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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. GET YOUR EXCUSE READY

    If you are a beliver or an atheist, when you die you better be ready..... because you will be judge for your actions, to all the etheist,,, you guys don't belive in anything, but you better have a very good excuse when you die.... "OH, God I did not know" Oh well, now you know, Upps,,, it too late...... OH No nooo nooooo !!!!!!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • I believe

      or we could deal with eachother in love, and not condemnation.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  2. DanMan97

    Athiests have a right, under the first amendment, to post whatever they want on their billboards. All Americans need to acknowledge that. However, being a Christian myself, I can tell you that my belief is not contingent on whether or not there is emperical proof. Therefore, just as athiests have the right to their billboards, I have the right to ignore them. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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

      As an Atheist I can tell you the problem we have with your point of view. Christians claim to be for the truth. Well, what happens when you're confronted with scientific proof which is indeed a truth? You stick your head in the sand and call science evil, when you're using a computer designed by scientists and atheists alike. You'll use our knowledge as tools to spread anti-knowledge, and bash critical thinking. That's called being a hypocrite.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  3. GD

    It's a myth, so what? It gives people a reason to celebrate life itself and it drives the economy. I don't know what these atheists are trying to accomplish but most people already know that Jesus was not physically born on Dec 25.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  4. jon

    Just another man trying to make sense of the world and since he is just a man wrong again. When I worked in the ER and these people were dying they screamed to GOD for help and they struggled with the flames in their eyes – I watched them. I know what is inside me and what I believe-do not let a mere man tell you what the world is-he's just a little speck on the face of the Earth that is just a speck in the universe. This poor individual is obviously lonely and wanting attention. Jesus Christ is my Lord. Have a lovely year and a good life people.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  5. chris

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

    Actually only modern day science has ever healed the lepers and the "palsied". It's cures foolishness as well.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • skeptik

      I'm pretty sure human foolishness is chronic and incurable. Logic and science might help, but fools are perfectly capable of using logic to justify their foolishness. Scientists included.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  6. David The Great

    I'm pretty sure Jesus was born around 2000 years ago.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  7. Joseph

    What a waste of money by both these groups. This money could go towards a charity instead of bickering about right or wrong.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  8. why can't we all get along

    enough said

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

      Because ignorant people who believe in fairy tales should not be aloud to spread the viral propaganda that religion is.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      Troy, trying to be constrictive here, not snarky, from one atheist to another. If you are going to call others ignorant, please, please, please use correct spelling. 'aloud' is quite different from 'allowed' my friend.
      That kind of slip only gives the theists theoretical traction.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  9. Fred

    Because atheists want to express themselves and their beliefs with a billboard, why do the Christians feel the need to 'retaliate'? Someone obviously has a chip on their shoulder. There's plenty of pro religion propaganda out there already, let atheists speak their mind too please without attacking them for it. This is a prime example of why religion is evil and the cause of a lot of hostility and war in this world. If you don't agree, attack them. What's so bad about reason anyways?

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

    I am an Atheist but to flaunt you beliefs is wrong no matter what they may be. I don't want people telling me how to believe so I wish other Atheists would do the same.

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

      Ignorance must be stopped before it affects all of us. I hope more Atheists do this kind of thing.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  11. tom d

    To assume that there is no God(s) is as equally presumptive as assuming that there is one. The ONLY thing we can be sure of is that we currently do not know the answer to this. We can speculate one way or the other, but we don't know. So, to quote the article, "Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

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

      That's not true, Tom.

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

      SG is scary.
      (ODIN IS REAL! THOR EXISTS! ) 🙂 I will live in valhalla forever drinking beer an being merry!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  12. JCK

    May you all experience the love and joy of Jesus Christ almighty rather than his judgment. May it lead to a renewed faith (for the believers) or a new faith (for the current non-believers).

    Peace and love and blessings and Merry Christmas to you all!!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  13. Ezra

    Why is the argument about 'faith' vs 'science'? It doesn't have to be one or the other. Science seeks to explain the physical world we live in. Faith seeks to fulfill a persons spiritual need. They are not mutually exclusive. There are many world class scientists that have faith in a creator. And many devout believers that are watch with fascination the discoveries that science uncovers. I think everyone that gets up in arms about this battle should just think about taking it down a notch because your giving the rest of us a head ache with your cyclic arguments.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  14. Carolyn

    I'm always amazed at how upset Christians are regarding non-believers. If you're secure in your faith you should just ignore the atheists since according to you they'll be punished eventually. Why be so worked up about it?

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

      ... although when I look at these comments I see disdain, hatred, and mockery from both sides of the fence ...

      WHERE'S that balance?

      December 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  15. Liberty P

    How about this? Who cares. If you are an Atheists good for you, if you are a believer good for you. Just shut up and quit trying to push their own agenda on everyone else. I don't give a s!@t what everyone else believes!

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

      Uh, Why did you comment and look at the comments then? O_o wierd

      December 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  16. Diane

    The next time the American Atheists group has a desire to spend $20,000, I wish they would contact me. I can think of a whole lot of worth while cause.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  17. PH

    If you are a believer, or just love a good book, check out my historical fiction novel about the Magi and the Nativity:
    http://www.epiphany-site.com. Merry Christmas all – let's be respectful of each other, regardless of beliefs.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  18. Dr. C. Hayward

    It is very boring for me to get excited about people who believe in the Great Nothing! YAWN! If you want to believe in Nothing, so be it! But, I have every right to celebrate a season our forefathers have celebrated as you have the right to go around spreading your lies! Call it a draw, folks!!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  19. Rikitix

    When you know that what you believe is TRUE, then you don't have to advertize your belief and you don't even have to convince others that what you believe is right. Only the doubtful will do that. So may I ask these Atheists: Are you in doubt now?

    December 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  20. TY

    What michelle said makes me feel sick to the stomach. You atheists read the bible and then post it up saying its not real. I get a vision stating this that they are ripping out pages in the bible. Ooooh I aint gonna comment on this no more.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:53 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.