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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. Nate

    The argument of "oh, if there is a God, then I go to hell for not believing" is a bogus, fear-based argument. If you're whole reason for believing is fear, then what kind of life is that. The sad thing is that even if you believe, there is a good chance you are still wrong.

    Take just the top 5 religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Say those are the only 5 that could possibly be right. 100/5 = 20. So, if you have to choose between just those 5, you have only a 20% chance of believing the right faith. Expand to include just the top 10 religions. Now you have only a 10% chance of being right. Continue this out to include the total number of religions that exist now or in the past and you quickly realize that your chances of being correct are less than 1%.

    I ask then, what are you afriad of and why is it necessary to "bet" in essence on something that has a fraction of a percent chance of being true?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  2. Billybob101

    fast forward 20 years from now: Billboard reads "You know its a LIE, The universe was not created during the Big Bang" – supported by The American Atheist agianst United Atheist foundation.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  3. tom

    I used to believe in all that religion garbage too before I awakened and saw the real light. The light of TRUTH. The fact is that the practices are great – love one another – the ten commandments – alll that is good stuff to live by but it doesn't mean there is a GOD (like the Biblical one) that is "masterminding" all of this. Give me the same tools and powers and I assure you I could create a better universe than this. If you still believe in the make believe God then at least believe that 7 days wasn't enough to get it right.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  4. Ed Hunt

    It's all historically silly. Jesus was born closer to the first of October than the 25th of December. The latter is the time of Saturnalia and the Winter equinox and the early Christians stole the date to do away with the kind of celebrations going on the "Saturnalists?" Let's celebrate Jesus' birth in October and allow the secular world to do what they want in December. This from a retired PCUSA minister.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  5. brewster

    I am sick of atheists trying to shove their beliefs down our throats. I refer to them as evangelical atheists. Dangerous. There has been over 200 million people killed under atheist dictatorships, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot who were all athesits. North Korea is also an atheist dictatorship and there is no freedom. They are the least tolerant along with muslims out of the bunch. At least in this country where the majority are Christian, people can speak their mind. So all you militant atheists, stop talking about how intolerant Christiansa are. It is you that is intolerant!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
    • tom

      Many but not all Buddhists basically qualify as athiests too and they abide by some of the strictest moral codes on the planet. Very few athiests are communist dictators so please don't confuse aethism with communism.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • Troy

      You need help, along with anyone who blindly follows ANY religion. What is it that makes you people think you're right anyways? Seriously. You have absolutely NO BASIS FOR YOUR ARGUMENTS.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  6. Paul

    I am glad someone is finally speaking the truth. I am an avid Athiest or Agnostic, whichever you choose. Christianity and many other religions have no base on which they sit. They convince the poor to drop everything and worship towards something that is not apparent yet: Hell? Fear is the game here. It works in every aspect of life. Why do you think the Republicans use Fear so much? What happened to the terror level during the Bush presidency? Not needed, just a scare tactic to herd.

    I fully support this type of billboard for it asks people to validate their unvalidated beliefs. Maybe then we can become civilized by nature, not by religion. And anyone who says without religion we are all wild beasts and sinful, that is simply not true. I love the earth, all animals on it, and I treat everyone with respect. I donate to charity and I am compassionate, all without religion. Thank you.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  7. brewster

    I am sick of atheists trying to shove their beliefs down our throats. I refer to them as evangelical atheists. Dangerous. There has been over 200 million people killed under atheist dictatorships, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot who were all athesits. North Korea is also an atheist dictatorship and there is no freedom. They are the least tolerant along with muslims out of the bunch. At least in this country where the majority are Christian, people can speak their mind. So all you militant atheists, stop talking about how intolerant Christians are. It is you that is intolerant!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • Brett

      I'm tired of religious people trying to shove their beliefs down my throat.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  8. Toph

    Inside Information

    You non-believers realize this country was founded on the Christian principal. Don't hate on the saved. People today amaze me more and more these non-believers are asking for proof, Good and Evil coincide together in this world, you only live a short time on earth what will you be doing the rest of eternity?

    Merry Christmas
    God still loves you all.
    =========================

    Uh, No it wasn't. Here's a quote form Thomas Jefferson:

    "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.?

    Do some research before making sucj false statements. It amazes me the ignorance that Christians have not only about this country, but their won religion as well.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  9. Who cares

    Why don't we just all sit back and watch "A Muppet Christmas Carol"

    December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  10. Tedd Sabir

    Atheists are fools. At the end of the day they have no reason to celebrate. Merry Christmas from over 5 billion people of the planet who in some ways believe in God. By the way your message of hate is directed towards Christians. I was wondering if you are going to have nother billboards showing Kaaba or Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Budhists, Parsi or other other symbols.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  11. talon10

    If religios people can put their ignorant propaganda on billboards, then I see no reasons why atheists can't do the same. I see a lot of "Jesus Saves" signs, especially in rural areas. Not much different.

    All religions are just archaic old myths. But I don't see that atheism is any better. I'm an agnostic but I think it's equally dumb to say you know for sure one way or another.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  12. Fred

    mruss, no theists book has ever proclaimed there to be "an invisible man in the sky". That is a label that was put out by an atheists group and regurgitated by it's followers.

    Ron H. any scientific backing to any of your baseless generalizations?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  13. xristos

    If there is something real in this life that's Jesus Christ the Savior. Just because you don't see something it does not mean it does not exist. Biology deals with the body and things we see, psychology deals with the soul and things we don't see. If you have been riding this life with no faith in God maybe it's time now to believe...let's keep Christ in Christmas this season...

    December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  14. steve

    If the American Atheists had real integrity, they would have a billboard about Mohammad, calling him a fraud or a myth. No? I guess it's just easier to bash Christians.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • Cjat

      Why do you categorize all Atheists that live in America as thinking this is right (Via saying we should post one about Muhammed) ? Perhaps you should read some comments and notice that at least half of the Atheists posting comments think this is the wrong approach ;).

      December 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • steve

      Cjat – I was referring to the group that paid for the billboard: American Atheists.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  15. John

    I'm an agnostic, because I cannot prove or disprove God. While I do not believe in a tangible God that we can explain in a book, I can't look up in the sky and disprove anything, I simply don't know (just like the rest of us). Correct me if I'm wrong, Athiesm is saying "There is NOT". How would you know, it's the same as a Christian saying "there is" which is just as naive. None of us know, end of story.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • steve

      Thank you, John, atheism is a belief about God. A true agnostic admits the possibility of God. A real scientist admits the possibility of a phenomenon given a lack of evidence either way. Scientists keep an open mind and are open to questioning established views. It is a closed mind that says that there is no God, period. Atheism is a belief system.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  16. Steven

    Did they pay for it? Yes? Good.
    Is the money going to a state that needs it? Yes? Good.
    If you don't like the billboard, don't pay attention to it. Both sides have the right to put them up, both sides are exercising freedom of speech. Case closed.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • chris

      lmao well said

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

    Religion is faith based. Atheism is science based. Science relies on evidence.
    -----–
    Mr. Johnson, that is as ignorant as it can get. REAL IGNORANT. Ignorant atheist are just as annoying as ignorant religious folk

    December 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  18. Justine

    all of you are hilarious. particularly this Let Us Prey individual, but I suppose free speech affords us all with some room to air our nonsense and reason.

    For all the commercial aspects of christmas, the fairly standard religious tones, and most of america's completely backwards understanding of how "christmas" even came to be....one billboard proclaiming the general viewpoint of a certain group of people should gather no more protest than the thousands of adorned church billboards, religiously based holiday plays, food drives, soup kitchens, or any of the other things you tend to see this time of year. Wait, that's right. Generally, these things don't receive ANY protest.

    So stop chalking it up to anger, disillusion, misinformation, personal attack, or whatever else you might come up with, and get used to the idea that atheism is a valid and merited way of thinking. Consider all the hate that organized religion itself brings to the table, instead of automatically dismissing something you don't understand....as evidenced by the standard arguments i'm seeing flung around these threads. Being level headed enough to understand that even just ONE religion does a serious disservice to humanity doesn't make you a bigot. It makes you capable of having a different opinion. Deciding that all atheists, or even agnostics, are bigoted because of that viewpoint makes me think you're not familiar with the definition of bigot. Try a thesaurus, and get back to me.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ Justine

      " Being level headed enough to understand that even just ONE religion does a serious disservice to humanity doesn't make you a bigot. "

      I "looked it up."

      Congratulations. You're a Bigot.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  19. Trebec

    When I see signs like this, it strengthens my faith even more.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  20. Get Real

    When religion gets out of polities (religious right), our schools (a moment of silence), etc., then they can cry about being a target.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:27 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.