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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. thies

    It's always funny to see religious organizations throw a hissy fit after they went out of their way to missionize, convert and make sure to let non believers know that they'll burn in hell and other niceties. Oh well, religions come and go. None of the current or extinct ones were able to prove they are correct. Once one does I'll be all ears.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  2. MLBurch

    What does "the season to be JOLLY" have to do with it? Doesn't matter to me WHAT you profess or believe. The main point of being a kind HUMAN being is to treat others with respect and tolerance. Don't let any of it get your panties in a bunch. Keep an open mind then do what you feel is right. I don't care what you want to believe....just stop fighting about it.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  3. John

    I don't understand why? What does it gain this group? Who cares if they do or do not think there is a God?
    ""think hard about whether or not they actually believe in what is, in reality, an invisible magic man in the sky."

    Why is this his business ?

    Some people are just born to be jerks ........

    December 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  4. Eric Johnson

    Here we go again as one Religion beats on another Religion. One believes that there is a god, one doesn't, we should all let each other bee when it comes to what faith you choose to believe in. To the Atheist in the news story he should look back to History in Europe and know that "Santa Claus" is actually Saint Nicholas (270–6 December 346) is the canonical and most popular name for Nikolaos of Myra, a saint and Greek Bishop of Myra. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as is common for early Christian saints. So to say that Santa Claus and God are one in the same is wrong.

    Happy Holidays

    December 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  5. John

    To let us pray... again.

    It is simply not true that science has nothing to say about faith, neuroscience can replicate your feelings of divine presence AKA faith by stimulating the temporal lobe of your brain. It has also been show that the basic "wiring" of atheists and believers brian's is different. Faith exists in you because you are wired that way.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  6. SaLeforce

    @Purlpe80 Way to lump us all into one category there. Just because this group put up a billboard, does not mean ALL of us are "Hell" bent on proving all the reliegions are silly. Personally, believe what you want to believe; I could care less what you do as long as you are happy. I'm happy. I don't believe in God and I have no complaints about my life. If it helps, I don't get the purpose of the billboard either.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  7. Just be good

    I'm reading all of these posts and I am quite frankly disgusted with both sides. First, why would anyone want to spend 18-20K on a billboard to fight over a holiday that you can celebrate by choice. I know atheists that celebrate Christmas....what? I don't believe in Jesus but I am going to celebrate Christmas....What? Really? As a Christian, I am appalled that we spent $18 on a billboard just as much as I am disgusted with the atheist group. There are kids in Africa who have no food and are starving so badly that they eat styrofoam to fill their stomachs so they don't hurt anymore.....all of you get a grip or try helping people in need in whatever way you believe!!!!!! Quite spending money on stupid tactics to prove your point!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  8. Who cares

    Why don't the two groups fight it out with swords and crossbows?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Who cares

      Give the $$ to charity instead of a wall in a tunnel

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

      That would be the CHristian way now woudn't it.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  9. Syd113

    What really ticks off the religious, and why they resort to bullying, intimidation, (and even today in some parts of the world) outright torture and murder, is that science has ALWAYS been right. There has never been a science vs religion argument in which the invisible giant in the sky has proved to be the cause. From Galileo to Darwin to Hawking, they figuratively or literally tar and feather all those who don't drink the cool-aid. Until we get away from this notion of a cosmic daddy (or mommy) figure and realize that we're all alone and stuck with each other on this little wet pebble in the middle of nowhere, and get to work making sure we don't destroy our home or each other, the world's major generational problems (famine, disease, genocide, ignorance) will remain unfix-able.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  10. Manti

    These athiests are the most intalorent people living in a country that promotes talorence. If they cant live in a society built by religiouse people, maybe they should concider moving to the south pole.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Brett

      What an intolerant statement by you. I see pro-Religion billboards EVERY day on my drive to work. Finally, there is ONE billboard that dares question religion, and atheists are the intolerant ones???

      December 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  11. Mike in SA

    A myth to some, a belief for others, neither can prove or disprove the existence of God. That is a matter of faith.

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

    Yeah. Meanwhile the Christian and other religious types will go about their jobs in engineering, physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other fields of reason. Please. Religious types are every bit able to reason just like anybody else, maybe even more so.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  13. Brett

    I'm an atheist and secular humanist, and I have a beautiful life I wouldn't trade for anything. I'm surrounded by people I love, and I celebrate the beautiful qualities of humanity and this wondrous planet. I'm passionate about art and science and the thrill of discovery that happens everyday. Life is a journey.

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

      brett but, you are going to burn in hell , kmai jk. see you there , wanna get a drink , i here they make some great mixers

      December 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  14. Joker

    @ lisa "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."
    .
    you are not the first to profess their god is the ultimate bad #$$ and we will all bow. I supsect there will be others like you saying this for another 1000 years. When we hit 10,000 years, perhaps the christies will stop beating their drum. 10,000 years ago my god said he was coming back for us. LOL

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

      Laugh at me all you want, but we will see if you are still laughing when you are frying in eternal bbq. The Bible also says no man no the hour when Jesus will return. He also says He will return for His church when they start begging him to come and get them. Most Christians who claim they are Christians are still living a good life. They aren't desperate for Him to come and get them.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  15. prof.

    Have you ever wondered why atheists are a statistically minute percentage of the worlds population, yet they are always prevalent in commenting online. Probably because they sit around playing warcraft and chatting online all day to escape the reality of life....Well I guess athiesm and the world of warcraft have the same draw...Fantasy.

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

      What makes you think people that play World of Warcraft are atheists and try to escape life? Your comment makes no sense. By the way I am an avid WOW player and I have a life. Your post is nothing more than Nerd Rage! Merry Christmas from Azeroth!

      December 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  16. Jeff

    I'm not sure why an atheist group would sponsor a billboard bashing any religion. To believe or not to believe is a personal choice. Atheists made their choice, now let others make theirs. How are atheists being harmed by anyone else believing in God? First by merely organizing into a group - the American Atheists - is in a sense organizing itself into a" religion", ie. one that doesn't believe in a god, and then by erecting a billboard is an attempt to recruit into that religion. In short, atheists organizing and then actively recruiting is counter to what atheism is. And I agree with other people here, by depicting images of the Christian religion and not of other religions is being anti Christin, not anti-religion.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      Jeff, they are simply trying to get closet atheists out of the closet.. this is the point of the bill board. They want people to stop pretending, and truly make a stand in what they believe in without being embarrassed about it. I am an atheist, but I love X-mas.. I love the family bond, the non-religious traditions around xmas.. so I am gonna keep celebrating it, just not with all the religious elements.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  17. ktlady

    Let there be peace. Why can't all of you just get along? People are going to believe what they're going to believe. There is not point in trying to convince or convert. Just be confident in what you believe and let everyone else be.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      This is the point, people are not confident in what they believe in.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  18. Rakov

    Athiests Hate Santa and want children to get no toys. That's the message I'm seeing.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • NOBODY

      A-THE-I-EST. WHAT IS IT?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Mr. Blues

      You got the wrong message, that is not what they are saying... visit their website for more details.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  19. A Father

    You know, the great scientists back in the day also said the earth was flat. But you know what, in the end, God will use even this. It's my hope and prayer that even the eyes of the unbeliever will be opened before it's too late. May God continue to watch over us all. Amen.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  20. Edgar

    I don't have a problem with the message on the billboard, but it's takes common sense to know that using caps and exclamation points to get your message across is not only abrasive and obnoxious...but it's just bad manners.

    It's atheists like David Silverman, who come off as smug, rude and possibly illiterate ("there is no flying reindeer"...really?!), that take away from true atheists...those who don't necessarily believe the story about the birth of Jesus, but truly believe in the beauty and the compassion that this holiday brings.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:24 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.