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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. juan del pueblo

    If they REALLY want to play atheist, then let them buy a billboard that reads that there is no allah...

    December 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  2. Observer

    Atheists and agnostics probably deserve more credit than Christians because they include people who are good because they think it is the right thing to do and not because of bribes (Heaven) or threats (Hell).

    December 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  3. Scott

    I wish the american atheists would grow a pair of balls and attack Islam. See how that works out for them.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • Jaime

      Matt Stone and Trey Parker on Comedy Central did. They seem to be doing pretty well too.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  4. tj

    @TJ

    Don't forget the biggest of all, they are hypocritical to the extreme! Do as I say and not as I do. They'll quote the bible and preach about sin all the while stealing money out of the collection plate and having affairs with their flock.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  5. juspraizinHim!

    there is proof God exist!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • cbozey

      I would love to see this proof you are speaking of...anything to solve the question!!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • tj

      @juspraizinHim!

      The joke is on him. Anyone with more than a basic understanding of the bible knows that there is NO proof. You're supposed to take it on faith.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
    • tj

      ACK.... last reply was to cbozey

      December 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • Observer

      If you can prove God exists you will become the most famous person in the world right now. So tell us. We are waiting.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
    • cbozey

      I am pretty sure the joke is not on me 😉

      December 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  6. Tim

    Oh this puts a smile on my face and I love the bible thumpers lack of understanding of evolution. I want to go in get my photo taken with the atheist billboard

    December 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  7. arrow2fast

    Jaime
    you are missing the point of this controversy.
    It is not about whether Jesus existed.
    it is about atheists ALWAYS picking on Christians, the same way Jehowa Witnesses always pick on Catholics.

    it is about atheists NOT picking on anybody else.
    we have a millions of Muslims in the USA.
    where are the billboards poking fun at the pedophilia of Mohammed?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • Frankcincy

      Amazing to me the lack of educated understanding. Evolution is driven by natural selection and that is proven science not theory any longer. Before Darwin it appeared that there must be an "intelligent designer" How could such complexity come about? So, OK, maybe you are well intended to think that with your lack of understanding, but if you're seriously seeking the truth as a curious and intelligent species, then do yourself a favor and read Dawkin's The Greatest Show On Earth. As the late Carl Sagan stated, it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. Believing the Earth is 7,000 years old is in fact, delusional.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • cbozey

      Because Christianity makes up at least 75% of America...so targeting the biggest group makes sense. And I am sure an atheist would laugh just the same for muslims and christian beliefs alike.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
    • MrSubaru

      Maybe because they want to pick on a certain group instead of picking on everyone's "punching bag." Maybe they feel there is already enough (probably not enough in some people's view) hatred for the Muslim and do not want to follow the norms of our society.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • Woody

      not to pick on you 🙂 but when was the last time you heard on the news of an American Muslim say he was molested by an Imam?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • Cmnsns57

      A muslim has never come onto my property and tried to get me to pray with them (and then donate to their church); a muslim has never stopped my kid in the street and told them they are going to hell because they weren't carrying a bible; a muslim has never passed a law that said I couldn't buya beer on a Sunday because it was the lords day; the list is pretty extensive. It seems that muslims are pretty content to observe their beliefs without imposing them on me. If they start acting like christians they might start getting treated like them.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • cbozey

      @Cmnsns57

      Well said!!!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • Jaime

      Arrow2fast
      Indeed, I am not disputing his existence, just that his birthday should not be associated with the season, and that people who claim to believe should also read what they believe in.

      Also, being a member of various other forums, I can tell you that atheists do indeed pick on pedophilia, and you are doing that too. I mean honestly, are you telling me that we need MORE Islamophobia in this country? There's plenty of Islam-bashing going on, figuratively, and literally (in Ney York, by a Christian to a Muslim cabby).

      Reason skewers all religions equally well, except perhaps Buddism, because that is more of a practice and less dogmatic. There is plenty there to skewer, but it's just not as important to the practice itself.
      I would also point out that since you are so eager to attack Islam and its prophet, that you are in no position to complain about anyone attacking your faith.

      In closing I disagree with your posit that atheists are NOT picking on anyone else, because I have seen plenty evidence to the contrary on multiple web sites.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  8. kenny

    Why would an atheist care enough what anyone believes to put up a billboard. I support anyone's right to free speech, but this makes no sense. There is no reason free men need to tell others or be told what and how to think. So I must conclude these people have no interest in supporting freedom, instead supporting their own brand of slavery where all must think and do as they command.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  9. 2centsworth

    I wish they would do this kind of thing to islam. But just before the muslims killed them they would be screaming out to God to save their retched skins.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  10. Aramis2000

    Cnn needs to come up with a way that lets people find their own quotes FASTER... it's nearly impossible to discuss and reply on these... and once the crazy gets going, conversation is lost.

    ONe things sticks out: "Atheism isn't based on science" WHAT? Atheism is ENTIRELY based on Science.

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

    If only Christians didn't have so many negative personality traits. For example, many of them are very obnoxious and in-your-face about how great their religion is. [Very immature.] They are belligerent about converting people. ["Convert, or you're going to H*LL!!!"] They are devious. ["Come to our harmless little Bible study or barbecue....It's nothing, really!"] They are insecure, always counting heads and trumpeting how their numbers are growing [when their percentage in the US has declined in the past 20 years,from 86% to 76%.] Then, they have a major persecution complex, ALL THE TIME....not realizing that the "persecution" is brought on by their own bad behavior. And finally, all their paranoia and fear, and their primitive black/white, right/wrong, US vs. THEM view of the world. Too much pathology there.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  12. reason

    As much as athiests want to attack christianity, if people just followed the moral aspects of it instead of just believing in nothing, the world would be a better place.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  13. pj

    The greek and the roman were famous for recording history. Very little has been said about a man called jesus. If jesus did so many wonderful and unique things, would it not be logical, he would be mentioned in greek and roman writings other than the bible? I have also wondered why in the old testament God was so angry and Jesus, his son, in the new testament, was so nice and gentle...God gave commandments! Jesus spoke in parables...man or myth...hummmm!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  14. Opinion

    This billboard has seemed to aim at Christianity. The Atheist Group has used the Christian figures and it is kind of anti-Christian message rather than just plain Atheist Group. This group has violated other people's religion and created tension. Please speak up Christian Leaders. This Atheist group is worse than a cult, because it denies the basic theory of a human being.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • Jaime

      The english language is filled with words, and these words have very specific meanings. Like the word "theory". It has a meaning. It is a concept or coherent group of concepts that are used to explain a class of observable phenomenon, whose status is conjectural but can have been supported by emperical evidence. So when you say, "the basic theory of a human being", you are really spouting nonsense. What is the basic theory of a human being? Would that be evolution? I am certain atheists aren't calling that into question. What exactly is it that you are trying to say, please do enlighten us.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  15. Jaime

    This is so funny. So many believer coming out and defending the rationality of their belief system with utterly flawed arguments. Look people, it is called faith for a reason, it is taking a belief without proof. Hence the phrase leap of faith, you're taking a leap without having any reason to believe. For many people, it works, it helps them cope with day to day stresses.

    The main problem is these people then use it to lambast and enslave and kill and hate, and they don't bother to read the thing that that think is infallible.

    Hey morons, READ LUKE 2:8, then tell me if shepards would be tending to their flock and sleeping IN THE BETHLEHEM WINTER?! NO. Also, Jesus was executed at the age of 33 1/2 on Nisan 14 (end of March). Count backwards 6 months, and that puts his birthday at or around the END OF SEPTEMBER.

    YOU ARE CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS ON THE WRONG DAY. READ THE BIBLE. There's no Santa Claus, there's no Rudolph the Red Nosed anything in it. You claim to believe the Bible? Read it. And get Christmas in its rightful place.

    Get off this forum, stop lambasting atheists and READ that thing you happen to think is literally God's word. What is wrong with you people. Unless of course you don't actually believe it and are just doing what you're told.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • Bryant

      Dear Atheists,

      I don't think there are many Christians that actually believe he was born on December 25th. In fact to the person that flat out called mormons out, me being mormon, we know he was born in the Spring. It is not a hidden secret to Christians that the day is off but it is what is celebrated... that Christ came to the Earth. it doesn't have to be on the actaul day of his brith.

      Secondly all those that say Christians have little interest in preserving the earth no very little of countries that hold majority atheism ie eastern europe. Some of those countries have terrible polution and deforistiation worse than the rest of the world.

      PS Atheists you keep battling JUST christians on this site... you keep saying JUST christians. Why don't you choose to fight everyone?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • Jaime

      @Bryant-
      I am failry certain I did not refer to mormons, but rather to morons, that would be people who claim to believe the Bible is the literal word of God, but then don't bother to read it and Christians who think Christmas was Jesus the Christ's birthday. You are a follower of the Church of Latter Day Saints, hey, great for you. That means you believe the Holy Bible is canon. If that is so, how can you think he was born in the Spring because if he was, then he could have died at 33 or 34, but not 33 1/2 as it states in the Holy Bible.

      Not to mention that Leviticus has some really great lessons for you to follow. Particularly if there is a bed that your wife menstruated in. That's a great rule, and it is God's literal word, so you best do some reading (and buy some cheap mattresses).

      December 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  16. arrow2fast

    I think the atheists are worried that their fold is faltering...
    why else preach to the converted?

    and, why still no billboards attacking Muslims?
    if atheists are "equal opportunity" haters, why doesn't anybody pay for the billboards criticizing Mohammed...
    are the atheists afraid of the more aggressive islam followers?
    Must be since they bully only the weak (since Christians believe that they should offer the other cheek if slapped).

    I always thought atheists were typical bullies – abusing the meek and tipping the hat to even bigger bullies (in this case Muslims).

    December 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • Jane1114

      Exactly! Why waste your money putting a sign that insults millions of Christians in the country! What an idiot. He's just asking for trouble.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  17. another john

    I have never felt better since I washed Christianity out of my life, and you know what, life is good. I began studying Buddhism which has given me a new fresh perspective on the reality I live in. I'm not telling people forget your faith, but learn about other spiritual teachings. I was surprised to see myself accepting the logic of Buddhist teaching. It really answers questions of eternity, and the infinite. Reincarnation, no judgement of a deity, no heaven or hell, we're in a cyclical rebirth on our path towards enlightenment. Just check it out, you might be as surprised as I was.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  18. 1532

    here's the deal, i am an atheist. i don't hate anything or anyone your religion is your choice. i don't believe that anyone should push their religion on me nor my lack of faith on them. the debate of religion should be eliminated all together cause it always ends up in heated arguments. religion is like politics it can't be debated without a fight. someone always get's mad. pull down the billboards.. all of them and have enough respect for each other not to attack one another religion.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  19. JoeTheSchlubber

    There is only one truth...and that is that we exist....anything else is speculation

    December 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  20. Scott

    The U.S. is alone among almost all first world nations in the number of people who believe religion is a force for good (60%) vs. evil (40%). Everywhere else the numbers are reversed, even in Canada. The only others who believe religion is good are Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. See a pattern? Remember, those who can't do, preach!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:22 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.