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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. Having a good laugh at this post....

    @ Let Us Prey

    I find it rather amusing (ironic is probably a better choice) that you use the word "prey" in your name and not pray. So, let us prey infers let us feast on the weaker or inferior. Very Darwinistic of you. You name tells me that it is about "survival of the fittest" which is in contrast to the biblical "the meek shall inherit the earth".

    I love pointing out grammatical errors, especially ones of this nature 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • USN Atheist

      ZING!!!

      December 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ having a good laugh

      I responded to you the first time... maybe you 'missed' it.. but interesting that you felt compelled to repeat your post.
      -–
      @ have a good laugh

      You need to catch up. I explained my name to GSA in the first 'billboard' string.
      -–
      Just FYI for you (and other readers..)

      December 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
    • emily o

      Did you know that 1. Darwin was trained in theology prior to sailing off aboard the HHS Beagle; and that 2. the Catholic faith does not disapprove of the theory of evolution (check the Vatican site)?
      I just love when darwin is thrown in into the everlasting atheist vs theist war

      December 3, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
  2. Fricsaid

    I'm curious to know where the atheist got that number of 50,000,000 non-believers in this country. According to a poll dated 2009, 92% of Americans believe in God or a higher power. Now according to census, as of this year, there are a little over 307 million americans. Now math never was one of my strongest subjects (this would be a good opportunity for all you name callers out there to call me an idiot) but the numbers don't jive. I come up with a number of a little more than 24 million non-believers a.k.a. 8% of the US population. Just kind of struck me odd because atheist are alway's talking about "facts." That is all.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • Thomas

      To be more accurate those 90+% of the people claimed to believe in god.

      Why would someone say they believe in god?

      1. They may actually believe in god
      2. It may be a culturally acceptable claim
      3. Since there is no risk, why not play it safe
      4. ...

      There are many reasons people may claim to believe in god. It is easy to claim it. But how many of these 90+% people who claim, on a poll, to believe in god, actually do?

      Looking at our crime rate, divorce rate, abuse rate, ... Not too many I would wager.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • Freeman3000

      People that divorce don't believe in God? What?

      December 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • EvilReligions

      The tens and millions of other Atheists are the one's that are millions of members in churches today. Like myself. I'm a baptized christian but joined because of friends and wanted to know what religion is all about. Now that I know, I've learned that religion is really bad for mankind especially bad mentally for our children. Churches use their administration to control you and your family. They do this by using passages within the bible that serve as a convenience to their goals and agendas. Many members recognize how churches use brainwashing techniques to persuade and control members but many of us fake it.

      Why fake it? We all have our personal reasons but the fact is there are millions of fake members in churches who pass as Atheists. Just because we are a member of a church doesn't mean we really believe in the bible or believe in a god. For most of us, God doesn't exist simply because many of us who pray religiously don't get what we pray for. Churches insist and swear prayer is the answer and solution to all problems, but many of us are still in poverty of have the same problems. Our problems don't go away unless we get help from other humans or take action for ourselves...there's no God in the sky that does a dam thing about our prayers.

      December 3, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  3. RAUL

    Anyone ever say " GOD DAMN this or GOD DAMN that?" If you don't believe in GOD then why say his name?

    December 1, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • HotAirAce

      It's a learned response that is picked up in a person's early years, or it's uttered without thinking. Trust me, I am a complete atheist, but every once in a while, much to my chagrin, I use a phrase such as your example. But it has nothing to do with my core belief about there being no gods – not even just 1.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:39 am |
    • G

      It's called an expression. I grew up in a Jewish family but still shout"Jesus Christ!" in certain situations.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:41 am |
    • Karen

      Because "Gosh darnit" sounds stupid.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  4. KDW31

    I feel somewhat conflicted about this billboard. As someone who does not believe in god, I do dislike the fact that christians put up Jesus Saves billboards all the time and the like. I also know that I personally don't let people I work with know my religious views for fear of retaliation (it happened to my MIL. Someone reported her for unethical behavior b/c the didn't like the fact that she was an atheist). I really should not fear hiding my beliefs. I just don't think this billboard helps at all. Instead it angers christians who then take an even more negative view of atheists. If an atheist group really wants to foster a dialogue and discussion about using reason a less in your face approach seems more appropriate.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • Freeman3000

      Excellent points.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  5. not sayin jus sayin

    Atheist or Non- Atheist: If Religion teach good then how can that be bad ???????????????????

    December 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • Fricsaid

      I believe in God, but I'm not relegious. But I do like your point. I guess as with anything, there are those that only see the bad.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • ArticulateAtom

      Religion does not only teach good. The Bible is a book laced with murder and anger. The morals expressed in the Bible are based on a fear of death and punishment. How on Earth is that ever good?
      At least atheists base all of what they believe on reason and evidence, rather than a book that was written by uneducated people during the Bronze Age.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • Mike, not me

      "based on a fear of death and punishment", where is that?

      You can not reason self realization, and autonomy.

      You hold true unprovable A because you deny unprovable B.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • EvilReligions

      Religions teach good and teach bad. Ministers and preachers will teach you the good things, then teach you the good things to trick you into gaining wealth. Then they teach you the bad things in case you misbehave. Go read the bible and find passages where God instructs man to stone women to a bloody bath if they are accused of cheating on their husband. Go read the bible and find the passages and see how he killed millions of people and every single man, woman, and child on this planet even for no reason so noah could survive. Go read how God has plans to destroy this world again and kill the billions of people on earth and every single man, woman, and child on judgment day. God is evil..god is our enemy.

      December 3, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  6. Wit

    @David Johnson
    Let me preface this by stating that I'm agnostic. You make some good points. But you suffer from the same thing that many religious people do. You believe your beliefs are superior to others. Not exactly the mindframe I would consider reasonable when trying to discuss issues. Especially with the sarcasm and antagonism.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • Freeman3000

      That's the case too often with people on both side of this debate. Atheists are not above telling everyone their beliefs (or lack thereof) are superior to others. Therefore this sign.
      I think both sides would be much better off concentrating on what they have in common, rather than putting up 'more correct than thou' signs.

      This world has a lot of problems, but if everyone took a truly objective look, they would probably agree that the worst one is probably not that some people believe in Jesus.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  7. BetweenTheLines

    The only thing in this article that catches my attention, is that it costs 18,500.00 to promote Christ and 20,000.00 to denounce him!

    December 1, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • MapleSyrup

      Haha – I noticed that too. 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • Betty Anne

      Location, location, location.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • Just an observer

      Atheists don't get government tax breaks.

      December 18, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  8. i, Jimbot

    Religion can be a good thing when it gives people hope, or when it helps provide a reason to be good to your fellow man in the hope that being good will get you to heaven. However, religion can be bad when it provides a reason for people to hate others, or to not tolerate others, or to actually be bigoted against or KILL others.

    So take a good look at yourself. Does your religion make you a better person, or does it give you justification to hate others, whether the be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, or otherwise? If you deem your "one true religion" to be better than others, and that gives you cause to denigrate them, then you are no better than the Taliban.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • MapleSyrup

      @ i, Jimbot:

      Ditto. Best post I've seen so far. 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  9. Matt in SD

    Awesome billboard. Make more please.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  10. Dennis

    Nonbelievers stop being nonbelievers when on their dealthbed!

    December 1, 2010 at 11:28 am |
    • darkstar

      Only in your delusional head. But since you can state that freely and presume that to actually become a fact because you believe it, I will simply state that all believers become atheists at the moment of death and now that has become a fact as well/

      December 1, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  11. stevie68a

    You might be surprised how christianity is based on earlier myths, if you do some research. People are firm believers, because
    most of you were brainwashed as children. We are in a New Age. To defend stories about Noah's arc, Jonah and the whale,
    jesus coming back from the dead (zombie jesus), are not debatable, but laughable. There is not one speck of evidence for a
    heaven and hell. Science flies men to the moon, religion flies men into buildings. It is time to grow up. I personally think that there
    will be a groundswell of christianity in the near future, but it's only it's swan song. Watch how the reality of religion is more
    about hate. Just a wolf in sheep's clothing. Junk it.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  12. kody

    wow talk about controversial, something we can all agree on is that it would really be funny is if someone put up a happy Hon-aka sign right next to these others lololololol

    December 1, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  13. Matt

    Please keep your Christ out of my Christmas.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • cest la vie

      Do you fail to see the irony in your statement?

      December 1, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • jaxin

      Why don't you celebrate Festivus instead? Or, make up your own holiday. Without Christ, however, there is no Christmas.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • civilioutside

      Without Yule, there is also no Christmas. It's a hybrid holiday that means different things to different people.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • USN Atheist

      @ Jaxin – Happy Santamas then. Whatever. I celebrate "christmas" out of family tradition not out of any belief of a god or son of a god's "birth".

      December 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  14. Hope

    Let them put their signs and spend their money, let them boast of their superiority, and worship their god of "Reason" and man's lame science in which they trust! .. They have their day, and their chance to sound their voices. But they are made of dust, pitiful, wretched creatures, just like all the rest of human race! Who is man that he should boast himself against his Maker?! His life is like a vapor in the wind, and his very breath is in the hand of the One who gave him life!
    They can put their signs, unite themselves in great numbers, have their rallies, have their mocking feasts against the Lord and His people, but they'll never do away with Him. And on that great Day, appointed by God to judge the living and the dead, they will stand naked, wretched , speechless and dumbfounded, without covering for their sins before the Lord. He is the one who will have the LAST WORD.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  15. Beeeeeeeeeeeee

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  16. Rick B

    I respect anyone who believes something for their self, If you have sat down and rationally researched and thought out why you believe what you believe. If you tell me you believe something because someone told you its true, then I have problem with that. The problem with this sign is that it is complete ignorance. The sign states

    "You Know its a Myth."

    This statement is not accurate, because it is based on mere speculation. And the question I pose is What if its not a myth. Why risk that?

    Respect to all,
    RickB

    December 1, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • Earthling

      Claiming that the god of the bible is a myth is based on evidence not speculation. There are scientific facts that directly contradict stories in the bible – the most obvious one being that the age of the earth is approximately 3.5 billion years old not 6 thousand years old.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  17. Nonimus

    @Brotha Percy,
    "Atheists, please put a sock in it!"
    This, I think, is what these billboards are attempting to counter.

    December 1, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  18. GSA

    I have no problem with either billboard and everyone has a right to their opinion and how they want to express it as long as they are not hurting anyone. I'm also enjoying the back and forth on this board, it's quite entertaining to read. One thing I do want to say is there are religions based on facts backed up by facts, do some research and see for yourselves.
    Merry Christmas to all and I hope everyone OD's on eggnog, i'll be drinking a double myself.

    December 1, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • Nonimus

      Which religions would those be?

      December 1, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @GSA
      "History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it."
      [Robert Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus Long]

      December 1, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • GSA

      @Nonimus and Doc Vestibule – So you guys did a lot of research in that 20 mins or so to act like my statement had no validation, it's ok it's the holidays and we are all a bit lazy. It's not hard to figure out but you need to stop trying to find answers on the net or in your local library, that won't get you anywhere. Also you need to take note that all religuous leaders and even most texts now are man-made and have an agenda so looking to those places or ppl won't help.
      I'll give you a hint – there is an old book from an existing religion (which has been hijacked by man and used for anything but positivity like all the other religions) that was written many 100's of years ago and not only did it talk of faith, worship and miracles but of Dino's, space travel, time travel, wars (including Afghanistan),etc. All things that were not even thought of or were only thoughts. This text goes into detail about all of this and has been spot on every time, it really would make Nostradamus jealous.

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

      @GSA,
      I asked a simple question. If you want to play your little guessing games, go ahead, but your patronizing att.itude seems misplaced, if you can't back up your own claims.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  19. Brotha Percy

    Atheists, please put a sock in it! First off, you're in error by the very depiction on your billboard. Who are the 3 figures riding on camels? It can't be "3 wise men" can it? The Bible states that "wise men came" – it never said how many.

    December 1, 2010 at 10:33 am |
    • HotAirAce

      @Brotha Percy

      Can we safely assume that you have asked the various religions to correct their various myths and associated popular stories? Have you asked any religious websites (such as christian-bible.com/Worship/Sermons/xmasmatthew.htm) to correct their pages? While validating your contention that 3 is not the right number (you do appear to be correct), I came across an article for nativity scene costumes – "Jesus, Mary and 3 Wise Men available at Tesco" – even if this is not a serious story (I actually hope it's an attempt at humour – that religious folks don't actually buy this "stuff"), will you be asking them for a correction? In other words, before taking atheists to task for perhaps incorrectly portraying a myth, how about sorting out your own tribe?

      December 1, 2010 at 11:12 am |
    • Darth Cheney

      It's a free country, and those who wish to shut people up are really the only ones who should put a sock in it.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  20. Nonimus

    I'm curious why people object to Atheists "attacking" Christians or the Christian God. Every 'Jesus Saves' billboard is attacking other religions. Same for 'Fear God or burn in Hell', PullthePlugOnAtheism.org billboards, "Islam Rising... Be Warned", and actually "In God We Trust", "One Nation [Under God]..."
    Not to mention anti-science messages by Christian groups, such as "In the begining, God created..." (with an X'd out evolution-of-man sequence picture), which is just silly.

    December 1, 2010 at 10:04 am |
    • Freeman3000

      I object to all of the above. If they don't have anything helpful or positive to say, then zip it.
      I don't think this sign speaks for all Atheists any more then those you mentioned above speak for all christians.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
    • Alverant

      @Freeman3000 Which billboards are more common? Which ones make the news? Which ones are more likely to be vandalized to the cheers of christians across the nation? Face, it. Atheists are going up against a double standard where christians are allowed to do just about anything but the moment Atheists push back they suddenly become the bad guys.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:16 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.