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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. AtheisticallyYours

    When "god" lets me win the Mega Millions lottery, American Atheists and its billboard campaign WILL BE on my VERY SHORT LIST of atheist organizations I WILL BE DONATING TO! 😉

    December 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
    • sg

      feel free to hold your breath until you pass out

      December 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  2. One Man

    I find it fascinating that this is the longest list of comments for an article that I have seen in a long time. I do think it is quite ridiculous that so many people are so aggressive when it comes to their viewpoints on religion. The athiests make all sorts of wild claims about the fire and brimstone of the Christians, and the Christians do, in many cases, condemn the athiests. The reality is that, as Christians, we are obligated by our belief to bring people to Christ. Not so they can be "cattle" as someone called them, or to be "brainwashed", but rather to be decent people and uphold the Word of God. Why is that such a bad thing for so many big-mouthed activists? Why get so worked up about it? If you chose not to believe in God, or that he gave his only begotten son so that we would have eternal life, then fine, just shut up and go away. The fact that I saw someone point out a simple typo is further evidence of the maturity of the knuckleheads who are posting these rants.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • feline779

      you are "obligated to bring people to christ" – that's the PROBLEM with you Christians – you insist on trying to shove your beliefs down everyone's throat. Why can't YOU shut up and live YOUR life the way YOU want to? why do you NEED to try to tell everyone else how to live? Why are SO afraid of people living their own life and making their own choices that are different from yours?? so right back at you "shut up and go away."

      December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
    • Kenny_b

      Hypocrite. You just did exactly what you ascribed to atheists. You shut up and go away ... jerk.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • One Man

      This is exactly the point I made. Athiests are so insulting. Who is shoving anything down your ignorant throat? We are obligated to bring people to Christ THAT WANT TO BE BROUGHT. Who is the real jerk here?

      December 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Why the noise? Well, there's an appreciable amount of xtians who would like nothing more than to turn this country into a theocracy. They endorse and fund like minded individuals campaigning for public offices who in turn subtly introduce their religious views into public laws. It's fascism veiled in religion based on myths and legends.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • feline779

      But how do you know/can you tell if someone wants to BE BROUGHT? The only way is to go out there and try to shove your beliefs down people's throats. Some will say yes and some will say no. Atheists don't do this. Atheists wish people would live their own life and not try to force everyone else to live their life. That's what christians do, they try to force, preach, recruit, etc to try and get other to live as they do. There are no atheist churches, there are no atheists coming to your door trying to recruit you into atheism, there are no atheist evangelicals screaming on tv and taking money from old people and getting rich off of it. Why can't you just be satisfied with believing a certain way and living your OWN life that way?

      December 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  3. ScottyB

    If God does exist, then Atheists are in serious trouble for eternity. If he doesn't exist, then I've only wasted a small amount of time during my life. Which would you choose?

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

      Strong convictions you got there. I hope your God likes fair-weather friends.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • J Patcher

      That's an easy question to answer: I choose a rational life...that is, a life knowing there are no gods, or devils, or angels, or supernatural, or tooth fairy!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Tom

      Ah yes...Pascal's Wager.

      Answer me this. Who do you think a true and just God would respect and love more?
      A man for whom the crux of his relationship with his god was simply the hedging of a bet, or a man who truly could not bring himself to belief in something for which he was purposfully given no proof and could not lie to himself or anyone else "just in case" it was true?

      December 1, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
    • uhoh

      you'll be in just as much trouble as an atheist if thor chooses to smite you down with his mighty hammer!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  4. Jer

    PS writes "Atheism is irrational. Not only does modern science not disprove God...". No real Atheist would say "There is no God." Proving such a negative is clearly impossible. The Greek prefix A means without. An Atheist is without God. This means that, considering the available evidence, she/he finds the notion of a God, much less someone's particular God, to be extremely improbable. We can be converted but certainly not by texts that are self-contradictory and "mean spirited." Just google "contradictions in the Bible" and you can get a better understanding of why Atheists are, in general, more caring than Bible thumpers.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • J Patcher

      That is correct. A true atheist says, "There are no gods." It is not a matter of lack of belief, it is a matter of fact.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  5. Tricia

    Poor guy! I will pray for him that he doesnt have any feeling in his body when it is on fire burning, and mine is ascending into heaven with my heavenly Father. I guess then we will see what is real.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Will

      That must be more of that Christian "tolerance and love" that I've been hearing so much about

      December 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • Mettle

      Tricia,

      Self-righteous intolerance like yours only serve to breed further intolerance.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  6. WVlady63

    These people have Freedom of Speech just like the rest of us. But, isn't it wonderful that they will not be with us Christians in Heaven???? By the way, shouldn't someone tell them there are NO asbestos suits in Hell?????

    December 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Brett

      Go back to your coloring book, kid.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  7. jamie

    If they made a billboard like this against Islam there would be violent protests around the world and mass murder as retribution.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • J Patcher

      But they didn't jamie, they made it against Xians. What are ya gonna do about it?

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

      Muslims believe in Jesus also, so this billboard is a reply to them as well.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  8. Mettle

    I'm atheist, but I practice religious tolerance. My entire family is Christian, and I refuse to alienate them from my life simply because we have differing opinions with regard to religion/faith or a lack thereof. I refuse to align myself with David Silverman or American Atheists because they do not accurately represent the beliefs or the integrity of religiously tolerant atheists. Silverman and his group are clearly anti-Christian, and they are hiding behind the mantle of atheism to garner attention for their "cause."

    December 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • PeacePLS

      Very nicely put!!! I respect you for that. We all need to tolerate and respect one another's beliefs and not condemn them for it.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I dig your way of thinking. If we all just had some respect for one another.....

      December 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  9. HeyHey

    Hilariously, Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Just another pagan holiday scooped up by the Christians.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • SuperFed

      I have to agree. Christians were only told to remember Jesus' broken body by taking the bread/wine. Nothing else.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  10. Matt

    When an atheist group has the conviction to put up billboards like these with Islam instead of Christianity, and in Iran instead of America, then I'll be impressed. Until then it's just a cowardly slur directed at a tolerant religion in a tolerant nation.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • Will

      When I can drive home from work without seeing a billboard suggesting that I'll go to hell unless I accept the Protestant version of Jesus, I'll be impressed by your religion's "tolerance".

      December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • Matt

      Truth stings a bit, huh? We all know there is no anti-Islam billboard because atheists are, at heart, cowards. And, sure, putting up a Christian billboard is exactly the same as suicide bombings and beheadings. I'm afraid your the only one living out a fairy tale.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
    • Sybaris

      The location of the billboard has a great deal to do with its content. Right now Christianity is the dominate religion in the U.S., by far. A billboard questioning Islam would not resonate.

      Would you advertise tampons in a mens locker room?

      Essentially you have attempted to cast dispersion by assigning a misdirected value to the subject. It's a subtle form of cognitive dissonance.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  11. Jim in OC

    I thought Christmas was about Gifts,iPads, iPhones and mall Santa...

    What is Jesus doing here??? He was not born on 25th anyway...

    December 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  12. george1

    Why can't people agree that it's not smart to believe in things you can't see or prove? That seems like such a reasonable thing. Maybe we need another 8000 years to advance to that point.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • cbozey

      As long as you can profit from something it will never die....and unfortunately religion is one of the most profitable businesses in the world.

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

      Things you can't see or prove? Do you mean the Big Bang? Dark matter? Atheism is not objective my friend.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  13. Abdallah

    Family guy, South park, and 10000 other movies and series are making fun of Jesus, everyday there is a show that is making fun of Jesus peace be upon him, and I am sure the christians are having fun watching that, and I have never seen christians protesting in the streets becasue the media is making fun of their "God". So why would the Athiests be worried about attacking you? you yourself are not respecting Jesus, how would you expect others to respect him? Plus why are you scared of islamization of america if muslims are only 1%??? this is obviously becasue you have no faith in your religion, and becasue you see hundreds of thousands of people convert to islam every year even though the media trying days and nights to attack islam and muslims and describe them as terrorists. 25% of the world are muslims, and soon it will be 50%, so I ask the media to save the billions of dollars they spend to attack us, because it is not helping them :):):)

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

    Why on earth do they care, don't celebrate it yourself, be big boys and do things on your own. Does it make you feel better when you convince a group of people to not be religious?

    I am celebrating open mindedness this holiday and ignoring athiest iditos who want to change everyones views!

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

      And Christianity is only FOUNDED on the idea of changing other people's views. Do you think those Jesuit missionaries went to South America for a holiday???

      December 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  15. Heidi

    Whatever your religion, be it Atheism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, ect, etc, all of the above, none of the above... Whatever it is, is an intensely personal part of yourself. It should remain intensely personal. Billboards are for fast food and junking up the scenery.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • J Patcher

      Atheism is not a religion and it it not a belief system.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Richard

      Atheism IS A RELIGION.

      The definition of religion is; "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe."

      Modern atheism has progressed beyond the simple denial of divinity. It has developed into a scientific system (Darwinism) and a pios self-righteous crusade against Christianity.

      If atheism is right, why do we not see any billboards opposing Islam?

      The answer is that atheists are cowards and as well as hate mongers.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  16. OCEAN22

    "What is such a shame is that $20K was not spent on the poor and hungry of New York or New Jersey. But then, that would have been a Christian act, not something athiests would do."
    --------------------------------------–
    Did God fund the Christian billboard? So all the people shopping in the mall during x-mas holiday are
    Atheist, while Christians are feeding the hungry?

    December 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  17. SuperFed

    Merry Christmas!

    December 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  18. MrAtheist

    I find it hilarious to hear people talk about how they believe in Jesus because on the off chance he exists they don't want to go to hell. its like they are hedging their bets on eternity. If he exists and created the universe he sees inside your mind fool. Why dont you man up and take a stand somewhere instead of being a p00sy and sitting on as many fences as you possibly can.

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

      That's the first time I've heard anyone accuse Christians of sitting on the fence.
      In case you haven't seen, we are firmly entrenced on God's side of it.

      Blind hatred tends to make a man blind to the truth. Do you see?

      December 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  19. Richard

    Man is hard wired as a religious creature.
    If not the God of the Bible, then the soulless communal nation state.
    Hazards of narcissism and selfish conceit aside, mankind MUST pledge his allegiance to something higher than himself.

    If not God, then the American flag.
    We all know how perfect and good that is don't we?

    Fall to your knees this holiday season and give thanks to the flag.
    Not me thank you.
    The flag has never done me any good, quite the opposite in fact.

    God, on the other hand, has saved me in every way a man can be saved.
    I and my house serve the Lord.

    As to atheist insults and aggravation all I can say is...
    You can keep your flag for all the good it will do you.
    Let's see how much help it will be to you when trouble arrives.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Donald Jones

      Hey Atheists,read the first 3 chapters of Genesis,Exodus chapter 3,The first 9 chapters of Matthew,The entire book of John,and The book of Acts and Romans and tell me what you think.Also Exodus chap.20.If you want a real connection,read the first 3 chapters of genesis and the first 9 chapters of Matthew concurrently.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  20. Steve M in Baltimore

    I'm Christian. And Catholic. But I'm sooo embarrased that the Catholic League would spend $18,000 on a billboard. HEY...there are people out there without food. I have friends who are from others faiths, agnotic and atheist. I respect their choice to believe, kind of believe or not believe in God. Funny...I've met quite a few atheists who are more principled and better people than some of my Christian friends. CATHOLIC LEAGUE...spend that money doing good works rather than just "pulling punches" at atheists. ugh.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • Non-believer in anything god like

      You should be disgusted by the amount of money sitting inside the walls of the Vatican. Yes, people (in your own religion) are starving to death and without proper housing, yet the pope and his comrades are doing quite well. They should be ashamed of themselves.

      December 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
    • Jessica

      Steve, I am an atheist. I say well said.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:49 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.