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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. Ben

    I'm an Atheist. Is it right that a group erected this sign? In my opinion, no. Is it right for any person of faith to freely enjoy their religion? Yes. Is it right for any person of any ethnicity or creed to tell someone else that what they believe is wrong when what they believe helps them be a better person? Absolutely not. Regardless of what you believe, it is up to US as individuals to be responsible for ourselves and treat each other, regardless of any factor dealing with faith and/or religion, as equals – human beings.

    The fact of the matter still remains, we all have to exist together on the same planet. Why fight? What's it going to get any of us in the long run?

    Love to you all this holiday season, religious or not.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • alan101

      Amen!

      December 1, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Apeman

      Love back at you!

      December 1, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • USN Atheist

      STOP MAKING SENSE!!!! You are ruining the argumentative theme of this blog. 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Patricia

      I agree and the same to you Ben

      December 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • Freeman3000

      Word!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  2. Paradox002

    Its not Merry Chrismas its not happy holidays its freaking Winter.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Freeman3000

      Happy Jacket season!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  3. Remy

    LOL I just find the idea of an atheist prophet funny and ironic. Like someone actually preaching the word of atheism. It could be just me but, I would expect that from a believer in god not from a non believer. Could it be that the two sides are more like each other than we care to admit??? LOL, why didn't they put the money they used to put up the billboard to prove without a shadow of a doubt that it is a myth and nothing in the bible actual happened since it's all about reason and science so we can put all the speculation to bed. Prove it or leave people alone. I hate bullies.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  4. some emo kid

    I don't believe in it, and I don't think anyone really does. The godbeaters are also the ones saying they'd like to cut off this person's willy or beat this person to death.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • alan101

      Shouldn't you be in school?

      December 1, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • LMG

      Be in school...lol...oooh that was funny!

      December 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  5. celticfaerie

    This is ridiculous. Why can't people just let others believe what they want to believe without forcing their own beliefs down other's throats? And I'm talking about everyone, atheists and religious people alike.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Freeman3000

      Word. There are far to few reasonable voices like yours on these blogs.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  6. Todd Zmina

    Why is it that aetheists claim that they believe in NO god of any kind, yet the only faith that they attack is Christianity? Maybe you're just anti-Christian and it's time to take the veil off your hatred. Honestly, it's not mine or anyone else's judgement of you that will matter in the end, so you're free to act as you choose: however, I see the intent of the two billboards to be different. One is to share the other is to attack: whether you believe in God or not, which do you believe is the best approach?

    December 1, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • civilioutside

      It's not that atheists only criticize Christianity. If you'd read the comments here, you'd see that we do not believe in any gods and many of us have pointed that out. But you do hear us mention the Christian god more often than others for the simple fact that most of us grew up in the US where even today just over 75% of the population claims to be Christian. Religion in America is almost synonymous with Christianity. And the billboard in question specifically addresses the Christian nativity myth because that is the one that so thoroughly dominates the Christmas season in America as to be virtually inescapable regardless of what your actual beliefs are.

      When you're the biggest target, you take the most hits. It's as simple as that.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  7. James

    I'm what one would label an, "evangelical Christian," and as much as I think the billboard stinks, the organization has the right to have it put up.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:47 am |
    • alan101

      Just as they have a right to be ridiculed for it.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • Apeman

      What a rollercoaster ride your life must be......fear and self loathing for wanting to do things that come naturally to you....

      December 1, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  8. Ty

    There is not 100% proof that God exists nor is there 100% proof that He does not exist, so let's do each other a favor and just the shut the hell up since we all could be wrong. Our freedom is dwindling by the day, let us be free from each other.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Robert Landbeck says there is proof – above and in another article (the one about Hitchens vs Blair and that has a link to some very interesting survey information about beliefs in various country including the US – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11843586 ). I did exactly what he asked folks to do and couldn't find it, so I posted this:

      "I followed the link. I read the web pages. I was intrigued by this line: "This is the only living and testable proof of the living God ever to exist, the perfect, incontrovertible and immutable proof of the Law of Life, the Prophets and Jesus the Christ." so I downloaded the PDF material. I admit that I scanned the docu-ment pretty quickly, so I may have missed it, but I did not see a proof for god – please guide me to the relevent sections."

      No response to date...

      December 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • jdubbs

      Preachy atheism is just as bad as preachy faith.

      I imagine that the faithful feel just as disgusted when someone tries to them that they believe in a medieval lie that can't adapt to the modern world, as I do when someone tries to sell me on that crap.

      SCIENCE RULES! ::HIGH FIVE::

      December 1, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  9. NewJoisey

    She wasn't wearing her seatbelt. Isn't that illegal in New Jersey? For shame.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  10. alan101

    I fear their would be more retribution if they put up a sign saying, 'Their is no Santa Claus'.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  11. Parkerman

    Non-religion or Non-belief is a belief system as well. What makes your non-belief better than a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. Respect each others beliefs and we will respect your belief as well. You are still in the minority and are insulting every other religion out there. Let people believe what they want and stop trying to control that. Keep in mind that non-belief has no hope for a future, no hope for a better world, bascially they have nothing so what makes that so much better.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Parkerman
      Saying that non-belief is a belief in and of itself is like saying that being in good health is a form of illness or that being innocent of a crime is a type of guilt.
      Also, you seem to be under the impression that atheists are all miserable. This is like Kierkergard's assertion that anyone without God is in despair, even when they think they're happy. It simply isn't so.
      As a non-believer, I have hope for the future of the planet, of the human race, of our civilization. I hope that reason will one day guide humanity down a path of peaceful co-existance, eliminating the cultural rifts created and perpetuated by dogmatic faiths.
      I hope that people will stop living their lives in fear of what might happen in the unknowable, unprovable after-life and work together to make this very real, tangible existence the best it can be during the short time that we're alive.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
    • KDW31

      @doc vestibule, I could not have said it better myself. I do think it would be nice if more atheists/agnostics could feel comfortable being open about their world view and the fact that religion is not necessary to live a good and moral life. The fact that not needing religion or an afterlife frees you to try and make the most of the world we currently live in b/c it is the only one we have. Sadly many non-believers, like myself fear being open about our beliefs due to discrimination. It would be nice if this weren't the case.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • Alverant

      "Non-religion or Non-belief is a belief system as well."
      That's like saying "off is a TV station", "bald is a hair color", and "not collecting stamps is a hobby". You don't believe in the Shinto religion so does that mean that you're both a christian and an aShinto-ist?

      "Respect each others beliefs and we will respect your belief as well."
      "Keep in mind that non-belief has no hope for a future, no hope for a better world, bascially they have nothing so what makes that so much better."
      Those two statements contradict each other and the latter is a flat out lie. Since you don't seem to mind lying about Atheists, you shouldn't get so upset when Atheists tell the truth about christians.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  12. me

    I hate to be a stickler but im pretty sure that more and more scientist are coming to the realization that God does exist. I would also like to point out that there are also plenty of secular books written a long time ago that confirms the existence of Jesus and the things He did. Believe what you want but no one can disprove the existence of God.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • USN Atheist

      I am also "pretty sure" that your guess is incorrect on scientists realizing a god exists. That would be faith, not science. And the question over the existence of a man called Jesus is not in debate. Sure, I believe there was a man called Jesus and that years after his death people wrote stories about him. That's about it though.
      And as for "no one can disprove the existence of God." – no one can prove it either, that is why it is called faith.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  13. Tax Churches Now!

    That's a fantastic billboard, recreating the design right now so I can give out t-shirts to everyone I know as a gift for the 25th of December.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  14. Patti

    It's about time that the fundamentalist Christians got a little of their own medicine. I respect everyone's right to conscience as long as it doesn't hate/hurt anyone else. Call it simplistic, but it works. I am a believer/spiritualist, but I do take offense at anyone's attempt to monopolize God and tell the rest of us we're inferior. Not to mention the wars and the killing and the day to day crap. "Put the Christ back in Christmas"? How about putting the Christ back in Christian? We are all children of God. That is in the Bible, too.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  15. Hey You

    What a waste of money! Nearly $40,000 on 2 signs! That money could help a lot of people in need. Why not use that money for good!? I think both sides are wrong.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  16. Jen

    They are right. Christmas and Easter are not a Christian holidays. They're Pagan. As a proud Christian and follower of the Bible and nothing else I am extremely saddened by this. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, died so that we may live and this is how the human race repays him? I am very saddened.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  17. ArticulateAtom

    I stopped reading this story 14 words in.
    Atheists (like myself) are not calling Christmas a myth. We are calling religion, all of them, not just Christianity a myth.
    To say that we are calling Christmas a myth just makes me lose a sense of trusted legitimacy towards the publisher and
    editor of this story.
    This billboard is more a statement to attract other 'not out of the closet' atheists, to show that the group is large enough that
    you no longer need to feel oppressed by religion and no longer need to feel guilty celebrating a holiday that is blanketed by
    believers.
    Christianity has forced itself a place on Christmas. It's supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but wasn't Jesus' birthday actually some time in May? Christmas may not be a myth, because it is actually celebrating St. Nicholas, a real man who gave block carvings of animals and dolls to children in his village in Finland. Not celebrating the birth of a man that never existed. Which is why Santa is figured to look the way he is, as a man, and why it isn't Jesus popping down your chimney leaving presents for you.
    Christianity is nothing but bigotry. It takes all the points of views that conflict with it and attack them until they are withered down to the bone. Billboards like this are to try and bring strength to closeted atheists. Not to attack a religious belief or a secular holiday (that shouldn't be secular any longer.)

    December 1, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  18. jaxin

    Here's the thing: either I'm right, or you are.

    If you, the atheist, are right, I will have tried (and mostly succeeded) to live a righteous life while exercising love, kindness, and forgiveness to my fellow man. At the end of my life, I will be no worse off than you.

    If I am right, well, I hope you like it hot.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • Apeman

      What kind of God would make such a wonderful creation, give it impossible rules to live by, and then burn it alive because it couldn't follow them? This is ridiculous....get a grip, live in love, not fear....

      December 1, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Nonimus

      This is generally called Pascal's Wager (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal's_Wager).

      Some counter-arguments include:
      1 If the believer is wrong, they have wasted enormous amounts of time worshiping a delusion.
      2 If one factors in all variations of God/Spirit/Creator/etc. the odds are in favor of making a mistake. i.e. it's no longer either/or 50-50, but 1 out of 1000's of different faiths.
      3 Would the God you worship really appreciate being bet on like a horse at the Derby? "I believed in you because, my bookie gave you the best odds."

      December 1, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • Tax Churches Now!

      You're arrogance is very typical of most bible thumpers Jaxin. Threaten pain and damnation on those who don't agree with you, invoke your kindness only in the name of religion instead of just being a good person every day. Thankfully, I had to be around a lot of arrogant religous fools (like you) when I was young and that provided all the evidence I need...organized religion is the greatest scam ever perpetrated on mankind and is the root of most evil. Say hi to the tooth fairy while you're at it 'follower.'

      December 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  19. geckopelli

    No person, anywhere, EVER, should respect anothers delusions.

    Belief is for the ignorant; Reality IS.
    No magic king of ignorance needed.

    December 1, 2010 at 11:37 am |
    • Mike, not me

      geckopelli

      "No person, anywhere, EVER, should respect anothers delusions."

      Does that include yours or are you superior that your statement, thus making the statement itself false?

      December 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • april

      OK. I refuse to respect your delusion that there is no God and everything just magically poofed into existence. weirdo.

      December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Patricia

      .... just a tad extreme there... respect is something we all need to have for each other whether we believe the same things or not..

      December 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • Freeman3000

      The problem is, you have appointed yourself the sole arbiter of what is 'true' and what is 'delusion'.

      What about people who believe in life on other worlds? Are they delusional? How about those that don't because they haven't seen any evidence of it? Are they the delusional ones?

      Here's a crazy idea, we respect others beliefs, even if we don't agree with them. Because, if we are completely honest with ourselves, there is no way to absolutely prove that our ideas of truth or delusion are correct, no matter how strongly they are held, or how much evidence supports them.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  20. agrl4god80

    This just really makes me sad. I'm not sure how much more evidence people need. How many more history books that tell of the same things in the Bible. How many archeological finds that need to be made of biblical buildings, evidence, etc. That on top of just life and the magnificient way that everything works together to sustain life. Without one, the ecosystem fails, or at the very least is very compromised. But even with all evidence aside, I'd still believe in God and his son Jesus Christ because it's the truth, and the truth sets you free. People can call me names all they want but one day, I will be living in paradise with my Father and King! I'll gladly take all the abuse people want to throw at me because of Christ, because I know beyond a shaddow of a doubt, the hope I have in Christ Jesus. Merry CHRISTmas!

    December 1, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • Fricsaid

      Before I "truly" believed as a kid, I always told myself. "What does it hurt to believe and there isn't a God. It made me try to live a good life and I'm no worse for the trip." And then I would ask myself this....."what if there is a God and I don't believe? That would be bad news in the end." Many years later, due to a personal experience, there is no doubt in his existence. Kinda hard to miss when you know what to look for. 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      Just as much "evidence" exists about the Egyptioan gods, Buddha, and hundreds of other religions. Evidence that people worshipped X does not PROVE the existance of X. Only that people believed.

      December 20, 2010 at 1:25 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.