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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. Dave

    "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!"

    Then why do some people spend their time enjoying the fact that ignorant atheists are "going to Hell"? You and many others seem to enjoy that. That's not Christian. It's awful and hateful. You have a responsibility to try to HELP people discover salvation, not to wallow in a feeling of superiority. Try to help your fellow human beings, and love those who don't love you, for that's the true test of it all. If you truly believed, you would not feel so threatened. I don't want to insult you, just help you understand that you push people away from God by sniping at them and letting them upset you. Forgive them for their ignorance if you've tried to help but couldn't, and forgive me of my presumptuousness and arrogance for telling you you're incorrect.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • cris

      Dave.. Atheist itself is also a make believe sect they don't believe in God but they sure are scared of the Dark. and to reply to SG... booooo

      December 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  2. bethradd

    how about we ALL stop trying to force our beliefs on each other. no religion, or lack of religion, should be allowed to put up billboards IMO. simple as that. let everyone believe what they want to believe and stop trying to force ANY of it on me.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  3. Justa Human

    SO WHO IS TO SAY WHAT ONE PERSONS PASSION SHOULD BE, WHAT IT SHOULD APPEAR AS, WHEN IT COMES TO SEEING THEIR GOD? IF PEACE MAKES YA FEEL GOOD, THEN HAVE IT. STOP ALL THE FUSSIN AND STOP ALL THE FIGHTING OVER OUR OWN PERSONAL CHOICES IN HOW WE SEE GOD. –I'M JUST AN OCEAN GIRL STUCK IN THE DESERT AND EVEN I'M NOT THAT DELIRIOUSLY BLIND.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • tj

      @Justa Human

      There's a key on your keyboard called "capslk". Use it.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  4. Nicole

    My aggravation with this is that you don't see Atheists posting billboards around Ramadan or directed towards Kwanza, etc... Christians are always the targeted ones because we have such a strong belief system and people believe we are "easy targets." As a Christian, I do not proclaim to be perfect. If you are a believer, no one is perfect except Jesus Christ. It is not our job to spew hatred towards others, but to pray for them and hope that they will seek God before their final judgment day.

    This board upsets me because atheists choose to only target Christians it seems; however, my faith, I feel is strong enough that I know the REAL meaning of Christmas. I choose to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ at Christmas. If you don't, fine...but let Christians worship and believe how we want.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  5. TP

    PROBABLY A JEWISH BASED GROUP (AGAIN) WHO ARE STILL STUCK IN THE OOOOOLD TESTAMENT AND NEVER UPDATED THEIR INFO. JESUS THE CHRIST (A STATE OF BEING, NOT A LAST NAME) DID LIVE, ETC... AND THOUGH HIS BIRTH WAS MORE LIKELY IN ANOTHER MONTH, THE CHURCH MOVED IT TO BE THE SAME DATE AS AN EARLIER RELIGION CELEBRATED. THE GREATER SIGNIFICANCE IS IN THE TREE ITSELF... IT IS A SYMBOL OF SOMETHING GREATER THAN MAN OR WOMAN, AND MOST ARE GENETICALLY IMPRINTED TO RECOGNIZE IT, AND THE REASON THE CHRIST-IN-MASS SEASON IS IMPORTANT. (THEN AGAIN, THERE ARE THOSE WHO BENEFIT FROM KEEPING OTHERS IGNORANT.)
    TIME TO DMPT "HOLIDAY" GREETINGS AND GET BACK TO THE PAGAN "CHRISTMAS" GREETINGS.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • cris

      lol...

      December 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  6. cris

    I once met a TRUE Atheist TRUE to his belief that no God ever existed, he was a intimidating person 6'4 heavy build and no one would ever argue with him. He adores his wife who is an Atheist when she pass away from Breast Cancer it devastated him. One day he heard a sound coming from the living room he went out to check the source of the noise to his surprise he saw a dark image he heard what sounded like his wife, he shook his head and he drop down to his knees in tears he whispered "Christ have Mercy"

    December 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  7. ScottK

    Here's a few things to keep in mind if you think theres currently no harm from the worlds religions or that you'd rather be a believer and God not exist than an athiest and have it turn out he does.

    Religion, and most specificly Chri stianity, wants everyone to believe that there is an afterlife so they don't plan on spending the majori ty of their existence on Earth. This has an adverse effect on our collective future meaning Christians have less incen tive to keep this earth clean and healthy since many believe they will be wisked away into a nice clean shiny new heaven leaving the dying Earth to the foolish athiests they left behind.

    Athiests have a vested interest in this planet because they feel it's the only life they get which tends to make them care more about the env ironment. I'm not saying their aren't Chri stians who care and Athiests who dont, I am saying that generally an athiest has to consider the long term impacts of what's here and now whereas a Chri stian can always just fall back on "well, G o d will clean it up".

    Also, many Chri stians (especialy ones in powerful gov ernm ental decision making pos it ions), believe that I sreal will have some part to play in the coming war of Arma geddon which is reflec ted in their policy making and alliance, selling them weapons and allowing them to be the only country where no one acknowledges their nuc lear ar senal, all because as GW Bush said, they are "the chosen people". On the other hand, the US is fighting to keep nu clear weapons out of the hands of Ir an mainly based upon their opposing religious beliefs and the understanding that certain religions might actually use them to further their faith.

    Is religion really so benign as they want you to believe? No, its a virulent mental disease that will continue to afflict the planet until we either k ill ourselves off through holy wars and unfettered use and abuse of our resources, or enough clear thinking people stand up against the followers of imaginary diet ies and remove them from power.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • Suz

      Most people of faith that I know are very concerned about the environment. For example, one of Judaism's tenets is called "tikkun olam" – which is Hebrew for "taking care of the world" – knowing full well that we all live here and it's important to treat it with respect. You can't equate G_d with humanity's disrespect for the planet.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  8. Suz

    For crying out loud. Why can't everyone just live and let live without attacking each other for what they choose to believe or not believe? I'm Jewish – and where I don't subscribe to the idea behind Jesus/Christmas, I don't find it so hard to respect other people who do. I also don't find it so hard to understand that athiests don't subscribe to a G_d at all. What is so fricking hard about RESPECT??

    December 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  9. Steve

    If the billboard had an anti-Islamic message, it would be called a hate-crime and removed immediately

    December 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  10. Patricia

    I say again, the acknowledgement that there is no God by atheists is an acknowledgement that there is. God is and always will be. Why aren't these people taking out billboards to dispute the fact that satan does not exist?

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

      .. hello Patricia... I guess there are two of us... and we are opposite sides of the fence.
      PEACE.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  11. speekers

    Happy enough to celebrate time with my family and a paid day off work. I'm thankful for that. Just don't expect me to say merry christmas.

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

    If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me...I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. – Jesus Christ.

    Come on republicans, put up or shut up!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  13. Anonamoose

    Here's my probem... If I were addressing a Jewish person, I would not wish them a merry Christmas, nor would I say that to a muslim or Hindu person. Christians, on the other hand, feel it is important to wish people "Merry Christmas' who are not even Christian. There is no evidence jesus was born anywhere near december 25th. there is a lot of evidence that the pagans celebrated Dec 21st (Winter solstice) and that to convert pagans to christianity the roman adopted the winter Solstice as a Christian holiday. Just like they adopted Christmas Trees (Yule) and other traditions from civilizations they conquered (by the usual methods... killing in the name of the state). The Egyptian God Horus has the same pedigree as jesus (same story) told 1,000 years earlier, as do many oither gods. Its an old story (virgin bith, miracles in life, dying for our sins, worshipped by followers as devine). Christianity stuck because Constantine, in 4th c. Rome, needed a tool he could control and a monotheistic religion was a good one.

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

      You're too blindsided by the fact that when people great you it is not because of faith but because of kindness next time stamp a note in your forehead that says "Dont' Wish Me i am a f..en Atheist" that way people will just ignore you and not give you gifts. like the one you ask your mom for Christmas. You moron

      December 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  14. JoeTheSchlubber

    If Jesus were to return in these modern times, I think all Christians who dont need proof that Jesus and God exists would expect Jesus to 'prove' he is the Son of God

    December 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  15. asdf

    Remember their are a billion Christians, a billion Muslims, and a bit more than a billion Buddhists. Boy wouldn't it be funny if was the 10 million Mormons who were the only correct religion that got to go to heaven. I swear religions are like football teams where people are fanatically about their team and think only their team is going to win the Super Bowl.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  16. Frankcincy

    The late Carl Sagan said it best. "It's far better to understand the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion however satisfying or reassuring.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  17. Ben Wilson

    I was an atheist until I saw my child born-that could not have happened by some random explosion or natural selection as I once thought. I now think there must be a designer

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

      But would you still think so if he had Downs Syndrome or was born with autism? Or how about if he dies of Sudden Death Syndrome which is still largely not understood and very random? Or do you fall back on the tried and true its god will and we can never understand it.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • Frankcincy

      Sure it could and did Ben. You're just not inspired to seek the truth. Read Dawkins The Greatest Show On Earth and educate yourself about the truth and scientific fact. The truth is that the universe is indifferent and could care less about any of the events in yours, mine or anyone else's life on this speck of dust and in this uncomprehending blink in time.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Sara

      I've always believed, but when I started to feel my first baby moving and kicking inside me, my faith deepened. Yes, there is a designer.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • Sara

      @asdf: My second daughter was born with a very rare type of congenital heart disease. We almost lost her. We can still lose her because her condition is incurable. But you know what? My faith became even stronger after learning about the complexities of the human heart.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
    • Sara

      @Frankcincy: The universe is indifferent, but God is not.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  18. Why not believe

    There's a saying that goes like this, "I rather live as though there is a God and die to find out there is no God, then to live as though there was no God and die to find out there is a God. In the end you will surely find out. So what's your pick.

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

      Ben Stein asked this very question of Richard Dawkins. He asked, what if your wrong and you stand before God. What would you say to him. Dawkins replied, I ask him where he's been. So I ask you, what if your wrong and you stand before Shiva, Allah, Thor or Zues. What do say? Well?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  19. eric calderone

    Atheism is a religion, that is why their claims, conscious or implicit, that they subscribe to reason, not myth, is simply specious. What proof do they have that there is no God? They believe in atomic particles, which they have never seen. They believe that the moon, Mars and other planetary bodies, are spheres. How do they know? Have they ever visited these bodies and measured them? Christians at least have historical reports from many sources attesting to a historical chain of events, and claims made by people who in the past, either witnessed such events or spoke to people who did. All atheists have is their complete faith in their skepticism. So the next time an atheist states his/her belief in evidence and only evidence, you can cut them down to size.

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

      Eric...common man. I'm a Christian, but I wouldn't use atomic / subatomic particles and celestial bodies for arguements against Atheism. Those have been studied pretty vigorously, by some pretty smart Christians and non-Christians alike. Jump on evolution or something like that. People seem to take that as a fact for some reason...

      December 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  20. Jeffision

    Visualize a post-religious era

    December 1, 2010 at 2:11 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.