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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. BrotherJohn OfDallas

    I wish I were the person that received the $20,000 from the American Atheists.I would take the profit and donate it to the Christian group that puts up a competing sign. lol. What a waste of money, as if a Christian would lokk at the sign and say, "well, I guess I better reject Jesus as my Lord and savior because the sign calls Christmas a myth." NOT.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  2. Jane1114

    We should let people believe what they want to belief. If religion gives them joy and bring them hope , why bother ruining it?! David Silverman is a communist! He doesn't below in a country that welcomes people of faith!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  3. kasey

    Thing I find humorous is that they claim the timing of the billboards was "just coincidence'. What a joke. Why can't they be honest and just say "yeah, we wanted to put the billobards up now because two major religious holidays are approaching"? At least be honest and admit the timing was intentional. And I really think their estimate of 50 million atheists in the U.S. is just a tad high. While one in six may not be Christians, or practicing Christians, many of them believe in a higher power.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  4. Chris-D

    Funny:

    Christians can put up hundreds of billboards, they can try and get nonsense taught in school (ID), claim evolution is not science. They (Catholics) can preach that condoms are bad and their use is somehow not moral; Atheists put up a billboard and they get their shorts in a knot. Donahue looked like he was going to flip hist cap, spewing all kinds of non sense. Hilarious!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  5. Think About It

    To all you atheist's ... the very air you breath is a MYTH too. Can't see it ... prove it!

    Your lucky to be alive

    December 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
    • Weathers

      I'm pretty sure there is scientific proof that air exists.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
    • tj

      @Think About It

      You failed chemistry class, didn't you?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • Weathers

      And you may be retarded.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • Weathers

      You should continue to worship Jesus. You may be a danger to yourself and others otherwise.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • JoeTheSchlubber

      Im sure youd want "proof" if I claimed to be Jesus, wouldnt you?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  6. DWTT

    Seriously.. all Xianity will be fixed with the Trinity destroyed.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  7. achap

    There will be a day that all will see God is real! for all us believers what a glorious day, for those nonbelievers, i feel very sorry for you, and yes I will pray for your lost souls! in Christ's name

    December 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
    • Frankcincy

      and you know this to be true for what reason? You should have told Mother Theresa about it because she said point blank, she never felt the presence of God or Jesus. She said there was never anything but silence. Got to tell you, if they didn't let her in on it, there ain't nothing there.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  8. Benjamin

    Atheist or no, the guy is right, Christmas has been co-opted. After all, it was originally the Roman festival called Saturnalia, which was when Christmas was deliberately scheduld 300 years after Jesus' supposed ressurrection, so that pagans could make the transition seamlessly. Now, so many non-christians celebrate the season that there's not much Christian about it anymore. I know it's inevitable that a lot of the faithful will find that offensive, but it's just history repeating itself, so get over it.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  9. schwarzgold

    You spend $20,000 to tell me you are an atheist. I wouldn't spend more than a dime to tell you I am a Christian, I'm sure you don't care. Well I guess at the end of the day, I'm out of the $.10 used to type this message and you are still out of $20,000; right, I don't care about the value placed on what is call by you a myth .

    December 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • ijreilly

      I love the flock/ shepherd analogy that Christians love to throw around. I like it so much because it actually is in many ways correct, and the Christians don't even get it. Do you think shepherds actually protect sheep because they really like them? (Well, perhaps some do) NO, of course not! They have sheep to fleece them for their coat and then eventually kill them for their meat. A shepherd doesn't see one of his beloved sheep straying from the flock. He sees money running away from his pocket. So to all you sheep out there (your term, not mine)- Bah, Bah, Bah. Get to work, the shepherd is collecting this Sunday.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  10. Rooster

    What's the purpose of an atheist? People that just get together and "don't believe" in something?
    How ignorant and boring can that be?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • jesusman69

      It's not really about "purpose." People who don't believe in Santa, don't sit around talking about how they don't believe in Santa...

      It's just that there are smart people and their are dumb people in this world.

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

    marcus: "I choose as an atheist to follow my mind and my heart, and not accept any myth based on "faith." In other words, you choose to be an athiest on the same basis that people choose to be Christians. So how is your choice based any less on faith?

    There are a number of people, including Lee Strobel and Simon Greenleaf (whose books for many years were the standard reference on the rules of evidence), who initially disbelieving the story of Jesus, investigated it. They found that its being true was the most reasonable explanation.

    "You KNOW it's a Myth" is provably false. An honest statement would be. "We want you to believe it's a Myth because that's what we believe."

    December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  12. Chris

    I don't understand the problem with the billboard. I support everyones right to believe is what they choose: religion, spirituality, atheist or agnostic. To be fair, I can't drive down a single interstate in North Carolina without seeing pro-religion, or "Sincerely, God" billboards. No one seems to make issue with those. It's all the same nonsense.

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

      @Chris

      You absolutely have a point. I just hate to see this group stoop to the same tactics as the religious zealots.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  13. tj

    There was no reason for this. Christmas has become secular enough. It hasn't been a "religious" holiday for decades. At least not since retail and the entertainment industry got their hands on it. It's more about sales, gifts and movie promotions now.

    Besides, as someone who is most certainly not a Christian, I'd actually prefer that atheists take the high road. This really is not cool guys.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  14. BIGDOG

    I guess it doesn't matter whether you're religous or not... Intolerance is still ugly.
    Believe in God or our an idiot, believe in Allah or your an idiot, why do you believe in anything, you idiot.
    I got it... I'm the idiot for expecting people to accept each others differences. Guess I'll just keep looking for the answers in the bottom of my glass 🙂

    December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  15. JonathanL

    I think the billboard is a good poke at the mythology many are pressured into believing as historical fact. Everyone else is celebrating something why not Atheists? Most religions have disdain for reason and especially scientific fact so they might see it as a threat, not just Christianity. But come on folks let's get real. I mean really. We all descended from Adam and Eve who had a run in with God after an episode with a talking snake? So she had two boys, one of whom killed the other. We all then descended from the remaining single male. The only other female was his mother. Even if Adam and Eve had more children including females, Whatever followed must have been fairly scandalous by today's standards! But angels and demons, and one eyed giants! Talking serpents of the underworld! Lions and tigers and bears oh my!! A Universe that was created in 7 days? What was going on before that? LOLOLOL If God only spoke ancent Aramaic (the original quotes were in Aramaic) then how do you know whether he understands anyone praying in English, or if he or she (as the earliest creation myth has it) even exists? Noah's Ark – ? Spontaneous creation of people from clay? Chuckle chuckle....give me a break. .. please? At least you don't have to give up sound reasonnig to be an Atheirst!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  16. John

    Enough arguments already.! Atheists have a right to freedom from, and others the freedom of religion. The argument for or against is a moot point. This nation was built on freedom. Billboards that respectfully challenge on both sides are fine. As a Christian I do no need to believe that everything in my faith is based on fact, or that my faith is 100% science, as it is not. I take the good and use it to the betterment of my fellow man. There is error, intolerance and hate througout history and in most religions too, and I'll bet there are some hateful atheists as well despite their claims of "reason". Religions do not have a monopoly on hate. Most people are perfectly capable of it regardless of which faith, or no faith at all. I choose not to hate anyone, including atheists. I pray they are happy, and wish to be left to my own happiness. That is what makes our nation tick. Get a clue.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  17. Kenneth Godfrey

    I wonder: are death and creation myths too? Certainly, atheists have the answer.

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

      No, they are not myths, they are natural parts to any life cycle. Tell me, do trees go to heaven too? They are alive at some point. They are created, and they also die. Is it only sentient beings that get to party in Jesus's loft apartment in the sky. What about babies that are born brain dead? Are they left out? What kind of cruel god would do that?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  18. Dave

    "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."

    So you're answer is to censor public debate? That doesn't sound like a great idea either... just sayin'.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  19. asdf

    Lets be honest who else enjoys watching bad things happen to the Flanders? Dad you shot the zombie Flanders! He was a zombie?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  20. The One True Religion

    "My religion is KINDNESS." - Dalai Lama

    December 1, 2010 at 2:17 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.