LL...*****************

    December 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  20. Vashti

    One of us is right. I believe Jesus is Lord and Savior, healer, redeemer, King of Kings, the Alpha and Omega. If I am wrong, nothing is lost, if you are wrong, eternal flames and regret. Have a Blessed Christmas. What are the first 6 letters in Christmas,
    Da, CHRIST. Thank you Lord for opening my eyes and soul to your great love and mercy!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      I hope you choose the right religion to believe in (there are thousands you know), otherwise you might go to hell also. I guess you joined the most popular one, because that seemed like a good bet. Good luck in your crap shoot.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:30 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.