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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. janetlaw

    Take a chill pill. Live and let live, please. Wonder how many hungry people could of been fed from the cost of these billboards??????

    December 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  2. Ranch Mubay

    So where are the ACLU now? I thought they went after HATE speech? This is HATE speech. ACLU? Where are you? Come out from the rat holes and caves you sleep in. We want to here from you. Hello ACLU? Calling out you hypocritical buggers.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  3. Kay1205

    It really makes no sense if you don't believe in God, why are you recruiting for your belief? If you don't believe, then don't. No one says you have to, so why tell others that what they believe is wrong. These billboard atheists are acting more like a cult. It seems we all believe in something, and if God is not what you believe in, it doesn't hurt God, so what is the point. For those of us who do believe, we will pray for you, but we can not force anyone to believe.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  4. Mayor McCheese

    Science is God, God is science.

    It is our limited understanding of them both that motivates our existance.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  5. Stacey

    It is sad they spent 20,000.00 on this bill board....do you know how many people they could of really helped...again they are proving nothing and now throwing lots of money into nothing.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      Christians spent 18k whats your point.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  6. Robert

    I dare the American Atheists to denounce Islam on the same billboards. I DARE them!!! Cowards won't do it.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      Muslims in america is a very very small percentage, not enough impact.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • USN Atheist

      Christians do it all the time without any issue...so what is your point. Do you think an atheist is scared to muscle in on the islam bashing territory that christians so enjoy?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  7. Common Sense

    Bow before no Jewish image before me.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  8. janetlaw

    All y'all take a chill pill. Live and let live, please. I wonder how many hungry people the cost of these billboards could of fed?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  9. James David

    Since someone keeps deleting what I post I will repost this. Atheists, Pagans, Jews, Muslims, Protestants are fake regilions made up for sin, money, adultery, famine, politics they also know that God, the Catholic, God exists but want to deny it because they don't want to hear what Jesus said so their is no exuse for your sins. We catholic know this thats why we say this, its not because you can't believe. To anyone read the catholic Bible written by God thru his followers which God, the Catholic God, has made sure it will stay perserved and unforged.

    The two last popes aren't doing what Jesus told them to do. If they are not do what God told them unintentionally than God has a punishment for them or anyone else corrupt in the Catholic Church.
    To all who disobey and sin God says "Vegeance is mine and mine alone" only a specific day will he punish each person until they repent but the stubborn will suffer not only in this world by the next eternal hell.
    Thru natural disasters, diseases, famine, your enemies, war, etc.. he will punish everyone.

    In this so called present his enemies think they have prevailed against God with their sins but God for the time being has let this occur for their are times in the world when the harvest is left alone but when the harvest is full he shall say to his angles the harvest is full pick the harvest and pull the weeds and throw the weeds into the fire. The angel had previously asked master why don't I seperate the weeds to throw them into the fire from the harvest. God said if you do it know you might pull the good wheat along withe weeds. Meaning their will be some that come to believe and repent the rest will be thrown in the fire.

    Turst a devoted catholic church and devoted priests who are their to guide you esp. to give confessions and communion to liberate you from sin and give you God's grace. "The Lamb and the bride which is the church, say come let the hearer come and from you shall pour living bodies of water. I'm knocking at the door of your heart. If anyone listens he will let me in and I will dine with him."
    "I the lord God do not change".

    December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • Joker

      have some more jesus juice

      December 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      I challenge you to visit americanatheist.org web site and learn about their principles, you will be shocked. Don't judge them based on their disbelieve of god, but judge them on their values and character.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
    • Silverdog

      Yikes!!! Your God has serious ego issues! If God exists I think he appreciates agnostics and atheists because they used their brains unlike most sheeple. Face it, most people are the same religion as their parents. If you were an Arab, or Chinese, you would believe strongly about what they think because that is your personal;ity.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  10. Kevin

    This is embarrassing to atheists everywhere; this argument has so much content. Oh and NJ CNN toting out the token-theist ignoramus to blab about how atheists believe in nothing–sigh, this is our public discourse... 5th grade level garbage.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  11. Joker

    @christrevolution
    And I can't prove that spiderman does not exists. I cannot prove that Zues does not exist. Seeing how your logic works, I can see how you believe in a myth. *rolling eyes* PSSSST the burden is on the believer and their god(this applies to all the gods that man has created). Have a nice day and play again.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  12. Kevin

    On old statement come to mind. As my grandfather whom fought in WWII said, "There is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole".

    I don't really care if a person is an Atheist, Cristian, or what ever. I don't go to church but I do beleive. When your day comes do you really want to take the chance & stand before god and say I don't beleive. That would be a straight ticket down if you know what I mean.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • Kevin

      there are plenty of atheists in fox holes, Pat Tillman is a pretty solid example, wouldn't you think?...it really doesn't matter though, it's a complete non-sequitur...Believing in a proposition simply because it may benefit you–and not because you have good reason to do so, is the epitome of foolishness.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • John

      Where you there with Pat at the end? Then how do you know ....

      December 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  13. ib6ub9

    Tis the season to celebrate consumerism and propaganda. Merry Debtmas America.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  14. Lisa

    One day everyone will know there is a God. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the son of the most High God, and a wonderful savior that will never leave us, nor forsake us, he is the creator of life. And he sent His son to live as a man, to be born of a virgin, and to be a sacrifice to all men, so that we can live in grace and forgiveness. Choose Jesus, and know what peace that surpasses all understanding is. And there is no CHRISTmas.....without CHRIST.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  15. Luke

    If there is a God, he's an a**hole for allowing all the bad things in the world to happen. God you suck !!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  16. Unemployed

    So why is everyone posting on this at 1 p.m.... Shouldn't you guys be working? I should have your job!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • Cjat

      I think people talking about the money expenditures don't look at the broad picture. First: I would love to see a study on if Atheists donate as much money as those who at least believe in a higher being and then Christians. I personally would think that Christians (even though I am Atheist) would donate more. The reason I bring this up, as while this is causing publicity like it does every year around this time, perhaps it actually increases donation rates and then they are able to get more to help those that actually need it (both the catholic group that put up the billboard and the Atheist group). Who knows if that is what is actually going on around here.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  17. flossmore

    You "non-believers" have nothing to lose! Going through life ranting that there is no god.....why not at least believe in something.
    Do you think this universe is here for us alone. If you die and there IS....total annihilation, well, fine....you won't be any the wiser.
    But if you're wrong.....look out. You have nothing to lose by at least believing there is a higher power.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • Knightly

      Flossmore, you raise an interesting point. Let me start by saying you're right, there is no real harm in believing in a higher power. The thing is, not everyone picks their beliefs that way. Not everyone is capable of it. One of the first questions believers tend to ask me (right after they realize I'm not going to bite off their head and suck out their soul) is, "wouldn't you be happier if you believed in God?"

      The answer is yes. Absolutely. I would love to believe in God. The thing is, that isn't enough for me. I can't believe something just because I want it to be true or because it would make me happy. I need to believe the version of reality that makes the most sense to me.

      If I die and appear in the afterlife to be judged, I won't stubbornly insist there's no God and no afterlife. I'll have the evidence I crave. And if God asks me why I refused to believe, I will tell him quite simply, "this is how you made me."

      December 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • Not a believer

      Flossmore, thats not a bad point, but what should I believe in? Christianity, Judaism, muslim, mormon, Buddhism, hinduism? Many of these religions claim that the others are wrong and those people will go to hell if they don't believe in the one true religion. With so many choices, how do I choose the right one?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  18. Daisy

    Reading this comments is crazy. There will be no Jesus, Budda or any other religios character to feed those, who lost jobs and homes this joyful holiday season. Why spend money on billboard? They don`t do any good, just fuel more hate and underline our differences. Christian, Muslim or whatever you are – give your money to those who need it, refill your local food bank, give clothes to those who are on the street. For $20000 you can rent a warehouse and make a homeless shelter out of it. Maybe it`s time for us to come forward as one nation indivisible and take care of problems, before we hate each other even more for our differences.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  19. Knightly

    Oh FFS... What do these atheists think they're doing? Do they think they're helping their fellow man? Do they think they're changing minds? I can tell you, first hand, they are NOT making life easier for us respectful atheists!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  20. xasthur

    It's not attacking Christianity but all religion because Jesus, if he did indeed exist, was not even born on Dec.25! The Pope admitted it long ago. the date was chosen because it was already celebrated by the pagans.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:21 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.