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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. sean

    Funny how much these different groups spend trying to buy your belief. Belief or non-belief in God is something personal, I never understood why people feel the need to have others pick a side. Why do we have to make some right and others wrong.

    People are funny. Especially seeing how no one knows anything, as you need to die to find out the truth of the matter. 20G's could buy a lot of toys or clothes for the less fortunate.

    FAIL.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  2. Tomoyo

    Christians have been telling us to "celebrate Jesus" on this stolen Pagan holiday for centuries. Booooooring.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  3. Paul

    Atheists are just as arrogant as religious folks in regard to the presumed veracity of their respective philosophies. I, on the other hand, do not claim to know the unknowable. Agnosticism is the only rational position for anyone with an open mind.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • cmills88

      Paul,

      Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive; you can be both. I am :).

      Atheism is a belief claim. I do not believe in a higher power of any sort, so I am an atheist. Agnosticism is a knowledge claim. Although I do not believe in the existence of any god(s), I am not 100% certain that no higher power exists or has existed. Therefore, I am also agnostic.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
    • Philo Cafe

      You are correct! I am an agnositc "ateapotist!" Whereas, I do not believe the Universe exists in a great big teapot, I accept that I cannot prove that it doesn't.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  4. Muhammed's 6yo wife

    Athiests are such tools. Spending money to put up a billboard? Why? Has not believing in god become a religion of its own?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  5. Cmnsns57

    Bill Donahue says "such signs are antagonistic. ..[they] ought to respect our religion". But as an atheist I have to endure their proselytizing billboards, inane little fish and bumber stickers every where I go. I regularly have to drive across states in the midwest innudated by the Talibangelical exhortations to join them in their delusions. An yet they get so easily offended at a statement in opposition. But then, organized religion is all about power and control and as an authoritarian regime we should expect that they would find questions about their legitimacy dangerous.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  6. The Last Noel

    Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not. Yes it is. No it's not, etc....

    Repeat ad nauseam until death.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  7. Scott

    quote: juan del pueblo

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

    ^TRUTH^

    December 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  8. Tim in Virginia

    Just what is an atheist? That is to say, how can I recognize one on the street? Why are they so special?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • Jane1114

      Synonym for ATHIEST is a COMMUNIST. People who are supressed by their own peronal upbringing or goverment to not believe in anything. At least in my opinnion.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  9. reason

    The article claims that it is targeting athiests (sic) .. to say "this season celebrate reason" (as opposed to last season when they were not...) it sounds to me like they are not targeting athiests at all ...

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

    Atheists don't know either. So shut up.

    "We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do not know."

    Practice what you preach and understand that NOBODY KNOWS, yet we all believe different things. What I believe does not have to be what you believe and putting up a sign that tries to persuade others to believe what you believe is related to terrorists murdering others to spread their religious beliefs.

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

    Not all atheists are anti-religious but all religious people are hypocrites.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
    • Tim in Virginia

      So are you atheist or religious? If religious I guess you are a hypocrite, but if you are atheist I guess from your comment that you are indeed anti-religious. And by you categorization of people I think you are also a bigot. I hate bigots! 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  12. arrow2fast

    thank you 2centworth for noticing the obvious!
    and kenny! thank you as well.
    at least you think clearly.
    it seems that some people hate Christians so much that it clouds their very reasoning they are so fond of.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  13. Pete

    Ahh yes. The good old atheist. So positive they are right they feel the need to fight something they dont believe exist. Where are the billboards against UFOs and the boogeyman? If you so strongly dont believe .. WHY DO YOU CARE THAT OTHERS DO??? Bide your time before you cease to exist.

    However when you one day die, I hope Jesus scoreboards you !!!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  14. Laura

    Really? How about BOTH groups spend that money on something that matters! Like donate it to a good cause, actions speak louder than a billboard.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
    • Theodore the Great

      AMEN!! I mean, I agree. OH, nevermind. LOL

      December 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  15. Putana

    How do you prove you believe in God? How do you prove you do not believe in God?

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

      How do you not prove there is a teapot in the orbit between Mars and Jupiter if that's what I tell you? The burden is on you because your belief is a fantastical fairytale. I don't have to prove scientific mythology because it's what science does, it fills in the gaps of knowledge. But I can tell you this. You were indoctrinated. If you had been born in the middle east you would most likely be a Muslim, if you had been born in India, you would most likely be a Hindu. So, please tell me, who's the real God, the real intelligent designer?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  16. FactChecker

    CNN editor ... they're not calling it "a myth". They're calling it a myth. Are you trying to somehow make it less offensive to some people using the quotes, or are you introducing your own bias?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  17. Theodore the Great

    Christmas is nothing more than a retail event. They make 85% of their profits in Nov and Dec. Just buy stuff for the kids to enjoy it, and call it a day.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  18. Greg

    Hmmmmm....interesting. None of the "Unreasonable, confrontational Right Wing Christian" blogs I read daily has even mentioned this billboard....could it possibly be that CNN is trying to draw more attention to this in an attempt to (once again) Invent It's Own Controversy so it can have something to report on?

    I haven't seen any prominent churches wailing on tv...no mass demonstrations, no death threats, no screams and calls for boycotts....why, it would appear that, contrary to what Chicken Noodle News is telling me, people just mostly don't care what the Atheists are doing. They may not like it, but they aren't staging bloody riots in the streets over it.

    But I guarantee you CNN will keep this "story" in the headlines until tomorrow when it will try create another controversy to get people stirred up....because stirred up masses mean ratings!

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

      This is probably because most of the Christians are praying for these people... the worst thing a non-believer can do (from their point of view) is to tell a bunch of believers that they are athiest/agnostic/etc. because now they have whole churches praying for them.

      December 4, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I think it's pretty funny and a complete waste of their time for a believer to pray for me, but if all it takes is a few billboards to keep them off the streets and out the media, or takes them away from them trying to change the law to match their tribal myths, I've got a couple of bucks to help put some more up.

      December 4, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  19. bill

    I think there is a big problem with the billboard. They can say we are atheist and we believe in nothing and celebrate not. But attacking christmas is attacking Christians and our religion. Those are fighting words wrapped in holiday paper. We have taken notice, and prepared to defend ourselves like we have done so from mightier foes then the godless non belivers.

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

      Most, if not all, atheists don't want to take your religion away (though they don't understand why you'd keep it), they just want you to stop imposing your beliefs on others. If you want to address what you see as an attack on your belief by this particular group, I guess the onus it on you to present facts that support the Christmas story not being a myth. If you're strong in your own faith, what others have to say about it shouldn't matter to you.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • Frankcincy

      There is real hypocrisy here. You spout your message but we can't spout our belief in scientific fact? All religions are nothing more than supernatural beliefs, ours is grounded in science. And by the way, if you don't believe in science then stop driving your car, using the Internet, eating processed food, taking medicine, etc. Hypocrisy at its best!

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

      you two guys are so silly on your points that I wouldn't have time to start. But as I said, the billboard is anti christian.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  20. J

    HotAirAce,

    God, Jesus, & people who have passed on that protect us for the good of us and those around us are real. You may be the assistant to the creation of your own destiny, but you are not the creator & you never will be.

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

      J, care to provide some context? Were you replying to something I posted?

      Re: me being the creator or not, that's pretty funny givin that I'm an atheist, so don't believe in a creator, so am not likely to think that I am, so please clarify.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      J, care to provide some context? Were you replying to something I posted?

      Re: me being the creator (or not), that's pretty funny givin that I'm an atheist, so don't believe in a creator, so am not likely to think that I am, so please clarify.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:56 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.