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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. Redd

    atheism is a cop-out for lazy persons who are in need of experiencing happiness and truth rather than temporal pleasures.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • J Patcher

      On the contrary, atheists know that true human and individual happiness is only achieved within this one lifetime. We have no illusions, or delusions, of an after life.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • USN Atheist

      Faith...in my opinion, is lazy. It seems to me that it is way easier to believe something happened because the bible tells me so than to do actual thinking and research about the world, life in general, cause and effect, etc. etc. If you are happy with what you believe then good on you, enjoy! I do however question on what you call "truth" which I always will just as you I am sure will question on what I call the truth. As for your "temporal pleasures" comment...enjoy your faith in what you have waiting for you be it 72 virgins, valhalla, heaven, whatever...no one knows and you are not any different than anyone else in that aspect.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  2. Amy

    I really don't care about the billboard one way or the other.I believe in God and I celebrate Christmas, and this sign doesn't bother me at all. They can believe whatever they want, it doesn't make me feel any different than I did five minutes ago. On the other hand, I don't think many people actually stop and read billboards, most of them just look at the pictures- I could drive by this 10 times and easily ONLY see the Christian elements. I'm not offended, but I don't necessarily think it does a good job of advertising.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  3. super dave

    There is no TRUE atheist. Even if you believe in nothing you still believe in something!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • Jessica

      Atheism: the doctrine or belief that there is no god.
      That doesn't mean we don't believe in anything.
      For example, I believe that humans can love and be
      compassionate towards one another.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  4. john316

    There are lots of myths....flying saucers, Santa, etc. ....but people that believe in those, don't preach hatred and intolerance of others...as well as trying to deprive them of equal rights that other taxpayers in this country ( and elsewhere) have access to. I think that's where we have to draw the line......younger people and much of the educated, get it....but I think "organized" religions will pay a price for their intolerance down the road...as people leave.....in disgust. Much like Southern whites used religion to justify segregation of the races.......and many still do in the South and elsewhere.

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

    I'm a trained scientist with a PhD (image processing, undergrad: physics) who was a serious atheist. Until I had to contend with medically incurable heart trouble that limits your life choices, and that likely kills you before 50. I got miraculously cured, thanks to Jesus. How did it start? A supernatural experience in the hospital, after super invasive heart surgery...

    I have a lot of things to say about Atheism (and about fake judgmental self-righteous Christians as well, there are a ton of them) but there's no space here. Suffice it to say that you have to want to look for God. That is the whole point. Choosing is based on the heart, not on reason. Of course, if you are hit with severe tragedy with no possible control, you abandon atheism really quick let me tell you. You ask for his help, and he is guaranteed to step in. To the point that you let him. Why? he gave you free will, and he will respect that. The speed of your healing and deliverance is the speed of your opening up to him.

    The Bible says satan is the ruler of this world. In other words, God is defeating satan under satan's rules. My supernatural experience(s) involved first not God, but explicitly seeing demons. God allowed me to, so that I can ask for his help. Real nasty buggers. And they mostly the cause of sickness. At least mine. Why? So that I despair. In despairing, I die rejecting God, cause I blame him, or even curse him. That is the whole game, to get you to die rejecting God. Either with temptation, or with despair. Or both.

    Satan the ruler of this world? How can this be? Ok. A little food for thought:

    I believe in evolution. What is evolution's driving principle? Survival of the fittest. Why? Limited resources. You gotta be alpha, and get what's yours and screw the rest. Sometimes kill the rest. We even see it in our society. What about social dynamics in your workplace? Remember when you were single? Which guys get the girls? What is the spiritual name for survival of the fittest? SELFISHNESS. Now, just to give mess with your noggin. What kind of miracles did Jesus perform? For example, multiplication of the bread... The whole point of the miracle was this: with God there is no "limited resources", so the whole point of "survival of the fittest" becomes moot.

    Of course, multiplication of the bread means free matter (or free energy). A direct violation of the second law of thermodynamics. There is no free anything (even in economics, or physics or anything). We wouldn't even have need for engineering if there was free energy. So under the laws of our universe, it is impossible to have such a miracle. So either God operates outside of the laws of the universe (like a computer simulation for example) or he doesn't exist. Now, how can you assume the programmer doesn't exist based on the rules inside the computer simulation?

    Now, back to satan is the ruler of the world. What is entropy in information theory? The degree of disorder in a system. Entropy, scientist say, has only one direction: increase. What is entropy increase in biological systems? sickness, disease, death. In social systems? unrest, societal decay (there is even a DARPA project on applying entropy theory to societies). In relationships? you get the point. Everything dies. The Bible says satan only comes to steal, kill and destroy. He is called the destroyer, the accuser (guilt is of satan), etc...

    The lie is ingrained in the very fabric of the universe.

    Anyway, you might or might not agree with this, but I have just given you a cogent POSSIBILITY. My hope is that before you die, you will give this possibility enough of your heart that you might choose God and be saved. Bless you

    December 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  6. chris

    A CHRISTMAS SERMON. 1891

    The good part of Christmas is not always Christian - it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human, natural.

    Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy, but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on earth and perdition hereafter.

    It taught some good things - the beauty of love and kindness in man. But as a torch-bearer, as a bringer of joy, it has been a failure. It has given infinite consequences to the acts of finite beings, crushing the soul with a responsibility too great for mortals to bear. It has filled the future with fear and flame, and made God the keeper of an eternal penitentiary, destined to be the home of nearly all the sons of men. Not satisfied with that, it has deprived God of the pardoning power.

    And yet it may have done some good by borrowing from the Pagan world the old festival called Christmas.

    Long before Christ was born the Sun-God triumphed over the powers of Darkness. About the time that we call Christmas the days begin perceptibly to lengthen. Our barbarian ancestors were worshipers of the sun, and they celebrated his victory over the hosts of night. Such a festival was natural and beautiful. The most natural of all religions is the worship of the sun. Christianity adopted this festival. It borrowed from the Pagans the best it has.

    I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy. We in America have too much work and not enough play. We are too much like the English.

    I think it was Heinrich Heine who said that he thought a blaspheming Frenchman was a more pleasing object to God than a praying Englishman. We take our joys too sadly. I am in favor of all the good free days - the more the better.

    Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget - a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds - a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine.

    Robert G. Ingersoll

    December 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  7. kca

    I think everyone can agree that Christmas is extermely, over-commercialized. What I don't understand is how an atheist can feel "discriminated" against during this time. It isn't like Best buy is going to sell TV's at a super low price only to Christians, etc. if you find a way to put your "religion" into a pretty box, mark a sale tag on it and sell it to the masses, then go for it. What I don't like is that this ad campaign targets only christians – specifically Catholics. if you want to attack God, then put the message out to all religions. What not just say "this is what we believe" instead of " I can't believe you think that." That's close-minded, ignorance.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • believeyoume

      Maybe it is because Christmas is an official national holiday. I don't see any other religion that has their own national holiday. That seems a little bias, don't ya think?

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

      Why do you think it specifically targets Catholics?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  8. Christine

    I think that the billboard PICTURE is beautiful and it makes me think that the Atheists messed up! I thought of Jesus right when I saw it. He is a good God who shows his beauty to us every day! He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
    Thank you Lord for showing yourself to us no matter what!!!!! What a beautiful picture of the birth of our Saviour!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  9. Chris

    Yeah for the Atheists! There's certainly enough of 'religious' iconography to go around no matter what denomination you are! Having experienced 'religion' in the US and abroad, I think people have an inherent need to acknowledge their spiritual side however they may perceive it and through whatever means they follow. The same holds true for people who are not believers of any 'religion' and choose to state so in our society. As Joseph Campbell stated, "every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble. Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls."

    December 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  10. Trag

    I'm an atheist, but I don't advertise it much. Anyone preaching at me I just tell them to get out of my face.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  11. matt

    Come on, the guys name is silverman, and he claims to not be a jew??? Is this atheist clown suffering from some kind of "chosen people" superiority complex???? Why pick on Christ mr. atheist???HuH?? No pick on islam or mr.silverman's religion which is judaism??? They are up to their shennanigans again!!!!Those ol nation wreckers!!!!!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  12. John

    David in Corpus,

    Your ignorance of the Bible, particularly the division of law and Gospel are outrageous as well as you insensitivity toward your fellow man. Truly stupid is your mockery of Christians based upon old Jewish law which Jesus ( a social revolutionary) came to challenge. Truly callous is your stupidly and carelessly formulated argument which belittles people and there reverent feelings for their loved ones. You give Atheists a bad name.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  13. sealchan

    What I don't like is how something being called a myth is meant to make it less reasonable or truthful. It implies that we can all somehow get through our lives without faith or belief in something unproven or unprovable. The notion of free will and true love are myths. If you are an athiest and use the term myth in this derogatory (albeit common) way AND you claim to have free will, to be responsible for your actions, to have self-awareness or you claim to be married to or otherwise in a relationship with your true love, then you are a hypocrit.

    If anyone wants to move beyond the religion is myth is irrational/unreasonable/a lie, I recommend that start with Bill Moyer's The Power of Myth (book or DVD/VHS). The academic study of comparative mythology lays the groundwork for identifying the common patterns behind the world's myths. These patterns reveal how our psychology works. The workings of our psychology are determined by our neurobiology in connection to the physical and social world. Even science is now attempting to tackle the term "consciousness" as a scientific topic and Nobel-prize winning people are involved.

    Although a clear scientific understanding on these matters will be long in coming, it is ignorance to say that religion is founded only on lies and its principles of faith of now adaptive or psychological value.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
    • sealchan

      Sorry, last sentence should read...

      Although a clear scientific understanding on these matters will be long in coming, it is ignorance to say that religion is founded only on lies and its principles of faith have no adaptive or psychological value.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  14. Mehta

    The answer to all this us-vs.-them nonsense is compassionate Buddhism.

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

      when I disagree with you, do you really hear it. Ommmmmmmmm

      December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  15. Saint

    How incredibly immature and insensitive to flaunt that billboard. I understand that not everyone believes in Christianity, or God for that matter, but I think it is very immature to rub it in peoples faces like that. I am ware that there are religious people who loudly (and often obnoxiously) preach to people when it is not their place to do so. Regardless, I do not think the atheists.org group took the higher road by doing this.

    The appropriateness of this billboard doesn't have anything to do with the believers/atheists debate. This is simply a matter of maturity, and the promoters of this billboard clearly failed to demonstrate any. Atheists can politely disagree with Christians or other religious followers without publicly mocking them.

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

      Well then I want every billboard advertising Jesus Christ or any Church removed, because they must be equally immature. And how immature that nearly every church puts a sign outside of their building with a quote from scripture. How rude to rub it in people's faces like that.

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

      I have to deal with door to door bible pushers, local church community enforcing what stores can be in town, non stop tv channels of preaching and selling....I am glad that the atheist got one measly billboard!!!! In fact that is the least insensitive thing to do comparable. But hey you stated it too...religious people who loudly preach. Atheists have free speech too...how come we cannot look at Christianity as the insensitive notion, at least atheists are not out to make money with their beliefs.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  16. chris

    "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. "

    Yeah, that's SO antagonistic to even suggest god is real and that you should go enjoy yourself. I guess it speaks volumes if you find a sign like that to be a threat to your faith!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  17. Manos

    ..ohhh...wow! This is really really sad! This is totally mean and disrespectful...I understand that some might not like Christians...I get it..but to offend someones beliefs the period they celebrate their religion? ...I'm christians...and I have friends who are atheists...they dont believe, they dont believe...I respect that...but this...its just stupid and pathetic!

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

      It's karma.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  18. milo

    Religion, faith, god, the holy spirit are all man-made notions created to explain things that couldn't be explained long ago. It was created to control the weak minded, the poor, etc. Now that science can explain it, the people that choose to follow the path of reality can. Those that choose to hold on to fantasy notions of God and angels and heaven are free to do so. But don't give us atheists the funny look when we say there is no God. As time progresses, the funny looks will eventually all be given to christians and most religious folks who believe in all the strange make believe that religion/man has created.

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

      What are you suggesting can be explained by science that proves that "religion, faith, God, and the Holy Spirit are all man made notions created to explain things that couldn't be explained long ago?" I suspect that science doesn't prove as much as you think, and I can assure you that the things it does prove are not proof that God does not exist. Even so, I'm sorry if Christians have given you a "funny looks" with regard to your atheism.

      December 1, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  19. bill

    It is fine to celebrate and post on billboards being an atheist – but not being anti christian, as this billboard it. I mean you can do so, but expect a response from someone being attacked. If this isn't clear, then atheist are also stupid.

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

      Thank you, Bill. They chose to attack millions of people, they should expect a backlash. they showed extreme intolerance and bigotry.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • Non-believer in anything god like

      Ya, Steve...just like Catholics and most other religions when it comes to accepting gay people. Pot meet kettle.

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

    I am glad that things like this still stir up conversations and arguments. Jesus was, is and always will be a controversial figure won't he? I know that when things like this DON'T stir up things that we, as a nation, are in trouble!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:45 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.