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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. Tom

    I don't believe in god. I don't try to turn people away from their belief in god. But every religion tries to recruit new members/converts. I would take up arms if I was told I HAD to believe in god. I feel as strongly that there is no god as you do that there is one. I cannot prove that there is no god just as you can't prove that there is, or for that matter, that I am not god. The burden of proof is on those that claim a thing to be true, not on those that claim it is not. Intelligent, logical people know and understand this after pondering it for mere seconds. You cannot prove there is a god and I can not prove that there is not. And you can not prove that I am not god. That's why it's called faith. I have none and am extremely happy for it.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  2. Albert

    It is true that Christmas is derived from pagan customs. The celebration of Christmas is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Early Christians did not celebrate it, not did Christ ask them to. Do your research the tree, Santa, mistletoe, etc. This is nothing more than a crafty act of Satan to get people to worship him instead of the true God of the Bible. Al preachers, priests, etc., that teach Christmas as a Christian holiday are liars. Just think of all the other lies they are teaching you.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  3. Lauren

    How about instead of bashing other beliefs, or over-celebrating our own– we just celebrate the ending of a year with love? All you need is love 🙂

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

      The problem is not so much people traditions/beliefs, it is the fact that Christmas is not Biblical and is therefore a lie from a true Christian perspective.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  4. Reality

    For the next billboard sponsored in this case by agnostics:

    The Apostles' Creed 2010:

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary.

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many local semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension story was promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

    December 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  5. maggie

    To all Christians who really care about the truth.

    The truth about Christmas

    DO YOU care about spiritual truth? If so,then perhaps you have asked these questions:(1) Was Jesus actually born on December 25? (2) Who were the “wise men,” and were they really three in number? (3) What sort of “star” led them to Jesus? (4) What does Santa Claus have to do with Jesus and his birth? (5) How does God view the Christmas custom of giving gifts or, to be more precise, exchanging gifts? Let us now consider these questions in the light of the Bible and historical facts.–Was Jesus Born on December 25?The custom: According to tradition, Jesus’ birth took place on December 25 and is celebrated on that date. “Christmas,” says the Encyclopedia of Religion, means “‘Christ’s Mass,’ that is, the mass celebrating the feast of Christ’s nativity,” or birth. Its roots: “The establishment of December 25 evolved not from biblical precedent,” says The Christmas Encyclopedia, “but from pagan Roman festivals held at year’s end,”
    about the time of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Those festivals included the Saturnalia, in honor of Saturn, god of agriculture, “and the combined festivals of two sun gods, the Roman Sol and the Persian Mithra,” says the same encyclopedia. Both birthdays were celebrated on December 25, the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar.
    Those pagan festivals began to be “Christianized” in the year 350, when Pope Julius I declared December 25 to be Christ’s birthday. “The Nativity gradually absorbed or supplanted all other solstice rites,” says the Encyclopedia
    of Religion. “Solar imagery came increasingly to be used to portray the risen Christ (who was also called Sol Invictus), and the old solar disk . . . became the halo Christians Saint. God said to worship him with truth and spirit so if there is no truth in something it should not be included in worship to God. Celebrating Christmas is idolatry.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • Liz

      Maggie I agree with you on the history of why Jesus Christ's birth is Celebrated on December 25th. Youa re the first that has explained the history so well that many Christians may or may not know that truth. Unfortunately when analyzing the time frame of Jesus Birth which some have examined to be sometime in April and the visit of the wise men in October. Because of tradition Christian Scholars could not influence the Catholic church to change the celebration dates of Jesus Christ. Especially in America when the Christmas holiday became so commercialized and necessary for the economy for people to spend money. Is it wrong to celebrate on this day his birth? I am not the one to judge. But if it brings harmony and closeness of your family and friends to celebrate on this day than so be it – do it! Through out the Bible there are many celebrations, for different causes, even the return of a prodigal son. I rather know I am celebrating my faith then buying into its about the gifts. It's about family, giving and celebrating whatever makes you happy. If I want to do it in the name of God, well God will make a note of it. 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Liz

    @ David Johnson

    I hear why you may think all faith may be wrong because we all can't be right. However, I've studied world religions and their are many similarities just different ways of believing. Is it possible that we are all right but are interpreting our faith differently? Even those with several deities have a main God to worship. I guess at the end of the day it's based on ones interpretation of the material. We can not even say what atheist believe can be proven. Some atheists think that the "big bang theory" and "theory of evolution" is what started it all. However clearly scientists use the word "theory" because it has not been proven. Science have also concluded that even it if started from particles and energy, what have you, the information has a creator, the data has substance that had to come from somewhere but up to this day and time they don't know where this energy, this information came from, but it definately has a creator just any invention or life form has a creator. I know that by assuming that it's more logical to think "it just happened" or it's better to believe in "nothing" for those that think and reason understand that believing that logic is not reasonable or logical. At the end of the day if I am wrong – nothing happens when I die. However if you are wrong you're going to have a very interesting conversation with God. Peace and Love to all 🙂 Happy Holidays!

    December 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  7. Serdar

    Why do 9 out of 10 Nobel Laureate winners define themselves as either Atheist or Agnostic? What morons.

    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 3:24 pm |
  8. ZekeB

    I've yet to meet an atheist who understands the religions they denounce. I am a Christian and I usually find I don't believe in most of the things atheists say they don't believe in. The majority of faithful do not read all scripture literally. Like any other source of great artistic works there are a variety of forms of expression. Myth is not a bad word. It's a very powerful and native for of human expression.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • Kevin

      SHHHH! ZekeB, you'll upset all the atheists. For as much as they love to mock the religious for following a God that may or may not exist...They sure love 'logically' destroying the beliefs of a Christian strawman, who they believe exists with a religious zeal. The non-existence (or at least the statistically significant non-existence) of said strawman, of course matters not – when you believe something strongly enough.
      I can never get over the illogic that fuels soooooo much of the atheists anti-religion stance. I mean, if logic and reason are so wonderful...why don't they use it? It's almost as if their not living up to the ideals they try to force down everyone's throats.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  9. Brownstain

    Alll those who believe that some sky boogieman is going to save their butt after they have spent a lifetime screwing their fellow man, better put down the pipe.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  10. Jen

    How about we all believe in what feel right to us personally and stop pushing our views on anyone else.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  11. Daryl

    How can any religion be considered real when it has to lie, make up Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny to entice kids to look forward to these holidays.

    If religion is real then stop lying to your kids about things that are not true. Tell them the truth from day 1. there is no Santa Clause and there is no Easter Bunny. Let religion survive or fail on its own merit the way it is supposed to.... Kind of like the free market. Don't prop it up and bail it out...

    December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Silverdog

      What do you mean there's no Santa or Easter Bunny? What....are......you......saying?

      December 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  12. Matt

    How is this productive? For people who claim to have a superior status over "primitive" people who believe in God, you sure do know how to sink to their level. Not to mention being politically incorrect for dumbing down my beliefs and faith as one who worships "an invisible magic man in the sky." That's not who I am nor what I'm about, why don't you sit down with me and let me share my beliefs with you?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  13. Joe M.

    Atheists do exactly what they ACCUSE CHRISTIANS OF DOING: namely, pushing an ideology on other people. they are pushing a "non-plan plan"

    December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  14. John

    I have an idea: let's worship a Zombie on a Stick and show reverence to It by pretending to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and celebrate his birth by giving cheap Chinese garbage purchased at Walmart to our friends. Then criticize people of other faiths for being idiots.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  15. Let Us Prey

    Hey, CNN – thanks for taking down my initial comment... It was up for most of the day. It was only the second comment posted! Curious how anyone thought this was 'offensive.'

    ---

    If you claim that you are an atheist,
    but you are critical of only one religion,
    you are not an atheist.

    You are a bigot.

    ---
    There 'ya go. That's better.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • Jim (not that Jim, the other Jim)

      Why would an "atheist" be critical of only one religion. That makes no sense. An atheist will claim there is not God regardless of the religion. Now in the US, we get Christianity crammed our throats so much, that is is natural for the rest of us to react to Christianity more than other religions.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • Observer

      Who is under the delusion that atheists think ANY gods exist? Silence in no way indicates support. There are thousands of religions. Get serious.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • Frankcincy

      Guess what? Do you believe in Thor? Allah? Shiva? Zues? Then you are an atheist. Look it up. It's just that we believe in one less God and there are certainly plenty of them out there in delusion land.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  16. Edward Nashville, TN

    I don't understand why people can't respect each other and their religious beliefs or lack there of without resorting to childish tactics like billboards.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • Frankcincy

      I can't believe that adults with religious indoctrinate children into fantastical supernatural dogma. Here 's where the problem lies. I could care less what adults believe.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  17. kara

    Freedom of speech... i am all for it, what i dont get is where the come up with the idea that God and Jesus Christ is a Myth??? At that point, what is the point of your religion? What is point of life? where do you think you came from?

    December 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  18. Sara

    Sadly, Christendom and it's churches have been teaching false doctrine for century’s. The "three" wise men did not show up to the manager when Jesus was born. No where in the Bible does it state this! Christmas is a PAGAN holiday that was eventually adopted by the church. Before then, it wasn't even called Christmas. No wonder there are so many atheist in this world because religion is so corrupted. People are so blinded by the truth! Soon enough false religion will fall and people will see it. Easter, Halloween, Christmas… they are all pagan. Pagan = people who did not believe in the God (the true God) and or so heathens. Do some researching. A true Christian would not partake in these pagan traditions 🙂

    Watchtower.org

    December 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  19. The Gorilla Atheist

    What's the difference between a Christian and an Atheist?

    A Christian believes in the Devil.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  20. Serdar

    "tsktsktsk those atheists have no shame and pitiful. doing it out of insecurity.
    oh well, i'm still waiting for the day of judgment and when they will stand in front of Jesus. they going to get owned."

    Hahahahahahaah. How Christian of you. Man you guys crack me up.

    December 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
    • Brett

      I keep waiting for that Day of Judgement too! Wasn't it supposed to have happened like 100 times now? I think I'll go out in a pumpkin patch and wait for the Great Pumpkin. At least, he will be more likely to show up.

      December 1, 2010 at 3:24 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.