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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. Retarded

    Such a good use of almost $40k

    December 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • Brett

      PALES in comparison to the $4.2 BILLION spent on the 2010 midterm elections.

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

    Wow! I've been reading this blog for about 30 minutes and I've come to the conclusion that athiests are much like Jehova's Witnesses and Baptists. They just don't give up! One would think an athiest would be happy to just be quiet and go about their business safe in their belief that God doesn't exist and trying to figure out ways to take advantage of the feeble minded people of God based religions. But NO! Seems like they have to enforce their belief and garner public opinion in their favor to be secure in their belief of a Godless existence. Kinda sounds like faith based religion to me. Are you guys gonna start blowing things up too?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • Matt

      Hey genius, this doesn't have anything to do with religion. This is AMERICA, and we FIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING.

      The real news goes unreported. The National Reconnaissance Office shot the LARGEST satellite in existence into orbit last week on a top secret mission (presumably surveillance) with taxpayer money. Meanwhile, we idiots on the street argue about the statues of the gods in the forum like Roman plebs. Grow a brain.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Mike D

      Matt, "genius with a brain" your post has zero relevance to this topic. You better get the foil on your head to protect yourself from the satellite...moron.

      December 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  3. Jackie

    I say it every year: I NEED TO HIRE MORE ATHEISTS! That way I can get them to work every major religious holiday without paying them double time, creating special rooms for them to pray, and they don't leave before sundown 5 times a year. Amen.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • Serdar

      When one man is delusional he is insane, when the masses are delusional they are religious.

      Honestly as an atheist, I would like people to stay religious, them having fear of God is a great thing, it allows us to reap the rewards they choose to ignore. I also don't think most people have the necessary reasoning skills or moral compass to function without the fear of burning in hell. I for one wish your religions were true, it would be great for people to get their comeuppance, as most do not get it in their real lives. That sense of justice would be great, unfortunately I am not delusional, I do not have a single digit IQ, I can not believe in fairy tales with a straight face. Sorry guys, but as I said, keep the faith!

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

      @Serdar, so you're saying you're too smart to believe in a fairy tale.. as everyone else.. well most of people. when you call the accounts of Jesus a fairy tale, you better be right about that. what If it turns out to be true... are you absolutely sure it's a fairy tale?

      December 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  4. Serdar

    Good job, raising awareness, I for one was not aware of this organization until this publicity. May have cost them 20k to put up the billboard but I am positive they made about ten times as much thanks to it. I for one have already donated money to American Atheists upon learning about this billboard.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  5. Sven

    Let all the athiests stay miserable. This is the season of Peace and Joy. I choose to celebrate it with Joy and Peace to all men. Inspite of all the athiests.
    Thank you King Kings and Prince of Peace. Merry Christmas to all.( even to you athiests)

    December 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  6. NoQuarter

    @ WVlady:

    No, it is not comforting at all to think that one of God's children will not be returning home. Not in the least.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  7. Dragoneer

    Let's make a bet!

    If the world ends on December 20, 2012 – The myth-believers win.

    If the world continues after December 20, 2012 – The Atheists win.

    And we ALL will know the truth after 12/20/12. It's that simple, isn't it. 😉

    December 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • One Man

      The 2012 theory is based on the Mayan calendar you moron. It has nothing to do with Revelations.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
    • edu

      Theists and Christians don't believe in December 20, 2012 retard. For theists and believers, the return of the Lord and the end of this planet is completely unknown, not even the angels in heaven know when it is, only and only God.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
    • Dragoneer

      I stand corrected.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  8. EducatedBeliever

    For all those who feel as if they've got Christians by the throat simply by pointing out that Christmas is celebrated at a seemingly arbitrary or previously pagan time of year, get your facts straight.

    Most intelligent believers know better than to claim Dec 25 is the actual birthday of Christ, that date is not exactly known (only approximate times can be agreed upon). It is true that Dec 25, around winter solstice, was at one time a pagan holiday. However, leaders in the early church would often combine practices of believers from various backgrounds (early Christians were a mixture of former Jews and pagans). Even in the bible with talks of how the early church was to worship, it basically just says that whatever method with which you feel comfortable worshiping, use it to glorify the Lord (within reason, clearly animal sacrifices, etc were no longer accepted practices). The physical practices and times of year do have parallels with pagan holidays. The idea was to make both those with Jewish backgrounds and pagan backgrounds familiar with the types of practices and celebrations that would become part of Christianity. This was a way to unite both Jews and pagans as one body of Christian believers by blending their past "cultures," so to speak.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  9. RaveDave

    OK, Let's listen to reason.

    Christians can't prove God exists.

    But atheists can't prove God doesn't exist.

    So either way, it's an issue of faith...

    December 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Jim (not that Jim, the other Jim)

      Exactly

      December 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  10. Ron

    We are all atheists with respect to the vast majority of gods that have ever been worshipped.

    Do you believe in Zeus, Marduk, and/or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? If you don't, why not?

    What are your reasons?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  11. Christian

    This is bullying on a grander scale! Atheists should be ashamed by this. What harm is done by someone believing this story? I dare these learned Atheists to try the same tactics regarding sacred legends surrounding Hanukkah, Ramadan, Diwali , et al. Truth is not altered by your disbelief.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  12. ForceLogic

    What's the problem Dolan? Don't support free speech? Well, then you are not an American and obviously do not support what America truly is. Go ask the Founding Fathers that you probably think were Christian, though they were not. Or look to the Pledge and the money, to which God was added after the Red Scare and not the Founders. Or maybe, go to your "holy book" and take every "fact" from their and compare it to TRUE FACT, PROVEN FACT, and realize that your book is a bunch of hogwash, nonsense, LIES. "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful" That was said by Seneca, the Roman statesman, over THOUSANDS of years ago and STILL people fall for these LIES. So good job Dolan, good job being part of the problem. Good job being among the sheeple. IDIOT.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  13. Richard

    WHY DO WE SEE NO BILLBOARDS OPPOSING THE HOLIDAYS OF ISLAM?

    The reason is that atheists are cowards as well as hate mongers.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
    • Jim (not that Jim, the other Jim)

      I don't oppose Christmas. I celebrate it every year. It is great cultural holiday. BTW I am not a hate monger or coward. Just someone that does not have the same beliefs as you. I am not a Christian, Mulsim, Budhhist, Shiite, etc. I am areligious and that is ok.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
    • John

      Fun Fact: Muslims believe in your Zombie On A Stick too, so this billboard attacks them as well, Jesus Freak.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  14. John

    I'll be impressed when Mr. "Dovid" Silverman puts up a billboard suggesting that Passover is a myth.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  15. Donald Jones

    Hey Atheists,read the first 3 chapters of the book of Genesis,and then read Exodus chapter 3 and 20,and right behind that read the first 9 chapters of Matthew followed by John chapters 14,15,and 16,and the rest of the book of John followed by the book of Acts and finally Romans.At least give us that.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  16. David Gay

    Yes, it is a myth, but the Atheists who designed the message are extremely ignorant of the meaning of the word myth. it is not a synonym for falsehood or untruth. It is a literary vehicle for the proclamation and interpretation of a conviction, belief or truth. The atheist spokesperson cannot say he "knows" it is a myth when he does not have any idea of what "myth" is.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  17. Jim (not that Jim, the other Jim)

    Atheism and theism (in any form) are not that different. They both make claims that cannot be objectively substantiated. One cannot prove there is no God, just as one cannot prove their is a God. Members of both groups must make a "leap of faith" to justify their stance. I prefer my agnosticism, thank you very much.

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

    @ Timeto69:

    Best post in this entire string!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  19. mark

    Darwinian evolution is a pseudo-scientific faith that belongs in the category of religion.

    It's mere conjecture that a reptile's descendents morphed into a human being and all species of mammalia by way of millions of "random positive mutations", because it has no basis in real world biology, no basis in fact, and therefore, no basis in science.

    Mutations are neither intelligent, nor guided processes. Mutations are random ERRORS which almost never benefit the animal much less transform the descendents of a dinosaur into a human being. Mutations don't create new information. They scramble / destroy existing information! Yet the amount of new information required for the descendents or a reptilian dinosaur species to randomly and magically morph into humans, rabbits, whales, bats, giraffes, donkeys, cats, elephants, wolves and sea otters is simply beyond the realm of possibility. It's science fiction.

    There is simply NO evidence of massive information-adding, animal-benefiting mutations anywhere in biology that could prompt the descendents of a single "prehistoric" reptile to morph into human beings and all 5,500 species of mammalia. The evolutionist typically cites bacterial resistence to antibiotics as "proof" of large scale "positive" mutations, but it's a hilarious defense that should leave all who read it rolling on the floor.

    Dinosaur –> human evolution belongs in the pages of a comic book, not science. The comics just speed up the mythical "positive" random mutations and information-adding process a bit. All impossible in the real world, but possible in the world of science fiction comics and mythical fairy tales. The kind of world the atheist lives in.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
    • Answerman28

      You are about a clueless as a person could be. You make a mockery out of the proven scientific facts and dumb it down so stupid chirstians will agree with you just like the evangelists. You said many things in a twisted out of context manner so they'd sound wrong.. I appreciate your zeal but you're far to stupid to sway anybody who thinks scientifically

      December 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • Putting The X In Xmas

      Um... Evolution evidence? Here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1308772/Evolution-action-Scientists-discover-lizards-verge-leap-egg-laying-live-births.html

      Nice and recent... no germs...

      Dude, there is more proof that Evolution is real, than there is that Jesus performed miracles. I just cannot believe a book that has been modified and ideologically re-written by kings and popes... and selectively excludes other Scrolls and Gospels written by 'historians' at the same time. Heck... the 'Gospels' (for the most part) weren't even written down until well after the Big J was nailed to the boards... they were handed down by word of mouth...

      ... I don't dispute that Jesus existed... or even that he was a pretty cool guy who espoused to pretty unselfish ideals (Heck, even the Islamic Prophet Mohammed said as much [or, the Big M if you prefer]) ... but you gotta show me concrete evidence of a miracle that was 'God-initiated' ... rather than a "Well, we can't explain it, so it MUST be God's work" excuse.

      December 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  20. Answerman28

    1st off the atheists were respectful because they called it a myth.. they could have said it's an outright lie perpetuated by weak minded, egotstical imbeciles. 2ndly I would live to see this billboard put up in a muslim country lolololololol.. There would be crashed camels all over the highway...

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

      It's people like you that make me fear for the future of our country. You call other people imbeciles, while you are probably in your mother's basement typing away on your activist blogs while your joint smolders to a nub.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:11 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.