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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. Mike

    I consider myself Christian. How faithful will be determined at a later date by someone other than myself. What is unfuriating is there is not a single verse from the bible listed in the article arguing against what this atheist says. Now, that is the sad part. We want to call ourselves Christians? Then use the Text for your answers. By the way, I believe the atheists are right, there is no scripture saying when Jesus was born, how we are to celebrate his birth or when. However, there is plenty to say about his death (no, it's not at Easter), how we are to celebrate it and what it does for the believing Christian. Look it up!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
    • TheRebel

      The sign reads : "It's a myth" You may want to believe that a group of atheists wants to dispute the date of the birth of Jesus Christ, but I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you brother. Which shouldn't matter because as an avid reader of scripture you know that no dates are mentioned. I'm gonna say they dispute the birth, death, resurrection, deity, miracles, your and my salvation, the whole nine yards bud. So I'll leave you with this "be innocent as doves" but don't forget "wise as serpents". You can be all lovey dovey with those who stand against Christ but I don't have time to spend with the enemy there are too many that genuinely are seeking and need direction.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
  2. Tiglath

    People who think atheism is a belief system should think harder–if possible. Atheism is the *absence* of belief in God(s). How can then absence of belief be a belief, let alone a belief system? Duh! Atheists believe there is no persuasive evidence for the existence of god. Now that is a belief. but that is not atheism, just one of the reasons for it. If you still don't get it, try this. Is not believing in astrology a belief system? How about not believing in the Tooth Fairy? Comprende? I doubt it.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
    • Rebel

      Then you are saying they (atheists) have backed themselves into a mental corner? If they lack evidence it is only because they are locked into a perception that will never let them see things any other way then they want to. If you are implying that an all powerful God must leave some evidence of His existence then you are diluting yourself. All powerful means NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE for God. Wrap your head around that and maybe you will gain enlightenment.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • Tiglath

      What a curious answer.

      So God can make a two-sided triangle you say?

      Theists are not only ignorant of their own bibles, but also have some of the poorest habits of thinking. This one for example doesn't even know that all theologians worth their salt admit that God cannot do what is anti-logical, like being god and not being god at the same time. So to say that nothing is impossible for God is to parade the worst of ignorance. Reading posts in this thread is a true sad experience about American education, fallacious statements left right and center.

      Theists: I know it's possible to make it through the day without thinking correctly, but that does not mean you have to pass on it every single day. Take a walk on the wild side and learn to make non-fallacious arguments that can withstand the most obvious rebuttals and raise the standard of religious debate at long last.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
    • TheRebel

      Funny how words can be played with isn't it? Once your done playing you should really take the time and try to comprende what I am comunicating. Instead of running around what you think it is I am communicating.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
    • Tiglath

      Another careless writer who blames the reader for his mistakes, even after patient correction.

      It's you who wrote with emphasis the nothing is impossible for God. Take responsibility for what you write at the very least. There is no room for interpretation in your sentence. So don't blame me and instead of compounding your error with the disgrace of not admitting it you should recognize that you made a statement that it is easily disproved.

      Can God have experiential knowledge of what is like to be a Prohibition crime figure? No, he is God, not Al Capone. Can God never be God? Can God make a married bachelor? Can God make a stone he cannot lift?

      Think for a change instead of blaming others for your ignorance.

      December 2, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  3. Rabbi

    To all non-believers in God regardless of the label.

    Assume there is a God. With that assumption, what one act would you like God to do to prove that He exist so you and everyone who is born after you would believe that He is who He claims to be?

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

      Um... show himself? That'd probably be more convincing than "talking" to "prophets" like Moshe, Jesus, Muhammad, etc, and expecting them to deliver his messages second-hand

      December 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • Jim (not that Jim, the other Jim)

      Physically show himself for ALL to see without question. When we both stand in front of a table, we can both agree it is there. We can touch, see it, feel it.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  4. Seaonalist

    I am eclectic in my beliefs. I have been atheist, I was raised in a Christian and Jewish household where my mother forced me to go to church at least 3 times a year (Christmas, Easter, and 1 other whenever).

    I now combine a lot of religious beliefs to fit what I find most useful, including combining all of them with my total belief in science (and I do call it a belief, look at most theoretical physicists, you will find them to be extremely devout in a religion).

    This sign and the backlash sign just show that everyone has forgotten what this season is all about. It isn't about Jesus existing or not. It isn't about the religion behind it. And it shouldn't be about the consumerism that has spawned from it. This season should be completely about caring for one another, giving happiness to one another, and just being an all around good person. All the religions that have something during this time and the consumerism try to promote that.

    Although I may not agree with the Salvation Army in its practices, the reason they do it is the true Christian reason. When people start to spout that the reason is only about converting people to the power of Christ, they forget about the Word that He taught. His teachings would want you to help the men and women who are in the downtrodden parts of their life. So give to Salvation Army, Goodwill, Toys for Tots, etc. That is being a true Christian. Celebrating His birth, which historically would not have actually been at this time according to how the Bible is written, is not the point of this season, or at least should not be the point. Celebrating His teachings should be.

    Atheists, please realize that fanaticism is not just a Islamic or Christian state of mind. Just because you don't have a belief in a supreme being, although you have a belief in science (you do use the atom as your symbol), does not make you immune to fanaticism. Trying to force people to "realize" that there is no God does just as much wrong as a Christian forcing us to "mend our ways so that we don't burn in the fiery pits of Hell."

    And please everyone realize that Santa Clause, yes may come from the story of Saint Nicholas, but the look that he has now is all thanks to Macy's. The jolly, fat, rosie-cheeked Santa came about the turn of the 20th century to help Macy's create more consumerism for themselves. I am not trying to demonize Macy's. I thank them for trying to change their message in the past few years with their whole Believe campaign. And with myself who has worked there at Santaland at the 34th Street/Herald Square, I have seen the true power of the season.

    My best example comes from Santa there. He was sitting on his chair and was listening to these 2 little girls say how they wanted this new Barbie doll that had just come out. The mother of the 2 children tells them to not ask Santa for things that Santa can't get for them. Another mother of 2 daughters was next in line and was hearing this story. She had already bought the 2 dolls for her daughters. She turns to at the entrance and tells her to take the 2 dolls that she has and to give them to 2 girls on Santa's knee saying that Santa was giving this to them. She literally just made those 2 girls Christmas probably for the next couple of years.

    These are the kinds of events I have seen there. That is the true meaning of this season. And that's what we should be focusing on. Not the religious aspects or non-religious aspects of it.

    So please everyone, please show your fellow man or woman some caring and bring them some joy this season and put aside the bickering.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  5. Mama2KOA

    Here's what I dont get. Why would an atheist care one way or another if someone celebrates the holidays. An atheist doesnt believe in any god, upper or lower case kind, or goddess or deity. So why would they participate in Christmas at all. Christmas is a Christian holiday, Hanukkah is Jewish, Yule is pagan but still a religious holiday. Kwanzaa is about the only non-religious holiday of this "season".

    Do they give or receive presents? Is their "god" greed?

    If you dont believe, then dont participate. Tell people to give your gifts to charity and stand firm in your non-belief. But dont belittle mine.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  6. cmxsmitty

    Let people believe what they want to believe. Just don't try and make me believe it. If praying helps you – good for you. If you think its crap – thats ok too.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  7. DWink

    If a billboard were anti-Islamic or anti-Jewish it would be considered hate speech. Why do some atheists choose only not to believe in God of Christianity? If they think that being anti-Christian gets them more press, I assure you that the opposite would be true. Or do they choose to be anti-Christian because they think they can hurt the most people? I do not understand the “Reason” for the billboard, as the only thing it accomplishes is hurt and anger. Now there is something to celebrate! My thanks to the atheists who though of this clever and hurtful message, this will go a long way toward helping other people abandon their religion of love, peace and tolerance so that they too can strive to hurt others along with you.

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

      @ Dwink. Because this Silverman guy knows that we Christians believe in righteousnece and forgiveness so can go on and do this sort of stuff. He knows if he attacked Islam he would probably unleash more terrorist in this country. I personallydon't care becasue in the end God will be the one that judges this man according to his actions.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  8. Josh

    Find it a bit disappointing that atheist organizations find so much insecurity in their beliefs that they must continue to insult and denounce the beliefs of others. I became a Christian for one main reason, in my life on a daily basis I find more joy simply by believing in something than I ever would by believing in nothing. Once you begin to truly believe in something, then you will find "reason", without a doubt. Isn't this everyone's big question in life, the "reason" we are all here? As a Christian, my "reason" for being here is to serve and love those around me regardless of who or what they may be or believe. This is truly the meaning of Christmas and why I "believe" it is so important to our faith and the world around us.

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

      Josh, it seems obvious that you were/are susceptible to needing a reason for your existence. That is usually born out of one or a combination of four things; 1) Being in an environment that tells you that you need a reason. 2) A personal crisis 3) A lack of self-esteem or 4) Need for structure. Regardless, you don't need religion to carve out your purpose in life. If you do then you have other issues and religion is only providing a band-aid for your real needs.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  9. Ted Linguini

    Intelligent people like me TOLERATE the existence of Christians and other religious nuts because we need to love the stupid. I saw one poster who claimed that America was founded as a Christian country, but she could obviously not read a book and learn that this is not true. She asked free-thinkers to leave the country. Just sickening the stupidity atheists need to accept.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  10. Jon Kap

    I guarantee you there is no god. But I could not care less who agrees with me or not. I do my thing, you do yours.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  11. AL

    The problem with this debate is that there will never, ever be a conclusion. Some will always believe in God; some never will. Debating the existence of God is futile and is, in itself, a more irrational act than believing in "an invisible man in the sky" or the big bang theory. You see, in order to get to the truth about creation, you have to think about things in a way that is beyond the realm of our human minds. You must reject many things that humans associate as concrete fact, such as the fact (in human reasoning) that if something exists, as the universe does, then it must have had a beginning. So this causes a dilemma: What existed before the universe was "created?" Well, it can't just be nothingness, can it? And this is the main problem. We are all human. Every single one of us. It's going to take many Millennia of evolution before someone can provide some real insight into this debate. Oh no! Now I've gone and started the evolution debate.

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

    Pepsi or Coke? McDonald's or Burger King? At this level, its about money for both sides and has nothing to do with individual belief and faith. As for Mr. Atheist's comment, it's not about going to heaven or hell. It's about what you are and how you live and how you treat others around you. It's a question of what is right, wrong, or gray and what gets the individual to the point they need to be in order to know and do those things. For me it's Jesus and that's that. For some of my friends it's Vishnu, Allah, Moses, and even self.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  13. Skegeeace

    Man, these folks have NO life. If you don't believe in God, have a nice life and MOVE ON. Leave the rest of us to our own devices. Who spends a whole $20,000 on being disagreeable?! If athiests are "good without God", then maybe they could have used that money to feed the hungry or build an orphanage in another country.

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

      I've seen plenty of billboards posted by religion people, but this is the first "atheist' billboard I've seen.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  14. feline779

    People talk about atheists "shoving their beliefs down my throat." REALLY? With ONE billboard?? What about all the thousands of Christian billboards all over the country that are there to shove their non-provable fantastical Christian beliefs down my throat? So until all those are taken down – stfu.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  15. Rebel

    If they are asking me to celebrate human reasoning it ain't happening. I've seen the results and I'll stick with the Father's reasoning thank you very much.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • Tom

      I find it both ironic and sad that you use a computer and the internet to express this idea. Both inventions would not have been possible without human reason and science. you stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants and curse the very men that make your life what it is.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  16. Tom

    First of all, I prefer being called a skeptic. To say someone "believes" in athiesm is to miss the point. Athiesm is essentially the absence of belief in something for which there is no edivence, or faith.

    It would be easy to ignore the religous if they kept there beliefs to themselves and didn't do there best to propagate poorly written and poorly translated bronze age texts as still morally and practically applicable,

    One of the reasons that religion is met with such ridicule is because it claims divine warrant from a source that cannot be proven to exist any more than i could prove the exsistance of the toothfairy or the boogie man.

    I understand that humans have in their nature a yearning to feel transendance, however I think that it is a noble pursuit to seek reason and question the world skeptically despite this base instinct.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • One Man

      As an athiest, you "believe" there is no God. You cannot PROVE there is no God. Therefore it is based on faith.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • Rebel

      Tom – In regards to your remark on need for evidence as proof of God's existence.

      If there was an all powerful Creator, would said Creator be able to conceal and reveal said Self to whomever They wished. Or is this all powerful being bound by natural laws as humans have come to understand or misunderstand them?

      December 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
    • Tom

      I never said that I beleive that there is no god. I said I was a skeptic. I am well aware that it can not be proven one way or another. What I will say is that all the evidence so far points to the contrary.

      Please listen to this because this is important. THE BURDEN OF PROOF LIES WITH THE BELIEVER.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • One Man

      No it doesn't... infinity.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Sybaris

      One Man, there is a donkey driving my car. I can never catch him doing it but I believe there is.

      There's also a dozen elves remodeling my bathroom. It's so subtle that I can't tell the difference from one day to the next but I believe they're doing it.

      There's an invisible being responsible for and directing everything in the universe. It has the power to heal microscopic ailments and find my car keys for me but can't heal an amputee.

      There is a god, there is no god.

      Which is a reasonable choice?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  17. asdfasdf

    "It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God"

    Then why waste time in organized religion if this is going to happen anyway and how does anyone go to hell?

    Also I'm a very good, very giving and very forgiving person but my religious faith is very weak at best, yet I could be sharing a spot next to Hitler or Son of Sam? What kind of system is that?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  18. timeto69

    "If the Bible has taught us nothing else, and it hasn't, it's that girls should stick to GIRLS sports, such as hot oil wrestling, foxy boxing, and such and such."
    – Homer Simpson

    "Prayer has no place in the public schools, just like facts have no place in organized religion."
    – School Superintendent on "The Simpsons" episode #100, 1994

    "Suppose we've chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we're just making him madder and madder"
    – Homer Simpson's version of Pascal's Wager

    December 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  19. M

    It is more egregious to reject the null hypothesis "God exists". If there is indeed a God, that Type-1 error is damning – pun intended.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  20. Neverwrong

    Here's my problem with religion.

    As an atheist I could care less what you believe in, just keep it to yourself. Unfortunately that is not the case in the world today. There are far too many laws on the books today, not only here in America but around the world, that are there because of religious beliefs. These laws directly affect people’s lives, whether they are religious or not. Sure you may think that these laws are necessary to "protect" people, but really you only believe that because your "book" tells you to or face eternal damnation.

    Here are a couple examples. Stem cell research, gay marriage, polygamy, incest, drugs, sodomy and so on and so on. Sure these might not be your cup of tea, they're certainly not mine, well maybe sodomy...come honey, just one time;0)…I'm kidding, back on point. I say if a man and man want to marry, let them. If a brother wants to marry his sister or a cousin his/her cousin, let them. If 10 women want marry 1 man, let them. These are all individual choices and if all parties consent then who are you tell to them no?

    You may not believe in these ways of life but, you don't have to. As long as I am not harming you, or vice versa, what’s the problem? Why don’t you live YOUR life the way YOU want too and I’ll live MY life the way I want too. It’s that simple.

    December 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
    • One Man

      That's because our country was founded by RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. Religion is the foundation for our World. Read some history and stop smoking all that pot.

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

      So, OneMan, what you're saying is that if you were born and raised in Saudi Arabia you'd be Muslim.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:55 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.