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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. Hannah

    Christmas in this instance was specifically targeted because it is the primary religion in America. The other day I saw a car insurance commercial that proclaimed it would not be wishing anyone a "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" but rather a big "Merry Christmas" because Jesus is the real reason for the season. Christians seem to overlook how much they push their own religious beliefs onto everybody in society. It's only more acceptable because Christians have the populous majority. Personally, I don't think either atheists or Christians should force their beliefs onto others. But at least be aware that December 21-22 was an important holiday celebrating the sun, life, and the winter solstice long before Christianity and the birth of Jesus and that others celebrate for that reason, so for some Jesus is not necessarily the reason for the season. Live and let live, Christians and atheists alike.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Hannah

      Whoops, that first Christmas is supposed to be Christianity. My bad.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • Saint

      Christmas is certainly not the only holiday celebrated by various faiths in this time of the year, understandable. But it's peculiar how come non-Christians get so up-and-arms about Christians saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "happy Holidays". What's funny, is that people get mad about it for very different reasons. To some people, saying "Merry Christmas" is "forcing Christianity down their throats", but other people do not like it because they feel that they (and their faith) are being excluded!

      An innocently warm "Merry Christmas" can land a company in the middle of a PR storm because so many people get offended. Those who celebrate Christmas are more than welcome to say Merry Christmas, and those who'd prefer to say something else (Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanza, etc.) are more than welcome to do so as well. Really though, Christians get way too much flak.

      My mom is JEWISH and she says "Merry Christmas" to people! She doesn't get mad when her friends send her CHRISTMAS cards. Imagine that "Damnit, why inconsiderate friends care about me and sent me Christmas cards! HOW DARE THEY!!!!!" hahaha

      December 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  2. offgrid

    This is an excellent discussion. What does Baruch Spinoza say about God ?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  3. JasonB

    I am an atheist. One thing that bothers me more than people shoving religious messages down my throat, trying to convert me, is when atheists feel the need to promote their atheism. Seriously? Why do you feel the need to convert people to atheism? Just let people have their religion. It's important to them. Show some respect. This is one of those things where it is best to agree to disagree.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  4. Non-believer in anything god like

    Let's just say for argument sake there actually was a Jesus, and let's just say he was the son of a virgin and a 'man in the sky'....does that make it okay to shove your christian beliefs onto everyone else who doesn't believe in either Jesus or Santa Claus???
    I wish there were more billboards advocating the myth. This holiday season is really only about spending and taking. I'd like to know how many "christians" bombarded the malls this past black Friday. What would Jesus do?
    You all are a bunch of hypocrites and celebrate money.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  5. CLINTON

    @atheists: Cause & effect. The universe has no cause for atheists, irrational and dumb.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
    • J Patcher

      Not true, Clinton. Cause & Effect was one of Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God. He was wrong. The universe always existed. Better check up on your physics, dude.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • CLINTON

      @J Patcher Care to tell us theists what is the cause of the universe, or what caused it? Cause & effect only applies to physical things, and God is not a physical thing.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  6. Jane1114

    I just don't see the point spending money on a billboard attacking million of Christian in this country. Isn't that sort of asking for trouble??? Next thing you know Silverman and his homies will go and attack Muslims and that would not be easily recieved.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
    • Non-believer in anything god like

      Good thing there is such a thing as freedom of speech

      December 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  7. JoeTheSchlubber

    just follow Jebus...... I am the leader of the Jebus movement...just send money and Ill take care of you......just have faith is all Im asking.....

    December 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  8. WW

    Although I am not an Atheist, I do agree that Christmas is a holiday that derived from Paganistic festivals and had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, his actual date of birth was never recorded in any Bible, therefore we are not to celebrate his bith period becuse our Creator, and writer of the Bible did not specify us to do so. The memorial of Jesus we are to remember as he asked us to do. Reindeers, Santa, etc. did NOT exist therefore the Atheists are correct in that area. Unfortunately a lot of Christians say they understand the Bible but never take enought time to read it and understand the Scriptures. Alot of so called Christians are practicing Idolatry, greed, etc. by not paying attention. Also, the King James version written in the 1600's was wriiten according to what HE wanted in his version of HIS Bible. Everyone who wants to truly serve God should research the ORIGINAL Hebrew Scriptures/Greek to gain the best knowledge of God. BUT most of all, rely on God to open your eyes and guide you to the truth. Satan is in Christmas, not Jesus. Love to all.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  9. JL

    @PS

    So because God cannot be disporved, that means God must exist? That is completely backwards. I tend to think that you should have to prove that something exists, not take someting that may be a myth and prove that it doesnt exist. So, according to your theory we need to disprove santa clause, the easter bunny and tooth fairy b/c they could be real?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
    • feline779

      Exactly! eg: I think giant pink unicorns rule the earth and galaxy, and there are LOTS of stories written about them. And since no one can disprove their existence then they MUST exist. What idiots.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  10. mark

    Christianity is based on historical records recorded by multiple authors, eye-witness testimony, common sense and even science ("all life comes fron life").

    Atheism is based entirely on abiogenesis ("life from non-life") which is a biological impossibility. Aside from the myth of abiogenesis and the mythical principle of non-intelligent/non-living matter creating intelligent/living matter (which has never been observed in the history of the world), there is no evidence supporting the atheist's belief system. The atheists' entire foundation is one of unscientific myths, which quickly crumble under real world scrutiny.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • J Patcher

      Atheism is not a belief system. It is rational knowledge – just like you know there is no tooth fairy, atheists know there are no gods.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • Rez

      So believing that something appeared from air is common sense? Your comment: "Christianity is based on historical records recorded by multiple authors, eye-witness testimony, common sense and even science ("all life comes fron life")."

      Actually, many of the books of old testament can be traced back to Sumerian texts (see Gilgamesh, the story of the Great Flood, etc). This is fact. To say that the bible is based on historical records, eye witness accounts and common sense is a wildly inaccurate statement and borders on the edge of fanatical bias. But who knows – Ezekiel DID see a giant flying ship didnt he – and people see UFOs and are abducted by them all the time – that proves your point I guess, huh? Im not religious, and Im not Atheist. Im a person who doesnt know – period. I cant prove there is a God, but I cant disprove it either. What I can prove is that many of the facets of the modern Christian religion are lifted from old mythology and lore, and that CAN and HAS been proven many times over.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • feline779

      Nice ignorance. Atheists do NOT believe life comes from non-life. They believe in evolution – you know SCIENCE. If anything is "life from non-life" it's your ridiculous story of Adam and Eve. THAT'S life from non life. You god simply created human being from nothing. Also, there is absolutely NO proof that jesus existed. it's like reading Harry Potter a thousand years later and saying that Ron and Hermione were eyewitnesses that Harry actually existed.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • edu

      @JPatcher Like atheist say: prove it or shut up

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

      The books in the bible that are written as accounts of Jesus' life were written 300 years after he existed.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • Observer

      Records showing that Jesus existed in not way prove that he was the direct son of God. Get serious.
      It's always entertaining to hear believers claim that for something to exist, something must have created it and then say that God exists but nothing created him. LOL.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  11. JosephG

    Christians do over advertises their mythology. I am fine with peoples chosen traditions, but I resent the gang mentality of phony morality that come with christianity and other religions. If gays have to hide their behavior (as one example), then maybe the Jesus Crispians should keep their crosses in the closets.

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

      And pedo philes, in cest, poly gamists, beast ials, etc shouldn't have to hide their corruption like gays? sorry but gay people are the same like all these, whether they concent or not they are also corrupt

      December 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  12. Chris in NoVA

    We are all born non-theists. Religion is something we are indoctrinated into as children (in most cases), usually by our parents who are following in their parents' footsteps. I don't care what you believe as long as you keep your beliefs out of the legal system, and anything funded by my tax dollars.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  13. Jessica

    Man. All this back and forth between all of you and I still do not believe there is a god. Why don't you all chill. Respect the fact that each of you has a choice and has or hasn't made it. You don't have to respect the content of that choice, just the fact that it is a decision we each get to make on our own.

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

      I am a different Jessica than the other that posted here a couple of times already.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  14. steve

    All those atheists who demand that we don't "shove our beliefs down their throats" just shoved their beliefs down my throat. Nice.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • feline779

      Really? ONE billboard to the THOUSANDS I have to see all over the country all my life spouting your Christian fantasy and shoving it down MY throat? Really. Good job showing your ignorance.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  15. Random Person

    Its funny how these athiests say they dont like religon when havent they actually made themselfs a religon?

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

    hahahaha omg you athiest are FUNNY!!lmao you guys came from nothing huh?lol so you guys are nothing too then lol this is all i gotta say, the believers in God know that God does exist but for you athiests cant say God doesn't exist because the only way for you guys to find out is when you die. Thats the only way you'll find out, lol you guys are chickens running around with no head, you guys will never find the answer.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • tj

      @HAHAHAHAHHHAH

      Perhaps when you get to heaven, God will bless you with an education?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  17. Suzy

    do atheists give gifts in December?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • tj

      @Suzy,

      It was a Pagan holiday before the Pope decided to claim it for Christians. Your comment is irrelevant. In addition, I would think the concept of buying retails gifts to "celebrate" the birth of Christ would be obscene.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  18. stainedundies

    One should believe in Santa Claus until the age of 8, the tooth fairy until 12 and God until about 10 or 11. If you are an adult and still believe in God there is no excuse.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  19. Jones

    Silverman is not just an atheist....HE IS A BIGOT.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  20. Rez

    I find it funny when people say "Jesus is the reason for the season". December 25 is an arbitrary date picked by the Christian church as the birthday of Jesus. The original holiday was not religious, it was a celebration of the end of the season. It became a Pagan holiday and remained a party for hundreds of years before the Christians, in an attempt to turn it from a rowdy drunken mess to a celebration of the family. Only in the last few hundred years has it moved from the pubs and the streets into the home, so really, both groups are being dumb.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:39 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.