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. swohio

    As a Christian, here's my message to other Christians: Why are you getting so up in arms about this? You know the truth, you know who's going to win in the end, and – if you're faith is strong enough – you should be able to ignore this whole thing and go on with your life knowing that nothing any atheist could say could stop you from believing in that truth. John 10 tells us that nothing can steal us out of Jesus' hand, so do what He told us to do....love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and do good to those who would harm us.

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

      Please don't. Those who curse you do not want your blessing. Probably because it doesn't mean anything. Save your breath.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Lindsey Brutus

      Well stated swohio! I'll see you in Heaven!!!!!!!!!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  2. Mark from Middle River

    "inane little fish and bumper stickers every where...."

    You know a guy at work said the same thing about rainbows and pink triangles everywhere.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  3. 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 2:38 pm |
    • JL


      December 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  4. Calvin Bonner

    How can you not believe in something when you acknowledge that it is by saying it's not. In order for a person to say that there is not, there has to be something that is to start the debate. Its like saying atheists are a myth. Does that mean atheists are not real?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
    • BullHorn78


      December 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  5. Checkmate

    the ultimate false religion is belief in the supremacy of one's own point of view, whether it be a belief in some invisible man in the sky or the reasoning of emotionally crippled minds.

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


      December 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  6. cmills88

    I think this is great. With the flood of religious messages that come in around this time each year, it is easy for atheists and freethinkers like myself to feel...alienated. I don't know where Donohue comes off as saying this is "antagonistic;" I see signs around this time of year urging people to "keep the Christ in Christmas." I guess in his view, there is nothing that guarantees us the right to voice our opinions and stand for our interests...

    Younger people, like myself, are increasingly declaring themselves as freethinkers. This is only the beginning, Donohue...

    December 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  7. JT

    Just a few questions:

    1. "Celebrate REASON" – how reasonable is it to attack Christianity during Christmas? What exactly is gained?
    2. "This Season Celebrate Jesus" for $18,500 – wouldn't Jesus have used that money for better things..like providing food for the hungry?

    Ex-Catholic now Agnostic

    December 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  8. BullHorn78


    December 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  9. Brian - NYC

    How did CHRISTians steal CHRISTmas?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • The Last Noel

      Do you study history much? Nevermind, I already know the answer.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • tj

      You are aware that Christ wasn't born in the winter, aren't you? And that the pope changed the date to coincide with the Winter Solstice? You might also want to look up a few other items like Father Christmas and the Christmas tree as those are not of Christian origin either. Merging the dates robbed these items of their historical significance and made them part of a Christian holiday. Forcing them all into the Churches domain.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
    • BullHorn78

      Christmas was originally a Pegan holiday that had nothing to do with Christ. Once Rome adopted Christianity somewhere around the 4th century, they intertwined some of their original Pegan festivities and holidays (since no one knew when Christ was supposedly born they threw it in there at the end of December). It was originally a celebration to mark the shortest day of the year. As such they lit lights and burned a yule log to celebrate the return of day. They lit candles which is one of the reasons we put lights up to this day and bring a tree into our homes. Easter? Same thing.. You won't find anything about Easter bunnies or eggs in the Bible.. the Pegans however, celebrated spring with effigies of rabbits in hopes of a fruitful and prosperous spring.. same with eggs. Know the facts

      December 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  10. Cindy H.

    I love Jesus and everything he has brought to my life. I pray to Him daily, but don’t shove him down anyone’s throat. My relationship with Christ is personal. If someone wants to hear about it, I’ll tell them. Some folks out there don’t believe in God. Frankly, I’m not sure how you can go on with no faith. No faith = no hope! Perhaps the best point to be made is that if I am wrong, and all the evidence that I have seen pointing to Jesus being my savior is wrong, then there is no consequence to me. I just die and that’s the end. However, if I am right, and He is indeed real, then God help the non-believer. You will certainly regret your decision. MERRY CHRISTMAS!! (PS: I don't believe in Santa Clause)

    December 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • Lindsey Brutus

      Cindy H.- Amen to your comment!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  11. J

    If you need proof of a creator, look at creation. To all those that think "nothing" can beget a universe and all the life in it,
    well, YOU should be able to create anything that you wish from 'nothing.' Oh, that's right, you can't....because you're not God. The vanity of mortal men is beyond belief at times.

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

      Does God exist? Then who/what created God? Or are you now claiming that something was created from nothing?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • Tolerance Kills

      Who created God? Does it make more sense to say that God always existed, or was created at some point, but not the universe? Don't answer right away, think about it a little longer...

      December 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • Lindsey Brutus

      God was, is and will always be!

      December 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
    • Lewis Breland

      J Said: If you need proof of a creator, look at creation.

      Lou Says: This is scientific illiteracy at its worst and only deserves a reference: 5th grade evolutionary biology

      J Said: To all those that think "nothing" can beget a universe and all the life in it, well, YOU should be able to create anything that you wish from 'nothing.' Oh, that's right, you can't....because you're not God.

      Lou Says: Ok, THIS is scientific illiteracy at its worst and doesn't even deserve a reply. But, I'll make an effort. I can't create "something" from "nothing" but I can sure as hell make a mean spaghetti dinner for two! Atoms and subatomic particles can do wonderous things when left on their own – look at the universe! I am not one of those and therefore, I can not form molecules which may become organic, and which may eventually – with added energy from solar rays on a planet which is capable of supporting it – evolve " endless form most beautiful and most wonderful." I am a product of such processes, as is every living and inanimate thing we can see and detect. How do we know this? Evidence. Verifiable, testable, falsifiable evidence.

      J Says: The vanity of mortal men is beyond belief at times.

      Lou Says: I certainly agree! Who could POSSIBLY think that this planet, let alone this universe, was CREATED with us in mind, being as it is a planet tucked away into some obscure corner of a forgettable galaxy – one amongst billions. What hubris!

      Lewis Breland

      December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  12. Frank

    Yall ought to get over yourselves.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  13. MW

    Atheists want people to respect their point of view and be respectful of them. How can you expect people to respect atheists if they do something that attacks who they want a sort of tolerance from? Christianity is not about creationism. A majority of Christians do not believe in creationism so stop using that as an attacking point. Most groups do not strictly endorse creationism. For example, the Catholic Church knows that evolution has played a roll through creation. Also, stop using "predatory" priest as another point. Unfortunately, priests are people, too, not some perfect being. Unfortunately there are people who manipulate the priesthood in order to carry out their acts. But, most, excluding a very very few, are not child molesters.

    If you want someone to respect you and be tolerant of you, it does not work to be disrespectful towards them does it? Atheists need to stop with their vendetta.


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

      I can't show respect for your beliefs. I genuinely consider them to be absurdities. The most baffling thing is how religious people could be completely rational about every other thing in their everyday lives; and then take leave of their faculties when it comes to these silly stories. Truly mind-boggling.

      Yeah yeah yeah, I know..."faith."


      December 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  14. JoeTheSchlubber

    While I might might mock Christians for thier wild beliefs, It would be nice to see athiests put thier money where thier mouth is and see them put up a billboard denouncing a Muslim holiday, I guess to athiests the fear of Allah is greater that the fear of God, so Im guessing Athiests do believe in something....hehe

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

      Guess we know where you lean, too!
      But to answer your question, the billboard in question is about denouncing xmas, Muslims don't celebrate xmas. Also, the high majority of the population in the US is Christian, so why would they waste their money putting anything up about Islam when most of the Christian bigots will agree, and everyone else could care less either way because they are not religious, and not Muslim...

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

      Muslims do have religious holidays as do Jews but for some reason(?) athiests wont touch those with a billboard, So Im guessing athiests have some beliefs to fear other religions....LOL

      December 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
    • believeyoume

      Like I said, beause it would be a waste of money. Why would they spend 20K (if they are going to at all) to reach a dozen Muslims on a Muslim holiday that in no way affects the lives of non-Muslims. Christmas definitely affects everyone, not only because it is a national holiday, but in every day activities, and the stigmatization that derives from any family that doesn't celebrate.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  15. Lewis Breland

    This is an immensely stupid argument. After all, Santa Claus is a myth. We don't post things up denying his existence. However, that analogy only works insofar as only children believe he exists. This comes down to an issue of 'respect'. This sign has less to do with trying to "de-convert" people than it does with undermining the ridiculous. After all, why, then, should we be commanded to "respect" those who insist that they alone know something that is both unknowable and unfalsifiable?

    – YN2(SW) Lewis Breland, United States Navy

    December 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  16. Opinion

    I agree with you. Well speak!
    It seems David Silverman and Aithest Group want people to think and act like them. They will attach people if they think and act different from them. What a Hyp...

    December 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  17. Weathers

    How can a religious person prove that they are good? They have ulterior motives, namely, the promise of heaven. For atheists there is no payoff beyond this realm and yet we are mostly well educated and charitable. In this respect, how can religious people be trusted?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  18. Pragmatic Christian

    I take a more pragmatic approach to this issue (and btw, I am a Christian), because I doubt anyone on here posting will change there views based on someone elses post. If I am wrong, then at least I am happy with the way I lived my life (most of Christian morale priciples are 'common sense' to me at least...just look at the 10 commandments). And if I am right, I pity anyone who is an athiest...

    December 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  19. Brett

    I see billboards advertising Jesus Christ and asking people to attend such and such church everywhere I go. And you people are upset about ONE atheist billboard? Oh please! The ratio is like 1000 pro Jesus billboards for every 1 pro-atheism billboards. You're nothing but a bunch of bullies who want to pick on the smaller guys.

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

      Brett, the billboard is not pro atheist. It is anti christian.

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

      Oh please, as if there has NEVER been an anti-atheism billboard put up by Christians. In fact there is anti-atheism billboard in my city at this very minute! and where is the outrage over that???

      December 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  20. Ian

    This whole thing is stupid and retarded. You know what atheists and religious people have in common? They both know exactly the same things... which is nothing. None of you have ever died and come back to tell about it. So until that day comes, everything regarding any sort of religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs can be considered an unproven "theory".

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

      I honestly don't know what's worse. A self-righteous Christian, or a self-satisfied atheist.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:34 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.