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. Pitt Cairn

    "Doesn't seem very wise to me, creeping around in the middle of the night!"
    "Thanks for the gold and frankkensense, but you can skip the myhrr next time."
    "He's not the messiah – he's just a very naughty boy!"

    Hey – always look on the bright side of life!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  2. Garrett

    It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" Romans 14 11

    December 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Why quote the bible? You haven't proved it is the word of god yet. It is just fiction. No more real than Harry Potter.


      December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  3. David in Corpus

    If you want to make christians look stupid (or any other religion for that matter) study their religious texts. I have, and no one argues with me concerning religion. They leave frustrated and feeling stupid about their beliefs. No one invites me to church anymore. Christians – have y'all actually read any of Leviticus or Exodus in the Old Testament? Have you? Fun stuff in there. I especially like the part where you can sell your daughter into slavery. I also like the part where I can buy slaves, but only from neighboring countries, not my own. I am going to go out this XMAS and buy myself a Canadian and a Mexican. One of the best parts of Leviticus are the multiple pages of text explaining the various ways to sacrifice various animals to the lord and how to burn them upon the alter in the tabernacle thus making a pleasant odor for the Lord. Who knew God likes the smell of burning bull intestines and guts so much. Not sure my neighbors would like that smell, but hey if God likes it, then they should be smited if they don't agree. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It just gets better as you read.
    Read up on it. If you want some further suggestions to read about in the Bagdlavida or the Torah or the Koran, let me know. I can spout this stuff all day.
    I'd give specific bible references in Leviticus, but it is best just to read the whole chapter. Modern day horror movies can not compare with the sadistic writings or religious texts.

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

      David in Corpus,

      Most christians selectively accept only parts of the Bible. They explain that the other parts are not really relevant. Then they use the selected bits as literally as possible, as if THOSE bits were the word of God (not the other, discarded bits).

      Generally, christians do not actually believe in the Bible - they believe in their pastors, priests, and preachers. They claim to follow the Bible, but they really just follow other people (charismatic people) who claim to know God's word.

      In that, they are no different from almost every other person - religious or otherwise - since nearly every human on this planet blindly follows one thing or another...

      December 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Christian

      You might want to read those chapters again because I think you misunderstood a little. Also, if you really knew the Bible you would know that the old testament was law before the coming of Christ. Everything is different in the new testament check it out!

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

      The human part of me would love to say that I would love to be present when you look up from hell and try to ask forgiveness on that day. However, I know that is the flesh. God's will is that all repent and turn to him. If you understood the Bible, you would know that includes even you. You would also know that sacrifices and sin offerings were not for God. He doesn't need them. They were for the person who needed covering and forgiveness. People in pain, like you. The hate you harbor from what was done to you has put you on a road of internal cancerous degeneration. You cannot earn peace. You have to ask for it. Its a gift. Stop being so hard and full of pain and let go. God loves you. Jesus proved that when he laid down the PERFECT sacrifice. The Old Testament gave way to the New which is that Love in Jesus. Once he became the perfect sacrifice, there was no longer need for any other. In with the New!

      With Love – Rajah

      December 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • Weathers

      Yeah, get it right! Jesus showed up and said "Ignore my crazy old father, now drink my blood and eat my flesh."

      December 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  4. GEL

    I am an Atheist, NOT an agnostic. But with that said, the organization that posted that billboard are much like those #%^& Christians that come knocking on my door to save my sole. Leave me alone to believe what I believe, and I’ll let you alone to believe what you believe.

    Why, as an Atheist, would I want to taint a Christian holiday, how are you hurting me? I don’t get it. As long as you recognize the separation of church and state, which I admit many do not, I say live and let live!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Armchair experts r us

      I didn't realize Christians had roving shoe repair men

      December 1, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • Thomas

      Lol, nice. I guess if he doesn't believe in a soul we can't expect him to know how to spell it 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  5. mrrusss

    "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."

    Sorry. I'm against slavery and believe women and non-land owners should be allowed to vote.

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

      This country was founded on religious freedom. Get it right.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • mrrusss

      Any idea what quotation marks mean there Jonesy?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  6. Irony

    It confounds my mind to think of all of these atheists who stand in the midst of a proof (Earth, Creation, Salvation) and deny God the glory that He so richly deserves. Then to tout that the basis of thier logic is reason – when clearly there is neither inductive nor deductive reasoning in reaching this conclusion... Atheism is the denial of reason.

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

      These days, a "normal" person professes to be a Christian but doesn't want to have to take it very far. A mentally disturbed person quotes scripture, is fanatic about church, etc. And an atheist, while probably correct, feels it more important to profess atheism than to appear normal, which may imply a problem. Unless you are already wildly successful in what you do or contributing something amazing to the world, focus on getting there first and then put out your opinions. (Oops, gotta go.)

      December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Observer

      Belief in every word of the Bible is a total lack of intelligence. While a great book of morals, it was written by imperfect men and so contains errors, contradictions, hypocrisy and nonsense.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • chris

      "It confounds my mind to think of all of these atheists who stand in the midst of a proof (Earth, Creation, Salvation)"

      That's a wonderful example of circular reasoning. The bible says Jesus created everything, so everything is proof of Jesus.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  7. Paul

    It takes more faith to be an atheist, believing that nothing produced everything, and the universe is here by chance, than it does to have faith in Jesus...kudos to the atheists... even though they are living in darkness and complete despair,
    Merry Christma-hauna-kwanzika!!

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

      It takes more faith to be an atheist, believing that nothing produced everything,

      No, I don't think that "nothing produced everything" By the time life evolved the universe was already about 10 billion years old. You and Ray Comfort are very ignorant people!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  8. msaprilr

    Well, aren't these atheists the pot calling the kettle black? They're just trying to convert people to their belief system,. And their belief system is a myth that requires belief in more "magic" than any religion on earth. Seems kinda pathetic to me. Everyone who isn't mentally ill knows that there is a God.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
    • Believe in Santa

      I'm hardly mentally ill, and I know no such thing.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • Weathers

      If by "mentally ill" you mean educated, then you are correct. Statistics show that the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to be religious. I'm done arguing with high school drop-outs.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • chris

      Disbelieving in something that other's believe in for purely irrational reasons isn't the same thing at all! Doesn't take any faith to point out that other's belief in something doesn't count as evidence.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • Patricia

      you're forgetting childhood and culture.. I was raised by atheists... two very loving and caring individuals who have raised me to be the same to everyone; regardless of race, creed, culture, religion, and color... that hardly seems mentally ill.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  9. TY

    For all atheists, Explain one thing that einstein himself could only explain through his religion, With YOUR religion. How was matter created? How did the universe come to exist? how did people begin with these religions. How is there a core of the earth? Have you been there? How did Jules Verne be able to see submarines in the future. There couldn't be nothing at all when the universe came into existance. Because there would be nothing now. These things are not commercialized by atheists because they cannot find proof on how things work. What is IMAGINATION? Can you find the answer? GOD is the answer. What is a dimension? and so on.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • sg

      do you know why that answer is stupid? Because you are taking a situation that has no apparant answer and saying that it must be god. Ancient people saw lightning and said, "god", we know its true nature now. Ancient people felt the ground shake, must be "god". Oops, earthquake. One day we might know the answer to the question of the origin of the universe, but attributing the answer to god simply because we dont knwo yet, is exactly the sort of thing that got gallileo killed.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  10. mrrusss

    It's laughable to even imply that those in the Christian establishment, which has been exceptionally ridiculous and oppressive in this country all the way back to it's inception, are tolerant. Imagine a presidential candidate not pretending he was a Christian.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  11. Demara

    So much goes into advertising Christianity... Why not athiesm? 😛

    December 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  12. Dan

    Be excellent to each other.
    –Bill S. Preston, Esquire

    December 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  13. Armchair experts r us

    What I think the best part of this article is the FACT , that atheists wasted 20 grand on a billboard that most people will only glance at and mentally interpret " jesus is the reason for the season ". Thanks for helping spread the word. (although I do find it a tad bit funny that Christians got theirs for $1500 bucks less, I guess some atheist didn't research enough facts on pricing LOL!)

    December 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  14. Smile3000

    It is completely sad that people cannot respect each other's beliefs. Don't feed me the "Christians are too pushy" bull crap or the "atheists don't know any better" bull crap. Learn to act mature like the adults that you are and respect each other's viewpoints. This whole athiests vs. christians thing is embarrassing and pointless.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  15. chris

    You know what, if athiests want to do this to make us question our faith, I think this will only strengthen the faith of those who believe... even if it made us hit a rough patch, God works with this.....we're allowed to doubt, and everyone does, but always ALWAYS after a period of doubt I feel closer to God than before.
    I think in itself it's amazing that the name of Jesus (or in Hebrew, Yahushua) has survived, grown, and remained just as controversial today as it was 2000 years ago.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  16. Dan

    As an aethiest I am appalled by David Silverman's actions. He gives all aethiests a bad name by performing these kinds of attention-getting stunts.

    I may not believe in what Christians believe, but I don't feel the need to put them down and make fun. Mr. Silverman is a sad little man.

    I would like to see this aethiest group put up a billboard with Muslim imagery and a similar theme. However I 'm guessing he's too much of a puss.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • Smile3000

      If only more people were mature like you, Dan! I applaud you for having some self-respect and respect for others.

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

      I highly doubt you're an Atheist .. but more importantly if you're so concerned about hurting the feelings of Christians, why do you want to do the same thing to Muslims that you denounce just one sentence before.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • Smile3000

      Jeff, I think his point was that athiests never "attack" anyone but christians. Christians aren't the only ones who believe in God, yet we get the most hatred about it.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  17. Weathers

    If I owned a billboard company I would stir up a controversy like this and then jack up my rates. They probably put the Atheist billboard up themselves to drum up business. Like a windshield repair company that goes around busting windshields. Pure genius.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  18. BV

    There was a time and place for religion, and that was before science could explain how things worked and society could be policed effectively. It was a gap-filler for knowledge and a way to control people's behavior. And, of course, set people's minds at ease that death isn't the end of the line.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  19. Josh in FL

    "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," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a New York-based Catholic advocacy group. While a nice statement, if the only way into Mr. Donohue's heaven is to be saved by accepting Jesus Christ as your savior, tell me how this doesn't dismiss or disparage all other religions of the world? Aren't you basically saying that only mine is the right way – the reverse being your way is wrong? Regardless, I agree that the billboard is highly antagonistic..."You KNOW its a myth?" Sorry, I don't KNOW any such thing. What I KNOW is life is full of mystery and (at present) unanswerable questions. Do I need to believe in gods because of it? No.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  20. Zachary

    The Christmas Story:

    Mary found with child from the Holy Spirit
    Joseph told not to be afraid that Mary is with child
    Jesus born in Bethlehem of Judea
    Wise men come to King Herod looking for the king of Jews
    King Herod sends wise men to find Jesus and to report back to Herod
    Wise men find Jesus and offer him gold, frankincense, and myrrh
    Angel warns Joseph to flee to Egypt for Herod wants to kill Jesus
    Herod Kills all children in and around Bethlehem who were less than two years old
    Herod dies and Joseph is talk to go to Israel
    Joseph is afraid and flees to Galilee and made is home in Nazareth
    No birth story
    First we learn the birth story of John
    Angel goes to Nazareth to tell Mary she will be with Child from Holy Spirit
    Elizabeth give birth to John
    Emperor Augustus wants the world to be Registered
    Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem to register and have Jesus
    Angel tells shepherds of Jesus birth and that he is lying in a manger
    Mary and Joseph brings Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
    They return to Nazareth
    John: No birth story

    I find it funny that so many Christians don’t even know there are different accounts to the “Christmas Story” and this is coming from a Christian

    December 1, 2010 at 1:39 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.