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. 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 1:53 pm |
  2. JoeTheSchlubber

    If Jesus were to to return today....how many people, or christians for that matter, would really believe it was him?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  3. usa48312

    Atheist does not believe in HELL (or life after)… but HELL Exist!

    FYI…. Enclosed is a video of many Atheists scientists went to hell and return to testified hell


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

      good vid..ty..it brought tears to my eyes, even though I believe with all my heart and soul in God and Jesus Christ, it made me realize I still need to be a better person, we all do!!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  4. Prove it

    Gee, animals don't know anything about religion, they don't believe in anything except survival and when they die....they just die. They don't know that if your good you go to heaven and if your bad you go to hell. If there was a God then there would only be one religion, what if you are in the wrong religion, you die then say to "God"..."opps, I thought I was in the right one sorry". Also, why is it ok to praise God for only good things that happen and if you blame him for something bad your a bad person and are forced to apologize like that football player. He should not have had to explain what he meant. If God is all powerful then he could have stopped 9/11 and didn't. I consider myself "Agnostic".

    December 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  5. musings

    The problem with militant atheists is that they never seem to have studied theology or Biblical history. If they did, they would know that most of the pious myths handed down are recognized as such by the most involved parties in the major religions. That doesn't take away from the fact that we have traditions in which we are hatched, matched and dispatched, and that getting together with our fellow men for the purpose of inspirational encouragement is a good thing.

    I like the artistic elegance – kind of retro 60's of the billboard. The public will not read it. Even if you no longer believe in Santa Claus, you still enjoy getting presents. But we all know (I hope so anyway) that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.

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

    So, I presume Atheists do not believe in spirits?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Patricia

      ...by definition; atheists do not believe in a deity or deities (God or Gods).... your assumption is not necessarily so...

      December 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • Patricia

      ...by definition; atheists do not believe in a deity (God) or deities

      December 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
    • AF

      now I'm confused, because all from what I hear Atheists do not believe in God because he is not seen etc., well I asked the question about spirits because you can't see them either, yet ur telling me Atheists can believe in spirits and not God?

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

      Oh yes, whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, etc.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  7. george

    If you can put aside your religious upbringing and examine the tenents of Christianity from a logical perspective, it falls short of sensibility. "Take it on faith" is an easy way to get around all of the things that make zero sense.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  8. caesar

    What I find interesting about atheists is that their belef in God is probably greater than anyone else's. I know if I did not beleive that something never existed, did not exist and will never exist, I would never think about it. The fact that God is always on the ahteists' minds shows me that they believe in him,but just don't want to admit that there is some one greater than them.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Lee

      Good call=)

      December 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  9. Jess

    All of the time, money, and energy spent on these signs could have been used to feed hungry people in our country or to provide materials to our schools.
    It is disgusting to see that people are arguing over this. Who cares what people want to believe? Let them believe what they want to believe and you believe what you want to believe and go on with your day.
    The point of being human is to be kind and to help others – no matter if you believe in science or religion. it's not that hard.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  10. Dave

    (clarification: buy billboards to charge people like this, not to spout my own opinion... I do that for free in online comment posts...)

    December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  11. Phil

    If a billboard were enough to shake up my faith, it wouldn't be much faith, and wouldn't be worth keeping. The story of Christ, however, unlike many myths and legends, is an historical event, and a whole empire, the wealthiest and most powerful empire at that, invested its resources looking for a dead body that should have been in that empty tomb, but wasn't.

    The fact that we still celebrate the life of a poor, insignificant, uneducated carpenter gives creedence to the fact that something extraordinary happened. The Resurrection would fulfill that.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  12. Bob U.

    "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."

    I literally laughed out loud when I read this. All one has to do between the months of September and January is walk into any store, from Walgreens, to Kmart, to Nordstroms to see the pro-Christmas message.

    It's hilarious that Christians feel so threatened by this billboard.

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

    Hey christians, my neighbor commited adultery and he also works on the sabbath (mows his yard), downtown isn't what it used to be, so are me and my neighbors allowed to stone him and his mistress to death in our own neighborhood or do we really have to gather up the whole town and do it in front of City Hall? I don't think there is room for us all down there anyway. I need to know soon as I hear there is a statute of limitations for stoning offenders of the Lord and I don't want to be smited for not doing my part for the one and only true religion.

    lol, you folks are so funny. BTW – you are all going to die and become worm food (unless cremated) and you will never see you dead loved ones again (nor will I ). Sad but true. Deal with it and lets move on as a people dealing with facts and reality instead of 1000's of years old voodoo and BS that just gets dumber with the passing of time.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Interesting blog from someone who lives in Corpus Christi. You know, translated Body of Christ?
      1. The Sabbath is Jewish and NOT Christian
      2. Stoning for adultery was Old Tesament, which pre-dates Christianity.
      3. Jesus himself was confronted by the crowd with a woman who was caught in adultery several things to consider:
      a. He did not stone her, instead He forgave her!
      b. Somehow the man was never mentioned and according to the OT law BOTH man and woman were to be stoned. What happened to the guy involved?
      c. Jesus knew the hearts of the accusers were not right!
      d. Exactly how did they know of the adultery (the when and where)? In short, these accusers had NO interest in justice. if they did the would have included the man involved as well. This was all a setup to test Jesus
      E. The accusers quickly dispersed when Jesus said 'Let he without sin cast the first stone". John 8:1-8

      I am always amazed how folks (especially non-believers) attempt to use scripture to make a false argument

      December 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  14. Lee

    Mr. Johnson,

    You say base your wisdom and knowledge on science, and know one has provided evidence to you about christianity. I guess the ruins of the roman emperior in Biblical time, the actual corpses and burial places of Biblical people, and the places you can see and feel with your own feet and hands, Iserial and Persia, is all an illusion and made up by man. I think if you did reseach and digged deep into those physical items themself and visit those sites you would have some of the answers you are searching for, and maybe decide what is fact or fiction.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Bob U.

      With all due respect, Lee, no one is disputing archeology and actual historical figures. The straw man fallacy never accomplishes anything, and makes you sound defensive.

      Based on your argument, it's true that for thousands of years, mankind has conjured a wonderful fable of an imaginary friend. If there was even a morsel of proof of your omniscient deity, well, I wouldn't be calling it fable.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  15. sam Stroud

    imagine the suffering in this world atheists and Christians alike could be contributing to... but rather they are dumping money into taking pot shots at one another. Morality still exists and so does truth no matter if you believe in a god or not. How about we focus on the gross amount of suffering in this country alone, and the amount of people who cannot celebrate Christmas because of there economic standing. And not trying to prove a point. Both believers ( as I am one ) and atheists alike need to get over themselves. How about instead of buying billboard space, you meet someone where they are at and find a remedy for their hurting.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  16. udownwithOPP...ression

    How about an adjacent billboard
    "Father forgive them for they know not what they do"
    Luke 23:34

    December 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  17. Bill Fitzgerald

    Have you ever seen your brain, mr. I need evidence. No? then how do you know it exists? And as for the sign, it actually promotes belief because of the bad spirit one feels when looking at it. so, thank you. And you can never take away my testimony that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ and that their church has been established in these Latter Days, Known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  18. Nathan

    If this billboard would of attacked muslims instead of christians it would have a)caused an uproar everywhere for the muslims, even with non-muslims b) and more likely, not even been allowed to be raised. This crossed a line. Oh yeah, and I'm an athiest. Therefore, I'm not offended of someone insulting my religion, I'm arguing from a neutral position.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  19. person

    Both Atheists and Christians are equally as stupid in my eyes.
    One claims there is, without doubt, no God.
    The other claims there is, without doubt, a God.
    Neither can back up either claim.

    This season I'm going to celebrate POSSIBILITY. Quite frankly either is possible, and to say without a doubt one way or another is not reasonable.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  20. TY

    Why would atheist want to take away peoples religion anyway?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:49 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.