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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. NY78

    We are in a resession and the atheist group could not think of anything better to do with 20,000??? money is money no matter what you believe and I'm sure there are some people in need that could have put that money to better use..like food..shelter and cltohing..seems like allot of money just to prove a point..

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

    I think the athiest should put a billboard on a Muslim holiday and see what happens!

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

      agreed completely

      December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  3. Jessica

    Wait, what? I thought we celebrated commercialism!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  4. ijreilly

    Want to know if you're brainwashed? If any believers are feeling gutsy today try this: sit back, clear your mind, concentrate real hard and imagine that God never existed( I know it's hard, but try it anyway). Pause and think now .....................1 min..............................2min......................3 min. Now, how many of you, that ACTUALLY tried it, feel guilty about what you just thought? How many feel that what they just did was bad?. It's one thing for a group to tell you not to think something, it's another thing when a group convinces you to feel guilty and wrong for thinking something. That is mind-control....But it's another animal altogether when you then tell people that the crime for committing such actions is eternity of excruciating torture. Then you're just trying to scare the dumb and feeble-minded (Which this country has an abundance of).

    December 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  5. mrrusss

    How is not making something up equal to making something up? One is fabricating and one is choosing not to fabricate, right?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  6. Chris

    Religion might be faith based, but Atheism is opinion based so it's not much better. A lot of science isn't so much fact but theory. That means that it's nothing but an opinion that hasn't been proven false yet. Not exactly something to hang your hat on.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  7. asdf

    On this the holiest of Capitalisms holidays lets us celebrate crass consumption by driving our gas guzzling SUVs to the strip mall on the other side of town and fighting the other sheeple for latest Chinese sweat labor made cheap plastic gadget.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  8. chris

    who cares if someone believes in something else. you guys are going to all end up like the palestinians and the israelites if you keep arguing over eachothers beliefs. Just accept other religions and isnt that what the holiday season is about

    December 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  9. alanjohn

    It always amazes me that atheists proclaim that they are non-believers because they act like non-belief IS their religion. Once they start promoting atheism as the correct "way of thinking" they are essentially promoting it as "what they believe", ie. a religion! The line of thought though that some atheists promote that essentially says "nothing exists till proven by science" just seems silly to me. By following that logic I must therefore assume that gravity did not exist untill the apple hit Newton on the head and evidently the other planets did not exist till Galileo invented a telescope and turned it towards the sky and at that precise moment the rest of the planets spontenously appeared? I am not really sure what Mr. Silverman expects to accomplish with his billboard other than to contribute to the enrichment of the billboard company. Does he really think that this billboard is going to be the tipping point for some individual that will cause them to turn from belief to non-belief? The 20 grand that he spent on the billboard COULD have been given to a soup kitchen or shelter somewhere and accomplished so much more than what it has or will.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  10. sg

    Its x-mas time. TIme to worship the undead jewish zombie who was born to a virgin, believed in communist ideas, was killed, brought back to life, and to celebrate, we give each other video games, eat his flesh, and drink his blood

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

      That actually makes it sound cool.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  11. TY

    O_O Space daddy? This is getting out of hand. Goodbye posts.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  12. Isabella

    If ignorance is bliss....................the athiests must be the happiest people on the planet! I believe in Jesus, God, The Holy Ghost and the Bible 150%. If the "so called athiests" want to believe it's myth, so be it; but my question is: Why do they try to shove this down peoples throats???????????? Why don't they keep their little beliefs to themselves and go on their way? We who believe really don't want to listen to their crap!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  13. mrrusss

    One thing I never understand is why Christians get so upset when someone goes to eternal paradise. And if they weren't headed there, why worry about them when God sees fit to condemn them to hell? For example, an abortion would be sending someone straight to heaven, skipping this trials of this world completely, wouldn't it? Now of course you can't condone murder, but that's mostly because of reason and practical thinking. A Christian with any kind of perspective would see this as a minor pit stop and be happy when a Christian they loved went to paradise, knowing that they would be with them, relatively speaking, in a ridiculously short time.

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

      Take your logic elsewhere! This place is for the ignorant!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
    • asdf

      Yep but still I do enjoy the egg nog. Still when I hear Jesus I think of my mexican gardener.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  14. LiberalNN

    Hooray for liberal atheists trying to destroy Christmas!

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

      Christians already destroyed it when they took the tree.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • Isabella

      I'd like to know how that works out for ya when you stand before God on the Judgment Day!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
    • asdf

      or when they made the religion of a bleeding heart liberal into a conservative dogmatic behavioral control mechanism. The greatest scam ever is getting people to do what you want in this life by promising them crap in the next life that you don't have to deliver.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • Matt

      asdf- could NOT have said that better.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  15. kellyb9

    Christmas is a religious holiday. If you don't like it, don't celebrate it. There's reason for you right there.

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

      That's true....a Pagan religious holiday.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • kellyb9

      That's like saying if Christmas fell on St. Patrick's Day it's an Irish holiday. The date, itself, was a pagan holiday, which is why the specific day was picked. Based on the actual story, it probably is closer to March or April. Regardless, I don't understand why if people are so offended my Christmas, they still chose to celebrate certain aspects of it. I guess people just like getting gifts unsolicited.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • Matt

      Myself and my entire extended family going back 3 generations will be switching to a Winter Solstice (Yule) celebration instead of Christmas for the first time in our family history. We realized we're Atheists, not Christians, and to support and celebrate a holiday we don't believe in is silly. We may as well be celebrating Hanukkah. So, we are going back to the true roots of the holiday, (which coincidentally for us means 1, we get to celebrate it earlier on the 22nd, and 2, we have no problems with astrological anthropomorphization). If you are truly an Atheist, I urge you to stop celebrating holidays of faiths you don't belong to. It makes you a hypocrite if you claim to believe in no god, yet celebrate religious holidays. Traditions start somewhere, make something better than Christmas, and maybe we'll un-convert some sheeple.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  16. JoeTheSchlubber

    My guess is that if Jesus returned today and presented himself to all the Christians saying he was the Son of God.......most Christians would want........proof...... (;^>)

    December 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  17. Paul

    How sad for these self professed atheists who trod on others parade. I know Santa Claus is a myth but I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus (what he stands for), doesn't make him any more real. Why can't you let people have this time of the year to celebrate what was supposed to be something good? Surely the atheists can understand the spirit of Christmas.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  18. Sean O'Connell

    Faith is a funny thing to me. I've always viewed it as a lazy answer to hard questions. I'd rather use the brain evolution provided me with. Enough monkeys got weeded out to make me a member one of the smartest, most lethal, most cunning and survivable species on the planet we rule, I'm not about to reduce my intelligence by assuming some magical space daddy will make my life better if i say its name enough. That's insulting, and belittles the hard work I put in to my life. Additionally, I've got a beef with the Bible co-opting common sense lessons like do unto others or god helps those who help themselves. No, no he doesn't. If you help yourself, God does not step in and make it happen. You do. Give yourself some credit.

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

      There is NOWHERE in the Bible that says God helps those who help themselves. Your statement about you working to hard to... That is the problem. No matter how hard you work, you cannot save yourself. Call yourself a monkey if you wish. I am not from a monkey. Honestly, calling oneself a monkey is more ignorant than anything else I can conceive. I would say "just think about it", but apparently you already have and decided you were a monkey. How confounding. I would say there is no hope for anyone that could conceptualize that low. But thank God I am not Him. He understands and forgives all those who find a way to however slightly open their eyes.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  19. DecemberAlready

    Umm, that's called free will. Go to your nearest communicy college and enroll in Intro to Philosophy, you'll learn more about it. Or, just look it up online for a quick overview (a trusted website of course).

    December 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  20. vern

    Wow! to be honest I think both sides are pretty sad. The $ wasted to prove what? I am Catholic and I believe in God...God is LOVE and this is NOT love this is sad and neither side is thinking but being selfish and insulting to one another....NOT God. Maybe the problem is we do not know what LOVE really is...because it is NOT an emotion but it is putting others before self without a question in ones heart. Love is what we need to learn...Hate we seem to know.

    December 1, 2010 at 1:57 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.