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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. Fallowt

    It's not nice to attack people's beliefs or non-beliefs.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  2. Frankcincy

    People can believe what ever they want. Here's what bothers atheists (I'm an anti-theist because everyone is an atheist by definition – if you don't believe in Thor or Shiva or Allah then you're an Atheist), is the INDOCTRINATION of children. Northern Kentucky, a few miles from Cincinnati will be building a creationist theme park (for profit). They expect to do $250 M a year from attendance. It's nothing more than disguised Dogma a false "science presentation" as opposed to a "true fantasy" such as Disney World. That they believe that the Earth is 7,000 years old is delusional. The governor of Kentucky will help out with proposed tax breaks.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  3. Brownstain

    If Jeebus saves, he better save himself.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • Jim (not that Jim, the other Jim)

      Your post reminds me of a song . . . "If Jesus saves - well, He'd better save Himself from the gory glory seekers who use His name in death." . . . . .Jethro Tull – Hymn 43 (on Aqualung)

      December 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
    • Brownstain

      Good catch!

      December 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • Chase Dorway

      I love the Aqualung album!

      December 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  4. Tiglath

    "Christians can't prove God exists.
    But atheists can't prove God doesn't exist.
    So either way, it's an issue of faith..."

    That's a fallacy. Propositions aren't proven until someone disproves them, on the contrary they are unproven until proven. Those who posit a Christian god have the burden of proof for its existence. Atheists who simply say that Christian have not persuasive evidence to prove their claims, have nothing to prove. Learn the difference.

    That's without considering the fact that the Christian God CANNOT exists because it's an anti-logical god by the very attributes it's claimed to have. His infinite powers lead to paradoxes, and therefore it cannot exist for the same reason that a square circle cannot exist. Theologians get around this by watering down God's powers until they are no longer contradictory, but that is loading the dice, and it's not how scripture has it. So Christians are out of luck, they've build a god story that can't stand to reason.

    As for the existence of other gods, well it depends how you describe them. There is no evidence neither for or against the existence of some supernatural intelligence, so intellectual integrity requires that the question be left undecided. But no so for the Christian God which - I repeat - cannot exist.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
    • Sean

      Or it could be that not everything can be easily understood by the human mind – so the paradoxes you claim are illogical may not be to you. Just as scientists constantly gain further insight into the universe through exploration, it is ignorant in my view to assume we know everything there is to know, and they we have the capability to do so ...

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

      None of it matters if you don't believe. If you don't believe in a God, then rock that life. Be the best person you can for your fellow man. That's how we should all roll, whether we believe in God or not.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Tiglath

      "Or it could be that not everything can be easily understood by the human mind – so the paradoxes you claim are illogical may not be to you. Just as scientists constantly gain further insight into the universe through exploration, it is ignorant in my view to assume we know everything there is to know, and they we have the capability to do so "

      What a curious answer....

      So just because our understanding is limited we should not trust that which do currently understand, and instead, according to you, accept anti-logical gods as true just because they might be after all, if we were smarter.

      You are proof positive man, that for theists anything goes. Our reason and logic may be too poor to answer all vexing questions, but they are the best we have. When you discard reason in order to paper over the logical difficulties of your god do you it with reason or without reason? If with reason, you are just establishing that which you are trying to dethrone, and if without reason, you don't deserve the attention.

      December 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  5. Seaonalist

    @mark

    Would you have creationism taught instead or intelligent design (which in public schools breaks separation of church and state) or none taught?
    Please remember, that the Catholic Church has come out saying that Darwin's theories do not go against the teachings of the Bible. We do not know how God worked in regards to the creation of all beings. He could have easily created Adam and Eve through evolution.

    To add onto my point earlier about the higher you go in the sciences the more people you find who have a belief structure in some religion:
    Newton may have been known for "discovering" gravity and creating his three laws. But what he was so proud of, what he saw as his greatest work, was that he believed he proved the existence of God or at least some celestial power. He proof for this had to do with gravity in regards to the planets. He theorized (and this is put very basically mind you all, so please correct me if I get something drastically wrong) that since the stars and planets and other bodies in space do not collide into one another as chaos would prescribe, and since they are set so perfectly apart that their gravity doesn't pull them into one another, there must be something that set it up perfectly to not allow that.

    Again if something I wrote here is wrong, please feel free to correct me.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
    • Just an observer

      The only thing I find wrong with Newtons a-ssessment is that planets DO collide with each other, as do suns, and galaxies. But chaos is of course not without order, it's just order that's far too complex to be fully understood yet. Kind of like how whether used to be considered random and chaotic... until we discovered its patterns. Though none of this proves a grand designer, it does prove the universe is certainly grand.

      I don't believe there is a god, and I don't believe there isn't, I only know for sure, that I know nothing for sure. I am a religious non-believer.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • Just an observer

      oops, * Weather *

      December 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  6. Tom

    Atheists only worry about the True God...that's why they attack Jesus.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  7. Observer

    So why were the three Wise Men honored by all Christians for bringing incense to baby Jesus? We know that many Christians go crazy about "abominations", which incense is. Funny, NOT ONE WORD about that. Just pick whatever "abomination" agrees with your own prejudices.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  8. ed

    Mike D

    I think jehovah witnesses or Baptists don't care what you think about them. Jehovah witnesses are the most kind and they live up to the moral standards of the bible. You should try it. But I bet you are a weak man

    December 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  9. ajalbert

    You have to be kidding me. I can't even believe people are attacking each other back and forth on this forum. Atheism is a belief? A belief in what? A belief that they don't believe in God? Further, Atheism does not have any right to claim science as its own. And what the hell do they need to recruit for? What benefit is there to convince people there isn't a god? " I believe in God" "God doesn't exist" "ok, thank you for that I don't know what I was thinking." Do they have a right to put up a bill board? Sure they do, same as anyone has a right to say abortion is wrong (or right, seriously...whatever) And for all the Christians out there, I know it sucks but guess what, freedom of speech applies to atheists too. What gets me is that spreading the word of god is part of the christian belief system. But how did atheists even form an organization? I really dont get it. Maybe it's my own ignorance, who knows. Two atheists are sitting at bar. One says to the other, "that guy over there is a Christian" To which the other replies, "What a moron, God isn't real." The first responds "You know what, youre right, lets go tell people how stupid he is." There you have it folks, thats how it all started. That story is GENESIS to the Atheists of the world.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  10. Chris-D

    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..."

    So by *this* reason then the pink unicorn is as reasonable as god? After all, you can't prove it does not exist.

    Hint: The burden of proof falls on the one making the claim that something exists.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • edu

      Prove that this world is reality because you claim is the only thing that exists in 'reality'

      Hint: It's the same argument, you will keep falling into an endless paradox of the human mind, better yet the Lord told us clearly in the Bible that it's not with the brain that we will know He exists: "Ye shall seek me and find me when ye shall search for me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13). God never expected us to understand Him with our minds, it's with love that we know He is real.

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

      So you're telling me that an all powerful God cannot conceal Himself from YOU? LOLOLOL

      December 1, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  11. George

    Why do atheists spend so much time talking about God? They spend far more time talking about religion than the Christians and Muslims I know.
    worth a repost:
    Why is atheism always anti-Christian? Why not anti-Islam? Anti-Hindu? Anti-Buddhism? even Anti-shinto?

    Maybe all atheists are just mild-moderate paranoid schizophrenics – the other group that seems to worry about religion all the time.

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

      How many Athiests (or Muslims for that matter) do you know, Zombie on a Stick worshipper?

      December 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  12. James

    @David
    How about this: you stop being a close-minded a$$ and I wont try and convert you. you have your corner and I have mine

    December 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  13. 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 3:17 pm |
  14. Tom

    I am humbled by atheists...they think about God more than I do.

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

      The truth is you are absolutely right! We DO think about God more than you do, because we THINK more than you do. We know the Bible better than you do, and we know more about other religions than you do. That doesn't look good for you though.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  15. Reality

    John P. Meier (Notre Dame professor)

    "Meier [Marginal Jew I,211ff and 376] considers these (Christmas nativity e.g. three kings, singing angels) traditions to be "largely products of early Christian reflection on the salvific meaning of Jesus in the light of OT prophecies" and concludes that their historicity is "highly questionable."

    December 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  16. Deadhead4ever

    If god truly exists he must surley have forsaken this planet and all its inhabitants . What else can explain the lack of intervention in the billions killed in his name and the raping of his planet . Feel free to prove your out there ...Any time now !
    Didn`t thinks so .
    P.S. So long and thanks for all the fish !

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

      Put yourself in God's seat and tell me if you would to respond to that remark in that tone?

      December 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  17. Brett

    Wow, $40,000 spent on these two billboards!?! That almost makes that $4,200,000,000 spent on the 2010 midterms seem like $4,199,960,000. Incredible!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  18. Sean

    The problem I have with many atheists is that they base their beliefs on disproving another. If you don't believe in God then fine, but why must all of your belief be spent trying to denounce another belief? Quite simply, many of them have a Christianity complex they just can't let go ...

    December 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  19. emunadate

    Everyone has a right to practice any religion they choose as long as it does not hurt anyone else. Here is 4000 YEAR IN 4 MINUTES about Judaism. I hope you enjoy it.
    http://emunadate.blogspot.com/2010/11/israel-in-4-minutes.html

    December 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  20. Dan

    I'm an atheist, i've got no problem with religion for the most part. The problem with a lot of atheists is based on the fact that they think by opening questioning religious views they will cause the religious to think about their position, and perhaps change their way of thinking. Or they hope they will demonstrate the actual number of atheists, making more people feel comfortable to question religion. Richard Dawkins directly calls on atheists to do such acts, with the idea that it’ll lead to more focus on things that can actually be controlled by us, and resulting in a better life for everyone. Ultimately an atheists acts to openly question religion is being done based on their belief that it’s for the good of all. However, the major problem with this is, as smart as Richard Dawkins may be, he’s not some super social scientist (based on my interactions with scientists, and I am one, we’re not the most socially blessed people around), and the reaction to such acts from non-atheists are probably hurting the cause more than anything. A much more effective method would simply be letting those around you know your beliefs, not questioning theirs.

    As I stated, I’m an atheist, but this type of stuff makes me shake my head. Although I know they mean well, they have no idea how they are perceived.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:16 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.