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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. Chris-D

    Religion is a virus of the mind. There have been *so* many gods invented by humans. But each believer thinks theirs is the one and only. What chance would any of you Christians have of being one had you been born in Mecca? Religion (god of choice) is an accident of birth.

    People who are atheists can do bad, but its not in the *name* of atheism. Unlike religion when you *think* you are doing gods bidding, well, it can make you fly into buildings screaming Allahu Akbar.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  2. jimmycrackscorn

    God obviously can care les you stupid fools...

    December 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  3. sw6blues

    Christians borrowed Christmas and Easter (Winter and Spring Festivals) from Pagans in the time Before the Common Era (BCE). Lots of Christian myths and stories in the Bible parallel myths and stories hundreds of years older, which are associate with pagan groups. It's just a vast collection of stories of the Middle East< "Christian" or otherwise from 2000+ years ago.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • lolomgsh

      Actually neither christmas nor easter is in the bible. Infact, due to seasonal speak and harvest times mentioned in the bible, Jesus was born in the spring. There are really no legitimate biblical similarities to paganism. There are no 3 kings in the bible. There is a LARGE group of wisemen with three gifts that visit jesus when he is about two years old. This paganism was introduced by the roman empire upon its creation of the Roman Catholic Church, which was created in 313 AD after 3 centuries of genocide against the followers of Jesus. Not very nice of them is it?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • lolomgsh

      It wasn't untill after i researched history and science that i became a believer in Yeshua. (Jesus). Can literally make ur jaw drop.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  4. AnAthiest

    To shed some light on this, coming from an Atheist..

    The people who paid for the billboard are _not_ Atheists. They obviously want you to not believe and are actively trying to do so. That is Anti-Theism which is _not_ Atheism. An Atheist would never spend money or time worrying about what others believe and they would never attack your for your beliefs. Why do I not believe in God? Simple, for the same reason I don't believe in Unicorns. I don't bash God with billboards just like I don't go around bashing Unicorns with billboards either.

    Again, this is Anti-Theism, not Atheism. They claim to be Atheists but they demonstrably are _not_ Atheists.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • lolomgsh

      It gets old quick when idiots take ur belief (or lack of) label and utilize it for their deceptive agenda doesn't it. I say true Atheists and true Christians should unite in normalcy over this hate mongering.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
    • Suz

      A very thoughtful response – thank you!

      Personally, I think that anyone who's militant about what they believe/don't believe has got the wrong idea. 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  5. BB

    I will not disclose what I believe because I question everything daily. During my questioning everything I initially came to the conclusion that you might as well believe because worst case is nothing happens at death; hoewever, if there is a God then what do you think he is going to say when you get to the gate. "YOU ONLY BELIEVED IN ME BECAUSE YOU WERE SCARED NOT TO".... that isn't faith. So that is where I get stuck all the time.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  6. Steve

    Are you kidding me – Christian act. The christian right tells of a GOD that will send people to HELL for being born in Africa (or another remote location) and never hearing of Jesus Christ. What a Joke.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • Valerie

      That is not true. Who told you that? As a catholic, I know that many non-catholics will enter Heaven, and many catholics themselves will not. Only those that do "the will of The Father" here on earth will enter. Jesus told us that. Admonishing God, is NOT doing "the will of The Father", however.....

      December 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  7. Americanno

    Merry Saturnalia and if you don't know what it is, look it up. The mighty Christians are celebrating a Pagan holiday; it was co-opted to convert Pagans to Christianity. And as to shoving Atheism down the throats of Christians, it's about time you took some of your own medicine.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  8. Kenneth Godfrey

    Why would atheist put up a sign denouncing any religion. What is the purpose and what do they gain? They are throwing money into the wind.

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

      We are trying to prevent another dark age. And in case you didn't know, the Dark Age was a period of time when no scientific discoveries were accepted, and no advancements in scientific principles were made. Only religion was accepted as an answer, and the church did not tolerate anyone with a dissenting viewpoint. You can already see it in America. This push towards ignorance. This idea that any Joe off the street has as valid a viewpoint on complex subjects as someone with an ivy league education. The belief that scientists have some sort of ulterior motive behind their quest for knowledge. It's disgusting and it needs to stop.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  9. Dale

    Why is it atheists are just against Christmas, what about the OTHER RELIGIONS that celebrate their God different months of the year?

    I find that extremely strange, it smells of some kind of conspiracy against Christianity, not other religions God is a God atheists do not believe in God. He only see this type of thing at Christmas.

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

      It's because Christianity is the majority religion in this country. Trust me, we think all the other religions are equally as ridiculous.

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

      Atheists believe that all religions are universally silly; but, we get more bang for the buck this time of year.

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

    Jesus Lives!!! He's out raking my leaves!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  11. Lslg4

    Oh fortheloveofmuffins here we go again.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  12. lolomgsh

    I'm a Christian. All this rabble rabble just increases my faith.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  13. MN

    Uggggghh....

    To both sides. I DON"T CARE.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  14. 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 are recycled themes over and over dating well before Chistianity back before the ancient Greeks. Ever read Joesph Campbell? Man created Gods in the infancy of the species because he had no answers for nature at the time. And by 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 less God.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • Kenneth Godfrey

      So, why spend money on this? If you don't believe, just let it go. You will have an interesting revelation at death's door...

      December 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  15. johnny orlando

    The atheists are just upset because they are going to get any xmas presents. At least they shouldnt be getting them. Its sad when you oppose something and then go along with it...

    December 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  16. chris

    "The problem is atheism is non-belief so they have nothing to promote. All they can do is criticize other beliefs."

    Yep, they promote science, reason and evidence based knowledge. Not nothing. Non-belief is bad in the same sense as "non-violence" is bad. Would you argue that the violent at least "believe in something"

    December 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • Bob U.

      Actually, you're wrong. Most Atheist have a profound appreciation for the natural world. You know, stuff we can actually see and fell, live and breath; reality and reason.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  17. Mary - Alta Loma, CA

    It is a myth, but we all need something...just leave people alone. The myth hurts no one.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  18. LEB

    Bill Donahue says the atheist billboards are "antagonistic." Well, so are a whole heck of a lot of things Christians do and say, which is why the atheist community is irritated enough to do things like pay for $20,000 billboards. Maybe you Christians should take this as a hint that if other people wanted to hear "the word of Jesus," they'd be in church. If they're not in church then they have their reasons, and you should learn to respect that.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  19. jane doe

    many use the bible and the torah as the manual for loan sharking.
    many use koran as the manual for oppressing women.
    many use "reason" as the justification for war crimes and worse.
    who cares in whose name the crimes are committed.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  20. The truth

    Atheist are idiots. Let them be! They spend there time just trying to convince people there is no God to try to justify there way of life. Pretty much they say dont love..go kill..go steal..it doesnt matter because once we die thats it. If atheist and science cant prove a simple thing of what came first the chicken or the egg or why cant cant cure all diseases..what makes you think they can prove God doesnt exists? As far as i know they havent prove why he doesnt exists. So let them be..after all some people have to go to hell!

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

      Wow. Probably shouldn't call anyone an idiot after that constructing that rambling grammar fail.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • ijreilly

      I have to ask, if God came down today and said killing was now completely fine (Of course hypothetically speaking) is that something you would WANT to do? Are really telling me that you HAVE the desire to end another human beings life and that the only thing that's stopping you is that you think you're going to get in trouble for it?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • george

      Of course the religious do not try to convince others of the existance of their particular God or the superiority of their particular sect, right?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • Observer

      How many atheists go around saying it's okay to kill? Get back to reality. Atheists and agnostics do good things because they think it is RIGHT, and not because of bribes (heaven) or threats (hell).

      December 1, 2010 at 2:20 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.