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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. Vashti

    This nation was established as a CHRISTIAN nation. If we went back to the basic principles of christianity our nation would not be in so much trouble, both financially and morally.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • Trebec

      True, the founders were mostly Christian (I think Thomas Jefferson was atheist and Ben Franklin was agnostic). They took a lot from their religions and everyday life. They saw man as free, and endowed by God with inalienable rights which give people the right to choose their belief, or no belief.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Edwin

      Vashti,

      This nation was NEVER a christian nation. It was founded on several DEIST principles, but if you study Deism, you will discover it is not very close to christianity. In many forms, it does not really even propose a god similar to the christian one.

      This nation WAS, however, founded STRONGLY on the belief that people should have the right to believe whatever religion or irreligion they wanted. It was founded on the heritages of groups of religious misfits, many of whom fled Europe because the countries there had national religions.

      Your idea of the U.S. turning to a single religion is pretty nearly the exact opposite of what the Founding Fathers desired, intended, and fought for. It is sad you are either ignorant of American history or so able to pervert it to your own agenda.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • Josh in FL

      This nation was not founded as a christian nation, and no matter how many times folks want to sell it, it simply is not accurate. Isn't it interesting how peoples thoughts change throughout time though...this nation was financially born on the backs of Africans who were shipped here for almost 300 years, since the early 1600s. That fact seems to me to also address the nation's morality. So, to what times do you think we should go back to Vashti?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  2. Sarah

    From about.com " Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods; anti-theism is a conscious and deliberate opposition to theism." Not all atheists oppose other religions or campaign against other's beliefs. Most atheists simply don't believe themselves. There are a some atheists who are anti-theistic and those are the ones that would put up a billboard like this. I am an atheist who respects all other's beliefs, even though they differ from my own, and I don't believe slandering other religious holidays is at all respectful or in good taste. People have the right to believe what they would like and when it comes to spirituality, which is deeply personal, they should not be mocked for those beliefs. To all the Christians out there: Merry Christmas and I hope that the holiday is peaceful and meaningful to each one of you.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  3. Corey

    I for one am alright with the sign. There should be more. It's not like most Americans celebrate Christmas in light of Jesus' birth anyway. Instead ppl who weren't Christian took the holiday and turned it into something that fit them: presents and lights. This sign is great because it puts into question ppl's preconceived notions. The Christians that are putting the sign up in retaliation are ignorant. Let God fight his own fight. Let's continue in His love. Feed the hungry. Plead the case of the widow. Give to others the love that God has given us. Who needs presents? Who needs to protest? Why get into huge quarrels over what non-Christians do instead of just doing what we have been called to do? The world needs our time, not presents and money. Christians cannot put non-Christians to the same standards as Christians. Instead, they need to love and do as Jesus has done and be hopeful that God is at work in the lives of others. For He surely is. Continue to share the gospel, that means share your testimony as to what God has done in your life and how it has changed you in response. Don't force the gospel down ppl's throats. Instead remain in His love. Our God's patience means our salvation. He was patient with me while I was learning about Him, why then would I ever expect the whole world to "get it" in a single night? The world is predominately not Christian. The Gospel is for the broken hearted, not those who think they have it all.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  4. Amused

    These blogs crack me up. It's amazing how many people get angry about God. To those "thinkers" out there, if I have wasted my life on faith, what have I really wasted? I have cared for the poor, the widow and the orphan. I have encouraged the downtrodden. I have fed the hungry and gave water to the thirsty. Why? Not to push my "religion" on them or to gain "points" in heaven or to impress others. But instead to put my faith into action (James 2:26). Is that a waste?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Josh in FL

      No, and bless you for it...I hope you've inspired others.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • Sandy

      Amen!!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  5. Craig

    God did not found a single religion. All religion are simply man's attempt to explain the Creator, he has no say in any of them. He is not on the board of directors of any religious organization.

    Also, no religion speaks for God. Again, they can only speculate what he wants and what he would say.

    Remember, men wrote every single religious text in existance. Men are imperfect. The Bible, Koran, Torah, or any other religious book should be taken for what it is, an attempt by men to put words in Gods mouth.

    Religion and Faith are not the same thing. I have faith that the Creator exists. I do not follow any religion.

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

    Thank God that Jesus gives us true believers the Holy Spirit which the world cannot see or hear! To those of us that have found the hidden treasure in Christ, its so sad to see people that, out of their own wickedness and ignorance, deny Jesus Christ.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Lisa

      Amen Garrett. Merry Christmas!

      December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  7. Trebec

    SO PEOPLE BELIEVE IN DIFFERENT THINGS IN AMERICA? AND THEY CONFLICT? HOLY CRAP! IT'S NOT LIKE THIS COUNTRY WAS FOUNDED ON THAT OR ANYTHING!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  8. Edwin

    Personally I think this is awesome. Both sides SHOULD have these billboards up - the dialogue and thought they create is part of what makes America the free country it is.

    Neither sign directly attacks ANYBODY. Both advocate a position, and both SHOULD attract followers. But more than that, both sign TOGETHER create religious discussion, something in short supply in this country.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Pauli

      You are wrong. The billboard was not intended to inspire a rigorous intellectual exchange. Rather, it is a deliberate and malevolent attack aimed directly at disparaging and discrediting Christian beliefs. If you were an intellectual honest person, which you apprently haven't the coureage to be, you'd be more concerned about the lack of civility something like this billboard has inspired, rather than defending Silverman for his "beliefs." COWARD.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • Matt

      LOL A Christan calling an Atheist a coward? Thats rich. You are cowardly, Christian, for not thinking critically about that book you put all your faith into. Atheists, if anything, have more balls than anyone on the planet for challenging the social norm in the name of science and reason. You sir have no idea what you are talking about.

      As for the poster, I would agree, but I would also state that the debate has been raging for a very long time, and just because the Internet came around, does not mean the debate will get any more civil. The billboard is a nice thing to see from Atheist eyes, but I am not for something that stirs up hatred directed at me as an Atheist. I don't stand in front of churches and yell that they're all retarded, I just like to privately know that 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Chris

    For 5 years i worked with a Christian ministry into Communist Eastern Europe. It always amazed me the amount of money and time that these atheist governments spent trying to convince their populations that there is no God. As an atheist if you really believe there is no God, why do you spend so much time and effort to convince people away from something you know does not exist.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Edwin

      Chris,

      Why do christians spend so much time and money on the same thing - convincing others of what the christians believe is true?

      If you really advocate letting everyone be, then be critical of both sides, not just the atheists.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • Weathers

      Because we have a lot of catching up to do! Besides, we are at a historical disadvantage because we don't get to burn Christians at the stake the way they did with scientists.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • Matt

      Because belief in God and the Bible comes with certain caveats such as oppression of civil rights, women, ridiculous stories, and nonsensical sins such as meat and milk on a Friday. It is unreasonable, full of plot holes, and apparently is the ONE BOOK in the world that's supposed to be protected from critical thinkers. Religion gives people a sense that they own the planet, and that God is always on 'their side'. This means that countries wage wars based on these beliefs, because 'god is on their side'. If you had any perspective at all outside your little Christian bubble, you'd see this.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  10. Believer

    EVERYONE WILL BELIEVE ONE DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Garrett

      Amen! God WILL have the final say! He always does!

      December 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • Edwin

      Believer,

      Are you saying that you will force everyone to believe? Or that some event will transpire proving the truth of your belief?

      The first is an act of evil, and it will not successfully convert anyway. The second is evidence, and it will not really create belief. So what did you have in mind?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • Weathers

      Everyone already believes. Some of us just prefer to believe in facts.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Bob U.

      Especially after your excessive use of exclamation points; that always changes peoples' minds

      December 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  11. nmorris

    it shouldn't necessarily be a religious holiday b/c the origins of Christmas "time" came from pagan roots. I think all religious folk and non religious folk should come celebrate the gift of life and the lights that brighten the mood in a dark time in our season cycle. Lets all forget about the afterlife for a minute and celebrate the here and now – I celebrate the holidays with my muslim, christian, jewish, and atheist friends and we all seem to get along just fine

    December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  12. talon10

    So...Christians think it's okay to shove their ignorant nonsense down everybody's throats but atheists can't? Is that how it goes? Typical ignorant Christian responses.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  13. Matthew Sobol

    I'm an atheist. I keep my opinions regarding religion to myself. When asked, I'm honest in what I think/feel is accurate regarding religion. I don't feel a need to sway believers toward my way of thinking. I simply live my life and appreciate it for what it is. I may not believe in a "God" or any gods, but I can appreciate many of the ideals behind any given belief. That's the beauty of belief, it's yours...

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

      Well put. There are so many misconceptions about what it means to be an Atheist. Yes, there are jerk Atheists out there, just the same as jerk Christians. There are jerks of every faith, color, and creed. That being said, Atheists do not wage hate campaigns. Atheists do not support supremacy, bigotry, manifest destiny, and more especially, do not support forcing beliefs on others. We support civil debates, but never anger or outrage.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  14. Prof X

    @ NL... you said recent polls state that between 10-45% of the adult population believe in dinosaurs 5,000 yrs ago. I think you need to take a statistics course because you would then know that anything with that large a margin of error is useless.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  15. TY

    Look. Those atheists want us to broadcast God? they want us to sell him so people can have something to worship? God is omnipotent. You will not find peace being an atheist. Ask one. I bet they have a horrible and unhappy lifestyle. BECAUSE God is not what they believe in.

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

      I can tell you right away that you're wrong. I am a very happy, and fulfilled Atheist. The fact that you believe that all Atheists must somehow be miserable does not make any sense. Why would we willingly choose a path that makes us miserable? if anything, I'm ecstatically happy most of the time, because things actually make real sense. Stop judging Atheists based on preconceived notions, and have a real conversation with one.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  16. Ruth

    Christians, Atheists...they're all the same. They both go around trying to force you to believe what they believe.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  17. hurf durf

    If a billboard sways your beliefs, you probably never believed in anything to begin with.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Spot on Hurf durf!

      Dear fellow Christians,
      We have to be careful to not being offended nor offensive. Jesus never won anybody by arguing either. The responses to this story does reveal the strong need for Christ. Notice I said nothing about needing religion!

      December 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • Matt

      and if a 1600 year old book makes you believe in an invisible man.... what? You'll believe anything you read?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  18. Bruno B.

    A true catholic wont attack or judge you or any person who does not follow their way...he or she will tell you the truth and let the person decide. Afterwards, he or she will pray for you so u a person can open your eyes =)

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

      But what you're saying is that "Catholics are right, and everyone else is wrong". You forget, there are Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Ba'hai, Unitarian Universalists, Pagans, and many many tribal faiths of the world. What makes you think that among all those religions, you magically happened to pick the right church, and it was magically in your neighborhood? When you as a Catholic say something like that to an Atheist, we don't exactly contemplate your version of the truth. We feel bad, for you. We feel bad that someone programmed you to believe things that will never be proven, that you will punish yourself in accordance with Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and may very well live a life of shame thinking that you've somehow angered a god by the smallest of 'sins'. No, Atheists do a lot of research on faith, religion, and science, and decide that beliefs are of no use to them. That facts, and testable methods bring progress, knowledge, and happiness. Not blind devotion to an invisible god with strange and arcane rules, that was conjured up by a very creative group of people adapting pagan beliefs to a new canon.

      Oh, I'm rooting for you though. One day maybe you'll 'see the light'.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  19. alex

    ps I am also so of the catholic religion being the only religion that gets airplay so if the atheist get some then the rest of us need to demand it as well or demand that we not soley be drowned with catholic beliefs. someone forgot freedom of religion is what this country was suppose to be based on.

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

      Hey, as an Atheist I appreciate your point of view. If there were more people that could simply accept that there are thousands of beliefs on this planet, and that theirs are their own, then the world would be a much better place. Way to be dude, way to be.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  20. Rabbi David

    Here is a whole NEW concept in religion for ya CNN! Atheists should walk over,look in a mirror and come face to face with proof of God.The elemental simplicity is illuminating. I'm a different kind of Rabbi (to quote Vic Mackey from THE SHIELD),good Rabbi and Bad Rabbi have left for the day....Anybody who is an Atheist should simply be treated like a Racist-they do things that are destructive to society and its orderly function, in fact I can find no difference in the two.The ultimate hate crime IS denial of a higher power,but then justice comes the day an atheist dies.I don't think God punishes them, but I think he quietly sends them back to earth as bit players in life's comedy......Having a bad life or day? Maybe its what happened LAST time you were here....

    December 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
    • Observer

      The ultimate hate crime is when religious people trash other people based only on faith in the unproveable. That is HATE.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • relians

      you are an atheist just like me. i just believe in one less god than you. think of why you dismiss all of the other gods, and you will see why i dismiss yours. go back to the dark ages where you belong.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • Matt

      Wow, that kind of talk coming from a Jew? I doubt very seriously you had Atheists doing anything to you. Aren't your quarrels truly with Islam, and Christianity? What did an Atheist ever do to a Jew? Remember, Hitler was a Roman Catholic.... its why the Pope at the time did nothing to stop him. Your very rant sounds racist and bigoted. Pound sand dude.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
    • Tom

      That's just silly David. Racists actively hate people of a difference race. I don't hate you. I just don't believe there's a god. And I would appreciate if you and your believing brethren would stop trying to convince me that there is. It won't work...any more than my attempts to convince you that god does not exist would. Religious people recruit. Why shouldn't atheists? They believe that the world would be a better place if everyone stopped believing in god. I feel as strongly (or more) that god does not exist as you do that he/she does.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:55 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.