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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. benice

    i'm not religious but this is insensitive and condescending. I think it' just plain rude.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  2. mattmchugh

    Two kinds of people are likely to be offended by this billboard: the weak of mind and the weak of faith. Those with any intellectual or spiritual backbone will simply note it as a differing viewpoint and move on.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  3. David

    I don't know what all the fuss is about. Christians and other religions have known for a while now that people do exist that DON'T believe in anything. I don't see how they differ from any other sinner. Of course they probably dont belive in "sin", if that is even possible. How do we intend to be God's children, and lead them to God? That should be the question in all of our hearts. Loving our enemys....isn't that one of God's favorite tests to hold to us?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  4. Valerie

    I just can't understand it...if you do not believe there is a God, then why waste your time and money trying to convince others of the same? If you think those that believe are so stupid and feeble-minded, that would make YOU superior, so why not just walk away and allows us to sit in our stupidity? What are you so afraid of? Do you think it is your CALLING to get everyone on the "same page" as you? Why? And why do you care?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • benice

      that's true but it has to work both ways you know.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Oddly enough, we're trying to help you.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  5. Joel

    I think atheists don't like Christianity because it is an 'organized' religion. In other words, Christians put their money where there mouth is. They truly believe in the Bible and what it says. They want other people to believe so they organize themselves and their money to seek out new converts.
    Atheism will never achieve this. They have no missionaries that will go to other countries to seek out new converts to atheism. When they see themselves as not being heard they call Christianity and other organized religions 'myths' and challenge them to prove that God exists. Atheists, get off your butts and organize yourselves (not just with the lame billboards). If you believe that there is no god then put your money where your mouth is. Show Christians and other organized religions how wrong they are.
    I doubt it though. Atheists are cheap and lazy and all they'll do is mouth off cliche after cliche.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  6. McG

    It's so simple minded to believe in a man upstairs who pulls ALL of the strings ALL of the time... Praying is a waste of time. If it's not in God's will, then it ain't happening, correct? So why even bother? Just let it all happen... There are huge fundamental loopholes in religiously addicted people and the way they conduct themselves and their beliefs. Use reason, folks. Move past the middle ages. It's time to start working on the world and not your own plans for heavenly existence.. If there is no heaven, all you've done is lived your life in vein on this (could be) wonderful planet.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  7. Kyle

    "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.' "

    Then why does the billboard depict the nativity scene?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  8. Frankcincy

    All religions are nothing more than fantastical fairy tails including Christianity. The virgin birth and the resurrection which are two of the main foundations of the Bible recycled themes dating back before the ancient Greeks. Ever read Joesph Campbell? Man created Gods in the infancy of the species. And the way, everyone in here is an atheist. Do you believe in Thor? Zeus or any of the other prime time players from past and present? Well, we just believe in one last God.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  9. Weathers

    If you have so much faith then let a priest babysit your kids.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • Rajah

      Your statement is counterintuitive. You are making the opposite point, as your statement requires faith in man (priest) and not faith in God. Seek truth and not your own wisdom.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • Weathers

      What is ironic is that I only have faith in my atheistic brethren! For they are the only ones that do good for good's sake, not because of some ancient writings or a promise of a better place after death.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  10. chris

    First off i'm Christian and i really don't care what others believe. but for the american atheists to put up a sign pictured in the link is a real bad move. Makes them look like a bunch on donkeys (if you get my drift). Although i have never seen a kind caring atheist they always seem to be real jerks anyways so it's probably par for them to put this billboard up. I mean because of them there is no longer prayer in school/ at school sporting events/ and many other places.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • Brett

      I see billboards advertising Christ and asking people to attend church everywhere. And you people are upset about ONE atheist billboard? The ratio is like 1000 to 1.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  11. Chef Ann

    This is such a lively debate and totally expected. Does anyone here believe in history or is that false as well? First, there was Herrod, who ordered the deaths of hundreds of infants in an attempt to kill the newborn KING, then there was Pontious Pilate, who wanted to believe but was afraid to, hence he condemned Jesus to death. These are FACTS of history and cannot be disputed. God expects all of this controversary, as the DEVIL is alive and well and very active in this troubled world of ours. So Christians of all denominations, do not be disheartened by these athiests, as a Roman Catholic I expect it. What is important for us is that we stand up and be counted.

    What is such a shame is that $20K was not spent on the poor and hungry of New York or New Jersey. But then, that would have been a Christian act, not something athiests would do.

    God Bless ALL - Merry Christmas!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • EducatedBeliever

      Well said! It seems as if the act of turning the other cheek in the face of controversy or challenge has become a thing of the past. It's disheartening to hear how much a church spent stooping to a lesser level, rather than leading by the example of simply giving.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  12. Montanan

    Religious apologists are all for tolerance except when it comes to atheism. I love this billboard. Everyone DOES know it's a myth!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • EducatedBeliever

      Really? Everyone DOES know it's a myth? I disagree. For one, any believer will tell you that they don't believe it to be a myth, plain and simple. Besides, can you prove it's a myth? What makes you so sure? What I'm referring to isn't the Westernized holiday with the fat man in a red suit. I'm referring to the original celebration of Christmas, what it should mean at its core. This being that Christmas was a time to celebrate the birth of a savior.

      Most intelligent believers know better than to claim Dec 25 is the actual birthday of Christ, that date is not exactly known (only approximate times can be agreed upon). Often atheists and agnostics point out that Dec 25, around winter solstice, was at one time a pagan holiday. This is also true. However, leaders in the early church would often combine practices of believers from various backgrounds (early Christians were a mixture of former Jews and pagans). The physical practices and times of year may have parallels with pagan holidays, but if used to celebrate Christianity, then they sort of become Christian practice. The idea was to unite both Jews and pagans as one body of Christian believers by blending their past "cultures," so to speak.

      So...can you prove to me that this is myth? You say people "know"...but the faith (yes, faith) it takes to not believe is less based in fact than the faith it takes to believe.

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

      With due respect, please do not be deceived! You seem to be speaking for me and others who do not believe in your opinion. In essence, I'm not part of EVERYONE that believes it is a myth as you said. For me it is a reality by life experience!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  13. Brett

    Can someone please direct to me to the passage in the Bible that says we must decorate a tree, exchange gifts, hang stockings on the mantle, and leave cookies out for Ole St. Nick?? I can't seem to find that anywhere. Seems like this holiday doesn't have much to do with Christ at all!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • ijreilly

      Check Leviticus. It's the book I always turn to when I'm unsure about anything.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  14. jane doe

    innumerable crimes have been committed in the name of "reason" too.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  15. JoeTheSchlubber

    Id be willing to bet that all the Christians who "dont need proof" to know that God and Jesus exist, would 'want proof' if Jesus were to return and proclaim himself the Son of God.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • Bob U.

      Well, we now have medication for that. : /

      December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  16. GetReal

    ATHEISTS: I really don't care if you don't believe. Just don't try to take from me the one thing that gets me out of bed every morning.

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

      Sounds like you have a crappy life.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • Montanan

      That's just sad and pathetic GetReal! Maybe you should "get real" - I don't care what YOU believe either! It's nice to see some reality up on a billboard instead of the usual ignorance!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      That's pretty sad. My sympathies.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Believe in Santa

      I hope you mean your alarm clock...

      December 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  17. Bob U.

    If I had money to throw away on an anti Christian billboard, it would read, "So many Christians, so few lions."

    December 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  18. Jessica

    Wait, what? I thought we celebrated commercialism!

    But I guess its in Jesus' name, right?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  19. Joe

    I think radical atheists should be considered a religion. All religions have issues when the radical fringe starts trying to shove their narrow minded views down other people's throats. This is no different.

    Atheists – spreading their intolerant views since 2009. Hitler and Stalin would love these guys.

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

      Yeah, really. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • asdf

      Only since 2009 eh? You sure it isn't since the Earth was created 5000 years or so (count the begats in the bible)? To think the Scopes trial was almost 100 years ago and Kansas still hasn't gotten the memo.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • george

      Sure. Toss in a couple of villians wihtout knowing of what you speak. Stalin yes, Hitler no. So your post holds no water.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • Observer

      Oops! Hitler was raised as a Catholic and believed in God.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  20. Christine

    Stop being offended for just a moment and be thankful we live in a country where we can express ourselves in such an open and blatant way without being jailed, put to death,etc. 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 2:03 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.