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. Anchorite

    Oh shut up CNN. This isn't a real story. I'm an avowed atheist, and I do Christmas because of the values it promotes and so I can buy my kid toys, none of which have anything to do with the birth of Jesus. The spirit of giving and being nice are just human values. I don't believe in God or Biblical myths, but I have no desire whatsoever to force anyone else to think like me. Atheists are wasting their money making enemies to try and be just as stupid and mocking as the evangelicals they claim they don't like.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  2. william

    If those people really believed in Jesus they wouldn't use $20,000 to argue his case on a stupid billboard but use that money to help the poor. They are hypocrites.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  3. Brian

    Whether you're religious or atheist, America allows you to freely practice and live your beliefs. While our country also protects freedom of speech, I wish our citizenry were smart enough to not engage in this kind of petty antagonism. Christians against Muslims, Athiests against Christians... what point does any of it serve besides fostering hatred and an excuse to treat your neighbors like lesser people?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  4. butter

    Christianity was forced on people. You had to follow what the rulers said. Not a lot of choices back then. Values and morals people have lost sight of. Decency and compassion, caring, and humanity. Religious or not I see a lack of this in society today. Start being accountable for all your actions or deeds. Take responsibility for your life. Don't blame others or something. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOURSELF. You change and others will also.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  5. Rajah

    Regardless of ones reason for tricking THEMSELVES into NOT believing in God, it doesn't work. Some are mad at God because of something that happened or didn't happen in their lives. Its O.K. to be mad at Him, but that doesn't make Him not exist. It merely means "you're mad at Him". For the rest of you, its better to believe and potentially be wrong than to NOT believe and be wrong because there are eternal consequences. For certainly, at the appointed time "EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue confess that JESUS IS LORD!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • Troy

      Couldn't every religion use that argument?

      I had more to put here, but really.....whats the point. Christians are going to believe whatever they want, wether its elves, faries, men rising from the dead, dragons, water to wine, [insert mythical belief here]. How's about believing in reality for a change.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  6. thnkfryrslf

    I have only one father. I am not a child and refuse to interpret the world as a child. As humanity progresses reason will eventually supplant belief. This is the natural evolution of the advacement of our minds – our philisophy. Unfortunately, the world religions are polluted with the influence of humanity. They are created by humanity and ofter pervert the divinity they profes to revere. We are agressive, destructive and fearful. If we are created in a god's image then I believe that means we are flawed but perfectable through the realization of our potential. The only way to realize that potential is through reason.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  7. verybadreligion

    Thank you to the american atheists for standing up for all of us who can think for ourselves. Celebrate reason is the perfect slogan for their campaign. I will still celebrate Christmas with the family, but only the spirit of christmas, including spending time with loved ones and being thankful that I live in a country that allows religious dissent. However, immaculate conceptions and three wise MEN aside, atheists have as much a right to advertise their beliefs anywhere anytime as christians and hopefully every christian recognizes the rights of others to publicly disagree with them. Atheists have to put up with christian advertising in every corner of the country, its time we peacefully and appropriately disagreed

    December 1, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  8. Pastrichef

    $38,500??? Is there anyone else out there who wonders how many people could have been fed? homeless sheltered? etc. Seems like such a waste to me.

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

      Eh. Stupid way to spend money, for sure....but have you ever seen how ornate some churches are? Seems like that money could be better spent also.

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

      $18,500, according to the article, and how many children could the catholic church feed, the world's richest religious organization? Or all those evangalists raking in the dough? I could point out at least 15 christian advertisements in my county alone, and zero atheist ones...it seems like a small price tag compared to what christian organizations could be doing instead.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  9. Christian

    to David Johnson
    I don't need to prove He exist! I know He does! If you don't and would like proof then maybe you should try seeking Him! If you accept Christ into your heart you will know! Yes I know beyond a doubt that I am going to heaven when I die......there is no doubt in my mind! I know there is air in this room right now, I can't see it or measure it but I know it's here. I can't see God but I can feel his presence. If you are a non believer you will never know that feeling or what you are missing out on! It is wonderful!

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

      Air can be measured actually, and proven to exist.

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

      Don't be dumb. You don't KNOW god exists. You hope he does.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  10. Kody

    If there were no religions the world would be a better place for all.

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

      Religion, not money, is the root of all evil.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • David in Corpus

      TY, if you are having visions related to reading our babblings, then you don't neeed God, you need a psychotherapist and some mood stablizing, or schizophrenia medication homes. Seriously, delusions ain't given to you by God, it is just something not quite right in your head. Don't take offense homes, t'aint no different than being born with a messed up toe or blind in one eye, just something you have to work to overcome.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  11. michelle

    funny thing about this billboard is the first thing you notice is the beauty of the scene of the three wise men following the Christmas star to find Jesus, the son of God! If I saw this coming out of the tunnel, I would not even read it but would see the picture and think of Christmas and the season and of my religious faith. Most of the time you don't have the time in traffic and congestion to take the time to read, the picture is what is suppose to catch your eye and your attention.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  12. jd

    Christ healed the sick, the leprous, and the palsied, but the fool he could not cure.

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

      Great line. Which Khalil Gibran poem did that line come from?

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

      Faith: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
      Ambrose Bierce

      December 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • chris

      Christ never healed anybody. That's just a myth. Only fools believe in myths.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  13. Hire new writers

    Both sides disappoint me. Why not donate the $38,000 to the needy instead of making billboards?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  14. TY

    Let people believe in what they want to believe in. But try not to have someone believe in nothing! That... is what an atheist does right? I mean, buddhists worship the good things in life.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  15. Tom

    I'm an atheist. Not angry, have many religious friends, etc. I just don't like being subject to other people's religious dogma. No god in school, text books, etc. How you worship god is your business. Just don't try to make me do it too.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  16. tankrothchild

    Atheists are afforded the same religious freedoms as others? I think it's irresponsible for any people to not look at the stories of 2 thousand year old books with a little criticism. After all these books were written long before man could even conceive such ideas like DNA, nuclear energy, planes, and other technological advancements. Instead of believing in a absecent father figure judging us from the heavens, maybe we should believe a little more in the human race and our amazing advancements as a society. We are the creators now, we can achieve things never thought possible 2000 years ago.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  17. theLogical1

    Well, by the drawings, he believes in it. This atheist is in doubt. Doubting himself.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  18. sPalin

    Only the FSM is real. Sinners!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  19. shawn

    I know many many atheists and none of them would post a board up and none of them would make a anyone feel that they have to give up their belief system . This is ridiculous and pompous and yes whoever stands and says "We are doing no harm " is in fact doing harm to the name of atheists. The name simple means that there is sky air work family and every day life. we do not have symbols or a book and do not push anyone to drop their own belief in whatever they choose to believe . Most of us just live and do not do this sort of thing which we see as silly and useless.I personally am not threatened by anothers belief system because I am firm in my everyday life and I am ok with how things are. this bill board shows fear and low self esteem .

    December 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  20. bill

    Don't we have enough problems in this country? If we don't have religion holidays it will be a disaster for the economy.
    Lets see, Christmas holidays the stores are loaded with goods and for thirty days people spend money for presents and keep a whole lot of people working. In this case its Chinese workers. Then you have all the days off for workers, that would be eliminated. That's less beer and booze. Think of the Christmas tree farms that will be out of business. No more tents in your neighbourhood selling the trees. I am not going to mention Easter but you got the picture. Don't forget the fancy clothes and hats that ladies buy for church very often. Lastly what would happen to the reverends. Do we need any more salesmen in autos or life insurance? So until someone comes up with other money spending, time off days, lets all find something else to argue about.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
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About this blog

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.